If you want to work in human resources, you must be willing to get an education first. A bachelor’s degree is the educational qualification most commonly needed for workers in HR roles, but the full range of your education options includes everything from two-year associate’s degree programs to advanced studies at the graduate level. Generally, the higher your degree level, the more career opportunities will be open to you.

Associate’s Degree Programs in Human Resources

If your goal is to get the minimum education you need to begin a career in the field of human resources as quickly as possible, an associate’s degree could be the right option for you. In just two years, if you study full-time, you could complete an associate’s degree in human resources. Junior colleges and community colleges often offer these programs of study, which can prepare graduates for roles such as human resources assistant and payroll and timekeeping clerk. In an associate’s degree program in human resources, you would be likely to study general business classes such as Business Law and Ethics, Accounting Principles and Business Principles as well as business-focused coursework in math and communication. At the associate’s degree level, HR classes might include Introduction to Human Resources, Employment Law & Labor Relations, Introduction to Compensation & Benefits, Organizational Behavior & Leadership and Recruitment, Selection & Staffing.

The biggest drawback to an associate’s degree is that it doesn’t meet the minimum education typically required for roles like human resources specialist. To work in this role or similar roles – and especially, if you eventually want to advance to a leadership role in HR – you will need at minimum a bachelor’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Your associate’s degree will help you attain an entry-level general HR role such as human resources assistant or a narrowly focused role such as payroll and timekeeping clerk. These positions are often more administrative or clerical in nature than a position as a human resources specialist or generalist. They may not carry the same amount of prestige and often pay considerably less than more central HR roles.

The pay difference between HR specialists and assistants is more than 20,000 per year, The Houston Chronicle reported. Payroll and timekeeping clerks earn a $44,950 average wage, compared to the $60,350 median wage for human resources specialists, the BLS reported.

Bachelor’s Degree in HR Programs

The education needed to become a human resource specialist is typically a four-year degree. A bachelor’s degree in human resources prepares you for many entry-level and above jobs in HR. With this degree, you can become a human resources specialist, human resources generalist, recruitment specialist, labor relations specialist, training and development specialist or a specialist in compensation, benefits or jobs analysis.

While students in a bachelor’s-level HR program must take the same foundational business and human resources coursework as those going for an associate’s degree, they also have the opportunity to develop more depth of HR knowledge. For example, you might take classes in general Human Resource Management, Issues in Human Resource Management, Global Human Resource Management, Compensation Management, Employee Training and Development and Labor Relations.

Although a bachelor’s degree is often called a four-year degree, not every student completes their education within four years. In fact, less than 60 percent of college students will finish their bachelor’s degree even in six years.

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

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Master’s in Human Resources

In HR, as in many other fields, management is where the money is. A bachelor’s degree meets the minimum education requirements for many jobs as a human resources manager, training and development manager and compensation and development manager, the BLS reported. However, having a graduate degree can open new opportunities in HR management that you wouldn’t have with only a bachelor’s degree. Each of these HR roles has a six-figure median salary, so it is no wonder why master’s degree programs in human resources have become popular.

Generally, students must choose between two types of master’s degree programs in human resources. You could earn your Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a human resources concentration. This program is broader and more general in scope, consisting of graduate studies in management, marketing, economics and finance as well as advanced HR coursework. Another option is the more specialized Master of Science in Human Resources or Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources Management. These HR programs include less of an emphasis on general business studies but instead focus on graduate-level coursework in subjects like talent management, human resources analytics, human resources leadership and global HR management.

Earning your graduate degree is one way to advance an HR career, but it’s not the only way. In fact, the BLS predicts better career prospects for candidates who have either a master’s degree or a professional certification.

Additional Resources

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