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Should I Get an MBA in Human Resources?

Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com.

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If you’re passionate about people and want to combine that with an interest in business, an MBA in Human Resources (HR) could be the right program for you.

By studying an MBA in HR you’ll pick up the business expertise an MBA provides, while learning to manage people and unleash their potential, making you a core part of a company’s success.

What is an MBA in Human Resources?

An MBA in HR is a generalist business degree with a specialist focus on human resources.

MBA HR courses usually take the form of a traditional MBA program with a human resources specialization, like the MBA at Brigham Young University’s Marriot Business School, which includes a Strategic Human Resources track. Schools may also offer similar specializations in organization or operations management.

The dual-focused degree will include a core MBA syllabus that covers business fundamentals such as:

  • Management
  • Finance
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Operations management
  • Strategy

You’ll then study the human resources component of the degree, which could cover topics like:

  • Strategic HR and globalization
  • Organizational behaviour
  • People management
  • Employee engagement
  • Stakeholder management and ethics
  • Corporate strategy
  • Legal issues for management

Combined, the curriculum will teach you to manage people within the context of a wider organization. You’ll learn how to maximize the potential of a company’s greatest asset—the people it employs.

“It isn’t necessarily about developing a great set of policies and procedures, it’s what you need to do to release the creativity of the people who work for you,” explains Clare Keliher, professor of work and organization at Cranfield School of Management.

“HR people need both general business knowledge and specific knowledge, and to understand the idea of values and principles which determine how they will engage the people who work for them.”

After enrolling in an MBA in HR, you’ll acquire this knowledge through theoretical teaching in class. Your specialization may also include a practical element, which aims at developing your skills.

The Human and Organizational Performance specialization on the MBA offered by Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management includes practical short courses in Executive Coaching, Training Systems Management, and Employment Discrimination.

Many practical tasks require you to work closely with members of your cohort, and most MBAs include a group project within the curriculum. For example, the BYU Marriott MBA with HR—ranked top in the US for human resources by the Princeton Review—includes business challenges requiring teams to work together to solve complex problems.

Working closely with members of your cohort will allow you to develop your soft skills. With most MBAs requiring two years of experience before applying, you’ll also gain valuable connections and learn from other experienced professionals with similar interests in HR.

Can I get a job in HR with an MBA?

You can find human resources roles across a wide variety of sectors as the vast majority of companies require people with HR skills.

Graduating from an MBA in Human Resource Management could help you land a job in an HR department with a Big Four accountancy firm, a leader in the tech industry, or one of the MBB consulting firms.

Jobs could include things like HR manager, employee relations manager, talent acquisition lead, or head of people.

The opportunities available for MBA in HR grads are only increasing, thinks Clodimir Bogaert, an HEC Paris MBA graduate and HR business partner with KPMG Singapore.

“HR is getting more and more relevant to companies,” he says. “I think an overarching reason is the fact that in today’s context, being innovative is key to differentiating from your competitors.”

From the most recent graduating class from the BYU Marriot MBA, 18 percent were hired into HR roles, with an average salary of nearly US$99,000. The function was the third most popular among MBA grads.

It’s a similar story for graduates from the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Business MBA, which includes an HR specialization and is ranked among the top 10 in the US by Princeton Review. 

The latest figures show 90 percent of graduates from the entire MBA cohort accepted job offers within three months of graduation. Of them, 6 percent entered a role in HR, with an average salary of nearly US$114,000.

Interactive Tool: Estimate Your Post-MBA Salary

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“Roles are becoming much more creative. There’s a need for innovators; people with business skills who can come in and use their people skills,” says Caroline MacDonald, international employer engagement manager at HEC Paris.

“You still need people dealing with people […] to make things happen in these large companies.”

Is getting an MBA in HR worth it?

With top specialist MBA in HR programs helping students earn six figure salaries after they graduate, you’d think enrolling is a no-brainer.

But the degree does require a substantial investment. The BYU MBA costs around US$56,000 for tuition. That doesn’t include the cost of living, books, and other expenses, which the school estimates can rise as high as US$45,000 over two years.

Enrolling in Vanderbilt’s MBA is significantly more expensive. Tuition for each year is US$62,000, meaning the entire two-year program costs more than US$120,000 without factoring in the cost of living.

Studying outside of the US can mean cheaper fees. The UK’s University of St Mary, for example, offers an MBA with an HR specialization which costs just under US$20,000.

Online programs can also be more affordable. EU Business School has an entirely specialist online MBA in Human Resources Management costing under US$17,000. Studying online can also make paying for your program easier as you’re able to continue working while you study.

MBA Return on Investment Calculator

Use our ROI Calculator and play out your earning scenarios with and without an MBA.

The career and salary impact enrolling in a program can bring means, in the long run, you’ll see a strong return on your investment. With many graduates earning six figure salaries within months of graduation, paying off the initial investment could take less time than you think.

To pay for your MBA, you could also apply for an MBA scholarship or graduate student loan. Many schools have internal scholarship schemes while there are also a number of organizations that offer loans and scholarships for MBA students.

Studying an MBA in Human resources is worth it if you want to spend your career getting the most out of people and driving talent acquisition and performance at an organization. With plenty of schools offering specializations in HR, look around to find the best program fit for you.

Like any MBA, the end result comes down to the work you put in. But with a demand for talented MBA grads capable of driving people performance, and the HR function becoming more creative, that hard work can pay off with an accelerated career and strong post-MBA salary.

Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com, writing stories and creating social media content covering business education. He's also a contributor to the GMAC Connect Blog.

Matt is an experienced media professional, he’s previously written for national news organizations including The Sunday Times and i News, as well as a number of regional titles. He’s also worked in social media for Sky News.

Matt has a B.A. in History from the University of Leeds and an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Sheffield. He is also a gold standard accredited journalist with the National Council for the Training of Journalists.