Earning a Master's in Human Resources Online

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), human resources managers earned a median salary of $110,120 in 2017, nearly triple the median pay for all other occupations in the U.S. The BLS also projects that demand for human resources professionals will outpace average employment growth through 2026.

As the job market continues to evolve, more companies seek human resources managers who can help employees upskill or reskill to meet the shifting demands of the 21st-century economy. An online master's in human resources can help you learn how to support the ongoing training and development needs of your workforce.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Human Resources?

Most human resources master's students bring several years of work experience to their graduate studies, allowing them to better understand the potential applications of the theories and tools they encounter in the classroom. These professionals often seek an advanced degree in order to qualify for a promotion, take on a more specialized role within the industry, or negotiate a salary increase.

Some students, however, choose to pursue their master's immediately after finishing their undergraduate program. Some jobs allow applicants to substitute graduate education for years of experience, meaning a master's can potentially help you qualify for supervisory roles earlier in your career.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Human Resources?

Pursuing Specialization

Earning an online master's in human resources can position you for specialized roles within the industry. For example, you may opt to take coursework in global human resource management to prepare for a career at a multinational corporation. You may study human resources information technology in order to develop the skills needed to direct your company's payroll processing system. Or you may specialize in talent development so you can design a leadership training program for your organization.

Career Advancement Opportunities

While a bachelor's may qualify you for some roles in human resources management, employers may prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree for the most lucrative positions. The BLS projects that candidates with a graduate certificate or degree should enjoy the best job prospects. In addition, a master's may help you negotiate a higher salary. For perspective, the upper 10% of human resources managers earn more than $197,720 per year.

Online Learning Technology

In addition to the flexibility and affordability of distance education, human resources professionals can also benefit from applying learning methods they encounter in their online master's programs. For example, a professor in one of your courses may post a reading and a set of related questions online, allowing students to weigh in with their reactions through a web-based forum. You could use this same method to introduce your organization's employees to a new policy or best practice without interrupting their work schedule.

Prerequisites for Online Human Resources Programs

While requirements vary from program to program, you must hold at least a bachelor's degree to apply to graduate school. As part of your application package, you may need to submit college transcripts, your resume, an essay, letters of recommendation, and test scores. Most schools also charge a modest application fee.

  • Work Experience: Some online master's in human resources programs require applicants to possess at least two years of relevant professional experience. Schools may allow you to apply internship or volunteer experience towards this requirement or waive it entirely with exceptional academic achievement. Contact your individual program for more specific information on work requirements.
  • Exams and Test Scores: While many programs require no entrance exams at all, others may request that you submit results from the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. When required or recommended, schools may set minimum scores of roughly 150 for both the verbal and quantitative portions of the exam. If you scored lower than this, consider retaking the exam.
  • Coursework: Generally speaking, you do not need to complete any specific undergraduate coursework in order to apply to these master's programs. In almost all cases, however, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Completing coursework in areas related to human resources may help you earn your advanced degree faster.
  • Recommendations: You should plan to submit three letters of recommendation with your graduate application. Ask former employers, professors, and volunteer leaders to write a letter on your behalf, highlighting relevant experience and your potential as a future human resources manager. Give your recommenders at least two months to write and submit their letters.
  • Essays: Programs often require students to submit an essay explaining their interest in the school, personal background, and professional goals. Your essay can help to make up for other areas of weakness in your application, so give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and write. Ask a friend or colleague to review a draft.
  • Interviews: Online programs tend not to require interviews as a component of the admissions process. If your school requests an interview, you can usually participate via phone or online. Think of your interview as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and relevant experience, as well as a final chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm about continuing your education.
  • International Students: International students should prepare to meet all of the same admissions requirements as applicants from the U.S. You might also need to submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL. Finally, schools may request additional verification of transcripts from foreign colleges and universities.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Human Resources?

As mentioned above, the BLS estimates that human resources managers earned a median salary of $110,120 in 2017. The highest 10% of earners in this field, typically those with many years of experience and an advanced degree, brought in more than $197,720 that same year. The lowest 10% of earners, usually those early in their career, made less than $65,040.

An online master's in human resources can also prepare you for a variety of related and high-paying positions. For example, compensation and benefit managers earned an average salary of $119,120 in 2017, according to the BLS.

Traditional Careers for MHRM's

Career Stats Description

Human Resources Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

From coordinating employee recruiting and hiring to monitoring workers' rights and mediating disputes, human resource managers link business objectives and employees. Human resource managers typically work full time in an office within larger businesses.

Ideal for: Growth-minded, positive thinkers who understand both business and people management.

Training & Development Manager

Median Pay: $108,250

Job Growth: 10%

Training and development managers design and lead programs intended to help employees learn about new topics or develop new skills. Often working for larger organizations, these managers may supervise staff, create and oversee training budgets, and evaluate the effectiveness of their programs and instructors who lead them.

Ideal for: Professionals dedicated to lifelong learning, especially those with strong instructional abilities themselves.

Independent Business Consultant

Median Pay: $71,520

Job Growth: 14%

Independent business consultants, also known as management consultants, help organizations solve problems or improve the efficiency of their operations. As much of this work involves training and evaluating staff, an online master's in human resources can equip you with the skills needed to set out on your own as a consultant.

Ideal for: Those who enjoy the challenge and novelty of working with clients across various industries.

Senior Recruiter

Median Pay: $70,910

Job Growth: 7%

Senior recruiters help meet the staffing needs of their organization by consulting on job descriptions, advertising job opportunities online and at events, reviewing applications, conducting interviews, and making hiring recommendations. At larger organizations, they may supervise a team of recruiters.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong interpersonal and decision-making skills who can quickly understand the needs of a particular department or office within their organization.

Non-Traditional Careers for MHRM's

Career Stats Description

Recreational Therapist

Median Pay: $47,680

Job Growth: 7%

Recreational therapists design and implement recreation-based treatment and recovery programs. They may serve individuals with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses through activities like arts and crafts, sports, or dance. In addition to a passion for supporting others through education and training, recreational therapists often must earn national council for therapeutic recreation certification.

Ideal for: Those with a background in health or human services who want to help maintain or improve their patients' well-being.

HR Software Developer

Median Pay: $103,560

Job Growth: 24%

Software developers create computer systems and programs that perform specific functions. For example, a software developer could design an application that makes it easier for managers to track their employees' professional development activities.

Ideal for: Individuals with a background in information technology, specifically computer programming or software engineering, who want to work in the human resources industry.

Union Relations Manager

Median Pay: $63,200

Job Growth: -8%

Union relations, or labor relations, managers ensure that their organizations meet the terms of contracts signed with labor unions and union members. They may handle issues such as wage increases, healthcare coverage, and management practices. Given the overall decline in union membership, expect a decrease in the demand for union relations managers.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented professionals who possess the interpersonal and communication skills to navigate difficult conversations and negotiations.

Risk Manager

Median Pay: $83,520

Job Growth: 11%

Risk managers help companies define and mitigate risk. They may, for example, conduct audits to ensure that a manufacturing company adheres to safety rules and regulations. Risk managers may themselves design safety policies or lead trainings to help employees understand how to reduce risk in the workplace.

Ideal for: Those who can understand, apply, and communicate complex legal and regulatory guidelines.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Human Resources

You can take several different approaches to paying for your online master's in human resources. You should begin by applying for government aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

Also seek out grants and scholarships. Private organizations often offer these awards based on financial need, academic achievement, and community service, though you may also find scholarships specifically for human resources students. Five such scholarship appear below.

Finally, accelerated master's programs allow you to earn your degree faster and potentially pay less in tuition overall.

Tuition Timelines

In most online programs, you can choose to complete your coursework on either a full- or part-time basis. Some programs allow you to learn at your own pace, meaning you can graduate as soon as you work your way through the material.

Part-Time Path

Part-time students can more effectively balance their studies with the demands of a full-time job or caregiving responsibilities. Taking one or two courses at the same time, part-time students usually earn their degree in about three years.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Saint Mary's University
Total Credits Required: 39
Summary: At Saint Mary's University, part-time students graduate in roughly three years. Students need only take one class per semester to remain enrolled.

Full-Time Path

Students who can devote more time to their graduate studies can often earn a degree in two years or fewer. Full-time students may also take advantage of extracurricular learning opportunities like internships or field experience programs.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Southern New Hampshire University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: By studying full-time at Southern New Hampshire University, you can earn your master's in just 15 months. Tuition does change annually, so you may need to pay slightly more in your third and final semester.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated paths allow students to learn at their own pace, meaning they can graduate considerably faster than even full-time students. Exercise caution when considering a fast-track program, however, as some students may fall behind or become overwhelmed without the real-time support of a cohort or instructor.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Strayer University
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Strayer University offers all of the coursework in its human resources master's program asynchronously and in a self-paced learning format. This allows students to advance through their classes as soon as they can pass a final exam. On this accelerated path, students can graduate in under one year.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to federal and state aid, many private organizations award scholarships to students pursuing their graduate degree in human resource. Five such awards appear below.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Human Resources Program

Early in your master's studies, expect to take foundational coursework in areas like corporate communications and talent development. As you progress into more advanced material, you may also get the opportunity to customize your learning by choosing a specialization or taking a series of elective classes. Many programs also feature a capstone project that requires students to apply their learning to a real-world human resources challenge.

In an online program, you watch lectures, complete assignments, and sometimes even take exams on your own schedule. Remember to practice good time management and maintain a sustainable pace when learning online.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment - Roughly two years prior to graduation

    Many online programs feature several start dates throughout the year, giving you the flexibility to begin your graduate studies at the most convenient time for you.

  2. Completing Foundational Coursework - Roughly one year prior to graduation

    As a full-time student, expect to take foundational coursework in management strategy, employment law, and labor relations during the first year of your program. Students who complete some of this coursework during their undergraduate studies often graduate faster.

  3. Completing Specialized Coursework - Roughly six months prior to graduation

    In the second half of your program, begin to customize your course of study. Many programs offer elective courses in areas like data analytics, and some even allow students to specialize in fields such as higher education or healthcare.

  4. Completing Internship - Shortly before graduation

    Though not typically required, students can complete an internship to develop hands-on experience in a human resources office. Part-time students and working professionals often skip this opportunity.

  5. Completing Capstone Project - Shortly before graduation

    In most programs, students complete a capstone project, which integrates all of the learning from your master's program and requires students to apply those lessons at a partner organization.

  6. Graduation - When all graduation requirements are met

    Once you complete your capstone project and earn all of the credits required by your program, you can graduate with your master's in human resources management.


Though the exact courses you take during your graduate studies depends on the electives you choose, the list below includes five classes commonly offered in human resources master's programs.

Strategic Human Resource Management

In this course, students examine common regulatory procedures and policies in the human resources field. They also conduct an in-depth analysis of the role of a manager, including functions related to recruitment and ongoing talent development.

Law, Ethics, and Politics in Human Resources

Human resources professionals need to know more than just which laws govern their work. They must also know how to engage in ethical practice and how to support voluntary responsibility and sustainability in corporate settings.

Talent Development and Workforce Planning

Organizations cannot always hire new staff to meet the shifting demands of the marketplace. Increasingly, human resources managers must help "reskill" personnel through training and workforce development programs. Talent development also plays a key role in employee retention.

Human Resource Information Systems

Through practical experience, this course introduces students to common information systems used in human resources, including those used to track time and compensation, professional development activities, and project planning.

Business Research

Students in this class develop basic skills in quantitative and qualitative research to help them conduct basic business research. Many graduate students build on this foundation by taking more advanced coursework in statistical analysis.

Requirements to Practice

Generally speaking, human resources professionals do not need a license or certification in order to practice. That said, a professional credential from a well-respected training organization can signal your expertise in human resources management and may help position you for career advancement. After an online master's in human resources, consider seeking out one of the certifications detailed below.

  • HRCI Associate Professional in Human Resources: Administered by the HR Certification Institute, this certification serves those professionals who recently began their career journey in human resources. Candidates do not need education or work experience, but they must pass a 100-question exam. The application process costs $400.
  • HRCI Senior Professional in Human Resources - International: Also administered by the HR Certification Institute, professionals pursuing this credential often seek to demonstrate their understanding of human resources laws and best practices across borders. With a master's degree, candidates need only one year of relevant work experience to apply.
  • SHRM Certified Professional: One of the leading credentials in the field, the Society for Human Resource Management offers this program to human resources managers across industries. If you possess a master's degree, ignore the experience requirements that those with only an associate or bachelor's must meet. Applicants must pass a 160-question exam.
  • SHRM Senior Certified Professional: More senior professionals often elect to pursue this credential from the SHRM, which requires at least three years of experience in a human resources role even with an advanced degree in the field. Applicants must pass a more stringent exam and pay $300-$400 in fees.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Human resources managers can more easily model the importance of networking and continuing education by joining a professional organization. These groups often arrange conferences to help professionals learn about the latest research and best practices in areas like recruitment and talent development. They may also host online learning opportunities to help busy managers who find it difficult to attend in-person training events. For those looking for their first job or the chance to change direction in their careers, many professional organizations host job boards to keep their members apprised of new opportunities in the field.

  • Society for Human Resource Management: Representing more than 300,000 members across 165 countries, SHRM arranges both regional and international events, offers certification and professional development opportunities, and provides specialized resources for students and job-seekers.
  • National Human Resources Association: NHRA works to advance the professional development of those dedicated to supporting the professional development of others. The association hosts networking events, a job board, and a news center.
  • Association for Talent Development: ATD offers rich content for talent development managers, workplace training professionals, and other human resources personnel. Members can access webinars, podcasts, magazines, white papers, scholarly articles, and formal credential programs.
  • National Association for African Americans in Human Resources: Founded in 1998, NAAAHR serves human resources professionals of color across the country. The association provides thought leadership to the field, hosts a national wellness expo, and organizes an executive speaker series for members in the D.C. area.
  • College and University Professional Association for Human Resources: Specifically catering to those professionals working in higher education, CUPA-HR plays a leading role in collecting and disseminating research related to college and university workplace issues. It also maintains a knowledge center and facilitates collaboration through online communities.
  • Federal Student Aid: Before taking any other step to finance your education, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This allows you to determine if you qualify for federal grants, work-study opportunities, or low-interest student loans.
  • SHRM Student Member Center: Within the SHRM student center, aspiring human resources professionals can find local chapter events, apply for scholarships, access case study resources, and receive significant discounts on membership.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn serves as a critical tool for established human resources managers, and it helps students brush up on the latest news and developments and find internship opportunities. Once you graduate, LinkedIn can allow you to tap the networks of your classmates and instructors to find a full-time job.
  • The Balance Careers: The Balance Careers offers articles on human resource-related topics, including conflict resolution, compensation, employment law, and employee motivation. For students, it can act as an excellent starting point for more in-depth research.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Whether drafting their own resume or a job description for an open position at their company, human resources professionals must know how to write well. The Purdue OWL hosts guides and tips for all kinds of writing.