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Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) | Context - Context
Online Master of Science in Leadership (MSL)
Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) In Context

The Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) degree program prepares professionals for leadership positions in a wide range of settings, including:

  • Business management
  • Higher education
  • Health care
  • Human resources
  • Nonprofit management

The MS in Leadership is designed to offer professional development with a focus on such skills as implementing organizational shifts, managing diverse teams, and driving continual improvement.

The leadership program differs from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in its focus. An MBA places emphasis on developing analytical skills that support management functions. Alternatively, an MS in Leadership emphasizes a coaching approach to leadership, focusing on how to build successful teams that can achieve business objectives. While the MBA teaches business foundations such as accounting or marketing, the MS in Leadership helps expand the potential of experienced business leaders who see advancement potential in going beyond business foundations to focus on more sophisticated team management.

MS in leadership learning outcomes

Courses offered and learning goals are consistent across most MS in Leadership programs, often focused on:

  • Communication skills, applied to business practices such as managing diverse teams and setting clear goals
  • Historic leadership practices and theories, and how they have evolved over time
  • Driving change and innovation in organizations
  • Sustaining growth on personal and organizational levels
  • Evaluating and creating organizational culture
  • Leading within a global work climate
  • Understanding ethical considerations within professional environments
Who might earn this degree?
The MS in Leadership applies to a wide range of professionals, including those seeking to inspire positive change in their organizations or to expand their leadership skills for career advancement.

Managers who value flexibility

Management and leadership skills are valuable in a wide range of sectors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook highlights a variety of industries where management occupations are valued. [2] Possible job roles include:

  • Top executives
  • Postsecondary education administrators
  • Emergency management directors
  • Financial managers
  • Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
  • Human resources managers
  • Natural sciences managers

Leaders who seek a salary increase

While a master’s degree is not mandatory for many management positions, the BLS found that annual pay rates increase substantially for those who move beyond their bachelor’s degree to obtain an advanced degree. Here’s the impact a master’s degree can have on management career salaries in many settings: [12]

  • Transportation, storage, and distribution managers: 45% increase
  • Financial managers: 41% increase
  • Marketing and sales managers: 38% increase
  • Property, real estate, and community association managers: 36% increase

Executives who lead in specialized settings

There are many ways to specialize today’s MS in Leadership programs, with popular concentrations including:

  • Health leadership
  • Educational leadership
  • Global leadership
  • Nonprofit leadership
Why earn an MS in Leadership?


The wide range of applicable fields for an MS in Leadership degree makes it an option for individuals who want flexibility to propel their careers in diverse directions.

A leadership program can open the door to career changes or prepare individuals to drive social change through entrepreneurial initiatives.

Salary increases

Beyond gaining skills that are increasingly attractive in the workforce, an MS in Leadership can prepare manager to pursue higher earnings. Payscale data pertaining to the MS in Leadership pointed to median salaries ranging from $68,400 for professionals with one to four years of experience. That spikes to $80,473 for those with between 10 and 19 years of management experience. [3]

Growing employment opportunities

An MS in Leadership offers a curriculum that zeroes in on enhancing team efficiency, productivity, and profitability to help students develop skills currently in demand by today’s organizations.

Personal satisfaction

The MS in Leadership degree focuses on empowering people and creating positive change. As such, it tends to be satisfying for individuals who work with a strong desire to motivate others and help them grow.

Career advancement opportunities

An MS in Leadership degree prepares professionals for a diverse range of management fields, and demand for managers is growing at a steady pace.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth to rise at a rate of 6% for the period of 2014 through 2024, with median salaries for managers across the board coming in at $98,560 as of May 2015. [4]

This represented the highest median wage of the major occupational groups analyzed by the BLS. Across management occupations, the BLS highlighted the following as top-performing segments in terms of annual mean wage: [5]

  • Securities and commodity contracts intermediation, and brokerage: $185,470
  • Management of companies, and enterprises: $142,620
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $107,460

An MS in Leadership can be a stepping stone into any of those fields, as well as many other management sectors.

Selecting an MS in Leadership program
Finding the right program fit will depend on your specific needs, but a few key issues should be kept in mind. These include:


Based on analysis of diverse MS in Leadership programs, the core curriculum of many programs is similar, but requirements for elective courses, experiential learning, and specializations can vary substantially from university to university. In most cases, you can expect:

Core courses

Most programs require 30 or more credit hours, with areas of study including decision-making, organizational culture, negotiation and performance management among primary areas of study.


Elective courses are classes that accompany a core program that can help add a focus to your degree or broaden your skill set. In leadership programs, electives often cover a few key topic areas, including:

  • Military leadership
  • Health care leadership
  • Educational leadership
  • Human resources leadership
  • Community and social leadership
  • Project management
  • Strategic innovation
  • Training and development
  • Sport and social change


Three accrediting bodies are particularly prominent in the business management sector:

  • Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC)
  • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • AACSB International (AACSB)

Each of these accreditations has slightly different points of emphasis, but each also focuses on evaluating the quality of business management programs, not just the institutions that provide the degree.

School reputation

While it shouldn’t be your top priority, an institution’s reputation can have an influence on future career prospects. A report from The Atlantic pointed to data from a study performed by experts from multiple universities to highlight how pay increases vary greatly based on the university from which students earned their business degrees. Individuals matriculating from top universities earned 12% more than peers who went to middle-of-the-pack institutions. [6]

Program length and delivery

While program length can vary based on required electives and pacing decisions made by different institutions, most will require at least 30 course credits.

Many universities allow students to choose how many courses to take per semester, leading to program completion times that vary from a year to up to two-and-a-half years or more.

Online-only programs are widely available, but some do require residencies or international experiences as part of the curriculum.


Tuition varies from less than $600 per credit hour at the low end to more than $1,000 per credit hour at more expensive institutions. You also should consider other fees and expenses, such as:

  • Travel and lodging
  • Access to technology
  • Application fees
  • Textbooks and other course materials

Success of previous students

Many institutions track graduation rates, job placement, and similar statistics to help prospective students identify their job prospects upon completing the degree.

In some cases, individuals may also be able to access testimonials from former students to help them get a feel for what they can expect upon successfully completing the program.

What is the purpose of an MS in Leadership?

The Master of Science in Leadership is a degree program focused on equipping learners with leadership skills that are applicable across a wide range of job roles and industries.

Often compared to a Master of Science in Business Administration (MBA), an MS in Leadership puts less emphasis on the accounting, marketing, and similar hard skills included in an MBA and instead focuses on problem-solving, communication, and related competencies.

The MS in Leadership is designed to prepare learners to succeed as organizational leaders. Based on learning outcomes from a variety of MS in Leadership programs, these competencies often include:

  • Managing change in complex and rapidly changing operational environments
  • Understanding ethics, historical leadership expectations, diplomacy, and negotiation
  • Establishing a personal framework for continual growth as a leader
  • Decision-making with regard to stakeholders within the organization and communities it affects
  • Communicating goals and expectations while fostering creativity and flexibility
What should an MS in Leadership student expect to learn?

The specific course outcomes mentioned above are the bedrock of many MS in Leadership programs. In action, the most important skills are often an extension of the humanities as opposed to traditional business skills. A report from Fast Company pointed out that the leadership skills currently in demand often put students with a humanities background at an advantage. [9]

The MS in Leadership emphasizes many of these capabilities. Citing data from DDI, Fast Company pointed to the following skills as particularly important for individuals wanting to take on a leadership role in today’s organizations:

  • The ability to communicate effectively
  • The determination to drive results and project execution
  • The capacity to inspire others to excellence
  • The ability to influence others

These core skills are in demand among businesses, and they align with the course outcomes common within an MS in Leadership.

Other prominent course outcomes, based on MS in Leadership program listings at various universities, include:

  • Understanding and creating organizational culture
  • Working collaboratively, particularly in increasingly global professional settings
  • Evaluating personal leadership styles and developing skills to maximize those strengths while minimizing weaknesses
  • Learning to foster productivity and communication in ambiguous situations
Progressing with an MS in Leadership

The MS in Leadership is primarily focused on allowing an individual with expertise in a specific field to advance into a leadership role. It is also popular among consultants who help businesses as they go through periods of change or disruption.

The MS in Leadership is a broad degree, but there are many specialized variants of the program aimed at specific industries. These include:

  • MS in Organizational Leadership
  • MS in Strategic Leadership
  • MS in Educational Leadership
  • MS in Nursing Leadership

These programs tend to share similar core course outcomes as a general MS in Leadership, but they put a greater emphasis on the operational dynamics and competency requirements of specific industries. They will generally require a bachelor’s degree or experience working in those industries.

In terms of career progression, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook points out that many management jobs only require a bachelor’s degree, but individual organizations often prefer a master’s degree.

For example, the BLS notes that human resources manager positions typically require a bachelor’s degree, but higher-level positions may require a master’s-level credential in a relevant field. [10]

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Career Advancement

Management requirements are changing as many businesses shift away from producing products and put their emphasis on delivering services.

A Cisco study found that approximately 86% of manufacturers are building their growth strategies around service-oriented operational architectures. [13] A Gartner report detailing research completed in 2015 pointed to 17.2% growth in the global cloud services market as companies turn to cloud subscription services instead of traditional hardware products to support their technology needs. [14]

According to a LinkedIn employee writing for Fast Company, soft skills are coming into vogue in service-focused industries where frequent interpersonal interactions are becoming the norm. As more businesses emphasize service delivery instead of product-focused models, more companies are becoming service delivery organizations. [35]

To identify soft skills most in-demand in today’s workplace, LinkedIn analyzed skills common among new hires. The top skills discovered included: [36]

  • Communication (57.9% of new hires)
  • Organization (56.9% of new hires)
  • Teamwork (56.4% of new hires)
  • Critical Thinking (55.8% of new hires)
  • Social Skills (55.8% of new hires)
  • Creativity (55% of new hires)
  • Interpersonal Communication (55% of new hires)
  • Adaptability (54.9% of new hires)

Compare this list of popular soft skills to the courses and competencies offered within an MS in Leadership program and you’ll find a great deal of crossover.

These findings are supported in the workplace, where leadership competencies in demand often focus on interpersonal skills. A Harvard Business Review study of top leadership skills in the business world found that: [15]

  • 67% of respondents want leaders with high ethical and moral standards
  • 59% want leaders who provide goals and objectives with loose guidelines
  • 56% demand that leaders can clearly communicate expectations
  • 52% expect leaders to have the flexibility to change opinions
  • 43% want leaders to be committed to their ongoing training

These skills closely align with many learning outcomes associated with MS in Leadership programs, ensuring graduates are ready for today’s workforce.

Job growth overview

The BLS found that occupational growth for managers stands at approximately 6% for the period of 2014 through 2024. This represents a normal, steady growth rate.

In terms of salaries, Payscale indicates that MS in Leadership graduates with one to four years of work experience make, on average, $68,400. That figure climbed to $80,473 for those with 10 to 19 years in the workforce. [16]

The most rapid growth opportunities will likely come in fast-growing industries, such as scientific and technical consulting, as well as large sectors featuring growth, including government and health care. [17]

What are possible job titles and salaries for professionals

The BLS’s projected salary numbers are bullish pertaining to specific management roles. Some examples of its salary projections based on median pay are: [18]

  • Administrative services managers: $86,110
  • Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers: $124,850
  • Architectural and engineering managers: $132,800
  • Compensation and benefits managers: $111,430
  • Construction managers: $87,400
  • Training and development managers: $102,640

Salaries can vary a great deal from industry to industry. Based on BLS data, sectors with lower salaries are often in nonprofit sectors positions with lower degree requirements, such as lodging or service. Fields with more training required, like those detailed above, often have higher average salaries.

The broad nature of the MS in Leadership means that it can benefit applicants seeking management roles in a variety of industries, but it is rarely considered a prerequisite for a specific career.

Who is this degree for?

The MS in Leadership can be attractive for a wide range of individuals hoping to make a move into management. Based on a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the degree could be particularly attractive for those in change-heavy industries, because leadership skills are needed to drive this change. [8]

Getting an MS in Leadership is also attractive from a financial perspective, as the BLS found that individuals who have earned a master’s degree earn a median weekly pay of $1,341, compared to $1,137 for those who hold a bachelor’s degree. [11]

An MS in Leadership can be particularly beneficial in creating a competitive advantage in traditional business sectors. A separate BLS study identified four key enterprise management fields where having a master’s degree led to major salary benefits. [12]

However, a relatively low percentage of employees in these segments had master’s degrees, considering the potential for gains: [12]

  • Financial managers: 19% have a master’s degree
  • Marketing and sales managers: 17% have a master’s degree
  • Transportation, storage, and distribution managers: 9% have a Masters degree
  • Property, real estate, and community association managers: 7% have a master’s degree

Having a master’s degree in these fields can lead to considerable financial returns, with annual wage premiums including: [12]

  • Financial managers: $32,000
  • Marketing and sales managers: $30,000
  • Transportation, storage, and distribution managers: $28,000
  • Property, real estate, and community association managers: $20,000

The MS in Leadership is often best suited for individuals with a bachelor’s degree and enough experience in a field to gain the technical expertise needed to focus on leadership as they pursue education.

The Fast Company report mentioned earlier pointed out that MBA candidates often run into difficulties because they have the technical know-how needed to succeed, but they lack the experience to lead. [9] The MS in Leadership is typically designed for those with the experience to avoid that outcome.

How does the degree impact salary potential

As noted above, managers with a master’s degree tend to make significantly more money than those with a bachelor’s degree, as premiums in many fields ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 annually. [12]

These benefits also extend to many of the skills that MS in Leadership graduates can obtain during programs. A MONEY and study on in-demand career skills found that specific competencies can lead to significant salary increases, and a few top capabilities fall under the umbrella of an MS in Leadership. [19] These included:

  • Contract negotiation: The study found that negotiation is becoming more important in management jobs and can lead to roughly a 5% salary premium.
  • Strategic project management: Being able to balance big-picture thinking with managing details is important, and those with the skill end up with, on average, a 4.4% pay premium.
  • Strategic planning: Beyond positioning individuals for an executive role, this skill leads to a 4.3% pay premium.
Where do leadership professionals work?

The BLS projects that management occupational growth will continue at a rate of 6% from 2014 through 2024, meaning that individuals hoping to move ahead can expect a fairly steady influx of opportunities. [2]

The broad nature of the MS in Leadership means that there aren’t many geography-related issues to worry about when choosing a degree. However, you must consider the industry you hope to advance in and take any geographic concerns presented by that sector into account as you consider job prospects.

Some specific segments are expecting faster-than-normal growth, creating attractive options for those who specialize. Some segments growing quickly include:

  • Human resources: 9% growth [20]
  • Medical and health services: 17% growth [21]
  • Social and community service managers: 10% growth [22]
Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Curriculum

The MS in Leadership Curriculum focuses on providing learners with leadership skills that are applicable across a wide range of disciplines. Participants often hail from sectors as varied as sales, human resources, public sector agencies, and even the military.

Students pursuing a master’s in leadership degree must consider their long-term career goals to identify programs that offer the specializations that may be relevant in the industry in which they expect to work. However, the intentionally broad nature of the degree makes the core curriculum applicable in diverse settings.

Based on program descriptions from seven MS in Leadership curricula, students can expect the following when they pursue the advanced degree:

Topics and courses of study

General topics and courses incorporated into online Master of Science in Leadership degrees include:

  • Analyzing and applying principles of organizational culture
  • Developing personal leadership skills and tendencies
  • Leading diverse teams
  • Understanding ethical issues and ensuring ethical operations
  • Guiding strategic change and innovation
  • Establishing vision and mission
  • Improving decision-making
  • Listening, negotiating and managing conflict
  • Sustaining growth and positive momentum
  • Measuring performance and managing talent
Learning outcomes

Common learning outcomes include:

  • Develop the specialized knowledge of leadership theories needed to create and implement leadership models across an organization.
  • Integrate knowledge from a variety of social, interpersonal, and global competencies to inform leadership efforts.
  • Understand the implications of diverse work environments in order to solve problems related to global, highly collaborative work settings.
  • Incorporate broad leadership skills to foster change and innovation.

Beyond core courses, many programs also include elective opportunities that give learners an opportunity to explore specific areas of interest without having to enter a full specialization. Some examples of elective course topics include:

  • Intercultural communication
  • Leading in response to technological change
  • Leading within social and community organizations
  • Understanding group dynamics

Specializations within an MS in Leadership program exist as an extension to a core curriculum. For example, an MS in Leadership curriculum with a specialization in human resources will offer the same core courses as a general MS in Leadership. But it also will provide courses specific to human resources, such as managing business partner relationships.

Common specializations include:

  • Leadership in military settings. These programs emphasize decision-making, risk management, historical leadership practices, and how to deal with particularly dynamic operational environments.
  • Leadership through service. These programs focus on what it means to lead through service, with courses covering issues such as community empowerment and collaboration, social justice, and discernment.
  • Leadership within human resources. These programs emphasize human resources-specific competencies, as mentioned above, with courses focusing on talent and performance management.
  • Leadership in global work environments. These programs deal with globalization and the impact that diverse workforces have within an organization. Curricula often include some element of international travel.
  • Leadership in health management settings. These programs are often a stepping stone to future Doctor of Medicine studies and addresses unique leadership requirements for the health care administrators.
Key considerations in the degree program

An asynchronous learning program features static materials — message boards, on-demand video, etc. — that users can consume on their own schedules. Synchronous programs feature webcam sessions and similar activities that take place in real time.

Based on program descriptions from a variety of universities, the online MS in Leadership degree is built around interpersonal and experiential skills, so most programs will incorporate some form of synchronous learning. However, they also tend to incorporate asynchronous learning opportunities when possible to accommodate the schedules of working professionals.

Cohort class systems, in which students spend the duration of their program with the same group of students, have become popular as they give participants an opportunity to bond and support one another. However, they can also limit flexibility within the program because learners must enter and complete the program on a common schedule. Make sure to analyze the programs you are considering carefully to find an option that fits best with your learning style.

MS in Leadership programs are built with a heavy emphasis on educating working professionals. Based on analysis of a variety of degree programs, most include online learning options with some residency, special trips, or similar experiential requirements. In terms of content and education provided, the differences between online and on-campus programs tend to be minimal, and many programs operate primarily online.

Capstones and theses

A capstone course is a culmination class in which students study a highly specific issue within their area of learning, often completing a project. A thesis, on the other hand, is a highly structured research paper that goes through an extended review process.

Completion of either a capstone or thesis project will vary from program to program when pursuing an MS in Leadership. Be sure to analyze the specific programs you are considering based on your preference for completing these projects.

Residency requirements

Similar to capstone and thesis projects, residency requirements will vary among programs. Institutions that do require residency typically do so in order to incorporate specialized areas of study into the curriculum or help students build a real-world skill set.

Experiential learning

In addition to residencies and capstone projects, some programs incorporate specific types of experiences into the curriculum, with international learning options among the most common. The increasingly global nature of business has led some institutions to offer short, one-or-two-week experiential learning experiences abroad, usually centering around attending a conference or forum in another country.

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Program Length

The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.

Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.

You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Admissions Requirements

While each program will set its admissions requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admissions requirements page.

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Alternative Degrees/Fields of Study

An MBA and MS in Leadership both prepare individuals for important management roles and incorporate similar areas of study, but they emphasize different competencies.
An MBA is among the most common business management degrees pursued within the workforce, according to a report by Fast Company. [9] However, increased focus on leadership is making the distinction between an MBA and MS in Leadership increasingly important.

The MBA is focused on the technical skills required to manage a business. According to Payscale, an MBA can be applied to a variety of job roles with a wide array of pay ranges. [27] These include:

  • Marketing director: Salaries ranging from $61,706 to $152,645
  • Financial analyst: Salaries ranging from $49,365 to $80,305
  • Chief financial officer: Salaries ranging from $82,626 to $242,005
  • Human resources manager: Salaries ranging from $48,883 to $97,524

MIM programs are similar to the MS in Leadership. While the MiM has its roots in Europe and Asia, it’s becoming an increasingly popular field of study in the United States. A study from The Economist found that approximately one-third of global employers intend to hire a candidate with a MiM degree in the near future. [26] The study was completed in 2015.

According to PayScale, the MiM degree can lead to many similar job roles as the MBA, but with slightly lower salaries. [28] For example, Human Resource Manager salaries for MiM graduates ranged from $43,852 to $96,299.

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Some program-specific accreditations to look for when exploring your MS in Leadership program options include:

  • Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) [30]
    • The GAC specializes in in programs involving the project management field. A GAC accreditation is designed to show that a program meets global standards for project management competencies and continuous improvement.
  • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) [31]
    • The ACBSP serves on the Principles for Responsible Management Education and serves with the United Nations Global Compact to guide the future of business education. The ACBSP works exclusively to accredit specific programs and does not assess the actual institution.
  • Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) [32]
    • The AACSB is a global accreditation body focused on driving engagement, innovation, and quality across business programs throughout the world. Its goal is to ensure business schools have a positive influence on the global economy.
What is NC-SARA?

The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) has emerged in response to the growth of online learning programs. [34]

The regulating body is designed to ensure that states honor programs from other regions, ensuring that institutions meet common standards for quality across state lines. It is possible, but unlikely, that a degree earned in non-compliance will be invalidated, but all but six states have entered reciprocity agreements through NC-SARA.

The six states not included are:

  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Licensure and Certification
There are no licenses or certifications associated with a Master of Leadership program, because the broad curriculum does not apply to industries managed by a regulatory body. However, career seekers getting an MS in Leadership to advance in a specific career may need to consider any corresponding regulations. For example, an individual seeking an MS in Leadership to pursue an administrative position in the education sector will also have to consider state certifications.
The History of Leadership in Professional Settings

The recession of the early 2000s placed a greater emphasis on business efficiency and productivity. As the pressure of the recession took hold, organizations became more aware of the need to lead employees to positive outcomes, as opposed to simply managing them.

This shifting operational climate has resulted in a situation in which management and leadership skills are increasingly merging, because managers must lead the way to productivity and efficiency.

Frequent change is likely to continue through at least 2022, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study found. [8] According to PwC, Managers are facing more pressure to respond to change and keep employees engaged despite shifting operational demands. What is driving these changes?

  • 53% of respondents said technology.
  • 39% pointed to resource limitations and climate change.
  • 36% said new global economic power dynamics.
  • 33% noted demographic changes in the workforce.
  • 26% emphasized urbanization.

By 2020, PwC anticipates change will still be happening, and businesses will need to improve in key areas including relationship and social capital management as well as their ability to deal with a blending in personal and work lifestyles. All of these developments point to a need for leaders that can motivate, engage and relate to workers.

Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

Financial aid and scholarship opportunities

Federal financial aid is available based on need, with opportunities for many individuals to get help going to college. The Federal Student Aid Office provides a central portal where prospective learners can gain access to federal loan, grant, and scholarship programs. [23]

Many universities also provide financial aid and scholarship opportunities, with a particular emphasis on opportunities for active military members attempting to gain leadership expertise.

It may also be possible to obtain scholarships if you are specializing in a specific field. For example, the Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship from the Foundation of the American College of Healthcare Executives aims to provide financial institutions to students studying health care management at the graduate level. [24]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Your Master of Science in Leadership can help you develop the skills required to become a leader in your organization, and leaders are in high demand. This degree is also highly flexible and applicable across various verticals/industries.

Yes. Our society today is consistently evolving, whether it be because of new technologies or the recent shifts toward desiring flexibility in work styles. This constant evolution requires the development of leaders who can navigate change. This is what drives a constant need for leadership. In addition, the expected shortage of skilled workers due to the baby boomer generation hitting retirement is also expected to increase demand for individuals who can lead the next generation. [40]

A typical MSL program aims to integrate a foundation of leadership knowledge along with the development of executive skills. Students combine theory and application to understand the concepts of decision-making, conflict and change management, communication, and approaches to leadership.

No, leadership degrees are multi-disciplinary degrees that span across various industries and sectors including the public, private, nonprofit, and military sectors. For example, if you are passionate about education, a leadership program can help equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to work as a school principal or superintendent. [39]

While both the MBA and the MSL can prepare you to become a leader, the focus of each program varies. MBAs are more theory-focused, whereas an MSL is more focused on application. A typical MBA curriculum will cover components of a business such as finance, marketing, and accounting. However, an MSL focuses on concepts like strategic thinking, ethical development, and people development strategies to help develop people-oriented leaders.

While similar, the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership is usually specific to careers in business, whereas the MSL can span across a variety of industries. MSL degrees often include concentrations in organizational leadership for those looking to specialize in the field.

There are many associations specializing in leadership. Benefits include professional development and networking opportunities. Below is a sample list of relevant leadership associations:

  • American Leadership Development Association
  • American Management Association
  • Association of Leadership Educators
  • Association of Leadership Programs
  • Center for Creative Leadership
  • International Leadership Association
  • Organization Development Institute
  • Organization Development Network
  • Society for Organizational Learning
  • Vision in Action

A few of the commonly developed skills throughout leadership programs include:

  • Communication
  • Conflict and change management
  • Creative problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Decision-making
  • Human resource management
  • Organizational innovation
  • Policy formulation
  • Project management
  • Research methodology
  • Strategic management

Concentrations are an excellent way for leadership students to customize their leadership studies toward their personal and professional goals. Common concentrations in the field include:

  • Change management
  • Finance
  • Health care management
  • Hospitality
  • Human resource management
  • International management
  • Nonprofit management
  • Project management

The typical MSL curriculum will cover topics such as:

  • Communication
  • Strategic organizational behavior
  • Ethics
  • Strategic thinking
  • Conflict management

Yes, a majority of leadership programs include a require capstone or research paper. This final project usually requires students to apply what they’ve learned throughout the program to solve an organizational problem and helps students apply their degree to their careers. Some programs also include a leadership development portfolio which allows students to set and track personal development goals and growth throughout the program.

While requirements vary by school, most MSL programs do not require the GMAT or GRE.

No — most leadership programs accept students with a general bachelor’s degree.

Generally there are supplementary costs apart from tuition. The tuition does not usually include the cost of books or additional fees. These additional costs will vary from program to program.

The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation is the Federal Student Aid office in the U.S. Department of Education. It supplies college-level or career school students with loans, grants, and work-study funds. You can apply for federal financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA.

There are numerous other scholarships available, but you will need to research which opportunities you’re qualified to pursue. Many states, associations, websites, and businesses award scholarships based on specific criteria. Be sure to do your research and apply for any scholarships you’re qualified to be awarded. [7]

Yes. As the leadership degree is most suited for mid-level working professionals, many online leadership programs prefer students who are working so they can apply what they’ve learned and develop their skills around their specific roles.

The primary motivation of professionals seeking this degree is to advance their career. However, because the leadership degree is universal, it can also aid individuals who are looking to transfer to another industry or field.

Because many leadership students are working full-time and looking to advance their career, typical leadership programs take 18-24 months to complete.

Most leadership programs comprise between 24 and 48 credit hours.

Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.

The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets..

Yes. Many institutions offer Master of Leadership degrees online.

Online and on-campus degrees typically look identical. Most institutions do not indicate on the degree that it was earned online.

Yes, typically schools follow the same curriculum for their online programs as they do for their campus-based programs.

Reputable accrediting agencies are authorized by the U.S. Department of Education. The most common accreditations one should look for from leadership programs include the ACBSP or AACSB accreditation. [38]

Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, but are also required for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.

SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses.

Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. [34]

Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance.

The MSL degree prepares individuals to seek executive-level positions at large organizations, become small business owners/managers, or pursue roles as team leaders for innovative organizations. Graduates typically seek a careers in which they can utilize their decision-making skills and entrepreneurial insights.

A leadership degree is applicable across virtually every industry and organization. A few industries where leadership degrees are common include:

  • Banking
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Finance
  • Government
  • Health care
  • Hotels and restaurants
  • Manufacturing
  • Military
  • Nonprofit Management
  • Service industries
  • Transportation
  • Utilities

The outlook for careers in leadership varies depending on the industry that a graduate works in. However, according to BLS, the employment of management, business, and financial occupations is expected to increase by 6%, resulting in 505,400 new jobs over the 2014-2024 projection period. [40]

Career outlook for leadership by industry is always changing. However, according to BLS, as of 2017, there is expected to be a high level of growth in management, scientific, and technical consulting with more than 133,000 new management analyst jobs expected to be created by 2022. Other rapidly growing sectors include government, health care and social assistance, finance, insurance, and construction. [37]

According to BLS, below is the projected job growth of a few commonly pursued leadership careers. Projections are from 2014-2024: [37]

  • Administrative Service Managers: 8%
  • Human Resource Managers: 9%
  • Medical and Health Service Managers: 17%
  • Postsecondary Education Administrators: 9%
  • Sales Managers: 5%
  • Social and Community Service Managers: 10%
  • Training and Development Managers: 7%

No, attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.

While you will never be guaranteed an executive position, a large percentage of the highest-paid leaders often hold certifications or additional degrees. For example, a human resources manager may acquire a certification in addition to a leadership degree to combine his or her leadership skills with specialization in human resources.

Earning a leadership degree with a concentration in your industry is also an excellent way to show your commitment to the field while still developing a strong body of knowledge and skills in leadership.