Should I Get My Master's Degree in HR?

master's degree hrFor most of you, I'll go ahead and said it: You should not get a master's degree in HR. Really. While that doesn't apply to everyone, it does apply to a large number of the people that email, comment, and interact with me online. That's mainly because this question looks a lot like this template:

  • I just completed my bachelor's in xyz. I have decided/now want/think I should get into human resources. Should I get my master's degree in HR?


  • I just completed my bachelor's degree in HR, but I haven't been able to find a job. Should I get my master's degree in human resources?

No. No. And no.

In each of these cases, you lack something very important that most of you overlook when you're asking the question: do you even like HR?

No, really. How do you know? What evidence do you have? What proof?

All too often I hear about someone finishing their bachelor's on student loans and jumping right into the master's degree in hopes it will make them more marketable, only to find out later that HR wasn't a field they actually enjoyed working in. If only you could drop the loans because you didn't like the profession, but it doesn't work that way.

And even if you pay for it outright by choosing an affordable college (like this one, for instance) how do you know that HR is going to be a career field you even like?

For me, I didn't even consider a master's degree for the first few years of working after college. That's because I wanted to make sure of what I wanted to do. Now I'm actually enrolled in an MBA program because I realize that while HR is the love of my life, I also need to be crystal clear about how HR intersects and interacts with the rest of the business. Hint: you need to be able to understand that as well.

Click here to watch the video where I explain the nuances of this decision.

But I have some HR experience

Now, if you have some HR experience under your belt and you're wondering if you need to get an advanced degree, we can have a conversation about that. It is often interwoven with the certification conversation (Should I get the PHR OR SHRM certification?), because people wonder about the value of each and how they interrelate.

If you have experience and you want to pursue an advanced degree, you need to understand the purpose and intent very clearly. Are you hoping to move up the ladder? Is there another job you need it to be qualified for? Are you trying to make yourself more marketable? Do you need it to perform better in your own work?

In some of these cases, depending on how you answer the question, education might not be the right answer for you at all. On the other hand, it's possible that additional education could help you to achieve a goal you've set for yourself.

I’ll be doing a series in the coming week addressing two other related questions. First, should I get an HR degree or an HR certification? I'll also address another fundamental question around HR education, which is this: Should I get an MBA or a Master's in Human Resources?

I'd love to get your take on this commentary. Am I spot on? Way off the mark? What's your reasoning?

6 thoughts on “Should I Get My Master's Degree in HR?

  1. John Westbrook

    I am currently considering these exact questions. Should I get a certification (and if so, which one)? Or, should I get a masters in HR or MBA? My experience is mostly in recruiting but currently a generalist and have about 1 1/2 years of generalist experience. Undergrad is in History. I can say without a doubt that HR is the field for me.

    1. Ben Post author

      I’d go back to the concepts I explored in the video. Budget, time availability, etc. If you just have 12 weeks and $1000 or less, you can get certified (more details here). If you have 2+ years to commit and more than $10,000 then a degree would be more your speed.

    2. sonja beasley

      Hey John, i am currently working on my MBA with a concentration in Human Resources, I have never worked in Human resources but it’s the field I have always wanted to go into. I have bachelors in Healthcare Management, but I was or have been unsuccessful in getting a job here in Atlanta, my question is how did you get your start in HR, I am particularly interested in being a generalist as well.

  2. Scott Smith

    John, certification and advanced degree are not necessarily mutually exclusive. You may decide you want to do both, but Ben’s advice will certainly help you decide which to do if you can only do one, or which to do first.

  3. JC

    PS: Up until a couple of months ago, SHRM made it VERY HARD for those my my shoes to even qualify for a cert. I literally had to pull out all of the stops: numerous calls to SHRM’s certification, department, going through my academic adviser who had to get to a Dean to make sure I qualified. That ALONE took at least 2 weeks. I started the process as soon as I found out (I’m on SHRM’s email list for alerts and never received one about this cert). I found out around 10/25 through an PHR/SHRM-CP Facebook group through a member’s post.

    SHRM only had this one testing window (December 2017-Feb 2018) and you had to apply by Nov 10–and not just through the regular website. Because I go to an online school (which is on SHRM’s list of approved schools), I didn’t nor do I have direct access to any Deans. Had to go through my advisor who hustled very heard, however, it was still a middle man situation which regardless, burns up time.

    I commend HRCI for coming up with the a-PHR. One does not have to have an HR degree nor experience to qualify to sit for that exam.

    HR like many industries, makes things a Catch-22. The age old question: how does one get experience when you require an HR degree, and HR cert, AND either 2-4 or 3-5 years experience? And that’s considered ENTRY LEVEL in my area (I’m in a major metropolitan area and I’m not just speaking on one sector). I’m talking nonprofits, private, local, state, and federal HR related positions. Barely no such thing as “entry” level HR roles–unless you have the 2-4. They call that “entry level.” It’s crazy.

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