The Guide to Online Master of Human Resources Programs

In many organizations, human resources (HR) plays an integral role in business growth as well as the wellbeing of employees. HR professionals serve as the bridge between leadership and employees, while simultaneously equipping those employees with the skills and resources they need to be effective within their roles. If you currently work in HR and are interested in moving upward—or making a career transition into the field—a Master of Science in Human Resources degree may help you do so. Thanks to a wide variety of online programs, you can even obtain an MS in human resources while working full-time.  

What is Human Resources Management?

Human resources management is the recruitment and oversight of an organization’s employees. It involves handling administrative tasks related to employment—like managing benefits, payroll, compliance, and training—and ensuring that employees are prepared to succeed. HR managers also collaborate with company leadership to form hiring objectives and strategy. 

Business Administration vs Human Resource Management

There are a few differences between a Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MS-HRM) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA). An MBA focuses on general business topics like finance, accounting, and marketing, but may let you specialize in human resources. Meanwhile, MS-HRM programs tend not to require foundational business courses but instead prepare you to lead an HR department.

Another underlying distinction between MBA and MS-HRM programs is the human capital management vs. human resource management philosophy. Because MBA programs teach business through a financial lens, they often consider workforces as human capital, or a good that generates revenue for the company. On the other hand, MS-HRM programs discuss a company’s workforce in less monetary terms. HR programs teach best practices for building an inclusive workplace, selecting job candidates with appropriate skill sets, and helping employees further their careers.  

If you’re unsure whether you should pursue an MBA vs. an HR degree, reflect on your career goals and current lifestyle and needs. An MBA may allow you to work in roles beyond the business world. An online MBA program may provide even more flexibility, allowing you to attain a degree while working full-time. However, if you’re passionate about helping people grow or you’re confident you want a career in human resources, then the MS-HRM may be a better pick for you, giving you the credentials to pursue managerial roles. 

Why Earn a Master’s in HR Online?

There are a number of perks to enrolling in an online HR program instead of a traditional program with live, in-person classes. Online programs may offer more flexibility than their on-campus counterparts, allowing students to participate in virtual classes from home. Students who opt for part-time enrollment can spread their coursework out over a longer period of time. For these reasons, online business degrees can be a viable option for full-time working professionals seeking higher education. 

How Long is an Online Master of HR Program?

An online Master of Human Resources program typically lasts between 12 and 24 months. Full-time students can graduate in a year, but part-time students generally need 20 to 24 months to complete their studies. Although the part-time option takes longer than the full-time option, as previously stated, this path allows students to work full-time while finishing their master’s degree. HR master’s students typically graduate sooner than MBA students, whose programs generally require two years of full-time study. 

Online MS in Human Resources Admissions Requirements

Some HR master’s programs don’t require GRE or GMAT test scores since they’re geared toward working professionals. While admission requirements vary by school, there are a few common items applicants should prepare to submit. They include: 

  • Online application. Most graduate programs require applicants to complete an online application that includes personal and financial information. The online application often involves an application fee.
  • Resume. Your resume shows universities how your professional experience intersects with human resources—or how it has prepared you for a career in the field.
  • Statement of Purpose. This is an essay, or series of essays, in which you demonstrate your interest in the program and what you hope to achieve after completing it.
  • Letters of recommendation. Schools typically require two letters of recommendation from former professors or supervisors who can speak to your work ethic and abilities.
  • Academic transcripts. You will likely need a copy of your official undergraduate transcript from your bachelor’s degree to send to the school, although some universities accept unofficial transcripts. Generally, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in human resources to apply to a master’s-level HR program, although it can prepare you for that path. 

Online Human Resources Degree Programs That Don’t Require the GRE

While some HR programs may require GRE scores, there are a number of online options with no GRE or no GMAT requirements. Below are a few of them:

Online Master’s Degree in Human Resources Curriculum

Requirements for HR master’s programs vary by school, but the curricula tend to revolve around the social, legal, and ethical components of an organization, while also emphasizing leadership and interpersonal skills. Here are a few common human resources courses from online HR programs: 

  • Workplace Ethics. Understanding workplace ethics helps HR professionals address workplace scandals, disputes, and misconduct.
  • Human Capital Development. This course teaches students how to provide employees with the necessary tools to not only do their jobs effectively, but also advance their expertise and careers.   
  • Employment Law. This course introduces students to employment law and teaches them to research legal issues, a skill that comes in handy when leading an HR department.
  • Inclusive Workplaces. Inclusivity is paramount to any workplace. This course teaches students how to promote inclusivity and diversity of gender, sexuality, age, race, ethnicity, religion, and ability in the workplace.
  • Organizational behavior. In this course, students analyze workplace behavior, communication, and culture. Studying these intersecting dynamics can help HR professionals understand the interpersonal and group behaviors that play out in the workplace.    

What Can You Do with an HR Degree?

Naturally, graduates from human resources programs find work within HR departments at large companies, nonprofit organizations, within the government, and other professional settings. Possible job titles for HR master’s degree graduates include: 

Human Resources Salary and Career Outlook

Future technologies may streamline the administrative tasks that human resource specialists and assistants oversee—but increasingly complex benefit plans and employment laws mean that many companies will depend on HR professionals for years to come. 

According to the BLS, human resource specialist jobs are projected to grow 5% between 2018 and 2028. That’s the same growth rate for all U.S. jobs. Projected job growth for human resource managers during the same time period is greater, coming in at 7%.

Pay for HR professionals varies widely. As you can see from the previous section, job title is one factor that impacts earning potential. Your location, employer, and industry you work in, can also affect how much you make. 

The highest 10% of HR managers earned a median annual salary of more than $205,720 in May 2019, according to the BLS. The lowest 10% of HR managers earned less than $68,300. Still, that’s more than the median annual salary for all occupations, which is $39,810. The highest 10% of HR specialists earned median annual wages of more than $105,930

Salary and job outlook are important factors to weigh when job hunting, but so are your passions and career goals. If you have solid interpersonal skills and you enjoy helping people and businesses grow, then pursuing a master’s in human resources management may be an endeavor worth considering. 

Last updated: August 2020