Home Academics Schools Department of Economics and Business Administration How a master’s degree in HR can provide a career shift—and why you should consider it

How a master’s degree in HR can provide a career shift—and why you should consider it

Because the responsibilities of a human resources manager are vast and varied, people come into the HR field from many different industries.

Those in the healthcare administration field might find a new career in HR enticing, for instance. While many of the tasks are similar, HR allows for a broader focus and a more corporate setting. A former teacher might find a career in HR fascinating, from the perspective of people-management and organization. And a switch from psychology to HR makes perfect sense—both positions are centered around listening and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and with different points of view.

Lara Arehart Buchanan ’04, M’23
Lara Arehart Buchanan ’04, M’23 graduated from the master of science in human resource management program. Read Lara Buchanan ’04, M’23 Knows Perseverance Pays Off

“A lot of times when people that are going to make that switch, it’s usually because of something that they have focused on or that has touched them in some personal way,” says Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) program director Dr. Roslyn Vargas. “They think they can do a better job or they can help others. It’s one of those positions where you’re helping other individuals. You’re helping the employees.”

Taking a new path

Making the jump to HR—from any business—isn’t difficult. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, Vargas says you’ll also need to master some of the legal terminology and regulations related to the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity. You’ll need to oversee performance reviews. And, depending on your position and job description, you may need to understand how to execute payroll.

But while a master’s degree in HR management can provide a career shift into the field, it can also be advantageous if you’re looking to get out of your current position and take on a bit more responsibility (and take home a higher paycheck). An undergraduate degree in business provides adequate training for a host of entry-level jobs, and focuses more on the practical functions of a company. A master’s degree, however, leans heavily on higher-stakes complex issues relating to everything from diversity, equity and inclusion, to effective leadership. A graduate-level degree affords the opportunity to become an integral part of the company machine, rather than just one cog in the wheel.

Put plainly, on a purely practical level, learning the ins and outs of HR management at the graduate level can increase your skills and make you more attractive for a potential promotion. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that those with a master’s degree earn up to $12,000 more per year than those with a bachelor’s degree alone.

Man wearing suit and tie paying attention in class

Become a generalist

The MSHRM program encourages HR graduate students to become generalists—in other words, someone who knows how to attend to the big picture, rather than someone who specializes in one task—which ensures you get a peek into aspects of the company beyond the lower-level tasks. The added experience (and higher degree) could propel you to a top-level title like Senior Vice President or even CFO.

Vargas suggests that an employee who “zig-zags” through a company (that is, someone who learns about—or, better yet, works in—each department) will be more successful than the employee who climbs the ladder straight up.

“The person that goes straight up the ladder, what are they doing? They’re just going straight up in one area,” Vargas says. “For the person who zig-zags, it may or may not take them any longer, but they’re getting a good understanding of what each piece of that company does to assist the bottom line.” The zig-zagging teaches them to be a generalist, just like the MSHRM program does.

A master’s degree in HR can also serve as an excellent supplement for entrepreneurs, Vargas notes. She likens it to someone opening a restaurant without understanding anything about the food industry—there are a lot of details that someone who, despite their ambition, just won’t have the knowledge base to execute well. Obtaining a graduate degree in HR can provide the background knowledge to run a successful business, with courses in talent management, compensation and benefits, and employment law.

No matter your career path, the cherry on top of your graduate education is the opportunity to meet with and learn from peers as well as professors, many of whom have had prior careers in the HR field. Their first-hand knowledge is an invaluable practical supplement to your education, in addition to their ability to make connections between mentors and other professionals to help you advance long after graduation.