What Can I Expect from a Human Resources Degree?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

An HR degree can be an entry to a career in human resources management, business, and more. Discover human resources degrees and what you can do with them.

[Featured image] A student in a human resources degree program interviews a classmate.

It’s a simple fact: without employees, few businesses would thrive. And without human resource professionals, many business leaders would struggle to meet the needs of their employees. Human resource professionals recruit, screen, and interview candidates applying for company jobs. They work to ensure employees are treated fairly and may oversee training, compensation, and benefit questions. It is a complex role requiring human and technical skills, many that you can learn in a classroom or online.

You can learn a lot about the world of work–including recruiting, workforce training, and talent acquisition for a company–by studying for a human resources degree. Human resources is a broad topic, with many opportunities for specialization in recruiting, workforce training, or compensation and benefits administration. You can find your own area of interest by working toward a human resources degree.

Did you know?

The term “human resources” first appeared in John R. Commons’ book, The Distribution of Wealth, in 1893. However, human resources as an organizational concept did not begin popularizing until the 1960s, when labor relations became more sophisticated, and notions of motivation and organizational behavior started to take shape.


What degree do you need for human resources?

Depending on your career goals, you may pursue a human resources degree at the undergraduate or graduate level. Let's take a closer look at the types of degree programs you might find:

Associate degree in human resources 

With an associate-level program, prepare for entry-level work in human resources, often in general administrative support. Typically, this degree takes two years to complete; however, some schools offer fast-track programs that can be completed in one year.

If you plan to start with an entry-level position and work your way up through promotions and experience on the job, an associate degree can be a solid option. You can explore labor law, management, and compensation in your coursework. You may take the following classes:

  • Employee Relations

  • Employment and Labor Law

  • Human Resource Development

  • Organizational Behavior

  • Recruitment and Staffing

An associate degree is typically more affordable and can be obtained in half the amount of time compared to a bachelor’s degree. Plus, an associate degree can transfer into a bachelor’s degree. It also offers flexibility because you can go into the workforce or continue working toward a bachelor’s degree path. In 2021, the average cost per year of in-state tuition for an associate degree was $3,800 [1].

Bachelor’s degree in human resources 

A bachelor's degree is common among human resources professionals. Nearly half of new hires as human resources specialists hold a bachelor’s degree, according to a survey reported by O*Net Online, and about 74 percent of human resources employers require a bachelor’s degree for human resources manager positions. That same survey revealed only 9 percent of employers require a degree higher than a bachelor’s degree for a human resources manager position [2].

Fundamental courses for an undergraduate HR degree include change management, HR career planning, HR’s role in organizations, employee and labor relations, and employment law. Secondary courses include mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, and sustainability. Some of the courses you may take include:

  • Business and Personal Ethics

  • Business Law

  • Compensation, Benefits Systems, and Theories

  • Diversity and Inclusion in Leadership

  • Operations Management

  • Strategic Human Resources

  • Talent Acquisition and Management

Bachelor’s degrees typically range from about four to five years of study. Tuition for an online bachelor’s degree in human resources management ranges from $43,000 to $64,000 [3]. The average in-state tuition and fees for a full-time, in-person undergraduate degree are $10,740 per year ($42,960 for four years) as of 2021 [1].

The name of the degree can vary slightly, although the covered subjects often overlap.  Some academic institutions will place the HR degree path as a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration focusing on human resources. Others will call it a Bachelor of Arts in Management with a concentration in human resources. 

Some schools offer a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management, both as a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts. Still, others will refer to the academic path as earning a Bachelor of Organizational Management. All can qualify you for a career in human resources. 

Master’s degree in human resources 

You can explore human resources more in-depth in master's degree coursework. A master’s degree can help you qualify for higher-level management positions if you are already working in human resources.

Two options for graduate-level HR degrees are a master's in human resources management or a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on human resources. The human resources management degree typically hones in on employee management, people skills, or organizational leadership topics. An MBA tends to cover many aspects of upper-level business education programs, including finance, marketing, and management. 

Compared to bachelor's degree programs, the curricula for master’s degrees in human resources tend to zero in on topics specific to human resources like talent acquisition and management techniques. You may find more courses on upper-level management in human resources, such as employment law, organizational culture, and leadership skills. Some courses you may take include:

  • Change Management

  • Human Resources Strategy

  • Labor Issues and Conflict Management

  • Managing Behavior in Organizations

  • Negotiations

You can typically finish a master’s degree program in human resources in one or two years as a full-time student. The average cost of an MBA degree is $66,340 [4].

Degree alternatives

Many human resources specialists and managers complete professional certifications to further their understanding and expertise in the field. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers the SHRM Certified Professional certificate for students preparing for an HR degree. It also provides an SHRM Certified Senior Professional Certification for HR professionals with at least three years of work experience. 

What can you do with a human resources degree?

Learning the protocols and laws regarding human resources can position you for a career directly related to overseeing employees in a company. It can also help you prepare for a range of other professions.

In a small company, a single person or small team may handle the responsibilities of these positions. A large company may have a department staffed by different people for each of these roles. Jobs that relate directly to an HR degree include:

  • Human resources coordinator

  • Office manager

  • Chief people officer

  • Change management specialist

  • Compensation and benefits manager 

  • Director of diversity, equity, and inclusion

  • Director of human resources

  • Employee relations manager

  • Executive coach

  • Human resources risk and compliance specialist

  • Training and development manager

Human resources professionals who work in the management of companies and professional, scientific and technical services top the pay scale, with median salaries of $130,340 and $133,980, respectively [5].

The skills learned with an HR degree also transfer to many other careers. If a professional works directly with human resources managers in a sales capacity, they’ll often be better prepared to understand their target audience with an HR degree. A human resources degree can also be helpful for jobs requiring a high level of human psychological understanding. Additional jobs include:

  • Legal arbitrator

  • Business or career advisor

  • Life coach

  • Management consultant

  • Mediator

  • Sales executive

  • Talent agent

  • Insurance sales agent

  • Customer service representatives

Get started

Explore whether a degree in human resources could be a good fit for you by taking a course from a leading university on Coursera. Build skills in recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and performance management with Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers from the University of Minnesota or learn to develop a strategic plan for hiring with Hiring Practices from the University of California Irvine.

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Article sources

1. College Board. “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021,  https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf.” Accessed August 19, 2022. 

2. O*Net Online. “Human Resources Manager,  https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-3121.00.” Accessed August 19, 2022.

3. US News & World Report. “Online Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management, https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/human-resource-management-bachelors-degree.” Accessed August 19, 2022.

4. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree,  https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree.” August 19, 2022.

5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Human Resources Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm.” Accessed August 19, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.