A master’s degree in human resources may be one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, but a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is more versatile. If you’re trying to get the best of both worlds, you might wonder if an MBA with a concentration in human resources management is an option to consider. MBA programs with HR management concentrations are popular, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recognizes more than 20 such programs that align with its educational standards and competencies. If you’re considering an MBA program with a concentration in human resources management, you should understand the curriculum differences and areas of focus that distinguish these programs.
What’s Required in an MBA in Human Resources Management?
In a master’s degree program in human resources specifically, just about every course will relate to human resources in a substantive way. That’s not the case when you pursue an MBA that includes a concentration in human resources management. MBA programs with a human resources concentration can align with the curriculum standards established by the SHRM if they include at least five to six courses in HR.
One of the classes in an MBA program in human resources must be an introductory course, such as a general graduate-level Management of Human Resources class, that offers a full-scope overview of the discipline of HR management. The last course MBA students take in must be a human resources sequence must be a capstone course, such as Strategic Human Resources Management. The capstone course should bring together the specialized HR portions of the curriculum and examines topics like organizational effectiveness, management strategy formation and trends and issues in human resources management.
The other courses MBA students take might encompass content in employee performance management, change management and leadership, risk management in the workplace and training and development, according to the SHRM.
Focusing on Business Administration Over HR
Are you primarily looking for breadth or depth of knowledge out of your graduate education? That’s the question that distinguishes an MBA – in any concentration – from a master’s degree in a specific business discipline.
Students in a 30-credit to 45-credit MBA program spend half to two-thirds of their studies completing a core of graduate-level business courses. These courses cover content from every area of business, including management and leadership, finance, accounting, economics, business law and statistics. While they may take more courses in HR than in any one of these other aspects of business studies individually, most of their coursework is general in nature. The benefit of this curriculum is that you have a broader scope of graduate knowledge. In turn, you are prepared for a broader range of career opportunities in which a master’s degree might be required or preferred.
In a Master of Science or Master of Arts program in human resources, the curriculum is heavily skewed toward HR-specific courses, including core courses and electives. Students should take enough general coursework to meet the SHRM’s business acumen competency.
Choosing Between an MBA in HR and a Master’s in Human Resources
Given the different areas of focus between MBA programs with a concentration in human resources and master’s degrees in HR specifically, it’s fair to say that part of the decision is personal. Generally, those who care more about profits favor an MBA, while those who revel in the challenge of putting together the perfect team of workers prefer a master’s degree in HR specifically. That said, it also pays to be strategic about your choice of graduate school programs.
Suppose that you majored in business administration as an undergraduate but found yourself attracted to HR roles once you joined the workforce. In this instance, an MBA might feel like more of the same, whereas a master’s in human resources would allow you to grasp the complexities of HR that might be missing in a less specialized program. The reverse is also true. A student who earned a bachelor’s in human resources but now feels limited by their undergraduate specialization might broaden their horizons – and their opportunities – by choosing an MBA program.
What your ideal HR role would be should also be part of your graduate school decisions. If you would like to move into the highest-level human resources positions, like Human Resources Administration Director or Chief Human Resources Officer, an MBA is probably a better fit due to its emphasis on corporate leadership and big-picture company HR strategy. If you’re more comfortable in a more specialized role, like Talent Acquisition Manager, Compensation and Benefits Manager or Training and Development Manager, an HR-focused education will offer you more opportunity to explore these areas within human resources.
Director and executive roles in HR pay more than typical human resources manager roles, but the competition for top executive positions is fierce. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a six-figure median salary for HR managers.