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Across industries, some of the most consistent roles are for human resources (HR) professionals, who handle hiring, training, benefits, payroll, and much more. While there are many ways to enter or advance in the HR field, earning an undergraduate or graduate certificate in HR is one of the fastest and most affordable.

Most HR certificate programs require 12-30 credits and can be completed in 6-18 months of study. Tuition varies, but because these programs require fewer credits than a full degree, they are often less expensive. The average cost per credit hour for the certificate programs on this list is $291 for in-state students and $428 for out-of-state students.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment outlook for HR professionals is strong. Over the next decade, the BLS predicts a 6% increase in the employment of human resource specialists, who earn a median annual salary of $64,240, and training and development specialists, who earn $63,080 per year. With the right combination of experience and education, individuals can work their way up to positions like human resources manager, who earn a median annual salary of $130,000.

How to Choose a Human Resources Certification Program

Choose your area of study

When starting the process of finding a human resources certification program, it’s important to establish what you want to gain from the program. Are you new to the HR field, with a need to familiarize yourself with basic HR principles and practices? Or are you an experienced HR professional looking to develop specific skills so you can advance to leadership positions? Establishing these priorities will help you narrow your search to programs that meet your specific needs.

HR certificate programs exist at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students from all educational backgrounds can pursue undergraduate certificates, while students must have a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for graduate certificate programs.

Consider your long-term education goals as well. If you’re interested in earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in HR at some point, seek out programs that allow you to apply the credits you earn in your certificate program to a full degree. You can also bypass a certificate and enroll directly in an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program in HR.

Lastly, consider your logistical needs. If you’re attending an in-person program, classes will be offered during daytime, evening, or weekend hours. Factor in commuting time to ensure you can fit these classes into your schedule. If attending all classes on campus will be a challenge, you can explore online or hybrid HR certificate programs.

Research schools and programs

There are many HR certificate programs available, so give yourself ample time to explore your options. When comparing programs, the following questions can be helpful in determining which ones meet your needs and preferences:

  • What does the curriculum cover? Are there options for electives or specializations?
  • Can credits earned in this program be applied to an undergraduate or graduate degree?
  • Does the program award credit for professional experience or credentials?
  • What support services are available, including academic and career advising, tutoring, and counseling?
  • What kind of networking opportunities does the program offer?
  • Who are the faculty members, and what are their credentials?
  • Is the program eligible for federal financial aid?
  • What is the school’s accreditation status?

Verifying a school’s accreditation status is crucial, as this affects the quality of its programs, financial aid eligibility, and your future employment and education opportunities. In addition to institutional accreditation, programs may have programmatic accreditation through organizations like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Most of this information will be available on schools’ websites, but you can also contact admissions counselors and attend open houses and information sessions for more details.

Prepare for applications

Enrollment processes for certificate programs tend to be less rigorous than full degree programs. Some certificate programs only require an enrollment form, registration deposit, and transcripts from previously attended schools to get started. Others require students to submit an application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume, and personal statement.

For the most accurate information about a program’s admissions requirements, visit their website or speak to an admissions counselor from the school.

For graduate certificate programs, students must have a bachelor’s degree and, in some cases, professional HR experience. Undergraduate certificate programs don’t require students to have previous post-secondary education experience.

Select your program

Compare the information you’ve gathered about HR certificate programs and determine which one best meets your educational and practical needs. If multiple programs appeal to you, submit applications to them and make your decision based on which schools accept you. Some things to consider when selecting a program include cost and available financial aid, curriculum, faculty areas of expertise, and completion time.

Determine how you’ll pay for your certificate

When researching programs, gather information about tuition, fees, and what types of financial aid are available for students enrolling in certificate programs. Not all certificate programs are eligible for financial assistance through the Federal Student Aid program, so if you’re planning on using federal student loans to help pay for your certificate, be sure to select an eligible program. Financial aid counselors can provide the most accurate information about a program’s cost and financial aid eligibility.

If your program is eligible for federal student aid, the next step is to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools use this information to determine your eligibility for need-based aid like federal student loans, grants, scholarships, and more. Other sources of financial support include private education loans, scholarships, and employer tuition assistance benefits.

Best 50 Accredited Human Resources Certification Programs

Best Human Resources Certification Degrees 2023

Penn State Great Valley

Oklahoma State University

Central Michigan University

Georgia Northwestern Technical College

West Georgia Technical College

Dickinson State University

Northwest Technical College

Joliet Junior College

DeSales University

Wake Technical Community College

Grand View University

Normandale Community College

Davenport University

Great Basin College

Edison State Community College

Wichita State University

Thomas Edison State University

Villanova University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best human resources certification programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. The programs on our list are accredited through the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), both reputable organizations that assess business programs for educational excellence.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for online students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of human resources certification programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From a Human Resources Certification Program?

The level of certificate program you’re enrolling in will determine what you can expect from the curriculum. Undergraduate certificate programs will cover foundational human resources skills, while graduate certificate programs focus on more advanced topics in human resources. Both types of programs typically feature a combination of required core courses and electives, which students can use to customize their program based on their interests.

There may be an experiential learning component, such as an internship or project-based assignment, that allows students to apply their theoretical knowledge in practical ways. Students who are working in HR or a related field should consult with an academic advisor to determine if they can use their current position to fulfill any experiential learning requirements.

Credit requirements for HR certificate programs can vary widely. Some require as few as 9-12 credits, or 3-4 classes, while others require as many as 30 credits. Shorter programs typically focus on specialized skills within the HR field, while longer programs are more comprehensive, exposing students to a broader range of topics.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online human resources certification program

  • Human Resource Management: Provides an overview of human resource management (HRM), with a focus on topics including contemporary issues in HRM; ethics, diversity, and globalization; job description analysis, development, and design; recruiting, interviewing, and selecting employees; performance management and appraisal systems; employee training and development; disciplinary action and employee rights; employee compensation and benefits, and more.
  • Professional Development in Organizations: Examines the process of preparing professional development strategies, defining content, and selecting professional development activities used by administrators to improve employee performance throughout their careers.
  • International and Comparative Employment Relations: Compares market, economic, labor, and legal considerations throughout the world, with topics including distribution and development models and issues and policies that influence the global work environment.
  • Evaluation, Coaching, and Mentoring: Introduces concepts related to aligning individual and group performance with an organization’s strategic vision by developing effective performance management processes.
  • Communication in Conflict Management: Focuses on conflict between people in the contexts of family, group, and organizations, with an emphasis on theory, research, and practical application of managing conflicts through communication.

Human Resources Certification Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a human resources certification program?

For specific guidelines for applying to an HR certificate program, visit the website for the program you’re considering or speak to an admissions counselor at the college, as application procedures vary by institution.

Some schools don’t have a full application process for certificate programs, allowing students to enroll directly by submitting a registration fee and providing transcripts from previously attended schools.

For a full application, students will likely submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, a personal statement, and standardized test scores.

Most or all of these application materials can be submitted online via an admissions portal on the school’s website. Be mindful of application and enrollment deadlines. Some certificate programs admit students multiple times throughout the academic year; others only enroll new students once or twice yearly. Missing application deadlines can impact your ability to start your program when you want.

How much does a human resources certification program cost?

The cost of an HR certificate will depend on factors including the total number of credits the program requires, the school’s status as a public or private institution, and the student’s status as a resident or non-resident at public institutions.

For schools on this list, the average per-credit tuition is $291 for in-state students and $428 for out-of-state students. In-state and out-of-state tuition rates only apply to students attending public colleges. Private institutions charge the same tuition for all students, regardless of residency.

Students should contact their school’s financial aid office for the most accurate information about tuition costs, additional fees, and financial aid options.

How long does it take to earn a human resources certification?

The amount of time it takes to complete an HR certificate program varies based on the total number of credits required and the pace at which students move through the program.

Some programs require as few as 9-12 credits and can be completed in one term of full-time study. Others require up to 30 credits, which can take 12-18 months to complete.

Attending a program part-time will also likely increase the length of the program, as students are taking fewer classes each term.

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