Master’s degree in human services programs guide

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A master’s degree program in human services is a 2-year degree designed to advance the student substantially beyond what they learned when studying for their baccalaureate degree program. The degree is structured to prepare you for work in the more advanced positions in your chosen human services field.

A master’s degree in human services undoubtedly increases your professional choices and personal opportunities to work in many diverse areas, including housing, health, education, mental health, community support organizations, and government agencies.

How is a master’s degree in human services different from a master of social work (MSW)?

In many cases, the programs will cover fairly similar content, but there is a sharp contrast between what students study and where they can work.

A master’s degree in human services is structured around preparing students for leadership roles and direct work with client populations. A master’s in human services focuses on in-class coursework. Students generally do not have to complete any form of fieldwork in most programs.

The master’s in social work involves practical work under the guidance of experienced professionals to provide students with an opportunity to develop clinical skills. After obtaining licensure, the social work graduate can assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral issues.

What do I need to enroll in a master’s in human services degree program?

The application process to a master’s in human services program requires you to submit several types of supporting materials such as the formal application, transcript information, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and statements of purpose. Acceptance to an online program often involves more requirements, so you should check with your specific institutions.

Bachelor’s degree

Students must hold a bachelor’s degree to enter a master’s in human services program. The bachelor’s degree does not have to be in human services for most programs but, if it is, it improves your chances of acceptance. If you are looking to enroll in a program with specializations like administration or counseling, previous coursework in that field might be required.

Resume

Although you do not generally need previous experience in human services, a resume showing your previous work experience plus any other relevant information such as voluntary work can add to the strength of your application.

Minimum GPA

The minimum acceptable GPA for many master’s programs is between 2.0 to 3.0.

Transcripts

When you submit your application, you will need to present the official transcripts from all the undergraduate and graduate institutions you have attended.

Letters of recommendation

If required, these should be from former teachers, professors, colleagues, or others who can vouch for your academic ability and suitability for the program.

Test scores

When working with diverse learners, it is important to have an understanding of classroom and behavior management. As a future teacher, this course can equip you with the strategies and systems to manage difficult behaviors in your classroom. Ultimately, this will result in the creation of an environment conducive to learning for all your students.

What is in the master’s in human services curriculum?

The coursework involved in studying for a master’s in human services program prepares you for human service leadership and advocacy careers. The coursework will vary from school to school, but the content will be similar and provide a broad overview of the purpose, origins, history, and current developments in human services, the rights and responsibilities of human services workers, how to deliver social services to families, communities, organizations in diverse practice settings, and how human services agencies and organizations function. 

Human services administration

Human services administration courses develop students’ organizational skills to improve service delivery. The course covers public and private human services programs, strategic planning, evaluating program outcomes, and identifying potential funding resources and writing grants.

Counseling skills and techniques

With so much of human services involving interpersonal relationships, this course looks at the communication and assessment skills needed to develop, maintain, and manage a helping relationship with clients. Counseling techniques provide human services students with the theories and methodologies available to guide interactions with others.

Research and evaluation of human services

Research and evaluation courses give human services students the research and evaluation skills needed to investigate human services practices, planning, and implementation. Students also learn to use quantitative and qualitative tools to assess the outcomes and effectiveness of human services. Students also have the opportunity to translate research into practice theory and conduct their own research projects, often in anticipation of a capstone course paper.

Human services policy, ethics, and law

This course provides an overview of policy, ethics, and the law to inform students on how to locate and use local, state, and federal policies and laws when working with public and private agencies. The course offers an introduction to professional ethics and boundaries, applying these principles using case studies to a variety of real-world situations.

What are the concentration subjects?

In addition to core coursework, human services programs allow you to choose a concentration area from a range of subjects. Concentration coursework allows you to do detailed research and learn the skills and techniques required to work in that field.

Leadership administration

A human services leadership concentration examines the theories and principles of leadership development, building leadership skills, and strategies for leadership in addressing important social issues and implementing change. Students also learn about the challenges involved in managing public, private, non-profit agencies, grant applications, and supervisory techniques.

This concentration can lead to careers such as human services manager, social and community services administrator, social program developer.

Child and family studies

A child and family studies concentration offers a more in-depth study that looks at child development, abuse and neglect, plus programs for young children. Also studied are parenting, family dynamics and interventions, substance and domestic abuse, and working with diverse populations.

This concentration can lead to careers such as social worker, social and community services manager, family counselor.

Gerontology

A concentration in gerontology for your master’s degree in human services focuses on assessing, working with, and assisting elderly populations, The course examines the quality of the care given to older people, and evaluates the education and resources available for seniors and caregivers. Students also study the psychology and physiology of aging, death and bereavement in society, and aging as it relates to human services and public policy.

This concentration can lead to careers such as social worker, social and community services manager, community gerontology program developer, gerontology outreach worker

Counseling

By taking a concentration on counseling, students will gain an understanding of the basics of providing guidance and making assessments, and be able to apply these skills in their work with communities and individuals.

This concentration can lead to careers as a counselor in such areas as mental health and wellness, rehabilitation, addictions, marriage and family, careers and vocations in addition to positions as a social worker or community service manager.

Forensic behavioral health

A concentration in forensic behavioral health will examine mental illness, personality disorders, alcohol and substance use, violence and trauma. Students will also study the procedural, legal, and ethical aspects of this subject.

This concentration can lead to careers as a social worker, community health worker, social and community service manager.

What type of study options are available for a master’s in human services?

There are 2 main ways that you can study for a master’s degree in human services: on campus and online. On-campus degrees usually take 2 years, and students studying on a part-time basis take 3 or more years to complete their degree. These programs are usually taken by students at the beginning of their careers, as they move from a bachelor’s degree program to a master’s degree program. Online degree courses can be taken in the same amount of time but offer more flexibility for working professionals who need to maintain their family and work commitments.

It is possible to combine an accelerated degree program with either of the above options for those with relevant educational qualifications or work experience. An accelerated program can allow students to complete their master’s degree in a year and a half.

How to choose a bachelor’s in human services degree program

School curriculum

Students should look at the degree specializations and internship or residency requirements to assess if a school offers a degree that meets their interests and needs.

Costs

In-state tuition at a public university invariably costs substantially less than out-of-state tuition or private school tuition. Additionally, on campus programs may have extra costs to take into account, such as accommodation, university and departmental fees, and commuting expenses.

Financial aid

When you apply to any program in human services, you should examine all your financial assistance options. The website for Federal Student Aid provides information on federal aid, scholarships, grants and loans. You can also fill in the FAFSA, which is the free online application form for federal student aid, on this website. Ask your potential schools and programs about financial aid opportunities for someone with your background. Applying to several schools may work to your advantage as you may find that some programs offer more financial aid or funding opportunities.

Accreditation

Schools that offer master’s degrees in human services are generally accredited by a regional or national accrediting body recognized by the Council For Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Regional accreditation serves as the more preferred brand of accreditation. Some regionally endorsed schools may not allow the transfer of credits from nationally accredited institutions. Furthermore, several funding agencies do not recognize nationally accredited schools when awarding scholarships and grants.

An alternative to school accreditation is programmatic accreditation. This is when accreditation is given by a national body to specific degrees and programs. A programmatic accreditation indicates that industry professionals approve and endorse a program’s curriculum. For human services master’s programs, the principle accreditation organization is the Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE). This should be an important factor when making your choice.

What jobs can I do with a master’s degree in human services?

With a master’s degree you will find that a wide range of potential career paths are available to you. Most graduates focus on public service, community outreach, and social advocacy and support. The particular area you decide to work in may be influenced by the type of master’s degree you took: master of human services degree or master of human services leadership degree. There are many opportunities to work in management and administration, counseling, children and family, the elderly, and individuals with behavioral issues.

Here are some of the job titles your master’s in human services might qualify you for:

Occupational therapists treat individuals who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Occupational therapists may work with individuals in their homes, work, or educational settings. They help clients to develop skills and reach goals needed for daily living and working. This may involve evaluating and implementing changes to help the family, school or workplace meet their client’s needs. 

Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. All states require occupational therapists to be licensed.

According to the BLS the median annual salary in May 2019 was $84,950.

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities. They may work with specific groups of clients such as students, veterans, or the elderly to help them overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Rehabilitation counselors generally need a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field. Some positions require certification or a license.

According to the BLS the median annual salary in May 2019 was $35,950 per year.

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families. They use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients, and bring a family-centered approach to treatment. They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the client, using methods that help clients replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive, life-enhancing ones.

A license is required to practice as a marriage and family therapist.

According to the BLS the median annual salary in May 2019 was $49,610.

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being. Some of these bodies focus on working with a particular demographic, such as children, the homeless, or veterans. Others concentrate on helping those with particular challenges, such as substance abuse or mental illness.

Social and community service managers need to show that the programs and services are effective by collecting statistics to evaluate their efficacy on their target community. They are also involved in the hiring, training, and mentorship of their staff.

Social and community service manager jobs typically require a bachelor’s. However, some positions also require a master’s degree.

According to the BLS the median annual salary in May 2019 was $67,150.

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills that promote success in school. Although the specific duties of school counselors vary with the ages of their students, their main focus is on identifying and addressing issues that affect academic performance such as truancy, social or behavioral problems.

Career counselors help people develop job search skills such as résumé writing and interviewing techniques. They also assist people in selecting an educational program that will lead to a career. Some career counselors work in colleges, helping students choose a major or determine the jobs they are qualified for, while some work in outplacement firms and help laid-off workers with adjusting to new jobs or careers.

School counselors must hold a master’s degree and have a state-issued credential. Some states require licensure for career counselors. 

According to the BLS the median annual salary in May 2019 was $57,040.

Certifications and licenses a master’s in human services can lead to

Licensed Social Worker

Licensure requirements for social work vary from state to state. In most states, to hold the title of Licensed Social Worker you will need to have earned a degree in social work or a related field accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. You will also need to have accumulated the required amount of supervised and unsupervised hours of experience. In addition, you also have to pass an Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam.

Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC)

Human service workers that specialize in counseling must become an NCC through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) to practice. To become a nationally certified counselor, The NBCC Certification is a voluntary national certification issued by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) that shows that a counselor has met national standards set by the board. To obtain this certificate, you must hold a degree in counseling or a related field, meet work experience and supervision requirements, pass a board exam, and provide a professional reference.

Master Addictions Counselor (MAC)

Human services professionals who work in the field of substance use disorders and addiction issues can become MACs through the NAADAC. To earn a MAC specialization, applicants must currently be credentialed or licensed as counselors, and show that they meet the required levels of experience in addiction studies and counselling. They will also need to pass the Examination for Master Addiction Counselors.

What are the career and study paths after a master’s degree in human services?

In addition to core coursework, human services programs allow you to choose a concentration area from a range of subjects. Concentration coursework allows you to do detailed research and learn the skills and techniques required to work in that field.

Once you have your master’s degree, if you wish to continue your education and further increase your employment prospects, there is one additional level of degree that you can take:

Doctoral degree in human services: 

After a master’s degree, you can study for a doctoral degree. There is a choice between 2 academic branches, a Ph.D. in Human Services or a Doctor of Human Services degree (DHS). A Ph.D. focuses on developing and creating original research material in human services. A DHS works with existing research material to deal with actual problems in human services. Both degrees allow you to hold leadership positions in human services, healthcare, social work, and community organizations.

Council for Standards in Human Services Education
The CSHSE focuses on improving the quality, consistency and maintenance of best practices in human service education. The council accredits courses and provides details of certified programs and member organizations. The CSHSE also offers resources to students, educators, and professionals who need to keep up with current trends, standards, and research in human services education.

National Board of Certified Counselors
The APHSA assembles local, state, and private health services to work together at the national level to influence policymakers and build expertise. Members can network, exchange ideas, and join conferences and online events. Students can keep up to date with policy and practice via updates on the association’s website.

American Counseling Association
The ACA represents professional counselors by promoting their development and advocating for the profession. Members of the ACA can benefit from insurance discounts and access other benefits such as educational opportunities, career announcements, publications and resources, and networking opportunities.

NAADAC, The Association of Addictions Counselors
NAADAC represents the professional interests of addiction counselors through education, advocacy, collaborative efforts, and policy. NAADAC also provides continuing education programs offering 9 different credentials, a career center, and discounts on professional books and other materials plus insurance.

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