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MBA in Human Resource Management vs Master’s in Human Relations: What's the Difference?

Sonya Krakoff

If you're a human resources professional looking to take the next step in your career, considering a master's degree is a smart place to start. Those with a master's degree can, in general, earn significantly more over their lifetimes than those with just a bachelor's degree. Additionally, having a master's degree (especially in a competitive field like human resource management) can help you qualify for more jobs, particularly those with more seniority and higher pay. In fact, many of today's upper-level human resources jobs require a master's degree.

When looking into graduate-level human resources degree programs, you've probably noticed that you have many options, with the majority falling into one of two categories: a master's degree in human resource management (or human relations), or an MBA in human resource management.

While the differences between these two types of programs might not be immediately clear to you, there are actually some significant distinctions to take into consideration when deciding which one to pursue.


MBA in Human Resource Management vs. Master's in Human Relations

To best understand the differences between these two types of programs, we'll explore each of them in depth.

MBA in Human Resource Management

An MBA is one of the most popular degrees in today's higher education landscape, and is often the first degree human resources professionals consider when determining on the next step in their careers. Most MBA programs include a solid foundation of general business and management skills, making this degree a natural fit for those interested in human resources. For those HR professionals who'd like a deeper dive into their area of specialization, the MBA in human resource management is a great option.

So what is an MBA in human resource management? This program will deliver the technical skills and business concepts (and review the HR essentials) you'd get in a traditional MBA, but will also include an added emphasis on the principles of human relations, namely teaching students to align HR management principles with business strategy to better position organizations for growth, and to leverage human resource analytics to improve organizational agility and decision-making. The benefit of this type of program? You'll get the name-recognition of an in-demand degree as well as a credential that highlights your human resources skills - in short, you get both the breadth to build a well-rounded business skillset and the depth to truly become an HR expert.

An MBA in human resources program will help you develop the competencies required in today's business professionals, including managing risk, leadership, understanding the impact of globalization, financial decision-making, business analysis and performance measurement, understanding customers and markets, and process integration and performance. From there, you'll dive into your human resources-specific coursework, which will cover the essential HR knowledge you'll need as a professional in this field.

Master's in Human Relations or Human Resource Management

A master's in human relations is a deep immersion into the field of HR. While an MBA gives you business insight, a human resources master's degree is a good option for those who are truly excited by the HR field, and want to focus primarily on courses in that area. You will complete many of the same core human resource management courses that you would in an MBA in Human Resources program, and then build on them with highly-focused classes that take your understanding of the field to the next level.

For example, in Champlain's master's in human relations and organization development program, you have the option to complete an embedded graduate certificate that will build your skills in specific HR subject areas, such as employment law, leadership, or positive organization development. This is a great way to differentiate yourself and further explore an area that is of professional interest to you, while still getting all the benefits of a well-rounded human resources degree.

A good master's in human resources degree will help prepare students to be well-rounded business professionals with a unique human relations perspective, able to nimbly address the organizational challenges in today's global organizations.


The Skills You'll Build in a Graduate Human Resources Program

Now that we've highlighted some of the differences between the two programs, it's important to highlight some of the similarities - namely, that both degrees will prepare you for success in the human resources field. Both degrees will equip you with the essential skills required of advanced HR professionals today, including:

  • The foundations of human resources
  • A deep understanding of diversity, and the skills to create a culture of inclusion
  • Human resources analytics
  • Coaching in the workplace


You'll leave both programs able to approach challenges with a systems-thinking mindset, integrate the expertise and value of a human resource lens into an organization's strategy to strengthen its ability to meet strategic goals; envision workplace culture that will lead to engaged workers, developing leaders and a creative and inspiring workplace; become a reflective, self-aware and engaged leader using a human resources lens; create a leadership and coaching approach that will develop agile employees, creative teams, and effective problem solvers; and integrate ethical frameworks into an organization's culture and problem-solving techniques.

When it comes to the value of each degree, both are well-respected by employers, and offer great job prospects to those looking to advance in their careers. Graduates of either program could go on to work in roles such as human resources director, VP of human resources, director of employee experience, or employee relations manager.

Additionally, both programs can typically be completed in a year or less; for example, at Champlain College Online, the MBA in HR can be completed in just 12 months, and the M.S. in human relations & organization development can be completed in as few as 10 months. Both programs are designed for flexibility and are offered completely online, so if you prefer to take fewer classes each term (or need to take some time off) you have the ability to do so.


How to Decide Between an MBA in Human Resources and a Master's in Human Relations

Ultimately, the choice between these two programs comes down to your goals and preferences. If you are looking for a more broadly-applicable degree, an MBA might be the way to go. If you are looking for a more focused experience, with the ability to gain skills in specific subject area of your choosing, an M.S. in human resources might be the right choice.

One thing's for certain—both would be an excellent way to take the next step toward advancement in your HR career.

About the Author

Sonya Krakoff

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Sonya Krakoff is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at Champlain College Online, where she is the voice behind the CCO blog and helps tell the school's story across multiple digital platforms. Sonya has extensive experience in writing, content marketing, and editing for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations, and holds a bachelor's degree in English (with a focus on creative writing) from St. Lawrence University.

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