What Is a Human Resources Degree?

Evan Thompson
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Updated July 11, 2024
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Explore what a human resources degree program can offer. Discover which degree is best for you and potential career paths.

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Business is a popular choice for many students in the U.S. It’s a diverse field with different concentrations like management and human resources. If you’re passionate about creating positive work environments, a human resources major might be the right fit for you.

Human resources, or HR, is all about taking care of the people who keep an organization running smoothly. HR professionals handle recruitment, training, pay, and performance reviews.

Check out the guide below to learn more about HR, different degree options, career paths, and salaries.

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What Is Human Resources?

Human resources handles the hiring, training, and managing of staff for an organization. An HR degree helps you identify personnel needs, develop materials, drive change, and provide career guidance.

You can get an HR degree at many colleges. An associate degree can lead to payroll or benefits jobs. A bachelor’s degree can make you a labor specialist or HR manager. A master’s degree can lead to diversity director or recruiter roles. A Ph.D. enables you to teach HR to undergrads.

What Kinds of Human Resources Degrees Are There?

A degree in human resources unlocks many new job opportunities, giving you a significant edge over non-degree holders. A human resources major can land roles like recruitment specialist, training manager, or benefits administrator. With a master’s in HR, you can become a stronger candidate for manager and director-level positions.

HR certificates and degrees are available at colleges and universities. When deciding which one to pursue, students should think about their career goals. Learn more about the different HR certificates and degrees below.

Certificate in Human Resources

A certificate in human resources can prepare you for a career in HR or boost your advancement prospects. These certificates cover essential HR information or may specialize in areas like HR data analytics, leading to roles such as labor relations specialist, training and development manager, or compensation and benefits manager.

You’ll typically complete a certificate in 1-2 semesters, earning 9-18 credits. Coursework includes compensation systems, collective bargaining, and workforce analytics. You can transfer most courses into a bachelor’s degree program in human resources or another field. Some certificate programs prepare students for Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) certification.

Associate Degree in Human Resources

Human resources associate degree programs provide students with a solid business foundation, covering laws, ethics, and professional responsibilities. These 60-credit programs typically take less than two years to complete. The curriculum includes essential courses like human relations, employment law, and management principles, as well as general education classes in math and/or English.

After graduating, students qualify for entry-level business positions, such as information clerk, customer service representative, or general office clerk. With experience, they advance to higher roles. Graduates can also leverage their associate degrees to fulfill general education requirements in bachelor’s programs.

Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources

A bachelor’s degree in human resources provides a broad-based education, covering key business disciplines like accounting, economics, and marketing. It delves deeper into management tools and strategies in upper-level classes. Most programs consist of 120 credits, which take four years to earn. Transfer students with associate degrees may be able to complete their bachelor’s degree programs in as few as two years.

A human resources major typically secures jobs as human resources specialists, but concentrating in a specific area can also open doors to advanced or nontraditional careers. Organizational management and financial management are popular specializations, leading to roles in HR management or financial management.

Master’s Degree in Human Resources

A master’s degree in HR is a graduate-level degree offering advanced knowledge and skills in the field. These programs equip students to analyze and manage organizational effectiveness, developing them into better leaders. Coursework covers topics like recruitment and staffing, human resources analytics, and negotiations.

Master’s degrees typically consist of 30-45 credits and take two years to complete. Some schools offer dedicated MBAs in human resources. However, it’s more common for human resources to be a specialization in a general or executive MBA program. After training, graduates can pursue many management-level careers.

Doctoral Degree in Human Resources

Doctoral degrees in human resources are offered in various structures and lengths, shaped by student needs. They typically demand 60-120 credits and span 4-7 years. These programs focus on human behavior, labor relations, and public policy, equipping students to navigate the intricacies of employee-organization relationships.

HR doctoral degrees often provide specializations, but students typically design their own concentrations tailored to their research and career goals. Doctorate holders qualify for advanced academic and non-academic roles, such as professor, human resources manager or consultant, or compensation and benefits manager.

What Can You Do as a Human Resources Major?

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

  • HR specialists: HR specialists handle employee recruiting, training, and development for various organizations.
  • HR managers: HR managers oversee the efforts of an HR department, including recruitment, hiring, training, development, and benefits administration.
  • HR analysts: HR analysts collaborate with organizations to optimize HR efforts, creating training programs, designing compensation packages, and upholding labor laws.
  • HR assistants: HR assistants perform entry-level duties, providing administrative support and assistance in managing personnel tasks for an organization’s HR department.
  • Compensation and benefits managers: Compensation and benefits managers design and implement compensation packages that attract, retain, and motivate top talent.

Most HR specialists work in the employment services industry. However, the government, healthcare, and manufacturing industries also commonly hire HR professionals. HR specialists have the skills and knowledge needed to maintain strict standards, professional ethics, and an effective and committed workforce.

HR grads 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 majors to consider.

Technology

The technology industry is attractive to new human resources graduates. In computer design and technology services, production and success depend on workers. So, HR specialists can help by improving labor relations and maintaining a productive workforce.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 13% of HR specialists worked in the professional, scientific, and technical services sectors as of May 2023. They also earned some of the highest median annual wages of any major industry, more than $77,000.

Recruitment

Recruitment is a big industry for HR professionals. According to the BLS, 18% of HR specialists work in employment services, which involves recruiting, hiring, and training employees. 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

Healthcare is one of the largest employers of HR specialists and managers. The BLS projects roles in healthcare to grow faster than average between 2022 and 2032, meaning hospitals and health services organizations will likely need more HR professionals.

While a bachelor’s degree in human resources should prepare most students for this career pathway, choosing a healthcare specialization can give you 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
CareerMedian Annual SalaryJob Growth (2022-2032)Typical Degree Needed
Human Resources Managers$136,3505%Bachelor’s
Human Resources Specialists$67,6506%Bachelor’s
Human Resources Assistants$40,540-4%Associate
Source: BLS

Accreditation for Human Resources Programs

All students should take higher education accreditation seriously, regardless of their academic discipline. Accreditation directly impacts financial aid opportunities, continuing education options, and future employment. It also guarantees that academic programs meet industry standards.

A college’s institutional accreditation is essential, as it ensures students receive a proper education. While programmatic accreditation is not mandatory for human resources, SHRM endorses programs that meet its minimum educational standards. This can help students identify quality programs and make informed decisions about their education.

Frequently Asked Questions About HR Majors

HR can be a rewarding career, helping companies create positive, inclusive environments for employees. The BLS reports that HR managers, who need a bachelor’s degree for entry-level roles, earned $136,350 in 2023. HR specialists earned $67,650. The BLS projects both roles will grow faster than average from 2022-2032.

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