What Can I Do With a Human Resources Degree?

| Doug Wintemute


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If you like working with people, a human resources degree could be for you.

The department of a business or organization that hires, manages, and trains employees is called human resources (HR). Training in this discipline leads to a variety of careers, including some with strong projected growth rates and high median salaries.

While human resources specialists are the most traditional career pathway, the HR field offers other postgraduate options, including advanced degrees and nonbusiness careers. Students can further increase their options with savvy educational choices. This page explores human resources in more detail, covering the degrees, careers, and resources that best suit HR professionals.

What Kinds of Human Resources Degrees Are There?

Aspiring human resources professionals have several educational options. When deciding which to pursue, candidates should think about their career end goals. For example, learners who eventually want to become a director of human resources can improve their chances by earning an MBA in human resources. Learn more about the different HR degrees below.

Associate Degree in Human Resources

Associate degrees in human resources typically cover the fundamentals of business, including the laws, ethics, and responsibilities surrounding the profession. In most cases, these degrees take 60 credits and can be completed in less than two years. Some common courses include human relations, employment law, and management principles, and most also cover general education courses like math or English.

After graduation, students can access entry-level careers in the business world, such as information clerk, customer service representative, or general office clerk. With experience, associate degree-holders may work up to higher positions. Graduates can also transfer into a bachelor's program, using their associate degree toward general education requirements.

Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources

A bachelor's degree in human resources is more comprehensive than an associate degree, covering a variety of business disciplines, such as accounting, economics, and marketing. Upper-level classes emphasize management tools and strategies. Most programs require 120 credits and can be completed in four years — or two, for transfer students with associate degrees.

Many bachelor's graduates pursue careers as human resources specialists, but a degree concentration can also help students pursue careers in more advanced or nontraditional fields. Some popular specializations include organizational management and financial management, which can lead to careers in human resources management or financial management.

What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Human Resources?

The major differences between a bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of science (BS) in human resources is in core electives. While a BA typically features humanities courses, such as history and psychology, a BS tends to focus on more industry-specific subjects, like benefits analysis or employee reguations.

The two degree options also offer different specializations. For example, a BA may offer human behavior specializations, like training and development, whereas a BS might offer a specialization in compensation and benefits. Both degrees can lead to the same careers after graduation, though BA graduates may be better equipped to pursue master's programs in non-business subjects, as their coursework is more diverse.

Master's Degree in Human Resources

Graduate training may not be available to everyone, but the popularity of master's degrees in business-related disciplines has led to an increase in affordable master's programs. During a master's degree in human resources, students typically learn to analyze and manage organizational effectiveness. The classes also focus on developing better leaders, covering topics like recruitment and staffing, human resources analytics, and negotiations.

In general, master's degrees feature 30-45 credits and take two years to complete. While some schools offer an actual MBA in human resources, it's more common for human resources to be a specialization within a general or executive MBA program. After completing training, graduates can pursue an array of management careers, such as public relations manager, human resources manager, or training and development manager.

Doctoral Degree in Human Resources

Doctoral degrees in human resources vary in their structure and length depending on the program and the student. In general, these programs require 60-120 credits and take 4-7 years to complete. The courses in these programs usually emphasize human behavior, labor relations, and public policy, training students to understand the complexities involved in employee and organization relationships.

Though some human resources doctoral degrees offer specializations, usually students must create their own concentrations based on their research and career interests. After graduation, doctorate holders qualify for all of the same professions as that of lower degree-holders, and they can also pursue more specialized careers, like postsecondary teacher, human resources manager or consultant, or compensation and benefits manager.

What Can You Do With a Human Resources Degree?

Human resources graduates can enter into a variety of careers and industries. Their level of education, professional experience, and study specialization influence what opportunities they have. For example, students who earn a Human resources management degree will have an easier time landing management roles.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of human resources specialists work in the employment services industry, but the government, healthcare, and manufacturing industries also employ a significant percentage of them. Each of these industries relies on strict standards, professional ethics, and an effective and committed workforce — all components that human resources specialists can impact.

Human resources graduates can also pursue consulting and analyst careers, which require candidates to understand human behavior and business principles. The following sections examine three of the biggest industries for human resources graduates to consider.

Technology

As the technology industry continues its strong job and salary growth, it will remain an attractive landing spot for new human resources graduates. In fields like computer design and technology services, production and success depends on the workers, so human resources specialists can help their employers by improving labor relations and maintaining a productive workforce.

According to BLS employment data, 13% of HR specialists worked in the technical services sector in 2019, earning the highest median annual wages of any major industry at over $70,000. Human resources graduates can also look for compensation manager positions in the technology industry.

For most positions, a bachelor's degree in human services should suffice, but students can improve their odds by choosing leadership and human behavior courses.

Recruitment

According to BLS employment data, 15% of human resources specialists work in employment services, which means recruiting, hiring, and training employees for their organizations. The majority of the 7% projected job growth between 2019-2029 is expected to come from the need to fill employment holes left by an aging workforce. This industry also employs a significant number of human resources management professionals.

HR specialists and managers assess job candidates and evaluate their potential. Typically equipped with a bachelor's degree in human resources, these professionals also develop training and orientation programs to onboard new recruits and help them succeed in their new workplace.

Healthcare

The healthcare sector is one of the largest employers of both human resources specialists and human resources managers. According to BLS occupational data, the industry is projected to grow 15% between 2019-2029 — nearly four times the average for all occupations. As a result, hospitals and health services organizations will require more HR professionals to support their growing staff numbers.

While a bachelor's degree in human resources should prepare most students for this career pathway, earning a healthcare specialization can provide a competitive advantage. Taking classes in healthcare employment law, policy, and standards and practices can also help.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Human Resources Degree?

Though actual wages and job requirements depend on factors like location and experience, the table below explores three of the most popular careers for human resources graduates, along with the median annual salaries and projected job growth for each position.

Human Resources Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary Job Growth
(2019-2029)
Typical Degree Needed
Human Resources Managers $116,720 6% Bachelor's
Human Resources Specialists $61,920 7% Bachelor's
Human Resources Assistants $41,430 -5% Associate
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Human Resources Professional Organizations

Dedicated to elevating the human resources profession, SHRM helps build and promote the standards and practices of HR professionals. Members have access to industry resources, professional certifications, and educational programs. They can also utilize the supportive network and career services offered by SHRM. Founded in 1906, IPMA-HR aims to promote better practices in human resources careers. The association provides its members with access to industry news, career and educational opportunities, and professional development programs. Members can also get information on industry policies and network with other professionals. Founded in 1982, the APA seeks to improve the payroll and administrative profession by providing members with conferences, industry resources, certifications, and educational opportunities. The APA also advocates for the industry and helps develop the standards to which its professionals adhere.

Accreditation for Human Resources Programs

All students should take higher education accreditation seriously, regardless of their academic discipline. It can influence financial aid opportunities, continuing education options, and future employment. It also ensures that academic programs meet industry standards. Students should always check that their college is regionally accredited to ensure they are getting a proper education.

For human resources, programmatic accreditation is not mandatory, the way it is in industries like nursing or engineering. However, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) does endorse programs that meet its minimum educational standards, which can help students identify quality training.

Frequently Asked Questions

true Is a Human Resources Degree Hard?

HR degrees can challenge students with their blend of business and human relations training. However, learners with proper preparation and study habits should find this program no more difficult than other business disciplines.

Is Human Resources a Stressful Job?

HR professionals are faced with difficult scenarios from time to time, especially when they have to make high-level decisions about the careers of others, which some people find stressful. However, their knowledge and training should help them succeed despite the pressures.

Why Is Human Resources Important?

For many organizations, the human resources is the key to employee productivity. HR professionals oversee the staffing, training, and development of the workforce, ensuring that the staff performs effectively and that support staff can keep them happy and thriving. HR professionals also help organizations follow employment laws, keeping their companies out of trouble.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Human Resources?

The length of time it takes to earn a human resources degree varies by degree level. Associate degrees typically take two years, whereas bachelor's degrees take four years to complete. A master's degree usually takes an additional two years, and a doctorate can take an additional 4-7 years after that.

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