Business Administration

What Is an MBA With Concentration in Human Resources?

What Is an MBA With Concentration in Human Resources?
Generally, HR professionals pursuing graduate-level studies fall into two categories. The first consists of students who want to focus their education exclusively on human resources. The second group seeks a broader knowledge base. Image from Unsplash
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Mairead Kelly May 29, 2020

As human resource management grows more complex, professionals in the field need broader and more in-depth training in all aspects of business. An MBA with an HR specialization provides the expertise required to advance in human resource management today.

MBA/Business Programs You Should Consider

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If you’re hoping to advance in the human resources field, pursuing a master’s degree is a great way to build the skills and knowledge needed to take the next step in your career—and to reap the financial benefits that come with it. Many organizations now require HR candidates to hold a master’s degree to qualify for upper-management and senior-level positions. In short, an advanced degree is arguably no longer optional. If you’re serious about your career, a master’s may be obligatory.

Heading to grad school for the sake of greater mobility in the job market, better pay, and the opportunity to take on more responsibility at work may seem like a no-brainer. However, when it comes to deciding what kind of human resources master’s degree to pursue, you’ll have some decisions to make.

Generally, HR professionals pursuing graduate-level studies fall into two categories. The first consists of students who want to focus their education exclusively on human resources. The second group seeks a broader knowledge base. It’s this group that’s most likely to pursue the Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a human resources (HR) concentration. Often referred to as an HR MBA, this track is designed for students who want to continue building their human resources skills while also focusing on the diverse concepts and skills integral to a business degree.

As more schools offer an HR specialization for MBA students, this path is becoming increasingly popular. Wondering if an MBA with a concentration in human resources is right for you? Read on to learn more about the degree and where it can take you. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Who is most likely to choose this MBA concentration?
  • What prerequisites must I meet to enroll in an HR MBA program?
  • What kind of coursework will I complete in an HR MBA program?
  • How long does it take to earn an HR MBA?
  • Where can I find the best HR MBA programs?
  • What careers do people with an HR MBA pursue?

Who is most likely to choose this MBA concentration?

If you want to train your focus exclusively on human resource management, a Master of Science in Human Resource Management may best suit your goals. If, however, you want a broader understanding of how businesses operate across functions, an HR MBA may be the right degree for you. You won’t dive as deep into the minutiae of HR, but you will learn a lot more about operations, finance, and information systems. If you think you might want to pivot from HR to another business area later in your career, the MBA will better position you for that move.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

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What prerequisites must I meet to enroll in an HR MBA program?

Most accredited MBA programs require similar qualifications of candidates, regardless of the concentrations they offer. You’ll almost certainly need a bachelor’s degree; if the degree is in a non-business field, you may need to fulfill prerequisite coursework requirements before commencing graduate study.

Additional requirements for admissions to an HR MBA program may include:

  • Transcripts from all previously attended undergraduate and graduate institutions
  • Minimum GPA
  • A statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume or CV

It’s also typical of most business schools to require students’ GMAT scores for admission, though an increasing number accept the GRE. Programs that do not require applicants to submit test scores are rare. Instead, MBA programs more commonly allow students to request a test waiver, which, if granted, allows students to be exempt from the standardized test requirement.

Professional experience often counts in the admissions process too. Most business schools require at least one or two years of full-time work and leadership experience, while top-tier schools typically require between three and five.

What kind of coursework will I complete in an HR MBA program?

HR MBA curricula vary by program, but all combine organizational theory and practice with a strong focus on strategic human resource management. Most programs include course material on communications, marketing, finance, business technology, and global and/or international business strategies. Specific courses may cover:

  • Business strategy
  • Compensation theory and administration
  • Corporate governance, executive compensation, and the board
  • Executive leadership
  • Foundations of teamwork and leadership
  • Innovation, change, and entrepreneurship
  • Labor and employee relations
  • Effective team leadership
  • Managing organizational change
  • Negotiations
  • Personnel staffing and evaluation
  • Strategic management of human assets

How long does it take to earn an HR MBA?

As with MBA programs in general, students who pursue a traditional full-time HR MBA can expect to complete their degree in two years. Some business schools offer accelerated programs, which can typically be completed in 12 to 18 months.

Other schools offer part-time HR MBAs that provide working professionals with greater flexibility. These programs may be offered:

  • Entirely online
  • In a hybrid online/on-campus format
  • On-campus during evenings and weekends for the convenience of working students

Most part-time HR MBA programs take two to three years to finish, while some can last up to five years.

Where can I find the best HR MBA programs?

U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of Best Business Schools covers the top accredited traditional MBA programs based on anonymous feedback from business school deans and directors, graduate starting base salaries, recruiter assessment scores, and a range of other indicators. Of those that made it to the publication’s rankings, these schools are among the top ten that offer an HR concentration:

What about online programs?

U.S. News and World Report also created a list of the best online HR MBA programs based on engagement, faculty credentials and training, and services and technologies, among other factors. The online programs from these schools rank highest:

What careers do people with an HR MBA pursue?

Individuals with an HR MBA qualify to work in most industries, regardless of sector and organization size. Thus, they enjoy ample opportunities to find a work environment that suits their career goals. Whether they hope to expand their skills by taking on a multifunctional HR role, hone their leadership skills by heading a department, or deepen their experience in a specific HR or business function by becoming a dedicated specialist, their degree can make it happen. Let’s take a look at some options.

Labor relations specialist

Labor relations specialists are vital for the meditation process that typically takes place between organizational management and union laborers during a dispute. Using their knowledge of economics, wage data, labor law, and collective bargaining trends, they’re responsible for interpreting and administering employees’ contracts regarding grievances, wages or salaries, employee welfare, benefits, union practices, and other critical issues. From there, they often implement labor relations programs to oversee compliance with the union’s negotiated contract.

Human resources director

HR directors are responsible for managing the overall provision of HR services, policies, and programs to support an employee-oriented, highly productive company culture. They ensure that their organization’s programs meet legal and professional standards and requirements, oversee employee complaints, benefits, and payroll, and advise company managers about HR issues.

Compensation and benefits manager

Compensation and benefits managers plan, create, and supervise employee compensation and benefits programs. While some managers administer both the compensation and benefits programs in an organization, other managers—particularly at large organizations—specialize and oversee one or the other. However, all compensation and benefits managers routinely meet with senior staff, managers of other human resources departments, and the financial officers of their organization to offer their expertise regarding compensation and benefits policies, programs, and plans. Day-to-day, those in this role may monitor trends affecting pay and benefits and assess ways for their organization to improve related practices and policies.

Director of employee experience

A growing number of companies seek to create compelling employee experiences that help them attract top talent and prevent current star performers from exploring outside opportunities. To that end, many hire employee experience directors to oversee a culture in which employees feel empowered and appreciated. Some of the responsibilities of employee experience directors may include creating and maintaining performance appraisals, overseeing employee leaves of absence, and assisting with new employee training. They may also head the development and implementation of an employee rewards program that acknowledges factors like outstanding performance or work anniversaries.

Chief happiness officer

It’s safe to say that companies that hire for this role go a step further than traditional HR practice. As the name implies, chief happiness officers are responsible for happiness levels within a company. They consider work and employment a source of personal satisfaction—and are in charge of managing the strategy and processes related to building and retaining an exceptional team of professionals. Their job is to optimize people-centered activities such as hiring, training, professional development, performance management, and recognition while ensuring these efforts support the company’s growth and bottom line.

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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