Best Online Master's Degrees in Organizational Leadership

Mar 09, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Degree?

Organizational leadership degree programs aim to equip students with the necessary leadership skills to help various kinds of organizations set and reach goals. Leaders in these organizations need to understand organizational structure, dynamics, leadership and management styles, goal setting, and more to help organizations overcome an array of challenges. Online master's degree programs in the field are widely available and help prepare students for more advanced leadership positions within their organization. These flexible online programs allow students to earn their degree while working full-time and further develop students' problem-solving, critical-thinking, and management skills. Usually, students can earn a Master of Science (MS) in Organizational Leadership or a Master of Organizational Leadership degree. Here, we will discuss these online master's programs in more depth and learn what you can do after graduation.

Why Should I Get an Online Organizational Leadership Master's Degree?

Students may wonder if earning a master's in organizational leadership is worth it and must consider some of the benefits. First, the flexibility of an online master's degree program can be highly beneficial, especially for those studying while working full-time and/or balancing a busy home life. Secondly, earning a master's degree in any field typically helps advance one's career to the next level. Specifically, in organizational leadership, the broad range of leadership skills gained can be applied to any number of organizations, which is likely to increase students' job prospects. Finally, earning a master's and advancing one's career is likely to come with a pay raise. According to, graduates with a master's degree in organizational leadership made a median annual salary of $85,497, as of December 2020.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership?

Traditionally, master's degree programs are intended to be completed in about 2 years. However, several online master's degree programs in organizational leadership may offer various ways to help students finish their degree faster. Typically, students who take the program full-time will finish faster than students who study part-time, but some programs may also be designed to be completed in as little as 15 months. Other ways to cut the time to degree completion may include programs that offer shorter, accelerated courses and/or programs that accept some transfer credit. For example, there are some online programs with 7-week accelerated courses and some programs that may accept up to 12 prior graduate credits.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Organizational Leadership

While you can find various leadership courses online for different fields, such as free online education leadership courses, earning an online master's in organizational leadership helps provide students with a broad overview of leadership that can be applied to many different areas. Several of these online programs offer emphasis areas to help students focus their studies in a more specific area, but in general, students in these programs are prepared for a variety of careers.

Depending on the format of the program, online master's students in organizational leadership may complete their program in a cohort of peers. Some programs may be offered in an asynchronous format to allow students to work whenever they are able to. Students are likely to be required to complete between 30 and 36 credits of coursework. Below, we look at some of the common requirements for these online degrees.

Organizational Leadership Foundational Courses

Online master's degree programs in organizational leadership usually require between 15 and 18 credits of core coursework in organizational leadership. However, there are some programs that may consist of only core courses and multiple applied projects in different subsets of organizational leadership, like leadership dynamics and strategic leadership. Most online master's degree programs in organizational leadership conclude with a final capstone course and/or project where students apply what they have learned throughout the program. This final project may require students to gather information concerning a problem and recommend possible solutions based on their findings. Other common core course topics for these degrees may include:

  • Leading change
  • Performance management
  • Strategic communication
  • Human behavior in organizations
  • Organizational leadership
  • Data-driven decision-making

Organizational Leadership Specialist and Elective Courses

Several online master's degree programs in organizational leadership allow students to further focus their studies through emphasis areas and/or elective courses. Some programs may offer emphasis areas like:

  • Leading innovation
  • Strategic leadership
  • Leadership in criminal justice administration
  • Project management
  • Human resources
  • Organizational communication

Depending on the program, students may take as much as half of their credits (15 credits of a 30-credit program) in a given emphasis area. Other programs may allow students to choose between various elective courses in business-related areas like marketing, management, information technology, accounting, and more. There are some online master's programs in organizational leadership that may also allow students to earn additional certificates throughout the program, such as a human resources (HR) certificate.

Licensure and Certification in Organizational Leadership

While there is not usually a licensing requirement for those with a master's in organizational leadership, there are some professional certifications that graduates can earn. For example, the Management and Strategy Institute (MSI) offers a Strategic Organizational Leadership Certified (SOLC) designation for those in the field. The certification requires an online training and passing an exam.

There are also some positions that may utilize a master's degree in organizational leadership that may have professional certifications available for the field. Sometimes these certifications may be required, while other times certification may be used to advance one's career or stand out to an employer. For instance, some top executive positions may require certification, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation for chief executive officers. HR managers on the other hand, may voluntarily pursue certifications in various areas of the field from groups like the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) or the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Admissions Requirements for Online Organizational Leadership Master's Programs

Admissions requirements for online master's programs in organizational leadership may vary by school, but typically applicants to these programs must have at least a bachelor's degree. Some programs may not require applicants to submit standardized test scores, such as the GRE or GMAT, and some programs may have a minimum GPA requirement and/or provide provisional admission for students who fall below this standard. For instance, some programs may require a 3.0 GPA but allow provisional admission for those with a 2.5 to 2.9 GPA. Although not overly common, some of these online master's programs may require applicants to have a few years of work experience. Other common application materials include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and/or a personal statement or essay.

Choosing an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership

Finding the right fit for an online master's degree program in organizational leadership may come down to several key factors. Students may want to begin by ensuring that any programs of interest are offered from accredited schools. Accreditation helps ensure that students are receiving a quality education and an accredited degree may be preferred by employers. Schools with online master's programs in organizational leadership may have regional accreditation from groups like the Higher Learning Commission or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). Some organizational leadership programs may have additional program-level accreditation from groups like the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) that helps ensure business-related programs meet business-specific learning standards.

Other factors to consider may include the format of a program, focus of a program, and cost of a program. Depending on a student's personal schedule and/or preferences, students may need to find a program that provides the necessary flexibility to work and/or study full- or part-time. This may also affect the time to degree completion. Students interested in focusing their studies may want to make sure that their program of interest offers a specific emphasis area or track to help prepare for their future career. Finally, the overall cost of a program and/or the availability of any additional financial aid may play a role in deciding which program a student can afford.

What Can I Do with an Organizational Leadership Master's Degree?

Students wondering what you can do with a master's in organizational leadership will be happy to know that there are many career options. There are many jobs that involve leadership available in different industries and types of organizations, including those that may require or prefer applicants with a master's degree. Organizational leadership careers and duties vary by organization and position, but in general, these professionals help their organization succeed. These organizations may be in the public or private sectors and be non- or for-profit organizations, startups, or global groups. Some mid- to high-level management and leadership positions that may be available to graduates with a master's in organizational leadership may include:

  • Project manager
  • Law enforcement senior staff
  • Management consultant
  • Human resources manager
  • Training and development manager
  • Top executive
  • Postsecondary education administrator
  • Sales manager
  • Management analyst

Job Outlook for a Master's in Organizational Leadership

Although it varies by position, in general, the job outlook for graduates with a master's degree in organizational leadership is positive. Graduates with their master's also typically have more careers to choose from and a degree in organizational leadership is fairly broad and can be applied to careers in various industries. Depending on the career, the job outlook for some positions that could benefit from a master's degree in organizational leadership may be as fast as average. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for top executives and postsecondary education administrators was 4%, or as fast as average, from 2019 to 2029. Other careers may have a faster than average job outlook, such as human resources managers with a job outlook of 6% and training and development managers with an outlook of 7%, and there may even be careers with much faster than average job outlooks, such as management analysts with an outlook of 11%, per the BLS.

How to Become a Top Executive

The general title of top executive includes a wide range of positions that may benefit from having a master's degree in organizational leadership, like operations managers, city managers, college presidents, chief operating officers, and more. Typically, these professionals need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some positions and/or organizations may require or prefer a master's degree. Top executives also usually need to have at least 5 years of work experience and demonstrate some leadership/management skills. Some organizations may have executive training programs for specific positions and/or some positions may require professional licensure or certification.

According to the BLS, as of 2019, top executives made a median annual salary of $104,690. Specific job duties vary, but these executives are likely in charge of setting goals and planning ways to improve operations to help meet these goals. They may oversee an organization's finances, hire managers, implement new policies, find ways to cut costs, and manage staff members.

How to Become a Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers may require or prefer for these managers to hold a master's degree. HR managers also usually have some related work experience (typically around 5 years or more) and may begin their careers as human resources specialists. While not required, HR managers may pursue professional certification to demonstrate competency and be more competitive in the market.

A master's in organizational leadership can help HR managers better understand their organization's dynamics and the communication needed between managers and employees. As of 2019, the BLS reported that these managers made a median annual salary of $116,720. HR managers may be responsible for solving various staff issues, managing the hiring process, placing workers, overseeing the benefits program, and supervising staff members. Some of these managers may specialize in various areas of HR, like recruiting managers, employee relations managers, or payroll managers.

Organizational Leadership Professional Organizations

Due to the broad nature of organizational leadership, there are numerous possibilities of professional organizations available to graduates in the field. These organizations may be available at the national or international levels. Typically, these groups provide membership and an array of resources that are intended to help professionals in the field further advance their knowledge and skills. There is no shortage of groups pertaining to leadership and organizational development, but students may also pursue membership to groups related to specific industries and areas in which they work, such as human resources. A couple of examples of possible professional organizations include:

  • American Leadership Development Association- The ALDA aims to further develop leaders across factors like education, age, and culture. The group offers regular and premium membership, as well as awards, articles, and other resources.
  • International Organization Development Association- The IODA is an international group that shares information and techniques pertaining to organization development across the world. Each year the group hosts a world conference and provides a wide range of resources from its website, including news, professional development opportunities, and networking events.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Organizational Leadership

Online master's programs in organizational leadership typically do not require students to hold a bachelor's degree in a specific field. Therefore, students in these programs may come from a wide range of educational backgrounds looking to further develop their leadership skills. However, due to the business-related nature of organizational leadership, students may hold a bachelor's degree in various areas of business, such as business administration, marketing, public administration, management, and more. Students may also be more likely to hold a liberal arts degree than a science-related degree.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Organizational Leadership

Students who wish to continue their studies in organizational leadership may decide to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Leadership. Several of these doctoral programs are available in online formats and are designed to help students even further develop their leadership skills. Graduates of these degree programs may move into academia or executive positions. Some doctoral degree programs in organizational leadership can be completed in as little as 3 years and may offer various areas of concentration for further focus, such as concentrations in workplace learning, talent development, or strategic leadership.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Programs

There are several different options available to students to help pay for an online master's degree in organizational leadership. Like undergraduates, master's students should first file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if they qualify for state or federal grants and/or loans. While loans may not be ideal because they have to be repaid, there are still other forms of financial assistance available to help make up the difference.

Depending on the school, students may be able to lower the cost of their education through opportunities like military benefits, alumni discounts, and/or discounts for employment with school partners. Many schools also offer a range of scholarships. Some of these awards may be specifically for new students, such as Gonzaga University's one-time internal scholarship for new students that is equivalent to the cost of one credit hour. Other scholarships may be specific to a subject area, demographic, academic record, and more. Scholarships from outside organizations are also widely available.

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