Online Master’s in Human Resources Advanced Education for Future Career Success

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The human resources department is a critical component of every business as it is directly responsible for establishing, maintaining, and managing the employer-employee relationship. The effectiveness of any company or organization is dependent on its hiring process, personnel policies, payroll and benefits management, and career development—all of which are programs and systems directly in the purview of the HR professional.

An interdisciplinary field, human resources combines business administration with organizational leadership, and communications with information systems. Because of this diversity, there are many career paths professionals can take. Instead of a straightforward, singular journey, the field offers both multiple entry points and advancement opportunities.

Completing a master’s in human resources online can be the first step in a career move, whether it is a long-term goal of transitioning from HR specialist to HR director to the corner office as Chief Operating Officer. This advanced degree can complement real world experience, enhancing current skill sets and developing new areas of expertise, such as labor law or informational technology systems.

For working professionals, selecting the right degree program is paramount. In light of on-the-job responsibilities, family and a social life, an online program offers the most flexibility and degree customization, allowing students to set and manage their educational expectations. The following guide provides a comprehensive look at the online master’s in human resources as well as the career opportunities that an HR graduate education can lead to.

Top Online Master's in Human Resources

Professionals looking to advance into upper levels of management may find that earning a master’s in human resources is the best option. An online course can offer the flexibility needed to make obtaining this advanced degree a true possibility. With the recent upswing in online course offerings, however, the perfect school can be tough to find amongst the many online programs now available.

GoGrad has worked to remove some of the guesswork. By using our careful methodology, we’ve ranked the colleges and universities who offer an online master’s in human resources degree, and present them below. These schools have passed our rigorous tests and have come out at the top for the online programs they have available for students looking to advance their careers in human resources.

SCORE:  98.38 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Wisconsin

Students studying human resources online at the University of Wisconsin can learn skills to help them become leaders in the workplace. Specific courses include Emerging Research in Human Resource Development, International Cross-Cultural Experiences in Developing Human Resources and Quality Management in Education. These courses help students understand workforce development, management development and employment training.

The human resources online master’s degree can be completed in two years. Classes are taught by full-time faculty who have experience in the field. Online students have access to a help desk, virtual library and financial aid assistance.

  • MS in Human Resource and Workforce Development (UW Stout)
  • MS in Organizational Change Leadership (UW Platteville)
  • MS in Human Resource and Workforce Development (UW Milwaukee)
SCORE:  95.94 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New Hampshire

Southern New Hampshire University’s online Master of Science in Human Resource Management helps students acquire skills in data-driven decision making, creative problem solving and strategic management. The program addresses core competencies identified by the Society for Human Resource Management. Studies cover diverse areas such as employee and labor relations, recruitment and technology, project management and corporate communications. Courses also explore the legal, political and ethical aspects of the field. SNHU graduate programs have rolling admissions with five terms starting throughout the year. Many students pursuing this 36-credit degree take two courses per 10-week term.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
  • International MBA in Human Resources
  • MBA in Human Resource
SCORE:  95.15 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Kansas

Human resources students at Ottawa University take classes in employment law, training and development. Graduates often work in a variety of fields, including finance, sales, project management, human resources management and more. The online master’s degree program requires that students take an undergraduate accounting and economics course if not completed prior to program entry. Required classes for this program include Strategic Marketing, Management of Information Systems and Management Accounting. A capstone course that encompasses theories and skills from prior courses, Business Policy and Strategy, is also required before graduation. Students can choose courses from two tracks for further study: Leadership Development or Strategic Innovation.

  • MBA (Human Resources)
  • MA in Human Resources (Health Care Management)
  • MA in Human Resources (Leadership and Management),
SCORE:  94.83 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Kentucky

The Master of Science in Human Resources and Organization Development from the University of Louisville is available 100 percent online. In this program, graduates can expand their expertise in a way that allows for career advancement. The curriculum offers students hands-on experience dealing with real-world problems across various industries.

All courses are synchronous, with live sessions held through webcam and/or headsets, discussion boards and case study simulations. The choices for concentrations include fully online tracks for either human resource leadership or workplace learning and performance, plus a partially-online concentration in health professions education. Graduation requires 33-36 credit-hours and completion of either a thesis or an integrative capstone class.

  • MS in Human Resources and Organization Development (Human Resource Leadership)
  • MS in Human Resources and Organization Development (Workplace Learning and Performance)
  • MS in Human Resources and Organization Development (Health Professions Education)
SCORE:  94.52 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Penn State Online’s master’s degree in human resources and employment relations targets individuals seeking practical knowledge as well as advanced theories in the field. The online Master of Professional Studies program is intended to provide graduates with the skills and expertise needed at upper level positions in HR and labor relations. Offered alongside Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations, the degree requires 33 credits for graduation. Optional areas of concentrations include benefits and compensation, labor law and collective bargaining. Courses include discussions of ethics, staff training and development and international and comparative HR topics. Classes are offered in asynchronous format.

  • MPS in Human Resources and Employment Relations
  • MPS in Organizational Development and Change
  • MPS in Psychology of Leadership at Work
SCORE:  94.26 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: California

Through its School of Business and Management, National University gives students an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in human resource management entirely online. The program is intended for professionals seeking to advance their careers, for example, as members of a senior management team or consultant organization leadership team.

The curriculum features application of concepts, theories and analysis across all HR areas, including recruitment, staffing, training and development, organizational behavior and compensation and benefits. Courses incorporate technology optimized for 21st century best practices. The degree program is made up of 12 courses, with specializations possible in organizational development and change management as well as organizational leadership.

  • MA in Human Resource Management
  • MA in Human Behavior
SCORE:  93.96 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Delaware

The field of human resources is among the available concentrations for Wilmington University’s master’s degree program. HR studies cover an array of topics: organization theory and design, workplace law and regulations, compensation and benefits and finance and accounting for managers.

The online program consists of 18 credits in business management, 12 credit-hours in human resources and six credits from electives. Two independent study projects are integrated with the academic curriculum. Students are permitted to complete the program at their own pace, with a part- or full-time course load as their schedule permits. Distance students have access to many university services, including advising, tutoring and library resources.

  • MS in Administration of Human Services
  • MS in Management (Human Resource Management)
SCORE:  93.60 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Indiana

The fully online master’s program in human resource management from Indiana Wesleyan University delivers studies within a biblical framework. The curriculum focuses on maximizing human potential, analyzing business environments and developing HR and communications strategies to benefit an organization. Sample classes include professional communication, labor management relations in a global environment and strategic risk assessment.

Distance learners progress through the program with a cohort of peers to provide support. Most students take one class at a time, following a set course sequence for this 36-credit degree. For the capstone requirement, students devise a plan of action to solve a business problem and present the results of the project.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
  • MA in Organizational Leadership
SCORE:  93.57 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Oklahoma

The online Master of Business Administration degree program from Oklahoma Wesleyan University provides the opportunity to specialize in human resources. The program integrates a Christian world view with the development of practical skills and specialized expertise for HR managers. Discussions cover topics such as working effectively with individual employees of an organization or business, incorporating techniques for recruitment and selection as well as performance appraisal. Students analyze subjects including leadership, organizational change and the multiple aspects of staffing, employee training and development. The online program uses an asynchronous mode of content delivery and students can choose to focus on one course at a time.

  • MBA (Human Resources)
  • MS in Strategic Leadership
SCORE:  93.54 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Nebraska

Human resource management is among the numerous concentrations available through the online MBA program from Concordia University, Nebraska. This program exposes students to workplace policies, payroll and compensation benefits, and employee engagement and retention in both small and large corporations. Students can build skills in ethical practices, employee development, administrative strategies, budgeting and planning.

The degree requires 36 credits for completion, including core MBA subjects, courses in the HR concentration and a capstone project. Studies are available 100 percent online, with asynchronous delivery to allow convenient access to instructional materials. Courses from Concordia use audio and video lectures as well as streaming voice conversations and online chat.

  • MBA (Human Resource Management - Nebraska)
  • MBA (Leadership and Managing Teams through Change - Nebraska)
SCORE:  93.52 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Michigan

Central Michigan University’s Global Campus provides two opportunities for students interested in earning a human resources master’s degree online. Students earning a Master of Business Administration in Human Resource Management can learn how to improve employees’ work experience while keeping business strategy in mind. They take classes like Data Analysis for Managers, Marketing-Based Management and Global Economic Environment. Those getting a Master of Science in Administration focus on Human Resource Administration and learn about employment issues, labor relations and organizational development. Key classes include Strategic Planning for the Administrator and Administration, Globalization and Multiculturalism.

  • MBA (Human Resource Management)
  • MS in Administration (Human Resources Management)
SCORE:  93.42 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: North Dakota

Students earning their MBA online from the University of Mary can specialize in human resource management. The degree introduces students to skills, knowledge and experience needed in various business and organizations, across an array of industries. Students are able to choose from a number of academic areas, including accountancy, executive business administration, energy management, health care, human resources or general management.

The online program delivers course materials asynchronously and at an accelerated pace, and the degree could potentially be completed in 18 months, depending on a student’s schedule. The courses employ a seminar-style format, and the concepts and practices taught are suitable for application in the workplace.

  • MBA in Human Resource Management
  • MS in Strategic Leadership
SCORE:  92.44 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New York

Students earning a Master of Science degree in Human Resource Management at Nazareth College can come to the program as either HR professionals or entirely new to the field. Online classes give strategies for productive work environments, as well as help students become leaders who can attract and retain workers. The program is comprised of 11 courses and can be completed part-time in as little as two years. Core courses cover the areas of workforce planning and placement, financial management and compensation and benefits. Students can also choose three electives such as labor relations, organizational psychology or project management.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
  • MS in Human Resource Development
SCORE:  92.43 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Online students of Robert Morris University can earn a Master of Science in Human Resource Management to gain skills in employee retention, health care plans and benefits, retirement planning and financing and budgeting. This 30-credit program is available exclusively online, with 10 required courses offered in 8-week sessions. Subjects of discussion and analysis include employee rights under law, compensation management, benefits administration and organizational behavior theory. Distance programs are developed to provide the same education as traditional on-campus courses. The RMU mobile app allows remote students to check their grades and daily or semester class schedules.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
  • Master's in Organizational Leadership
SCORE:  92.43 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New York

Human resources management is one of the specializations that Mercy College offers in its online Master of Business Administration degree program. For the human resources concentration, MBA students can gain skills in employment law, quality measurement techniques and training and development. Studies were created for those interested in changing careers or advancing their position in their current field.

The human resources management track requires 54-57 credit-hours for completion. The delivery mode may vary for different classes, as the school has courses offered purely online, in a blended format or through a web-enhanced format via Blackboard Learning Management System. Mercy College business students can interact with faculty members with real-world experience and expertise.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
  • MS in Organizational Leadership
SCORE:  91.62 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Kansas

Students interested in a human resource development master’s degree from Pittsburg State University may take online courses and have three options to complete their degree: thesis, a special problem or internship and course work. For all options, students begin with core and emphasis courses such as Workforce Development and Professional Presentations, and then move on to classes for their chosen option.

This degree program is designed for working professionals, and as such, six credit-hours are taken each semester. Students on this schedule can complete the program in two years.

  • MS in Human Resource Development (Management and Consulting)
SCORE:  91.44 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Massachusetts

Fitchburg State University’s online Master of Business Administration in Human Resources Management degree is 30 credit-hours and can be earned in 17 months. The maximum time allowed for this degree is six years. Students progress through classes in a cohort program, allowing discussion with peers. The program will differ depending on whether students start with an undergraduate degree in business or not. If so, they’re ready to begin the program right away; if not, students may need to take core courses like Principles of Management or Basic Finance before beginning the program. The final decision regarding prerequisites will be made on a case-by-case basis by the graduate program chair.

  • MBA in Human Resources Management
SCORE:  90.62 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Indiana

The human resource development master’s degree can be earned online from Indiana State University in a year and a half. Students earn 33 or 36 credits in classes such as Systematic Design of Human Resource Development Programs, International and Cross Cultural Teaching and Leadership in Human Resource Development. At the end of the program, students can choose to complete a major project and 12 credits of electives or write a thesis and take nine additional credit-hours of electives. In addition, an internship is required so students can gain practical work experience. Graduates with this degree are often employed in higher education, government agencies and more.

  • MS in Human Resource Development
SCORE:  90.47 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Tennessee

Fully online graduate programs through Tennessee State University’s Distance Education department encompass a master’s degree in professional studies with a concentration in human resources. This 33-credit program covers the foundations of human resource leadership, including employment law and diversity in the workplace. The curriculum allows students to customize their degrees through several electives, including compensation and benefits or conflict management.

The TSU Online program culminates in a career-oriented experience that students plan throughout the course of their studies. Students work closely with their advisor to envision a topic, develop a proposal, and, in their last semester, complete a project relevant to their interests and goals.

  • MPS (Human Resource Leadership)
SCORE:  89.59 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Florida

A concentration in human resource management is available for students pursuing an online MBA from Everglades University. The master’s in business administration degree requires 36 credit-hours for completion. The program offers a broad education in human resources management with an administrative emphasis. Students can strengthen their skills in methods of management, decision making techniques, complex problem solving and strategic analysis.

For the human resources concentration, students take a minimum of 12 credits in areas such as employment law, recruitment, selection and placement and advanced organizational behavior. Online learners generally take one class at a time in order to master a subject before moving on. Programs are fully online, allowing students to access course materials on their own schedule.

  • MBA (Human Resource Management)
SCORE:  89.57 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New York

A Master of Science in Human Resource Management degree program is administered through Stony Brook University’s School of Professional Development. The curriculum covers topics such as employee benefits and compensation, human relations in the workplace, labor relations and ethics in management. Graduates can gain skills for leadership and analytical roles within their field, and they have the option of completing a work experience internship. Courses are available online in asynchronous format – however, a few optional subjects may only be available on campus, for example, a class in grievance handling and arbitration. The 30-credit degree incorporates nine credits in core courses, 18 in human resource management and employee relations, and a 3-credit project seminar involving research and a final report.

  • MS in Human Resource Management
SCORE:  89.56 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Hawaii

Distance learning options through the University of Hawaii at Manoa include a Master of Human Resource Management degree program. The program is specifically customized to prepare students planning to become HR managers in this competitive global economy. Courses cover subjects such as organizational behavior, staffing and training practices and employment law. The degree is available in an accelerated executive format, which it is possible to complete in as little as 16 months.

Ten 3-credit graduate-level courses make up this program, which admits groups of students as cohorts to encourage teamwork and collaboration. The university’s ITV delivery format uses interactive video to provide synchronous access to class meetings, usually held in the evenings or on weekends.

  • Master of Human Resource Management
SCORE:  89.33 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Virginia

Averett University provides an optional concentration in human resource management through its online MBA program. Curriculum includes executive-level topics in business administration, as well as modules on employment and labor laws, conflict resolution and negotiation, hiring and training and compensation and benefits.

The online program takes an accelerated approach that proceeds one course at a time to build a conceptual framework. Students can choose a fully web-based format or a blended distance/on-campus program with business subjects available in person. Applicants are expected to have a minimum of three years of full-time work experience, as well as a 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits of their bachelor’s degree.

  • MBA (Human Resource Management),
SCORE:  89.33 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Georgia

A master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia emphasizes human resources and organizational development. Topics of study include career development and coaching for adults, group problem solving, business process analysis and leading change in the workplace. Among the graduation requirements are a final examination, applied project and portfolio of work.

Admission to the web-centered program occurs in even years only. Students can apply to a blended distance/on-campus version of the same program during odd years. For the fully online format, students take two courses per semester in a set sequence designed for a 2-year completion time frame.

  • MED in Human Resources and Organizational Development
SCORE:  89.33 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Massachusetts

Graduate students in Lasell College’s online Master of Science in Management degree program can choose a concentration in human resources. The 21 credit-hour program, available entirely online, covers topics like staffing, recruiting, training, policies and procedures. Students can learn how to apply management principles in domains including finance, marketing and information services. Courses also tackle topics such as operations strategy and 21st century global leadership. The goal of the program is to prepare students to hold leadership positions in a variety of businesses, industries and organizations.

Lasell College’s program uses the Moodle platform and other types of instructional technology to make course assignments available. Students can opt for a final research capstone project or an internship in the field.

  • MS in Management (Human Resources Management)
SCORE:  89.24 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New Hampshire

An MBA with an emphasis in human resources is among Franklin Pierce University’s online offerings. The curriculum is structured around the Society for Human Resource Management’s critical competencies. Students discover how to take a systematic, organization-wide approach to business challenges, using strategic analysis and critical thinking. The program is designed to prepare students interested in leadership positions as managers, directors, vice presidents and so on. For this 39-credit degree, courses are 100 percent online and are delivered in an asynchronous format. Students have opportunities to apply what they have learned either in their current workplace or within their communities.

  • MBA in Human Resource Management
SCORE:  88.90 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Texas

The University of Texas at Tyler students can earn an online master’s degree in human resource development. The degree is research-focused, so students take part in coursework, research and projects, but do not complete a thesis. Specific areas of study include task analysis, human resource development, career development and designing training programs.

Applicants for this program should submit GMAT scores with their application, unless they had a minimum 3.25 GPA in their last 60 credit-hours. Students who already hold a master’s degree can also waive the GMAT requirement. GRE scores may be accepted instead of the GMAT, and that ruling is made by the graduate coordinator.

  • MS in Human Resource Development
SCORE:  88.90 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Illinois

Through the School of Business and Nonprofit Management, North Park University has an online Master of Human Resource Management degree. The MHRM program is focused on preparing graduates for career paths in HR. Students at this faith-based university can gain a foundation in ethical leadership, with courses taught by business professionals with real-world experience.

The program offers discussions, assignments and group projects entirely online, with 24/7 access to most course materials. The degree requires 36 semester-hours for completion, with core courses in subjects such as principles of human resources, employment law, strategic planning and staffing and negotiation and influence.

  • Master of Human Resource Management
SCORE:  88.58 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Saint Francis University’s online Master of Human Resource Management degree program is designed to integrate theory and practice in the field of HR. The 33-credit program includes 27 core credits in topics such as labor law and performance management. The 11 required courses include opportunities for discussions and collaborative assignments, while electives provide options such as an internship or studies in collective bargaining.

Students take up to two classes at once online and log in at least three times a week, though most courses at Saint Francis are asynchronous, with no set meeting times. The university uses a variety of instructional tools, including streaming video, on-demand lectures and a digital course management system.

  • Master of Human Resource Management
SCORE:  88.56 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: District of Columbia

The Catholic University of America’s online master’s degree in human resource management provides an education geared toward high-level, strategic organizational roles. Graduates can gain advanced skills for workforce application, with a curriculum in labor-management relations, information and communication systems and training and development. The degree is built along two tracks: human resource generalist for those in corporate or nonprofit settings, or federal human resources management, a specialization that leverages the school’s geographic ties to the nation’s capital. For the final capstone course, students can choose a major research paper or a project where they apply their knowledge in practice.

  • MA in Human Resource Management
SCORE:  87.86 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New York

New York University School of Professional Studies features an online Master of Science in Human Resource Management and Development degree. Students can drill down into the subject matter with a concentration such as organizational effectiveness or global talent management. The program provides an education to build skill sets for graduates aiming at high level leadership positions in corporations, organizations or agencies. The degree requires 42 credit-hours, and many students can complete it in two years with full-time study, or in up to five years of part-time study. The curriculum spans topics including quantitative metrics for decision making, information technology, business strategy and ethics and professional writing and presentations.

  • MS in Human Resource Management and Development
SCORE:  87.69 CAREER COUNSELING: yes JOB PLACEMENT: yes STATE: New York

A Master of Science in Human Resource Development from the Rochester Institute of Technology emphasizes the development of professional competency, communication skills and analytical abilities. Subjects of study include research design and methods, creativity and innovation, performance analysis and integrated problem solving. The web-based degree program targets applicants interested in positions as consultants, technical recruiters, HR specialists, career counselors and more. The program requires 36 credit-hours for completion, with a 2-year timeframe possible for full-time students or a 4-year schedule for part-time students. Classes are conducted using online discussion boards, readings, chat rooms and other technologies.

  • MS in Human Resource Development

Understanding Your Online Master’s in Human Resources Options

The role of the master’s in human resources online degree is to prepare graduates to assume strategic leadership roles in their organization in areas ranging from general HR to staffing, and employee benefits to training and development. In turn, students should seek out programs that offer various academic concentrations within human resources.

Online master’s degree programs can be completed entirely at a distance, depending on the college and department. Traditionally, online learning is either synchronous (requiring participation in scheduled meetings and courses through online technologies such as video conferencing or live chat) or asynchronous (self-paced, allowing students to access and complete course materials on their own time).

Prospective students should be comfortable with the course delivery format first and foremost. Both synchronous and asynchronous methods have inherent pros and cons. Students should ensure their selected degree program matches their learning preferences and needs, such as scheduling requirements and the level of academic support needed to complete each course and, ultimately, the degree.

Additionally, graduate students should look for programs that provide a balanced curriculum, founded in both practical, real world skill development and advanced industry-specific conceptual instruction. Below is a list of four important factors students should review for master’s in human resources online degree programs:

Diverse HR concentrations

As mentioned above, a generalist master’s HR degree might be the perfect match for a student’s need. However, because of the complexity of the field, advanced expertise in a specific area can greatly benefit the student when the job hunt begins. Example areas of study include the following:

  • Benefits and compensation
  • Labor and collective bargaining
  • Employment and labor law
  • Staffing, training and development
  • Informational technology

HRCI provider and preparation

Credentials and certifications are valuable in human resources, and many require a master’s degree and significant career experience. The curriculum of an online graduate program in HR should provide distance learners with HR Certification Institute (HRCI)-focused courses to help students develop the appropriate knowledge and skills to qualify for—and earn— professional credentials or certifications.

Faculty with professional HR experience

Faculty are the driving factors behind a graduate program’s and, ultimately, a student’s success. Students should review each program’s faculty list to determine how qualified professors and lecturers are before making a decision. Do the faculty members have appropriate and extensive experience in human resources, including its various specialties? Are there academic and professional instructors with specialized knowledge in current human resource topics such as diversity, organizational change management, crisis management, performance management, or global leadership? Education and mentorship from such facility is a key ingredient for success post graduation.

Alignment with SHRM curriculum & standards

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the largest membership-based organization in HR. It developed a recognized set of best practices in the industry, codifying the standards and professionalism of human resource practitioners. An online master’s degree program should align with both SHRM’s curriculum guidebook and professional standards.

Students have a spectrum of factors to consider. Thoughtfully assessing academic concentrations, delivery format, curriculum, program standards, and faculty should give students a complete view of the university and program so they can then make a data-driven decision.

Concentrations & Coursework

According to the International Civil Service Commission, human resources rests on four pillars:

Organizational Design

Organizational design supports the group’s mission through structured approaches to human resource programming and planning, including reporting relationships, job design, and change management.

Compensation & Benefits

Compensation policy sets the guiding principles for the creation, management and administration of pay scales, merit, contractual relationships and non-monetary compensation (such as health benefits).

Employment

The recruitment, placement and retention of employees is a foundational component of any organization’s infrastructure. This not only includes hiring and reassigning existing staff, but managing the contractual arrangements that govern the employment process. Employment also covers staff well being, security policies, safety standards, and more.

Career Management

Career management intertwines professional development and training, employment mobility, and performance management—three areas that directly impact the quality and advancement of employees within an organization.

Academic programs in human resources typically cover all four areas, but also allow students to concentrate their studies in a singular pillar. Below are five example human resource specializations students may pursue to develop enhanced skills in those areas.

Human Resources Compensation

Compensation is inherently multifaceted, bringing together the study of pay administration policies of United States Code, including leave guidelines, range of pay and overall compensation practices. As a field of study, students develop a foundational understanding of compensation programs, strategic design and administration of pay programs, legal and regulatory requirements, as well as professional abilities to communicate compensation information effectively.

  • Compensation & Benefits Manager

    Responsible for developing, establishing, administering, and maintaining a company’s total rewards package: salaries and payroll, bonuses, health and life insurance benefits, pensions and more.

  • Compensation Specialist

    Deals with multiple areas of compensation, including job descriptions and classifications, conducting market research, assisting with compliance and budgets, determining staffing needs, and adjusting compensation packages for the organization.

  • Payroll Manager

    Works directly with payroll systems in a company and is responsible for employee pay management and distribution, balancing payroll accounts, maintaining payroll guidelines, and adhering to local, state and federal payroll regulations.

Human Resources Policy

An interdisciplinary concentration, human resources policy deals with personnel systems, techniques for improving employee productivity, ethics, and workplace professionalism. Grounded in behavioral sciences, this area of study emphasizes knowledge in current HR trends and technical skills for establishing, implementing and maintaining employee-centered policies (e.g., collective bargaining, service contracts, etc.) in an organization.

  • Labor Relations Specialist

    Works between management and employees, including dispute resolution, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, managing employee grievances and complaints, and serving in an advisory role to management, unions, and employees.

  • Human Resources Consultant

    Typically works independently, providing a host of human resources services and counsel to companies on topics and issues such as human capital, benefits, internal communications, recruitment, or training and development.

Human Resources Development

The study of performance management prepares students to become agents of professional development and organizational change. In this specialization, students gain an understanding of learning processes in the workplace, advanced skills in employee training and performance, and science-based methodologies for leadership development (e.g. Six Sigma, Lean or ADI).

  • Human Resources Director

    Working directly with C-Suite executives, Human Resource Directors oversee and are responsible for total HR operations within a company, including managing organizational infrastructure, developing a culture of success for all employees, supervising compensation and benefits, and directing employee training and professional development.

  • Performance Management Specialist

    Responsible for researching and implementing data-driven performance measures for operations within a company. This includes developing procedures for employee review, collecting employee performance indicators, preparing accountability reports, and establishing best practices for performance measurement systems.

  • Training and Development Specialist

    Devises, conducts, and manages professional development programs for employees. Works with managers and employee supervisors to create performance improvement indicators, schedule on-the-job training sessions, implements motivational support practices, and handles orientation sessions for new employees.

Human Resources Information Systems

Commonly known as HRIS, human resources information systems is the strategic use of software to automate, manage, support, and administer key HR functions including payroll, compliance, recruiting, and training. In these programs, students are exposed to the latest HR software, such as Employee Central from SuccessFactor, as well as enterprise systems, social networking, cloud computing, and more.

  • Human Resources Information Systems Analyst

    Responsible for human resources management systems, developing and maintaining system databases to collect, analyze, and store organizational data.

Human Resources Staffing

A vital component to human resources is staffing. In this area of study, students receive instruction in staffing laws and regulations, the principles of recruitment, management controls, and workplace diversity. Based on a programmatic curriculum, the staffing concentration teaches students how to identify, select, hire and place employees in positions that benefit both the organization and the individual.

  • Recruiter

    Along with HR Director and management, develops an organization’s recruitment strategy, assists with and manages the identification, recruitment, and placement of workers. Works with an array of human resources recruitment tools, such as LinkedIn, SkillSurvey, Hyrell, or Bullhorn.

The expansive opportunities to specialize in human resources reveals the multiple paths a prospective student can take to customize their master’s degree program. Beyond finding the right program fit and area of concentration, students should also examine curriculum. By reviewing the specific courses of a potential master’s degree, graduate candidates can isolate the degree path that best fits their future professional goals.

The table below outlines a list of real human resources courses available through online degree programs.

Organizational Theory

In this course, students study the fundamental concepts of organizational theory in light of a growingly connected global workplace. Within that framework, specific topics of instruction include measuring organizational effectiveness, organizational ethics, history of organizational management, life cycles of organizations, and organizational structure.

Financial Decision Making

Core concepts of business accounting and analysis (e.g., opportunity cost) are discussed. This course emphasizes instruction in the conceptual understanding of how to apply both financial information to management decisions revolving around budgeting, pricing of products, salary structure, cash flow, and cost forecasting.

Intercultural Leadership

This course focuses on the study of organizational leadership and communication, revealing how cultural backgrounds impact not only the business environment but also the decision making of managers. The class emphasizes organizational communication within diverse intercultural settings, team development, and leadership.

Employee and Labor Relations

This course investigates the working environment in the United States, focusing on the relationship, rights, and responsibilities of both the employer and employee. Topics include collective bargaining, contract negotiation, unionization, conflict management, and dispute resolution.

Organizational Design

Organizational design supports the group’s mission through structured approaches to human resource programming and planning, including reporting relationships, job design, and change management.

Recruitment and Staffing

An overview of the factors that impact the recruiting and retaining of employees is presented and analyzed. Instruction includes a review of real world case studies, legal requirements, and recruiting best practices, as well as affirmative action, staffing forecasting models, and the planning process for human resources.

Workplace Diversity

Designed to provide students with an understanding of and the ability to manage the dynamic differences between individual employees. Through a study of organizational culture, including communication and workplace relationships, this course introduces students to the various issues that influence the interpersonal environment of an organization.

>Strategic HR and Measurement

This course examines how the human resource professional’s role as a leader influences the vision and values of a company’s strategic plans. Students receive practical, individual insight into their own personal and team leadership abilities. Long-term, the course focuses students towards a data- and performance-driven mindset.

Managing Organizational Rewards Systems

This class provides students with an overview of employee performance management systems as well as issues and base pay systems. Topics of instruction cover incentive pay, executive pay analysis, sales performance systems, and the like.

Job Analysis, Assessment, and Compensation

Through a comprehensive program of study, students learn about the complexity of human resource management, specifically how each individual component (e.g. job analysis, employee motivation and production, performance management, and employee compensation) is part of an interrelated whole. The class provides background establishing varying compensation packages, such as performance- or executive-based.

Managing Virtual and Global Teams

This course views team leadership and management through the lens of organizational behavior, with a specific focus on leveraging and enhancing the effectiveness of both global and virtual teams within an organization. Topics include team diversity, virtual communication, and technology in group settings.

Legal Interviewing and Selection

This class offers students an advanced understanding of how to conduct job interviews to select the most competent candidates in today’s competitive economy. Efficient interviewing is based on detailed preparation. Students learn about creating effective job-related questions, and how to adhere to the legal and compliance issues surrounding fact-based interviewee assessments.

The Online Master’s in Human Resources Timeline

Looking beyond program offerings, course descriptions, or areas of concentration, students should also develop a firm understanding of the expectations of a master’s degree program. That is, students should outline the requirements, major events, and educational path of an online program prior to applying. Creating a degree timeline can be helpful, as it sets a plan in place from application to graduation.

Depending on the specific institution, an online master’s degree in human resources can typically be completed in as little as 18 to 24 months of study. The hypothetical timeline below examines the steps across that 1 ½- to 2-year period.

Year 0
Find a Program

Locating the right degree program is a challenging process, one that should be started early. Creating a list of available master’s in human resources online programs with standard criteria is a great way to develop a solid understanding of the pros and cons of each prospective institution and degree. Below is an example list of items to research and review before making a decision:

Concentrations offered

Tuition and fees

Technology requirements for distance learning

Faculty

Program requirements

Online learning delivery format (asynchronous, synchronous, blended/hybrid)

Residency requirements

Application deadlines

Application fees

GPA requirements

GRE test (test and/or minimum scores required)

Application

The online master’s in human resources is a professional degree, which means prospective applicants are expected to be well-prepared prior to applying. Below is a list of application materials that might be required when submitting an application to an online graduate program.

Transcripts

Letters of recommendation (professional recommendations are sometimes preferred over academic)

Statement of Purpose (why you are applying to the program and what you hope to achieve)

Video interview

Essay or writing sample

Resume or CV

GRE scores

Year 1
Core Curriculum

The first year of study is typically spent completing core curriculum courses in human resources. Like an inverted pyramid, classes at this level move from broad to specific, honing into a concentration or area of study during the second year. Example core classes may include Human Resource Management Survey, Recruiting and Talent Acquisition, Organizational Psychology, and Managing Workplace Learning. Setting the foundation for specialized study as the program progresses, these courses provide students with a solid foundation to move forward.

Year 2
Electives and Capstone

Towards the end of core curriculum requirements, students should be working with their committee chair or advisor to determine the degree specialization, electives, and capstone project or thesis (if required). Electives vary by program, but examples include Global Human Resource Practices, Employee Benefits, Developing Human Capital, or Ethics and Social Responsibility. Electives and functional area coursework could also focus on post-graduation Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) examinations.

During the final quarter or semester, students turn their attention to a capstone or thesis project, which requires synthesizing classroom-based knowledge into a project or final paper. Although specifics depend on the particular area of concentration, program, and instructors, capstone projects generally include the following steps:

Devise and write a project plan based on a case study, including timelines, measures of success, outcomes

Submit the project for review

Present and defend the project via an oral presentation

A Graduate’s Perspective on Master’s in Human Resources Online Programs

Jasmine Caldwell is a human resources specialist at a national financial institution. As a graduate of an online master’s in human resources program, Caldwell offers the following academic tips to prospective and current HR students:

“You must be ready and willing to commit to the program and all the school work that accompanies it. You must be willing to give up your evenings and weekends to study, read and complete assignments.”

In regards to how students can integrate their studies with real life experiences, Caldwell says,“Students should think about their day-to-day work/life activities and see if there are any situations that can be applied to the concepts and theories they are currently learning. Real world experience is an education in and of itself and many of life’s—and work’s—lessons can often be applied to learning activities, which is also a good way to help retain information.”

Caldwell further shares that networking can also help people pursuing a master’s in human resources. “If you are currently working in human resources, then interview your co-workers. Ask them to describe to you how they applied specific human resources concepts to real life work situations.”

ROI Analysis: The Benefits of Earning a Master’s in Human Resources Online

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 17,000 students graduated with master’s degrees in human resource development, human resource management, and human resources personnel management in 2013. Of those programs, the average tuition and fees came to approximately $19,000 – meaning the investment in a master’s degree in human resources is a significant financial undertaking.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects solid job opportunities between 2012 and 2022, potential students should paint a complete picture of what a graduate education entails from both a financial and cost opportunity perspective. The cost figures are quickly calculated when the total cost of the degree program is compared to prospective earnings in the marketplace. However, for the student considering an online degree, the opportunity cost is a subjective measure.

Cost opportunity is a concept that human resource professionals are intimately familiar with. Understanding how the choices that could be made are just as demanding and influential as decisions that are made. In turn, students should have a firm understanding of how the choice of attending an online degree program may impact their work schedules, family life, hobbies, and other responsibilities.

Earning Potential for Master’s Degree Holders

Although completing a graduate degree in human resources may not instantly impact the pocketbook, it does two things: 1) improves marketability and 2) allows students to qualify for advanced certification from HRCI and SHRM. However, some positions such as Human Resources Director or Human Resources Information Systems Analyst may actually require a master’s degree for employment.

As noted above, the financial investment in a two-year online master’s program could cost upwards of $38,000. However, the earning potential for human resource managers is significant—with the national median above six figures. Below is a table of the national range of salaries for human resource managers in 2013:

Top 10% $177,460
Median (50%) $100,800
Bottom 10% $58,780

A 2014 salary survey conducted by Empsight International, a human resource consulting firm that works with Fortune 500 and multinational corporations, reviewed human resource compensation data for 75 benchmark positions in the field. Occupations in survey can be grouped into the following HR categories: Human Resources (general), Compensation & Benefits, Employee Relations, HRIS, Organizational Development, Labor & Industrial Relations, Staffing and Recruiting.

A review of the survey revealed that earnings increase by level of position, which is directly related to both experience and educational attainment. Completing an online master’s degree can pave the way to both career advancement and higher annual earnings.

HR Position Average Salary
Vice President $234,175
Director $155,729
Manager $110,586
Senior Specialist $79,707
Associate/Specialist $62,369

For prospective students unsure of which concentration to pursue, below is a table of average earnings by HR business sector (removing Vice President and above positions). The top three paying HR concentrations, according to Empsight, include Human Resources (general), Labor & Industrial Relations, and Organizational Development:

HR Category HR Category
Human Resources $183,787
Labor & Industrial Relations $127,448
Organizational Development $125,733
Employee Relations $108,209
Compensation & Benefits $103,911
HRIS $100,863
Staffing & Recruiting $95,113
Service Centers $69,503

At the individual level, HR director is the best paying occupation, across all concentrations. Moving above the associate level can be accomplished via experience in the industry, but a master’s degree can help expedite potential career advancement.

Position HR Business Sector Average Salary
Director, Benefits Compensation & Benefits $163,457
Director, Compensation Compensation & Benefits $158,950
Director, Human Resources Human Resources $155,171
Director, Employee Relations Employee Relations $151,279
Director, Staffing Staffing & Recruiting $147,071
Director, HRIS HRIS $145,394
Manager, Compensation Compensation & Benefits $121,194
Manager, Labor & Industrial Relations Labor & Industrial Relations $119,642
Manager, Employee Relations Employee Relations $111,577
Manager, Benefits Compensation & Benefits $109,950
Manager, Staffing Staffing & Recruiting $107,623
Manager Human Resources/Generalist Human Resources $107,494
Benefits Specialist Compensation & Benefits $92,216
Senior Human Resources Generalist Human Resources $88,013
Employee Relations Specialist Employee Relations $79,497
Human Resources Generalist Human Resources $72,991
College Recruiter Staffing & Recruiting $65,973
Specialist HRIS HRIS $63,930
Benefits Administrator Compensation & Benefits $59,824
Associate Human Resources Generalist Human Resources $55,599
Associate Compensation Analyst Compensation & Benefits $54,508

Industry Growth in Human Resources

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 13 percent employment growth nationwide for the human resources industry between 2012 and 2022. However, a closer examination of job projection numbers reveals specific industries are in greater demand than the national average. Graduates of online master’s in human resources who transition into manager-level positions should find the best opportunities in the following industries:

Industry
Job Growth 2012-22
Construction
28.3%
Retail trade
28.0%
Real estate and rental and leasing
26.6%
Professional, scientific, and technical services
25.6%
Management of companies and enterprises
24.1%
Waste management and remediation services
14.4%
Health care
13.7%
Social assistance
13.2%

At the state level, the best opportunities for human resource specialists include the following, according to Projections Central: Florida (22.9%, Utah (22.5%), Colorado (19.8%), Washington (18.8%), and Arizona (17.1%). For human resource managers, the five states with the highest projected employment rates include Colorado (34.4%), Utah (27.7%), Texas (26.1%), Arizona (22.6%), and Georgia (21.6%).

Off the Beaten Path: Non-Traditional Careers for HR Grads

One of the core tenants of the human resources industry is helping others perform better through learning and support. The focus is on the term “human”—that is providing resources for others to be more productive and more valuable in their own occupations and positions. On-the-job experience, coupled with a graduate education, equip master’s degree graduates with a broad, flexible skill set—one that doesn’t necessarily need to be applied strictly to the HR department.

If human resources doesn’t quite sound like the right fit or for individuals wondering how they can expand their career options, below are three areas where human resource abilities can be put to good use.

  • Contracts Administration

    Contracts administration is a complex process, one that requires specialized training and work experience. Contract administrators and managers are employed in public and private sectors and handle a range of duties and responsibilities, many of which are related directly to human resource skill sets:

    • Contract negotiation
    • Project management
    • Conflict resolution
    • Financial payment administration

    Because there isn’t a singular path to contract administration, many individuals in the field transition into the career after spending time in another industry or professional area. Nearly half of contract administrators possess a master’s degree (43 percent), according to the National Contract Management Association.

  • Instructional Design

    Instructional design is a natural fit. It combines instruction, teaching, organizational design and technology into a career designed to create effective, and efficient instructional materials to enhance the learning of others. Instructional designers work in a variety of areas, including education (both K-12 and beyond), educational support services, government organizations, private business, and more. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65 percent of instructional designers hold a master’s degree.

  • Health Educator

    Two tenants of human resources are positioning others for success and collaboration. Health education exists at the intersection of those tenants. Health educators develop and implement strategies to promote healthy behaviors and well being for individuals, families, children, and communities at-large. Applying research, program design, motivation, strategic planning and thinking, health educators are nearly a mirror counterpart to human resource specialists.