The Best HR Masters Programs

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So, you want to pursue a graduate degree in Human Resources but you’re torn between the two approaches that have been advised to you. Some say your best bet is getting an MBA. Others insist an HR Masters would be more beneficial. Like many, you may feel paralyzed with indecision regarding how to move forward. The good news is that you shouldn’t worry over the options so much. Ultimately, the best course to follow depends on a combination of each individual’s educational needs, career aspirations, and personal preferences.

Regardless of your decision, both the MBA and HR Masters require the same core competency: deep financial and business knowledge. Chief HR Officers, or CHROs, for global companies are paid millions of dollars for their abilities and have the capacity to directly influence their employer’s bottom-line.

Despite the seemingly infinite number of rankings for graduate programs that are available in-print or online, there is currently no definitive ranking of HR Graduate Programs in the U.S. Below is one such ranking. Although the schools in the list have been ranked according to their HR Masters Programs, many also offer MBA degrees with an Emphasis in HR and are evaluated on that as well.

Rankings certainly have inherent flaws, and therefore should never be taken as conclusive or immutable. Instead, such lists should be viewed as guideposts for prospective students and corporate recruiters alike.

The most important aspects of each program considered are as follows: starting salaries, class demographics, depth of curriculum, faculty prestige, amount of recruiting companies, size and quality of alumni, historical legacy, and number of internships offered.

A brief explanation following each school will provide more detailed analysis.



Perhaps the biggest advantage offered by Cornell’s stellar HR Program is that it offers two degrees for prospective HR executives.

The first option is The Cornell Master of Industrial and Labor Relations Program. With over 50 years of experience, the MILR Program has a reputation that is largely unparalleled. It’s structured as a two-year program with a broad-based curriculum that also allows for a focus on one of five specialty areas:

Human Resources and Organizations

Labor Market Policy

Collective Representation

Dispute Resolution

International and Comparative Labor

The HR & Organizations track attracts most students looking for corporate-level HR jobs. MILR students are eligible to take a semester of study at the Johnson School of Business, consistently ranked within the top 20 b-schools nationally. MILR students can choose to supplement their HR education with core business classes offered by Johnson, such as Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Strategy. Students from both schools sponsor the SHRLOE (Strategic HR, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness) symposium, which meets annually and exemplifies the connectivity of the two exceptional schools.

The second option is a joint MBA/MILR degree that Cornell HR students can complete in five semesters. Combining the advantages of the HR Master program with an MBA from highly ranked Johnson School of Business, this is seen as the preeminent program offered anywhere today. MILR and MBA/MILR students often compete for the same high-level internships and top jobs, but the MBA/MILRs tend to enjoy much higher salaries and signing bonuses. This is a benefit of both the broader experience most MBA/MILRs have and the value recruiters place on a dual degree. While other top-ranked HR programs offer dual-degrees, Cornell’s is the only one to combine the resources of two such elite schools as Johnson and ILR.

Recent MILR classes had the following mean GRE scores:

2007: Verbal: 550 Quantitative: 710

2008: Verbal: 564 Quantitative 666

2009: Verbal: 564 Quantitative: 676

The top salary offer for a recent MILR/MBA grad is:

$122,000 + $20,000 signing bonus

The secret to Cornell’s successful HR Graduate program is actually the strength of the university’s undergraduate offerings. Because ILR has an undergraduate program, the faculty and staff for both levels collaborate to create one of the greatest resources for the study of HR issues in the world. Former ILR undergrads have gone on to be some of the top executives in the HR business, creating an expansive network of tremendous value for aspiring students. This has resulted in The Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, a one-of-a-kind partnership between academia and corporate groups that fosters leaders in the HR field. Corporate sponsors for the center include high-tech companies (IBM, Microsoft, Dell) and industrial giants (GE, Ingersoll-Rand, Northrup Grumman). CAHRS executives and sponsors are widely represented in the National Academy of Human Resources and HR Policy Association, both known for their far-reaching influence.

The networking opportunities possible due to CHARS are significant and unable to be duplicated in any other HR program. The annual CHARS roundtable allows for one-on-one interaction between students and CHROs from over 20 sponsor companies.

One additional factor that separates Cornell from other HR programs is its connection to the Ivy League. As one of the most prestigious, well-endowed schools in the nation, the name recognition alone allows Cornell’s HR program advantages that its competitors simply do not have.


Michigan State offers both an MBA with an HR Emphasis and an HR Masters at the School of Industrial Labor Relations. What truly separates Michigan State from the rest of the pack is the international scope of its program, with the ability to earn an HR Masters degree at a campus in Dubai. A diverse and intellectually challenging curriculum and a productive research relationship between the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Eli Broad School of Business round out the advantages of attaining a degree from this elite HR Program. With high profile alumni such as Kevin Cox, CHRO at American Express, and Brian Schipper, CHRO at Cisco Systems, Michigan State boasts a long and enduring legacy of excellence in Human Resources Studies.

Michigan State HR Program Stats:

Average Salary: $78,938.00

Salary Range: $60,000.00 to $95,000.00

Average Signing Bonus: $11,857.00

Signing Bonus Range: $3,500.00 to $18,000.00

Percent Receiving Bonuses: 88%

The top Michigan State student with an MBA beginning an HR career:

$95,000.00/yr with $18,000.00 signing bonus


The University of Minnesota HR Graduate Program, like its top-notch competitors, has a longstanding elite reputation, a large and well-connected alumni pool, and is attached to the well-regarded Carlson School of Business, which allows students to take supplemental business classes.

How the University of Minnesota differentiates itself is with sheer breadth of offerings in its curriculum, which it maintains while sparing none of the depth needed for a well-rounded program. Some of the more popular and creative courses offered recently include “Innovative HR Leadership in the Context of Change and Uncertainty,” “International Human Resource Management,” and “Employee Development: Creating a Competitive Advantage.”

The profile for the Accepted Student Class of HR Masters Fall 2009 was as follows:

GRE Verbal: 510

GRE Quantitative: 640

The top offer to a graduate in the class of 2008 was:



Perhaps this program’s greatest asset in luring top candidates is the fact that the top third of the entering class receives some form of funding from the school toward their tuition. The University of Illinois is a large program which, when coupled with its generally less competitive admissions requirements, makes it a nice compromise choice for those not accepted or unable to afford the cost of the top 3 schools. While they currently do not share average GRE scores for the entering class, Illinois is generally considered to require exceptional scores, though they can be slightly lower than those needed for Cornell or Minnesota.

As already mentioned, the program is also well known for its generosity with scholarship money, with a full scholarship having been offered to top-scoring prospective students in recent years.

The average private-sector salary for recent graduates in entry-level positions was above $70,000 in 2008, with variation from region-to-region.


Rutger’s HR Masters Program lays claim to having the most published HR faculty in the world. Such a reputation has proven a huge advantage to having a degree from the Rutgers brand on your list of credentials, especially in the Northeast, where the school undoubtedly boasts huge clout in connections and job placement.

The average starting salary and signing bonus for graduates, however, has a larger range than other schools of Rutger’s caliber. This means that job prospects following graduation depend more on individual achievement than merely the program’s impressive name recognition.

Average Starting Salary Range: $58,000-$90,000

Average Signing Bonus Range: $5,000-$30,000

Admissions requirements are high, but not as competitive as other top-tier programs, with both GRE and GMAT scores needing to be in the 500s.


Purdue is another school that offers both a Masters in HR and an MBA with an Emphasis in HR. So, like Cornell and Michigan, Purdue’s programs combine an intense business-focused curriculum with practical HR-specific class work. The Krannert School is one of the nation’s leading recruiting pipelines for the best HR employers.

While Krannert recommends for students to pursue the Masters in HR, this may not prove to be the best option for every student. The small size of the Masters in HR program (17-25 students on average), allows for greater faculty involvement in student learning and guarantees that graduates will be well-equipped in even the most challenging HR positions, but it also means that fewer firms will recruit from this specific program, thus making competition fierce.

Instead, many would find the MBA with the HR Emphasis fits their learning style better, while increasing their chances of earning a great starting salary post-grad.


Ohio State is a program with a great reputation that is perfect for those that are looking for a flexible way to earn their graduate degree. Their HR Masters Program is tiny, with around 35 admitted each fall. Over a third of those enrolled pursue their degrees part-time, so classes are often scheduled for the evening.

Although it may cater to many working, rather than full-time students, the career placement rivals schools with much more resources and national name recognition.

This is due to its affiliation with Ohio State’s Fisher School of Business and its extensive alumni network.

Average Starting Salary: $68,000


Penn State’s program is notable in that in nearly guarantees that its graduates will have a job lined up by the time they graduate (95% have at least one job offer by the time they graduate, with many have multiple offers). Their career placement department excels in finding graduates jobs in industries and fields that are often overlooked, such as unions, state and federal governments, and non-profits. For those not interested in going to work for a large corporation, this may be their dream school. This isn’t to say that Penn State grads do not land jobs at top international companies as well. They certainly do, and in large numbers, being recruited by the likes of CIGNA, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Corning, and Westinghouse. Still others find that Penn State’s alumni network excels at matching graduates with consulting opportunities at firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers or Accenture.


A great advantage to the program at South Carolina is that it’s 45-credit Master of HR degree from the Moore School of Business can be completed in a year-and-a-half. This includes a 6-credit internship that will provide you with hand-on experience in the HR field.

An additional attractive feature is that South Carolina offers students the opportunity to meet and interact with representatives from the Reigel and Emory Human Resources Advisory Board. This group consists of top exectives from the HR field, spanning from government to management to labor. They meet biannually and help to produce the school’s curriculum. General Motors, ExxonMobil, Pepsi Bottling Group, and Fidelity Investments are all represented on the board.


West Virginia offers a very good MISR program (Masters in Science of Human Resources and Industrial Relations). Recent grads have gone on to jobs at General Electric and Sony Erickson. WVU tends to, much like Penn State, have great connections that allow for greater opportunity at public sector jobs at places like the United Way. It separates itself from other programs in the way the curriculum can be separated to focus on one’s specific HR interests, such as labor relations, organizational development, or healthcare plan operation.


Texas A&M is a program that seems like your average HR graduate school option. But it differentiates itself by its robust list of corporate sponsors, who are more likely to hire a graduate coming from Texas A&M than from another program. It has a particular connection to energy companies. The sponsors include AT&T, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, Dow Chemical, and Halliburton.

The best thing to do when applying to an HR graduate program is to meticulously research the details of each potential choice. Once you narrow down your choices by considering each school’s pros and cons, other factors such as availability of funding and geographic location should make the decision somewhat easier for you. Fortunately, every school listed offers a program with an over 90% rate of job placement. Therefore, while some schools might benefit you more in the long run, deep commitment to your studies and a passion for HR will do much more to help you rise to the top of your field.

Manhattan Elite Prep is a multi-national test prep, Graduate School, Law School, College Admission Advisors, and a Career Training provider with a focus on the GMAT, MBA, TOEFL, GRE, LSAT, SAT/ACT, MCAT.
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