Earn a Ph.D. in Human Resources Online to Advance Your Career

Human resources professionals can benefit from the career advancement opportunities that a doctorate brings. By earning an online doctorate in human resources, graduates qualify for positions as HR managers, compensation and benefit managers, and business school professors. Business schools accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business report an increase in enrollment numbers for doctoral programs, including Ph.D. programs in human resources. More and more HR professionals pursue doctoral degrees to advance their careers.

This article introduces the job growth and salary increase potential for candidates with a doctorate in human resources, what it takes to earn a Ph.D. in HR, and how to fund a doctoral program, including scholarship opportunities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Ph.D. in Human Resources?

Graduate students enroll in online Ph.D. programs in human resources for a variety of reasons. Master's students may choose to pursue a doctorate to advance their career prospects or to focus within a specialization. Some career paths, including academic positions, may require a doctorate. HR professionals may also earn a doctorate to qualify for high-level positions or increase their salary. Some students also choose a Ph.D. program over a professional certification.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Human Resources?

Pursuing Specialization

Human resources professionals may pursue a doctorate to gain specialized knowledge within their field. For example, earning a doctorate focused on training and development may allow graduates to pursue high-level positions within organizations that train employees. The degree also appeals to professionals who want to branch out or increase their competitiveness in another industry. Many programs offer specializations in recruiting, for example, which can help candidates stand out on the job market.

Career Advancement Opportunities

As the terminal degree in the field, an online doctorate in human resources prepares graduates for positions at the highest levels of multiple industries. These roles may include director, program manager, and head of HR. With a doctorate, professionals can take on positions with higher responsibilities and higher pay. A doctorate also prepares graduates for career opportunities in academia and research, as many positions in these fields require a terminal degree.

Online Learning Technology

During the best online degree programs in HR, doctoral students use the latest communication technology. Many programs prepare students with training in online learning technology, which can help graduates working for large companies that rely on technology to connect with employees at remote locations. Human resource professionals benefit from communication technology experience, which supports their professional development.

Prerequisites for Online DHR Programs

Students considering online DHR programs should carefully review each program's prerequisites, including test scores, work experience, and a master's degree, to ensure that they meet the admission qualifications.

  • Work Experience: Some online Ph.D. in HR programs prefer candidates with work experience in human resources. However, many programs admit candidates with a bachelor's or master's degree and no professional experience. Doctoral students with work experience may enjoy an advantage on the job market after completing their degree.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Online doctoral programs in human resources may require GMAT or GRE scores, and some programs accept either examination. Alternately, programs may admit candidates who meet GPA or work experience minimums without test scores. Prospective students can research the average test scores for their potential programs. GMAT and GRE scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Incoming students may need to complete certain coursework requirements before enrolling in the program. Some online Ph.D. in HR programs offer a separate track for doctoral students without a bachelor's or master's degree in human resources, which includes additional prerequisite credits. Programs may also set a GPA minimum for admission.
  • Recommendations: Most programs request 1-3 letters of recommendation that speak to the candidate's academic and professional preparation for doctoral-level study. Prospective students may wish to ask both faculty members and supervisors to write these letters. Applicants should give their letter writers at least three weeks' notice.
  • Essays: The application process may require essays, which the admissions committee uses to evaluate the candidate's qualifications and reasons for pursuing a doctorate. In many cases, the essay asks applicants to explain their qualifications and their career plans after completing their doctoral degree in HR.
  • Interviews: Online programs may incorporate an interview with prospective students to evaluate their fit with the program. During the interview process, prospective students explain their interest in the program and their qualifications. Some programs also assign an admissions adviser to walk applicants through the process, which may involve informal interviews.
  • International Students: International students may need to submit proof of English language proficiency. Programs may set a minimum TOEFL score for admission, for example. International students may also need to provide a translation of transcripts.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Human Resources?

Earning an online Ph.D. in human resources prepares graduates for the top positions in their field, including academic jobs. These opportunities offer above-average salaries. For example, professionals who work as human resource managers earn salaries ranging from $65,040 at the 10th percentile to $197,720 at the 90th percentile, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earning a doctorate provides hard skills that can lead to career advancement in both traditional and nontraditional human resources career paths.

Traditional Careers for DHR's

Career Stats Description

Human Resource Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

Human resource managers act as the top executives in an organization's human resources department. They oversee human resource administrators, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and serve as a link between the organization's management and employees.

Ideal for: Professionals with strong decision-making skills, leadership abilities, and interpersonal skills.

Compensation and Benefits Managers

Median Pay: $119,120

Job Growth: 5%

Compensation and benefits managers design and plan an organization's pay and benefits structure. They research competitive wage rates, select benefits vendors, and oversee the distribution of pay and benefits information to employees. Compensation and benefits managers also ensure that the company's plans comply with regulations and laws.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong analytical abilities, decision-making skills, and good leadership qualities.

Business Professor

Median Pay: $100,270

Job Growth: 15%

Human resources professors often work in business departments at two-year or four-year institutions of higher learning. They teach classes in human resources, HR management, training, and recruitment. Many business professors also conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals.

Ideal for: Individuals who possess organizational and decision-making skills with a background in training or education.

Non-Traditional Careers for DHR's

Career Stats Description

Management Consultant

Median Pay: $82,450

Job Growth: 14%

Management consultants who specialize in human resources advise managers on how to strengthen their recruitment and retention of employees. They may propose strategies to increase hiring, improve employee satisfaction, or improve employee training outcomes. Many consultants are self-employed.

Ideal for: Analytical thinkers with strong interpersonal skills.

General and Operations Manager

Median Pay: $123,460

Job Growth: 9%

General and operations managers develop policies, oversee employees, and manage operations at their organization. They design strategic plans for the company depending on their area, and they assign work, review goals, and monitor budgets.

Ideal for: Professionals with strong leadership, interpersonal, and management skills.

Higher Education Administrator

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

Higher education administrators help colleges and universities run smoothly. Their titles include dean, provost, and chief academic officer. Administrators may manage faculty research, the hiring and tenure process, or student services. Many administrators gain experience teaching at the college level before pursuing administration.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong interpersonal, organizational, and problem-solving skills.

Healthcare Executive

Median Pay: $98,350

Job Growth: 20%

Healthcare executives oversee operations at a medical or health service organization. They work at medical practices, hospitals, and other facilities, managing departments, divisions, or entire organizations. Healthcare executives may also oversee nurses, physicians, and staff members at the organization.

Ideal for: Professionals with strong interpersonal and leadership skills and management experience.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Central, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Ph.D. in Human Resources

Before applying to online Ph.D. in human resources programs, prospective students should research how to pay for their degree. The total cost of a doctorate in human resources varies depending on the institution, the number of required credits, and the study timeline. Pursuing an accelerated degree, for example, can save money. Most students finance their degree with a mix of savings, loans, and scholarships. The following section includes scholarships and grants for doctoral students in human resources.

Tuition Timelines

Doctoral students can complete their human resources degree in 3-7 years, depending on whether they choose a part-time, full-time, or accelerated path.

Part-Time Path

On a part-time path, doctoral students can take up to seven years to earn their degree.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Arkansas
Total Credits Required: 96 credits
Summary: University of Arkansas doctoral students choose a flexible number of courses each term, but must complete the degree within seven years.

Full-Time Path

On a full-time path, doctoral students typically complete their degree in four years, including dissertation research.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Illinois
Total Credits Required: 64 credits
Summary: Doctoral students at the University of Illinois complete a minimum 64-credit program, with the option to complete additional electives, dissertation research, or independent study.

Accelerated Path

On an accelerated path, graduate students can complete their degree in as little as 2-3 years, depending on their transfer credits.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Liberty University
Total Credits Required: 60 credits
Summary: Doctoral students at Liberty University can transfer up to 15 credits, decreasing their degree completion time.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Students earning a doctorate in human resources can apply for scholarships, grants, and dissertation awards to pay for their degree.

What to Expect from an Online DHR Program

Online DHR programs typically require four years of full-time study to earn the degree. During the program, doctoral students complete coursework requirements, including electives and independent studies. These courses may incorporate a virtual classroom experience with fellow students, depending on the program. Graduate students must also pass comprehensive examinations to demonstrate their advanced knowledge in their specialization area. After advancing to candidacy status, doctoral candidates research and write their dissertation. Once students complete the program's milestones, they can apply for graduation.

Major Milestones

  1. Admission and Orientation - Four years before graduation

    Online doctoral programs in human resources typically require transcripts, resumes, letters of recommendation, essays, and test scores to evaluate applicants. After gaining admission, doctoral students attend a virtual or in-person orientation to begin their training.

  2. Coursework - Two to three years before graduation

    HR doctoral programs typically set a required curriculum for graduate students, which may include electives. Students usually complete the coursework in their first two or three years.

  3. Comprehensive Examination - Two years before graduation

    After finishing their coursework, doctoral students must take and pass a comprehensive examination, also known as a qualifying exam.

  4. Dissertation - One year before graduation

    Doctoral candidates must propose a dissertation topic to their faculty adviser and dissertation committee. Once the adviser and the committee give their approval, students research and write an original dissertation. The process typically takes 1-2 years.

  5. Dissertation Defense - The semester before graduation

    Doctoral candidates must defend their finished dissertation before a committee, including their faculty adviser. This may involve a presentation, faculty questions, and an audience.

  6. Graduation - At end of program

    Once doctoral students meet the credit requirements and successfully defend their dissertation, they can apply to graduate with their degree.


Each online doctoral program in human resources designs its own curriculum. Many offer some version of the courses listed below.

Human Resources Leadership

Many doctoral programs incorporate classes in HR leadership, which cover strategic planning, ethical human resources management, and aligning planning with an organization's values. The course prepares students for leadership roles in HR.

Human Resources Strategy

Strategic courses on HR train graduate students how to align an organization's values with its human resources strategy. This prepares graduates for management-level positions in human resources in a variety of sectors.

Human Resources Analytics

Analytics courses prepare graduate students to collect, analyze, and interpret data in an HR setting. Doctoral students learn how to design HR metric tests, collect high-quality data, and perform strategic analyses of analytics.

Research Methods

Many Ph.D. programs in human resources incorporate a research methods course, which introduces doctoral students to scholarly literature in their field and prepares students to design and conduct their own original research.


After passing comprehensive exams, doctoral students typically enroll in multiple terms of dissertation coursework, in which they prepare their research and write a dissertation under the guidance of a faculty adviser.

Requirements to Practice

After completing a doctorate in human resources online, graduates can enter the workforce with the terminal degree in their field. Pursuing specializations at the doctoral level can help candidates stand out and widen the possible job opportunities with a DHR. To further enhance their qualifications, many HR professionals choose to earn additional credentials to increase their competitiveness on the job market and demonstrate their knowledge. The following certifications enable human resources professionals to demonstrate their competencies.

  • Senior Professional in Human Resources: Candidates with an online doctoral degree in human resources and at least four years of professional experience in HR qualify for the credential. To earn the title, professionals complete a three-hour test with 175 questions.
  • SHRM Certified Professional: Graduates with an online doctorate in human resources currently working in an HR position qualify for the SHRM-CP credential. Candidates must complete a four-hour exam covering 160 questions focused on knowledge and situational judgment.
  • SHRM Senior Certified Professional: Designed for leaders in HR, the SHRM-SCP exam tests candidates' knowledge through a four-hour, 160 question exam. Professionals with an online doctorate in human resources must demonstrate three years of HR work experience to qualify.
  • Global Professional in Human Resources: Human resources professionals with a doctorate and at least two years of professional experience in a global HR position qualify. Candidates complete a three hour, 165-question examination to earn the credential.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Doctoral students in human resources can benefit from joining professional organizations, many of which offer student membership discounts. These organizations grant awards and scholarships, publish research in the field, and host conferences and events with networking opportunities. Professionals also benefit from continuing education programs, trainings, webinars, and other educational materials offered by these organizations. Many also offer career services, including job boards, published HR salary research, and career advancement advice.

  • Society for Human Resource Management: An international organization, SHRM confers certifications, conducts industry research, and hosts conferences and events. Members benefit from webcasts, publications, and discounts.
  • Academy of Human Resource Development: With a focus on scholarship and research, AHRD encourages the study of human resource development theories and publishes research findings. The academy also offers conferences and events for networking.
  • National Human Resources Association: With a focus on career development, NHRA provides networking programs, regional affiliates, and professional development services. The association also runs a career board.
  • College and University Professional Association for Human Resources: CUPA-HR specializes in HR for higher education, offering webinars, research on HR in higher education, and a knowledge center with resources for professionals in the field.
  • Association for Talent Development: Focused on HR employees who train and develop employee skills, ATD offers research, webinars, educational resources, and other material valuable in training.
  • HR.com: Visited by over a million HR professionals, HR.com offers articles, webcasts, and white papers for the field. Members can also start their own blog through the site and contribute to other member-created content.
  • HR Magazine: Published by SHRM, the monthly magazine covers current topics in HR, such as social media policies, wellness, and career advancement. Professionals can also submit articles for publication in the magazine.
  • JobLine: Run by CUPA-HR, JobLine posts job openings for HR professionals seeking jobs at higher education institutions. The site also offers eLearning courses in higher education HR.
  • ATD Job Bank: The ATD Job Bank lists job openings for HR and training professionals working in government, healthcare, financial services, and other sectors. Job seekers can also research salary data.
  • HR Jobs: Run by SHRM, this job board allows job seekers to upload a resume, view current job openings, and research salary information. The page also includes an employer directory.