Best Online Master’s in Human Resources

Learn what it takes to become a top human resources leader in a growing and well-paying field. Read about standout master’s programs, popular classes, and available jobs.

Does the thought of being in a people-centric business leadership role sound like a dream job? Do you want to learn how to create HR policies that attract and keep top-tier talent, promote a diverse workforce, and maximize employee happiness and productivity? Pursuing an online master’s in human resources provides the supervisory skills needed to accomplish this and compete for senior-level HR positions. By completing your degree online, you’ll take advantage of flexible schedules that allow for balance between personal, professional, and academic responsibilities. Read on to learn about the best online human resources master’s degrees, the classes you’ll take, and the jobs that could be waiting for you after graduation.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s Degrees in Human Resources for 2021

A quick Google search will turn up many online master’s in human resources programs, making it hard to narrow your options and find the program that suits your needs. To help you make an informed and confident decision about your master’s in HR online, this list highlights schools near and far that offer the best options for 2021. Flexibility, affordability, and accreditation are all factors that play into the top three picks below. Plus, come back again later in 2021 to find a comprehensive ranking of programs across the country.

Western Carolina University

Designed to prepare future leaders in the human resources field, the Western Carolina University (WCU) online M.S. in human resources focuses on building skills in relational, strategic, and socially responsible HR leadership. The 36 credits comprising this program are taught by seasoned HR professionals and usually take about two years to complete.

Designed for working adults, WCU’s program covers topics like employee and labor relations, performance management, and HR diversity. In addition to traditional coursework, plan to complete a field experience in human resources. This supervised work experience allows you to apply skills learned throughout the degree in a professional environment.

To enroll, you must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and a 3.0 GPA. You’ll also need to submit academic transcripts, GRE/GMAT scores, and three letters of recommendation. Some applicants may be granted conditional admission if they do not meet formal requirements.

University of Southern California

The prestigious University of Southern California (USC) offers a 100% online M.S. in human resource management degree. Specifically designed for working professionals, this program focuses on the essential role human resources professionals play in the success of businesses and organizations. Offered through USC’s Bovard College, you can finish this degree in 12 months.

Through a curriculum designed by HR leaders, you’ll gain both essential human resource core knowledge while covering a wide range of topics. These include employee motivation, HR analytics, and organizational culture. USC’s program also emphasizes diversity and inclusion training and corporate social responsibility.

USC reviews each application comprehensively. While you’ll need an undergraduate degree, all of your relevant academic, personal, and professional information will be factored in, too. Required application materials include a professional resume, a statement of purpose, and two or three letters of recommendation.

Villanova University

Located just outside Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, Villanova University offers an online master’s in human resource development. Dedicated to developing global leaders and growing inclusive organizations, this online master’s program leans on experienced HR professionals and data-based methods to train the next generation of HR leaders.

All core classes last eight weeks and include topics such as foundations of strategic human resources, HR analytics, and organization development. Throughout the required 36 credits, you’ll cover topics such as strategic talent management, employment law, and financial and human capital. Graduate certificates in analytics, leadership, and organization development are also available.

Villanova’s online program has rolling admissions and accepts applicants year-round. Plan to submit a completed application along with academic transcripts, resume, and three letters of recommendation. While not required, the school encourages applicants to submit a short essay outlining work experience and career goals.

Benefits of Earning a Master’s in HR Online

Online master’s in human resources programs are flexible and provide the tools you need to advance your career—and your salary. Some of the key advantages for pursuing a master’s in HR online include:

  1. Flexibility

    If you’re already working in HR, it doesn’t make sense to leave your job to pursue your master’s. Instead, you can learn while on the job. Online master’s in human resources programs allow you to tackle rigorous academic work while managing personal and professional obligations. Many programs are offered 100% online, with asynchronous classes that allow you to work at your own pace. Many online programs mirror the interactive nature of in-class courses, engaging students through message boards and conferencing apps.

  2. Career Advancement

    While a master’s degree isn’t required to enter the field of human resources, top earners often hold advanced degrees. Employment law is always changing, so being up-to-date is crucial for your professional advancement. Human resources leaders also utilize forward-thinking management ideas—many stemming from their academic studies. An advanced degree will set you apart from the competition when looking for your next job.

  3. Compensation

    Human resources managers, compensation managers, and training managers all earned median salaries of more than $100,000 in 2019, with the top 10% earning around $200,000. Experienced managers often hold advanced degrees such as an online master’s degree in human resources and have specialized expertise that sets them apart from their competition. While the human resources field as a whole pays relatively well, management roles pay the most and a master’s degree can help make that happen.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Master’s in Human Resources Program

Courses offered through an online master’s in human resources vary from program to program, but most have a core group of classes that form a foundation. Topics include human resources strategy, leadership, talent management, and employee relations.

Often designed by leaders in the field, human resources curricula pull from theoretical and practical sources, often challenging you to solve real-world HR dilemmas. Most programs include a degree-culminating project, and some offer the chance to do an internship as part of graduation requirements. Keep reading to learn more about courses common to online master’s in human resources programs.

  • Human Resource Strategy

    This online course explores the essential role HR professionals play in unlocking the human and social capital of employees. In addition to linking organizational resources to performance outcomes, you’ll learn to create an effective framework for developing and evaluating human resource activities. Students also analyze how HR management functions in an international context and how HR decisions affect employee performance.

  • Leadership in Human Resources

    Leadership skills are essential if you’re looking for a managerial role in HR. This course focuses on developing the essential social intelligence skills used by effective leaders. The course looks at those skills and behaviors while offering insight into how to encourage change in the face of pushback. The course also exposes you to a variety of communication skills and highlights how to produce strategic plans through assessments and simulations.

  • Talent Management

    Through both data-driven HR decision-making and practical management processes, this course examines how an effective talent pipeline can affect an organization’s bottom line. It covers topics such as workforce planning and hiring, ways of building a succession pipeline, and performance review methods. You’ll also learn about developing effective coaching methods to improve employee performance.

  • Employee Relations

    Designed to provide the practical tools necessary for building positive employee relationships, this course examines common problems faced by HR professionals and explores the complex affiliations between bosses, workers, and labor unions. Through data-driven approaches to improve management practices, students in an online master’s degree in human resources program learn to coach and counsel to change employee behavior.

  • Management of Diverse Human Resources

    Through an analysis of diversity issues within the HR field, this course demonstrates how diversity and inclusion initiatives benefit an organization’s financial future. Assignments help you look closely at gender, race, and LGBTQ+ issues and explore the complex implications of unconscious bias and cultural competence.

Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Human Resources

As you’re considering various online master’s in human resource programs, you’ll see lots of similarities and differences between programs. No matter what, there’s one aspect that must stand out above the rest: accreditation. When looking at prospective schools, you’ll want to be sure they hold proper accreditation.

At the institutional level, any school you consider should hold regional accreditation. With this seal of approval, you can feel comfortable that the program meets certain standards in academics, admissions, and finances.

In addition to school accreditation, programmatic accreditation also plays an important role. The Society for Human Resource Management offers its stamp of approval to online master’s in human resources programs that meet academic and professional standards. This professional organization also offers career services and scholarship opportunities and a human resources degree directory. If in doubt about a school’s accreditation, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s searchable Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Human Resources

An online master’s in human resources provides the skills needed for a career in HR leadership. With generous salaries, management roles in human resources can pay well into the six figures. While the size of a company and the specific industry play a large role in determining earning potential, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for HR managers will grow by 6% between 2019-2029.

In addition to master’s in human resources programs offering the academic and practical training for advanced roles in the field, many programs provide concentrations. Popular specializations include organizational development, employment law, and project management. These allow you to tailor your coursework to your career interests and hone specialized knowledge that can pay dividends. Keep reading to learn more about some of the best-paying HR careers—information that may factor into the specific courses you choose.

Human Resources Manager

Through a wide variety of responsibilities, human resources managers coordinate and supervise the administrative elements of an organization. From employee recruiting to strategic planning, these top earners serve as essential conduits between management and employees. They often supervise the supervisors and manage staffing issues.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$68,300 $116,720 $205,720

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Training and Development Manager

Training and development managers oversee a wide variety of staff and management training programs. From the planning, implementation, and execution of an organization’s training operation, they are involved in each step. They also work with executives to hash out future training plans and employ HR data analytics to measure the efficacy of employee training.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$64,720 $113,350 $196,070

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Compensation and Benefits Manager

Compensation and benefits managers develop and oversee an organization’s pay and benefits structure. Prepared with a sound knowledge of state and federal employment regulations, they ensure guidelines are met and closely monitor competitive wages. In addition to managing budgetary concerns, these professionals also work as liaisons between employees, managers, and third parties that administer benefits.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$69,870 $122,270 $208,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Human Resources Specialist

Working on the frontlines of employee recruitment, human resources specialists screen, interview, and place new employees. They also handle critical tasks involving compensation, benefits, and training. Human resources specialist positions are expected to grow by 7% over the next decade and exist in organizations from local nonprofits to multinational corporations.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$37,180 $61,920 $105,930

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Labor Relations Specialist

Working as a bridge between labor unions and company management, labor relations specialists work with both parties to negotiate labor contracts. They deal with human resources issues such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions. In addition to working closely with both union representatives and management, labor relations specialists investigate labor issues and train managers on labor relations.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$19,230 $69,020 $124,380

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degrees in Human Resources

These days, degrees cost a lot of money. Before committing to an online master’s in HR, you need to understand what you’re signing up for and line up funding. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a great first step, as this qualifies you for loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. You’ll also want to check with prospective schools to learn about program-specific scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships. Lastly, start early with your search for scholarships provided by nonprofits, companies, and other organizations that offer awards. Creating a robust financial aid plan is key to ensuring you maximize all funding available to you.

What Your Online Master’s in Human Resources Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

University of Connecticut




Florida International University




Purdue University


$1,018.80 (resident);

$1,068.80 (nonresident)

$30,564 (resident);
$32,064 (nonresident)

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Human Resources Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in human resources?

Admission requirements for an HR online master’s vary by school. Some require an interview while others do not. You should always review the specific requirements of each school you apply to, but these are some of the most common application requirements:

  • Completed application and application fee
  • Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution
  • 2.7 or higher GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement/statement of goals
  • Resume/CV
  • Relevant work experience
  • GRE/GMAT scores
  • Interview
  • TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students

How long will it take to finish my master’s in human resources online?

The short answer is that it depends on factors such as whether you enroll full-time or part-time, if you have any transferable credits, and if you plan to take summer classes. Most programs require 45-60 credit hours and take approximately two years to complete, as you’ll see with this online master’s degree in human resources from the University of Scranton. If attending full-time doesn’t work with your current stage of life, many programs allow up to five or six years to meet all requirements.

Can I earn a master’s in human resources 100% online or are campus visits required?

The vast majority of online master’s in human resources programs can be completed without ever visiting campus. That being said, some of the more immersive programs may require you to participate in several in-person weekend intensives to help you network and build relationships with peers and professors. If you’re attending a school far from your residence, make sure you understand these requirements and take travel costs into consideration before committing.