Is a Master’s Degree in Human Resources (HR) Worth It?

The field of human resources (HR) puts you at the front and center of interpersonal relationships within a given company. Whether you work in the legal field or in a health care setting, as an HR professional, you are responsible for managing the “people” component of a business to ensure growth. But is it the right career for you?

The answer may not be all that simple—just because you’re a people person doesn’t necessarily mean HR is a good fit for you. It depends on your personal circumstances, long-term goals, and even potential human resource management salary in your geographic location. To help you decide, you may  ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Did you just finish your bachelor’s in HR?
  • What are your career goals? 
  • What are the education and skills requirements for your desired position?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of getting a master’s in HR?

Determining if a master’s degree in human resources is worth it is often a personal choice. You may utilize this guide to help guide you through the process and help plan your future career.

Did You Just Finish Your Bachelor’s in HR?

If you just graduated from a bachelor’s degree program in human resources, you may be interested in taking your next step. Should you pursue additional education or go for work experience? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), human resources positions, including that of human resources managers, typically require a bachelor’s degree as the minimum—meaning your newly-earned degree may qualify you for a variety of entry-level jobs in the field.

If you’re not fully certain which direction you want to take in the field and in your career, you may want to work in HR for a bit before jumping into a graduate degree program. The experience may help you develop a stronger sense for what area of HR you want to specialize in.

What Are Your Career Goals?

Next, consider your long-term career goals. As we mentioned above, a bachelor’s degree in HR is sufficient for a range of entry-level positions—though eventually, you may find yourself wanting to progress to a higher position, gain greater responsibility, and increase your earning potential.

For example, an entry-level role like human resources specialist will likely put you around a median annual salary of $61,920, according to the BLS. Of course, average pay varies from state to state and employer to employer. In this position, your responsibilities may revolve around office work or administrative duties.

The median human resource management salary is higher at $116,720. As a manager, you may have the opportunity to supervise employees as they perform entry-level tasks and play a higher-touch role in shaping your company’s future.

Of course, the career you qualify for depends on your education level and skills. A master’s in human resources may give you a competitive advantage when vying for higher-paying, supervisory roles in the field, but it isn’t the only way to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to operate in such roles. A combination of education, certifications, and work experience may make you a marketable job candidate.

What Are the Education and Skill Requirements for Your Desired Position?

Carefully read the descriptions and qualifications for jobs you’re interested in. Do you qualify with a bachelor’s degree, or does the role require a master’s? How many years of work experience should you have? And as for the skills needed, are they basic or advanced?

An undergraduate curriculum in HR will typically cover the tangible, foundational concepts needed to perform basic job functions. A master’s degree in HR is usually more theoretical, focusing on solving complex problems, which may be particularly relevant when looking to become an HR manager. Master’s programs may also explore key concepts such as diversity in the workplace and leading effectively. You may compare course descriptions with the requirements listed in the job advert for the position or positions you are interested in. This might help you to gauge whether your desired graduate program will prepare you for the career you have in mind.

You may not be able to sidestep educational requirements, however, you can potentially learn certain skills required for mid-level positions on-the-job. According to a 2019 survey conducted by staffing agency Robert Half, 84% of companies were willing to hire people who lacked the desired skills for a job and train them thereafter.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Earning a Master's Degree in HR

Earning a master’s degree may have its advantages and disadvantages. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons in the scheme of the personal goals to determine if you should pursue a master’s degree.

Advantages

Sometimes, getting hired comes down to the people you know. One advantage of earning a master’s program in human resources is that it may help you expand your network—connecting you with mentors and fellow professionals that can support you as you pursue new roles.

According to the BLS, employees aged 16 and above spend a median of 4.2 years in their roles [PDF, 172 KB]. In looking at career as a whole, this may amount to many changes. Meeting both professors and peers in a master’s program who have been or are currently in the workforce (and in different industries), may pay off when you’re looking to step into a new position. They may give you tips for navigating the field, connect you to other professionals they know, or provide references to companies you are applying to.  Some schools even offer entry into professional organizations like the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).

A master’s degree may also be a competitive advantage when negotiating your salary and position. Employers often recognize the investment you’ve made in your skills and your career. The BLS notes that master’s-educated workers can earn $12,000 more per year than their bachelor’s-wielding counterparts.

A master’s degree program in HR may help you develop a strategic approach to people management and prepare you to play an integral role in a business. Having a strong understanding of how a business operates and how human resources fits into corporate growth may come in handy when looking to get ahead.

Disadvantages

Now, let’s look at the disadvantages of earning a Master of Human Resources. First off, these programs may require a large monetary and time commitment—many programs take one and a half to two years and in some cases, credit hours might cost a couple thousand dollars.

If you’re enrolled in a full-time program, you may have less time to work and find it harder to pay for your degree. One financing option you have is student loans—but on average, federal loans can take between 10 and 30 years to pay off. If you do wish to continue working, some schools may offer options like part-time or online HR programs, which can give you more time and flexibility to earn your degree.

Another potential drawback is that there are other (cheaper) ways to build the skills you need to succeed in your HR career. Several universities offer graduate certificates in human resources—or simply let you take or audit courses—enabling you to strengthen your skillset without completing a full degree program. You can also check with your employer to determine if they provide additional training or support to further your career.

Summing It All Up: Should You Get a Master’s Degree in HR?

There are certainly a number of benefits to earning a master’s degree in HR. However, as we’ve explained, it’s not always necessary to further your career. The worth of a master’s degree in HR depends on your individual interests, career goals, and budget. If you do wish to pursue graduate studies but you’re currently working and have other personal obligations, you may want to consider an online master’s in human resources, or a part-time master’s program to help you obtain your degree on your terms.

Last updated: August 2020