Study Human Resources: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a human resources master's or Ph.D. program? Read about degree requirements and the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D., as well as potential careers.
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Human Resources Master's and Ph.D.: Degrees at a Glance

While some positions are open to high school graduates with experience, a bachelor's degree is usually the minimum education requirement to work in human resources. However, a master's degree may be required for some management positions, and having one can enhance your career prospects. Those who earn a Ph.D. will be qualified to work as university professors and administrators, but this degree isn't necessary for most HR jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for human resources managers was expected to increase by 13% from 2010-2020, which is about as fast as average. Job growth is projected to be higher for human resources specialists, though, increasing by 21% during that same time frame. If you're considering an HR career, you should know that a large proportion of this job growth is expected to come from the employment services industry, which includes temp and job placement agencies.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? HR professionals who want to advance their careers People who want to become university professors or administrators in this field
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) In addition to a degree, on-the-job experience is often required for these positions:
- Human resource manager ($108,600)*
-Human resource specialist ($59,000)*
- University professor ($65,000)*
- Postsecondary administrator ($97,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 4 years full-time, 6 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 6-10 courses
- Thesis or capstone project
- Roughly 12-18 courses
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in human resources or a related field Usually a bachelor's degree, although some Ph.D. programs require a master's degree for admission
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's in Human Resources

A master's degree in human resources will allow you to concentrate in a specific area, such as benefits and compensation, organizational effectiveness, training and development, collective bargaining or labor law. Because corporations and organizations are becoming more international, master's degree programs in human resources may also teach students about global issues in the field, such as recruiting international candidates and coordinating overseas work assignments for employees. In addition to your courses, you'll need to complete a thesis or capstone project that will be presented to faculty members.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent salary potential for human resources managers
  • Having a master's degree may improve career prospects
  • Can take advantage of career networking opportunities offered by your graduate program

Cons

  • It can take up to 2 years to earn this degree if you attend school full-time
  • You may be able to reach your career goals in this field without a graduate degree
  • Many positions require work experience, so a master's degree alone won't necessarily guarantee you a job in HR

Courses and Requirements

In a human resources master's degree program, you'll complete required courses covering topics like managerial economics, statistics in management, business strategy and organizational behavior. More specialized courses will introduce you to the psychology of group decision-making and human performance, and you may study coaching and leadership as well. In addition to coursework, you can expect to participate in seminars, internships and research, and a thesis or capstone project is usually required. Programs generally take 1-2 years to complete on a full-time basis, but some master's degrees in HR can be obtained on a part-time basis over a longer period of time.

Online Course Options

Online master's degree programs in human resources are very common, and they can be ideal for those already working full-time in the human resources field. Online courses are usually flexible and allow students to complete assignments on their own time. Professors who teach online courses typically communicate with students through e-mail, discussion forums and chat sessions. Some programs require students to be present on campus occasionally, while others are offered fully online.

Stand Out With This Degree

Simply earning a master's degree will most likely help you stand out on the job market, but pursuing professional certification can also give you a leg up on the competition. Certification is available through the Society for Human Resource Management, among other organizations. While earning professional certification is voluntary for human resources professionals, it can enhance your credibility in the field.

If you plan to attend graduate school full-time and you don't have specific experience in the HR field, it's important that you gain practical skills through a relevant internship or part-time job. In addition, all master's degree students, regardless of their experience level, can take advantage of on-campus networking opportunities, like student groups and job fairs.

Ph.D. in Human Resources

A Ph.D. in Human Resources prepares students to pursue careers as university professors or administrators. Such programs allow you to choose a broad area of study, like organizational behavior or labor economics, and then take more specific courses in your chosen area of expertise. These courses may emphasize areas like labor relations, organizational economics, industrial-organizational psychology or human resources theory. Most doctoral programs will also offer a chance to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant, and you may be invited to perform research with faculty members and attend conferences as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You'll qualify for teaching and research positions, and you may have the opportunity to earn tenure
  • Many Ph.D. programs offer their students tuition grants and stipends for living expenses
  • If you choose an academic career, you'll have the opportunity to influence future HR professionals through your teaching duties

Cons

  • College professors typically earn quite a bit less than HR managers
  • It may take up to 6 years to earn your degree
  • Since the number of positions for human resources professors is limited, you may have to move in order to find a job

Courses and Requirements

The courses in a Ph.D. program are much more research and theory intensive than those for master's degree programs, and they allow students to gain the specialized knowledge that's necessary to complete a dissertation. In addition to your core courses, you may choose to study topics like labor markets, labor relations, international human resource management or human resources practices.

After you've finished your coursework, you'll need to complete an original research project (dissertation). Most programs require you to pass a comprehensive exam before you may begin work on your dissertation, and some Ph.D. programs stipulate that you must complete a master's thesis before proceeding to the dissertation stage.

Online Course Options

Students with professional or personal obligations may prefer to enroll in an online Ph.D. program. Although such programs allow you to take courses at your own pace, you may be required to visit campus to complete orientation, perform research, take exams and defend your dissertation. Such programs typically allow you to complete your doctorate while working full-time, but juggling doctoral studies and a job can be very stressful.

How to Stand Out in the Field

At the Ph.D. level, getting your research published can help you stand out in the field and obtain employment after graduation. You should also consider attending professional conferences and seminars in your field, which can help you network and make connections with tenured professors. By presenting your research at conferences, you can also get the benefit of feedback from experts in your field, which will help ensure that you have a high-quality dissertation once you enter the job market.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Human Resource Analytics and Management
      • Master of Science in Human Resource Analytics and Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Management/Human Resources
      • MSM in Organizational Design and Development
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Futures Studies
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - HR Management
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Interdisciplinary Studies
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Organizational Development Consulting
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Servant Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Advanced Accounting
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Health Care Administration
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Leadership
      • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA: Strategic Human Resource Management
      • MBA
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Life Coaching
  • Campus and Online Programs
    6. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS: Healthcare Administration: Human Resources
      • MBA: Strategic Management
      • MA: Human Services Counseling: Life Coaching
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Davenport University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Human Resource Management Concentration, MBA
      • Management Concentration, MBA
      • Master of Business Administration, MBA
      • Master of Management, MM
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Brenau University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Communication Management
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership -Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership-Cybersecurity Management
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership-Human Resource Management
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership-Strategic Thinking and Innovation
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: HR & Project Mgmt.
      • MBA Dual Concentration: BS Mgmt. & HR
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Mgt. & Human Resources
      • MBA
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Accounting and Human Resources
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Business Mgmt & Project Mgmt.

Featured Schools

American University

  • Master of Science in Human Resource Analytics and Management

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Management/Human Resources
  • MSM in Organizational Design and Development

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Futures Studies
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - HR Management

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Colorado Christian University

  • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Advanced Accounting
  • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Health Care Administration
  • Business Administration, MBA - Emphasis in Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MBA: Strategic Human Resource Management
  • MBA
  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Life Coaching

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Full Sail University

  • M.S. - Entertainment Business

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Liberty University

  • MS: Healthcare Administration: Human Resources
  • MBA: Strategic Management
  • MA: Human Services Counseling: Life Coaching

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Davenport University

  • Human Resource Management Concentration, MBA
  • Management Concentration, MBA
  • Master of Business Administration, MBA

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