Study Human Resource Management: Masters Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and Ph.D.s in human resource management can lead to careers as a human resource manager, management consultant or university professor. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Human Resource Management Master's and Ph.Ds.: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in becoming an HR manager within an organization or business, a master's degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in HR management is the way to go. If you'd like to become a college professor or researcher in the area of human resource management, consider obtaining a Ph.D.

In a Ph.D. program, you're more likely to receive funding through assistantships and research grants, but you could end up making less money. Also, the projected rate of job growth for professors from 2010-2020 is 17%, so you still may encounter stiff competition for tenure-track positions due to a trend in hiring more part-time and adjunct professors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). HR managers are expected to see a 13% growth in employment during the same decade.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People interested in working with organizations in a management position Those who want to become professors, scholars and researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salaries) - Human resource manager ($99,000)*
- Compensation or benefits manager ($92,000)*
- Training and development manager ($92,000)*
- Professor or assistant professor in management or business ($64,000)*
- Management consultant ($78,000)*
- College or university administrator ($84,000)*
Time to Completion 1-3 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements *36 units of coursework
*Capstone project
*48 credits coursework
*Preliminary examination
*Research Project
Prerequisites GRE or GMAT scores, resume, work experience, bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree, work experience, GRE scores
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Master's Degree in Human Resource Management

Master's degree programs in human resource management prepare individuals to work within organizations, often managing human resources departments. These programs seek to provide business knowledge and experience as well as skills in managing individuals and groups within an organization.

MBA programs differ from non-MBA master's degree programs in that they place a high priority on previous professional experience; candidates are typically required to submit a resume outlining their leadership and teamwork skills and business accomplishments. Admissions departments also look for scholastic awards, community service work and publications. If you don't already have professional experience, a non-MBA master's degree might be the way to go.

Pros and Cons


  • Many programs allow part-time or evening attendance
  • Paid internships may be available
  • With a master's degree, you may have better job opportunities


  • May have stringent admission requirements
  • Technology may temper employment*
  • Funding is less available than for the Ph.D.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

MBA programs tend to be organized around a core set of basic business courses in economic theory, accounting, organizational behavior and financial analysis, while master's degree programs might start you out with topics such as management practices, employee relations, organizational consulting and HR decision making.

In either type of program, you will generally take some required courses that will provide you with an introduction to business, management and human resources. Elective courses vary from one program to the next, but could include topics such as diversity, international finance and advanced statistics. Examples of required and elective courses include:

  • Employment law
  • HR business strategy
  • Hiring and retaining workers
  • Leadership
  • Financial accounting
  • Team building

Online Degree Options

Many schools offer partially or fully online master's and MBA degree programs in HR management. Oftentimes, the on-campus portion of the curriculum takes place on weekends and evenings to accommodate working professionals. Just like the on-campus programs, online programs contain a practical experience component, such as an internship. When you graduate with your degree, you'll be able to put it on your resume without any reference to it being online, so you'll have the same advantages as someone with an on-campus degree.

Making Yourself Stand Out

Companies hiring human resources managers expect applicants to have knowledge of employment law and payroll, hiring and training practices. According to a May 2012 job search for HR managers, companies prefer and often require candidates with a significant amount of experience in HR and employee management. Employers also look for candidates with computer skills. Being able to provide technical support to employees on basic functions such as accessing employee profile updates, online applications and benefits enrollment is a desired quality as well.

The BLS points out that certification can enhance your application. Examples include the CEBS (Certified Employee Benefit Specialist) through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans and PHR (Professional in Human Resources) through the HR Certification Institute. The Society for Human Resource Management also offers a variety of certifications that you can obtain through an exam after completing your education.

Degree Alternatives

If you're interested in a degree that could give you more of a choice in management positions and eventually propel you toward a top executive position, you might consider a general MBA degree. Like the master's degree in HR, the MBA is geared toward individuals who already have some work experience. The difference is that with the general MBA degree, you don't have to confine yourself to working in HR; people with MBAs go on to become managers and leaders in many different types of businesses.

Ph.D. in Human Resource Management

Ph.D. programs in HR management are not quite as plentiful as master's degrees and tend to be more academically focused. They train you to become a scholar or researcher in the field of organizational behavior and HR. If you're interested in a teaching career, this would be an appropriate degree to attain. One of the perks of Ph.D. programs is that they may provide full funding in the form of graduate assistantships or fellowships, and tuition could be waived.

Pros and Cons


  • Programs may provide full funding
  • Can open a pathway to academia
  • Opportunity to work with faculty members on research projects


  • Extremely high competition for admission
  • Involve a minimum of 4 years of schooling
  • Lower salaries in academia than private sector*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

In the Ph.D. program, you'll generally be required to complete a research project, a dissertation and teach at least one class. You'll also be engaged in mentored research with one or more faculty members as part of your program. Your coursework will consist of mandatory and elective courses. Topics of study might include:

  • Research methods
  • Organizational theory
  • Business strategy
  • Leadership
  • Psychology
  • Group process

Online Degree Options

While not as plentiful as master's degrees, online Ph.D. programs in HR management do exist. Delivery methods vary from one program to another but tend to involve a combination of on-campus visits and online, independent study. Just like with a traditional Ph.D., you'll have to complete a dissertation and all of the other requirements. As with the online master's degree, the completion time for this degree can vary depending on your schedule. Schools may not offer the same funding sources available to on-campus Ph.D. students.

Making Yourself Stand Out

Postsecondary teachers need skills in writing, communication, critical thinking and teaching. Learning computer software programs such as those in the Microsoft Office Suite and having enough experience with the Internet to teach online classes can be extremely helpful. Learning about databases will help prospective college administrators manage records. Software vendors often have tutorials that you can study on your own.

One way to gain experience is through a teaching assistantship, in which you'll teach one or more classes in your subject area and get paid a stipend while you're still in school. Many schools consider a candidate's publication and research record in addition to teaching experience. The BLS points out that having published and/or conducted academic research can help in getting a job and in attaining tenure.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

      • Doctorate: Management - Organizational Development and Change
      • Doctor of Management - Global Leadership (Executive Format)
      • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Business Admin - Human Resources Management
      • PhD in Business Admin - Human Resources Management
      • PhD - Organizational Leadership (PhD-OL)
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management
      • Ed.D. - Global Training and Development
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • East Lansing, MI

    Michigan State University

  • Evanston, IL

    Northwestern University

  • Madison, WI

    University of Wisconsin

  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas

  • Hattiesburg, MS

    University of Southern Mississippi

Featured Schools

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Management - Organizational Development and Change
  • Doctor of Management - Global Leadership (Executive Format)
  • Doctor of Management (DM) - General Concentration (Executive Format)

Are you a US citizen?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Human Resources Management
  • PhD in Business Admin - Human Resources Management
  • PhD - Organizational Leadership (PhD-OL)

What is your highest level of education?

University of Southern Mississippi