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Guide to an Associate Degree in Human Resources

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An associate degree in human resources is a two-year program that introduces you to the core business administration theories, ethics, and legal issues needed to succeed in entry-level HR positions. This degree can give you the chance to determine your interests and specialty preferences while qualifying for positions that assist with the day-to-day tasks of HR management.

In addition, an associate degree provides you with the curriculum equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor's degree and the core knowledge to specialize in personnel and human resources roles involving recruitment, hiring, benefits, and training and development.

In this Article

Why Earn an Associate Degree in Human Resources?

An associate degree can be a good option if you're seeking the fastest way to enter the profession. It can save you time and money while also laying the foundation to pursue a bachelor's degree part time while you work or later as a full-time student.

While most HR management positions require a bachelor's degree, an associate degree can be a good option if you're seeking the fastest way to enter the profession.

If you want to move into management at some point, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree. "The more formal education a student can get, the better," says Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) HR Knowledge Advisor.

What are the Prerequisites to Earn an Associate Degree?

Getting into an associate degree program typically requires the following:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Standardized test scores and minimum GPAs vary by program, but typically aren't required

Dooley advises that students prepare for college-level coursework in human resources by studying math, science, and English composition. Gaining knowledge in business, accounting, and business software can also help you get ready for related college studies, he says.

What Will I Study to Earn My HR Associate Degree?

Program curriculum varies by school, but some common courses included in an associate degree in human resources include:

  • English composition is an introduction to basic writing and editing skills that are relevant to completing academic assignments.
  • Introduction to business goes over the principles of business, including private enterprise, strategic management, business terminology, concepts, and current business practices.
  • Principles of human resources management covers the basics of HR planning, staffing, and directing staff for organizational success.
  • Human relations is an introduction to the skills needed to deal one-on-one with employers and other staff.
  • Introduction to computers provides the skills and knowledge to use computers to perform business tasks, operate business applications, create spreadsheets, and create presentations.
  • General psychology includes topics and concepts in the science of behavior, including perception, motivation, learning, and development.

Will I Need to Complete an Internship to Earn my AA in HR?

Internships typically aren't required as part of an associate degree, but that doesn't prevent you from seeking out opportunities on your own. Internships in human resources, or other areas such as law or accounting, can position you ahead of competitors in the job market, says Dooley.

How Long Does it Take to Earn this Degree?

It typically takes two years for full-time students to earn their associate degree, and take four to six years for part-time students. If you have work experience related to college coursework, you may be able to earn college credit for what you already know by taking an approved examination that meets your school's criteria. 

Can I Earn my AA in Human Resources Online?

Yes, an associate degree in human resources online can be a good choice if you work, have family responsibilities, or don't live near a college campus.

Online programs typically allow you to attend classes at your convenience as long as you fulfill assignments and take exams as scheduled. With this arrangement, some online programs allow you to complete courses at your own pace, rather than following a quarter or semester schedule, so you can finish your degree faster. 

Online programs typically allow you to attend classes at your convenience as long as you fulfill assignments and take exams as scheduled.

If you're considering an online degree, it's important to evaluate all the details to determine whether it's right for you. If any of your classes include requirements to complete specific work on campus or elsewhere, you'll want to plan for this. Also, as an online student, you'll be responsible for managing your workload without the structure of a classroom.

Other Associate Degrees Worth Considering

Dooley says other associate degrees in business can also be useful for a career in HR.

"When a student does go to college, a student should be certain to major in human resources, business administration, accounting, human resources management, or any business-related major," he says.

Other associate degrees that can lead to jobs in human resources include:

Associate Degree in Business Administration provides an understanding of the business fundamentals necessary to work in a professional team environment.

Associate Degree in Management provides the core skills needed to assist in managing a business or department, including planning and organizing.

Associate Degree in Accounting provides the knowledge to organize, analyze, prepare, and interpret financial data.

Associate Degree vs. Bachelor's Degree

While most HR managerial positions require a bachelor's degree, an associate degree can give you the chance to test the waters before making the larger investment of time and money required for a bachelor's degree.

If you decide to pursue another career pathway, an associate degree in human resources won't be wasted, because it can serve as a foundation for a bachelor's degree in virtually any major, as long as you earn your associate degree from an accredited program. You can even advance to a master's in human resources management. While not true in every case, generally the more education you have, the more money you can earn.

While most HR managerial positions require a bachelor's degree, an associate degree can give you the chance to test the waters before making the larger investment of time and money required for a bachelor's degree.

Starting in the field with an associate degree may also give you the chance to use employee tuition reimbursement benefits. If your employer offers this benefit, it could make the cost of earning a bachelor's degree more manageable.


Written and reported by:

Anna Giorgi
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Rue Dooley, SHRM-SCP
HR Knowledge Advisor, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)