Study Organizational Development: Master's Degree, PhD & Certification Info

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Find out what you can do with an organizational development degree. Learn about preparation for a career that could support personal development and positive, systemic change. Read on for information on master's and Ph.D. requirements as well as relevant certifications.
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Organizational Development: Master's and Ph.D. Information

Organizational development practitioners plan and lead enterprise-wide, top-down initiatives to enhance individual and collective performance. This career may be related to some training and human resource functions. Specialists may be members of organizations like the Organizational Development Network or the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). The ASTD Certification Institute awards the Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP) certification to qualified candidates.

Areas of study in this profession can include strategic planning, leadership development, change management, coaching and fostering diversity and work/life balance. These strategies may be employed in both public and private sector organizations. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that job growth for human resource managers is expected to increase 13% from 2010-2020, while training and development managers are expected to see a 15% growth and postsecondary teachers could see a growth of 17%.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in professional growth Candidates interested in academic, research or consulting careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate salary) - Senior organizational development specialist ($80,000 - with 2-4 years of experience)*
- Training and development manager ($99,000)**
- Organizational development manager ($103,000 - with 7 years of experience)*
- Organizational development director ($130,000 - with 10 years of experience)*
- Postsecondary business teacher ($87,000)**
- Strategic management professor ($139,000)***
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 4-5 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - May range from 35-60 credits depending on school and student background
- Residency experiences
- May require thesis or field project
- 60-80 credits
- Orals and comprehensive examinations
- Teaching or research assistant responsibilities
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- May prefer 2-3 years of work experience
Bachelor's or master's degree
- 2-3 years of work experience may be preferred prior to matriculating
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: * (2012 median salary), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 annual mean wage), ***The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (2010 mean salary).

Master's Degrees in Organizational Development

Organizational development programs can teach you to respond to technical, relational and human elements of change at the strategic level. Programs often address development of analytical and leadership skills that will help you take advantage of strengths and mitigate weaknesses. Skills development in group dynamics, research, process consultation, diversity and cultural competence may prepare you for a career in a government, not-for-profit or for-profit organization. However, you may complete for positions with professionals who have bachelor's degrees and several years of experience.

Pros and Cons


  • This preparation is well-suited for individuals interested in change management.
  • Services may be universally needed in rapidly evolving environments.
  • Organizational development could be a good foundation for private practice or consulting.
  • Programs often incorporate study trips, as well as international and domestic residencies, providing broad exposure.


  • Depending on your choice of specialty, you may face competition from candidates with bachelor's degrees.
  • Candidates with previous work experience may be preferred for this degree.
  • Travel may be included for human resources professionals.

Courses and Requirements

In these programs, you may study positive psychology and organizational behavior while developing your coaching skills. You'll probably have a higher mix of people-focused courses than a typical MBA candidate. Programs may require courses, fieldwork and completion of an applied research project. You might take courses like these in an organizational development master's program:

  • Organization theory and consulting
  • Basis of large systems
  • Culture and globalization
  • Collaboration
  • Individual development and change
  • Small systems assessment and change
  • Research and evaluation methods

Online Class Options

These programs may prefer students who have some work experience. Flexible enrollment options ranging from on-campus to executive, blended and completely virtual programs may be available. Though rare, fully online options are available to employed professionals. In a blended cohort model, a group of students admitted at the same time might take some courses online and complete a series of short-term, on-campus residencies.

Standing Out with a Master's Degree in Organizational Development

Curricula aligned with the CPLP certification examinations, training and research opportunities may be advantageous. Programs might feature real-world projects supervised by practitioners. Internship and residency experiences in the U.S. and abroad may also provide useful contacts.

A student membership in ASTD could provide access to job boards and networking opportunities like conferences. You could pursue short-term study of advanced professional topics in online certificate programs. Depending on your specialty, you may also qualify for certifications like the Professional in Human Resources and the Senior Professional in Human Resources through the HR Certification Institute.

Ph.D. Degrees in Organizational Development

Ph.D. candidates generally pursue advanced research in organizational development while preparing for an internal or external consulting, academic or research career. Selective programs may prefer students who have a relevant employment background in human resources, line management or consulting plus a relevant master's degree. You may be expected to present papers at conferences and submit them for publication. Doctoral students may choose a research topic during their first year.

Pros and Cons


  • Expertise in a niche field could provide a range of practitioner, academic or research opportunities.
  • Leadership skills gained in an organizational development program can be useful to many organizations.
  • The credibility of this advanced degree may be useful for entrepreneurs or consultants.


  • You could be competing with business management and human resource professionals for some positions.
  • Some organizations may consider a Ph.D. to be overqualified.
  • You might be able to make a similar income with a master's degree.

Courses and Requirements

After introductory coursework providing the theoretical foundation for future research, you'll focus on advanced research and qualitative and quantitative statistical methods. Programs may require participation in seminars to share your research progress. Doctoral candidates will complete comprehensive examinations and a dissertation under the guidance of a mentor and a committee. Doctoral candidates may take courses like:

  • Workforce development
  • Strategic planning
  • Theory and practice of change
  • Conflict management and resolution
  • Organizational culture
  • Decision-making in organizations

Online Study

Completely online Ph.D. programs covering this field are rare. Online programs that are available may be designed for working professionals. It may be easier to find programs that combine online study with on-campus residencies. Virtual courses might be taken one at a time on a flexible schedule. You'll meet the same requirements as on-campus students. Some program aspects may require interaction with other students and faculty. These may be accomplished by several short-term on-campus residencies.

Getting Ahead with a Ph.D. Covering Organizational Development

Your preparation might emphasize the business, non-profit or education sector, giving you an edge in any of these fields. Some schools host journals. Students planning teaching careers might focus on opportunities to publish articles and papers as well as undergraduate teaching assignments. Visibility at conferences through presentations in the U.S. and abroad could enhance your prospects. If you're interested in international work, you may have residency opportunities abroad.

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