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HR Certificate vs. HR Degree: How to Determine Which Is Right for You

HR Certificate vs. HR Degree: How to Determine Which Is Right for You

A small group of female HR students holding notebooks and listening to a lesson while one student is raising her hand.

Last Updated March 8, 2024

There’s no substitute for experience, a truism that can be applied to just about any profession, including human resources. Studying situations that may arise in the workplace can be valuable, but actually experiencing one of those situations will almost inevitably make a greater impression and provide lessons about how to handle it and other issues in the future.

Still, for professionals looking to advance their career potential, experience often isn’t enough. Employers want to see credentials and evidence of continuing education such as a job candidate’s degree, certificate or certification in his or her chosen field.

A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) chart, “Occupations that Need More Education for Entry are Projected to Grow Faster Than Average,” bears this out. Job growth for positions requiring a master’s degree are forecast to grow by 15% from 2019-2029, while for the same period positions requiring a postsecondary non-degree award, such as a certificate, are projected to grow by 5.6%.

Some professionals may choose to seek an HR degree program, such as a Master of Science in Human Resource Development. Employers may prefer to hire or promote professionals with advanced degrees when leadership roles need to be filled. Promotions into leadership positions often offer higher earning potential. For example, according the BLS, the median annual salary in 2019 for a human resources specialist was $61,920, while the median annual salary for a human resources manager for the same period was $116,720*.

Questions of Time and Money

Younger professionals, particularly those who haven’t added home and family responsibilities to their schedule, might consider using this period early in their career to obtain a master’s degree. Besides more free time, advantages of earning a degree early in one’s career include still being familiar with the rhythm of school, having more years to pay off student loans and more time to take advantage of earning an advanced degree.

On the other hand, many veteran professionals have earned their Master of Science in Human Resource Development (MSHRD) degree later in their careers. The flexibility of online programs such as Villanova’s allows students to balance their assignments with family and work. Live lectures maximize the interaction and collaboration with instructors and classmates. Faculty also bring real-world expertise into the online classroom and bridge the gap between academic theory and practical application.

Graduate student Denise Fenwick found that she was able to apply what she was learning in Villanova’s MSHRD classes at work.

“Strategic Workforce Planning was … something my company wasn’t necessarily strong at,” Fenwick said. “I’m bringing strategic workforce planning concepts to the business units I support,” Fenwick said, adding that “learning … how to strategically lead through organizational change has been invaluable.”

Other professionals may want to learn additional HR skills but not want to make the commitments of time and finances necessary to earn a degree. They may be at points in their careers where they don’t need the broad base of knowledge a degree covers and instead are looking for something more concentrated and focused.

Earning a certificate isn’t a replacement for a degree, but particularly for professionals who need new skills, a certificate program can provide the necessary knowledge along with an advanced educational credential.

Practical Knowledge, Certification Prep

Earning a certificate is an educational and professional option that’s become increasingly popular. The number of people who have earned certificates has increased by more than 50% since 2005, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Certificates are a great way to gain practical knowledge and new skills in considerably less time than it takes to earn a degree.

For example, Villanova’s Certificate in Human Resource Management can be earned in about six months (28 weeks). A bonus for certificate students is that the coursework can help prepare them to take certification exams in their fields. Certifications are recognized by industry professionals as signifying advanced knowledge of a subject.

Villanova’s Certificate in Human Resource Management program features content based on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK). Studying this content helps prepare students for SHRM’s Certified Professional (SHRM-CP®) or Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP®) certification exam.

Students who enroll in Villanova’s Human Resource Management course are also eligible to receive the complete SHRM Human Resource Learning System digital materials, plus 18 months of online access to SHRM’s Learning System digital materials with more than 2,000 questions, case studies and study materials.

Professionals considering a certificate program should be certain that doing so will meet their needs, as well as the expectations of current or future employers. Particularly in relation to salary and employment statistics, potential students should conduct their own research, as job availability and salaries can vary greatly between regions.

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Human Resources Managers and Human Resources Specialists, on the Internet at (visited January, 2021). National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Information provided is not intended to represent a complete list of hiring companies or job titles, and program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.