Choosing a master’s in human resources or a master’s in I-O psych begins with understanding how the two degrees differ.

Woman and computerHuman resources are a vital part of organizational success, which is why HR managers average $106,910 annually.1 They perform a valuable role. But advancing your human resource career to the management level takes time and effort. And, in many cases, it takes the right human resource degree, as well.

What’s the right human resource degree? That depends on your personality and what kind of HR career you want. Both an MS in Human Resource Management and an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with a specialization in Human Resource Management can help you gain the skills and knowledge you need to advance your HR career. But the two degrees differ in significant ways. Here’s what you need to know to decide which HR degree is right for you:

The Primary Difference

A master’s in human resource management is, at its core, a business degree, while a master’s in industrial and organizational psychology (commonly called I-O psych) is, at its core, a psychology degree. As such, the two degrees prepare you to take different approaches to human resource management.

With a master’s in human resource management, you’ll be prepared to focus more on the business-side of HR, dealing with hiring procedures, compensation packages, employee disputes and discipline, workforce planning, and employment law and regulatory compliance. With a master’s in industrial-organization psychology, you’ll be prepared to focus more on ensuring an organization’s people are performing as well as possible, dealing with pre-employment testing, employee training programs, team-building activities, employee morale, organizational culture, and organizational development.

The Difference in Learning Outcomes

If you earn an MS in Human Resource Management, you’ll be prepared to:

  • Apply the theoretical and practical aspects of human resource management to formulate strategies that will enable organizations to achieve both operational and strategic goals related to the organization’s human capital.
  • Deploy appropriate human resource management (HRM) metrics and other HRM analytics to make informed decisions that enhance the effectiveness of the recruitment, training, development, and retention of human resources and align the HRM strategy with the overall organizational strategy and purpose.
  • Appraise and apply talent management techniques that can be used to facilitate effective position planning, talent selection, placement, compensation, rewards, and retention.
  • Propose mediation or negotiation strategies that lead to positive, ethical outcomes and demonstrate scrupulous consideration of perceived points of conflict; differences in values, beliefs, and cultures; or divergence of goals.
  • Assess opportunities to improve and sustain organizational performance through strategic thinking and management, the development of human capital, and the allocation of physical and financial resources.
  • Exhibit the ability to make reasoned, ethical decisions based on professional standards and practices for ethical conduct, legal requirements, and regulatory guidelines in human resource management that are in the best interest of the individual, the organization, the environment, and society as a whole.
  • Propose systematic, systemic, and sustainable solutions to complex business problems related to human capital and human resource needs and issues by applying critical thinking and analytical skills.

If you earn an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, you’ll be prepared to:

  • Describe behavior using current theory and research in industrial and organizational psychology.
  • Discuss how key industrial and organizational issues impact organizations (e.g., issues such as selection, performance management, performance measurement, job analysis, individual behavior, leadership, motivation, organizational culture, work teams, and/or job attitudes).
  • Explain the principles of basic research methods.
  • Appropriately summarize the role of research in the field of industrial and organizational psychology.
  • Apply ethical organizational intervention practices.
  • Appropriately select effective organizational interventions based on empirical evidence.
  • Summarize the influence of diverse populations on individual, group, and organizational behavior.
  • Apply principles of industrial and organizational psychology to scholarly and/or professional activities to promote lifelong learning.
  • Engage in practices that result in positive social change.

The Difference in Personalities

Those who excel after earning a master’s in human resource management tend to enjoy the day-to-day work of helping an organization maintain stability while growing intelligently. If you like the idea of being a vital part of a management team and possess an ability to keep lots of moving parts organized and headed in the same direction, an MS in Human Resource Management may be the right degree for you.

Those who excel after earning a master’s in I-O psych tend to enjoy conducting research and analysis and using the results to implement new programs/initiatives within an organization. If you like the idea of being an industrial psychologist and using the principles of science to help people and organizations perform better, an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with an HR specialization may be the right program for you.

How You Can Earn Your Master’s Degree

While a master’s in human resource management and a master’s in industrial and organizational psychology differ in a lot of ways, they have one thing in common: online education makes earning either more possible than ever.

Unlike when you enroll in a campus-based university, enrolling in an online university doesn’t require you to live close to a campus. In fact, when you take online courses, you can earn your master’s degree right from home. Plus, online learning gives you the flexibility to attend your classes at whatever time of day works best for you, allowing you to organize your schedule so you can continue working full time.

Human resource management is an important—and well-paid—career. By earning the human resources degree that’s right for you, you can become the kind of HR manager or consultant who makes a real difference in an organization’s success.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Human Resource Management program and an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with a specialization in Human Resource Management program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,