Pros and Cons of HR Degrees and Certifications

Document created by 1050210 on Oct 30, 2014
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Published Date: 03/10/2014


By Maggie Kenney


Margaret (Maggie) Kenney is currently a Junior in the Poole College of Management at North Carolina State University. Maggie is currently interning with CAI through March 28, 2014 in our Raleigh office.


As the job market becomes more competitive, a Bachelor’s degree is becoming standard and some professionals are pursuing higher levels of education to give them a competitive edge over their peers. As the human resources field becomes more complex and is increasingly viewed as a strategic partner to the company, HR professionals are expected to be experts on HR topics while simultaneously collaborating with management to achieve strategic business goals as well.


According to Christopher Collins, associate professor in Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, “The job is so much more complicated than it was 10 or 15 years ago. The demands placed on HR generalists in particular have grown so they have to be so much more in tune with business strategy, operational strategy and finance than ever before.”


There are various ways that HR professionals can and do choose to further their knowledge and skill set in the field, including becoming a certified HR professional through the PHR and SPHR certification programs, pursuing an MBA, or pursing a master’s degree specifically in HR. There is some debate as to which of these professional development paths are the most beneficial.


So which path gives HR professionals the best competitive edge? It really depends on the career goals of the individual.


PHR/SPHR Certification




  • Relatively small time and monetary commitment.
  • Sets certificate recipients apart from other HR practitioners without any certifications.
  • Advances education in HR and provides the individual a network of other HR professionals.
  • Potential for a salary increase and/or advanced job placement.




  • Has to be renewed every three years.
  • Subject matter not as in depth as a Master’s in HRM or an MBA.


Master’s of HR




  • Higher potential to move into a higher paying job category.
  • Ability to apply the knowledge gained to support the business and HR function.
  • Exposure to specific HRM viewpoints from instructors and peers in the industry to bring back to the workplace.
  • Does not need to be renewed.




  • Relatively expensive and time consuming, especially when considering whether to continue to work full time.
  • May limit exposure to how the business operates as a whole, which may limit diversification into other career options within the business field.


Master’s in Business Administration (MBA)




  • Creates an advanced understanding of how businesses operate as a whole.
  • Ability to move into a higher paying job category.
  • Allows the individual to diversify his or her career if desired.
  • Does not have to be renewed.




  • Relatively time consuming and expensive.
  • Does not give the individual as much of an in-depth perspective of HRM as a Master’s degree specifically in HRM would.


Choosing the “right” career development path in human resources or any profession is truly up to the individual and the goals and values that they have set for their career. Regardless of what development efforts professionals in human resources decide to pursue, the job market is becoming increasingly competitive, and an education past a Bachelor’s degree is becoming a requirement for more employers.