What Schools Offer the Best Master of Arts in Leadership Degrees?

By Roxy FavrettoLast Updated January 20, 2021
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Do your career goals include a heavy focus on working with people, fielding communications or even negotiating contracts and other transactions? If so, setting your academic sights on learning about leadership may be just what you need to jump-start or supplement your professional focus. Whether it's inside an academic classroom, at a corporate business, or as a mentor or consultant, leaders are essential in every field and at every level of every company.

One way you can achieve your goal of becoming a better leader is to make it official by obtaining a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Leadership. This type of degree offers a dynamic approach to leadership and learning by preparing students with a wide range of valuable skills they can apply in their professions. If you’re already considering earning this type of degree, one of your next steps is to learn more about which programs are ideal. Take a look at five of the best schools to attend to earn an MA in Leadership.

What Can an MA in Leadership Teach You?

Before you search for schools, it helps to have a firm understanding of what the degree entails. So what exactly is an MA in Leadership? This is a graduate-level degree, meaning you go on to earn it after you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, that teaches students creative approaches to leadership skills and provides unique learning strategies that students can apply to their professional and academic goals. And what do leadership skills entail? Most programs offer comprehensive curriculums that include masterclasses with focuses on ethics, organizational skills, leadership development and the steps involved in formulating various strategic goals tailored to business situations.

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An MA in Leadership curriculum typically prepares graduates to obtain jobs in education, mentoring, business and consulting. More specifically, graduates often get this type of degree to advance in professions as business executives, school administrators, coaches, academic instructors and business consultants. It’s important to note that graduate degrees in leadership are also often Master of Science (MS) degrees. An MA may focus primarily on the human impacts of this work with courses based on effective management or even public service. An MS, on the other hand, may incorporate other business-adjacent topics related to finance, research or economic principles.

Leadership degrees are available from both on-campus and online programs. Online programs are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earning an MA virtually also offers some additional flexibility, which can be particularly appealing for people who are already working full time in their careers and may have difficulty fitting in-person classes into their schedules.

A worthwhile program allows students to learn more about effective leadership practices while discovering their unique passions, beliefs and abilities as leaders. Through these programs, students also learn how to be the future leaders of the world — or, at the very least, their lives or the companies where they work.

Best for Human Resources Focus: Northwestern University

Northwestern University offers an MA in Learning and Organizational Change. Available both as a full-time on-campus program (located in Evanston, Illinois) or as a part-time online program, this degree focuses on what the university asserts is the most important part of a strong organization: the people.

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Applicants must have completed at least three years of post-baccalaureate work experience for acceptance into the MA program. The close-knit program focuses on research in organizational development, organizational and social psychology, learning sciences and organizational learning.

In addition, the curriculum prepares students through courses in advanced learning and performance solutions, creating and sharing knowledge, leading with strategic thinking, discovering and designing innovation, change management, social networking and coaching. Learning leadership with Northwestern University’s MA from instructors who are also working professionals can better prepare you for a career in coaching, design strategies or effective leadership management.

Best for Individual Attention: The George Washington University

As part of the school’s small, close-knit community, The George Washington University’s MA in Organizational Sciences pushes students to learn more about organizational management for their future professions. While the school is located in the heart of the nation’s capital, its leadership MA program is available both on-campus and online. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution to be considered.

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The program prepares students to handle conflict management more effectively, and it also teaches deeper information about the process of forming strong organizations by collaborating, redesigning processes and deploying effective methods for boosting better employee performance. Courses here focus on human behavior, organizational leadership, assessment methods for organization change, management systems, organization behavior and conflict management.

Graduates from this program often pursue careers as business consultants who help companies learn to better manage organizations. They apply different theories of organizational management to improve workplace environments for effective change.

Best for Flexibility and Customization: Manhattan College

Manhattan College’s MA in Organizational Leadership is an accelerated program designed for working professionals. The program is offered in a variety of modalities: an in-person format on Manhattan’s campus, a full-time online program and a hybrid program that blends in-person and online classes. Similar to Northwestern University, applicants must have three years of work experience, and the in-person classes are held in the evenings to accommodate typical work schedules.

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While attending the program, students can opt to specialize by choosing a degree track or area of focus. These tracks include Human Resources, Organizational Leadership, Public Service, and E-learning and Training. The program aims to help students develop a better understanding of leadership strategies and project management.

This is accomplished through classes in leadership communication and coaching essentials, learning organization, workplace ethics, and cultural and global business boundaries, among other courses. Each course is designed to prepare students to lead small and large groups, make important (or difficult) business decisions, develop effective strategies and create or maintain diverse workplace environments.

After completing the program, graduates typically find jobs as corporate recruiters, human resource managers, management analysts, operations managers and even as nonprofit administrators. One of the primary goals of the program is to help students learn the best ways to apply their strong leadership skills in their professions in order to solve problems — a great option for those who are looking to move ahead in their career fields.

Best for Career Advancement: Saint Joseph’s University

Saint Joseph’s University offers an MS degree in Organization Development and Leadership. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the program is available both on campus and online, and students have the option to enroll in a full-time or part-time program.

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Students can customize their degree with four concentrations: Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging; Talent Development and Leadership; Organizational Psychology and Development; and Organization Dynamics and Leadership. The concentrations vary in their prerequisites and may require you to have up to eight years of work experience.

The graduate program features a curriculum that covers leadership, organizational change, learning and training, diversity, equity, organizational psychology and inclusion. One of the primary aims of Saint Joseph’s program is to assist (and prepare) students who have careers in human resources, coaching, teaching or organization development or those who have directorial positions.

Examples of course materials and topics you might encounter in this program include the psychology of executive coaching, positive organizational psychology and scholarship, career development theory and practice, and stress and crisis management. The program focuses on the human side of business management in order to help students understand the power dynamics and team-management skills necessary to form strong organizations.

Best for Experiential Learning: University of Denver

Improve your organization skills by obtaining an MS in Organizational Development at the University of Denver. Located in the heart of Denver, Colorado, students can attend on-campus classes in the evenings or the university’s online graduate program.

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The program offers concentrations in Human Capital in Organizations, Organizational Development, Philanthropic Leadership, Project Management, and Strategic Innovation and Change. In addition, its curriculum includes hands-on courses in leadership development, financing for organizations, social research methods, learning to integrate personal and organizational success, decision making and strategic organizational partnerships.

After completing the program, graduates will be better equipped to understand data, improve organizational performance as consultants and help guide organizations via managerial roles. Along the way, students will learn to understand organization-management techniques to apply in administrative, corporate and consultation work.

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