Which degree is right for you? MBA vs MS in Human Resource Management

April 10, 2024

If you want to pursue a path in human resources (HR) and are interested in taking the next step in your education, you may want to know the differences between a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MS HRM).

What’s the difference between an MBA and an MS in HRM?

There are two master’s degrees in human resources offered by Capella University: an MS in Human Resource Management and an MBA with a specialization in Human Resource Management. Which one should you consider?

We asked Robert Bigelow, JD, PhD, to answer that question. Dr. Bigelow is an academic program director in the School of Business, Technology, and Health Care Administration at Capella University. He explains that the choice between degree programs is rooted in your current career and future professional goals.

“With the MBA, you’re going to get a well-rounded experience and background in business, and you can also focus on HR for your specialization. In the MS in HRM program, you’re really going in-depth into human resource management. Both are great, but it depends on what you’re focused on.”

And your focus could vary depending on different factors, including:

While both degrees have some overlap, your decision could be impacted by the skills you hope to develop as you look to your future in the profession. The MS in Human Resource Management helps “provide a solid foundation in comprehensive reward systems, managing talent, employment law, workplace learning, evidence-based decision making and recruiting and retention,” Bigelow says. 

The MBA in Human Resource Management establishes a foundation in business understanding as you build your communication skills with stakeholders, develop data-informed recommendations to support organizational goals, and integrate HRM and business best practices for organizational effectiveness. 

An MS in HRM could be ideal if you already have some business background or are looking to really hone your HR skillset. But if you’re looking for a degree with more flexibility beyond HR, the MBA could be the right option for you. 

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has acknowledged that Capella University’s BS in Business specialization in HR Management, MBA specialization in HR Management, and MS in Human Resource Management General and Health Care specializations fully align with SHRM’s HR Curriculum Guidebook and Templates.

Both master’s degree programs also include a capstone course, in which students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through Workplace Integrated Learning (available in the GuidedPath format only). 

Providing some potential examples of capstone experiences, Bigelow says, “They might revise an employee handbook, develop a new onboarding procedure, help develop an HR marketing plan – it’s very practical.” 

For students who already hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree and want to concentrate on HR more closely, the Graduate Certificate in HRM might be a good option. 

“The certificate program is great for students trying to develop specific skills. They’ll be taking some of the same courses that someone who’s going for the full degree would, but they’ll focus on specific areas they want to develop,” Bigelow says. This may include learning more about employment law, workplace learning in digital settings, or preparing for a certification examination. 

Learn more about the MBA with a specialization in Human Resource Management and MS in Human Resource Management, including the two MS in HRM specializations:

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