Human services degrees, programs and career options

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What is human services?

The field of human services is committed to assisting individuals and communities experiencing major challenges in their lives. To do this, human service specialists provide skill training to increase self-sufficiency, and coordinate the various support resources required to maximize client independence.

A human services degree program is designed to provide students with the abilities needed to serve clients in a variety of settings. Human services graduates work closely with social workers, medical professionals, the police, and other specialist agencies.

Some may help people with substance abuse problems or who are victims of crime or violence, while others assist those who are unable to support themselves, such as children and the elderly. Others help people find affordable housing and employment, educate communities about food and nutrition and how to enjoy healthier lives, and offer public safety and aid to individuals affected by different types of disasters.

If you want to work in the challenging and rewarding field of human services, there are a range of career opportunities and qualifications that are open to you.

Types of  human services degrees

There is a wide range of human services degree programs, both on campus and online, for prospective students to select from.

If you know which area of human services you would like to specialize in, then before you enroll, make sure that your chosen college or university program offers a concentration in that area.

If you have not decided which area of human services you would like to pursue, it might be best to look for general programs that allow you to try different options before deciding on a concentration.

Here are some details for each degree level so you can see which might best suit your needs.

Certificate in human services

These are designed for students who want to learn the basic skills and attitudes that are needed for entry-level positions in human services.

Earning a certificate in human services is an attractive option for students as it typically can be completed in a year and sometimes less.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling?

All programs require a high school diploma or GED, some schools may ask for a high school transcript, COMPASS or ACT results, and an admission interview.

What will I study?

A certificate in human services is intended to provide students with a basic introduction and awareness of the methods used to improve the well-being of individuals, groups, and communities.

Some program fields include:

Adults and legal rights

Case management

Child neglect and abuse

Crisis intervention

Interviewing

Marriage and family

Substance addiction

Students may be required to complete fieldwork in addition to core coursework requirements. Fieldwork gives students an opportunity to interact with clients of social work services in a supervised environment.

What jobs can I do with a certificate in human studies?

After you receive your undergraduate certificate in human services you may find employment working for non-profit organizations, for-profit social service agencies, and state and local governments. Typical starting jobs for certificate holders are:

  • Clinical social worker aide
  • Caseworker aide
  • Family service assistant
  • Social and human services assistant.

The BLS reports that the median annual salary of a social and human services assistant was $35,060 in 2019.

Continuing education information

Students who obtain a human services certificate often continue to an associate degree program. Community colleges that offer both options generally allow certificate graduates to transfer some of their credits to the associate degree program.

Associate’s degree in human services

An associate’s degree in human services typically takes about 2 years of full-time study to complete, although at some schools it can take 18 months. These degrees are available through community and junior colleges. An associate degree gives students the opportunity to gain the specialized skills required by most entry-level positions in the human services field.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling?

Most associate’s in human services programs ask candidates to submit their official high school transcripts or GED scores, along with their ACT or SAT scores and a personal essay. Letters of recommendation from teaching professionals, or relatives may also be requested.

What will I study?

The program will typically incorporate college-level general studies courses, such as English composition, history, computer science, and biological sciences.

Additionally, there will be human services focused courses that look at areas such as:

Introduction to psychology

Introduction to sociology

Social issues in diversity

Interviewing and interpersonal skills

Crisis counseling and intervention

Case management

What jobs can I do with an associate’s degree in human services?

An associate’s degree can help you find employment in entry-level positions in advocacy organizations, government agencies, health facilities, non-profits. It may, in some circumstances, be all you need to begin a career as an addictions counselor or probation officer. Typical starting jobs are:

  • Human services assistant
  • Probation officer
  • Community outreach worker
  • Substance abuse counsellor

The BLS reports that the median annual salary of a substance abuse counsellor was $ 46,240 in 2019.

Continuing education information

Although an associate’s degree in human services offers a great way to find career opportunities in human services, you may want to increase your employment prospects further by following it up with a bachelor’s degree.

If you decide to continue your human services education, associate’s degree holders can usually transfer credits from their associate’s program toward a full bachelor’s degree program. The bachelor’s degree can typically then be obtained in 2 years rather than the usual 4 years.

Bachelor’s degree in human services

These are 4-year degree courses that give students a broad understanding of the full spectrum of career areas in human services. The programs include career-specific courses that help prepare you for almost any career in the general category of human services.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling?

This depends very much on individual schools but basically a minimum GPA of either 2.5 or 3.0 plus varied extra admission requirements — possibly references, personal essay, etc.— are required. If you have already gained an associate’s degree in human services, you might be able to accelerate through a bachelor’s degree program.

What will I study?

Students in a human services program explore approaches to help people deal with a variety of concerns and problems that affect their lives. Core subjects for human services bachelor’s programs are usually similar.

Possible subjects covered in a curriculum are:

Introduction to human services

Social and developmental psychology

Professional skills for counseling

Models of effective helping

Sociology of social problems

Social science research methods

Public policy and advocacy

Topics for concentration subjects that give you the opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of a specialized field might include:

Health and community services

Criminal justice

Counseling

Youth and family services

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

A bachelor’s degree in human services may qualify you to pursue a career in one of the following positions:

  • Addiction counselor
  • Assisted living manager
  • Case management aide
  • Community outreach worker
  • Mental health worker
  • Juvenile court liaison
  • Probation officer
  • Rehabilitation case worker

Master’s degree in human services

Master’s degrees in human services enable graduates to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged populations through involvement and outreach.

As well as being the highest level of education in human services, a master’s degree allows you to specialize in your preferred area of interest, whether it is counseling, administration, mental health, or conflict management.

Master’s degrees in human services take 2 years for full-time students and 3 or more years for part-time students. Online programs are a useful option for part-time students who are only able to take 1 or 2 classes at a time.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling?

Candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree to enter a master’s in human services program. Most programs do not require specific degrees, but if you hold a human services-related degree, your chances of acceptance are greater.

Students do not generally need human services experience, but it can help your application. Some programs with specializations like counseling may require that candidates have fieldwork experience to be accepted on the program.

What will I study?

Classes look at the history and concepts of human services, the rights and duties of human services workers, how human services agencies and organizations operate, and how to fulfill the needs of clients.

Some of the courses commonly included in a master’s program in human services are:

Foundations of human services

Human services administration

Counseling skills and techniques

Human services policy, ethics, and law

Research and evaluation of human services

Topics for concentration subjects that give you the opportunity to gain a more in-depth understanding of a specialized field might include:

Leadership administration

Child and family studies

Gerontology

Counseling

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

After graduating with a master’s degree in human services, you could pursue jobs such as:

  • Occupational therapists
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Social and community service manager

Doctorate degree in human services

A doctoral degree in human services is the most advanced degree that you can earn, and it allows you to hold both leadership and teaching roles in the field. 

A Ph.D. program will give you a thorough insight into the work of human service organizations and their significance. You will learn leadership techniques and analyze the evidence and research behind current best practices in the field.

Earning your Ph.D. as a full-time student will take between 3 and 4 years, and longer part-time. Ph.D. programs generally allow up to 9 years to complete the degree.

What are the prerequisites for enrolling?

All programs require that your master’s degree is from an accredited institution. There are some programs that allow students studying for their master’s degree to combine this with earning their Ph.D. 

What will I study?

This will depend upon whether you are studying for a Ph.D. in human services or a doctorate in human services (DHS). A Ph.D. concentrates on creating research while a DHS focuses on applying research to solve problems in human services.

Standard core classes for both programs include:

Communication for leaders

Ethical decision making

Financial planning

Leadership development

Organizational effectiveness

Research techniques

Strategic planning

What jobs can I do with a doctorate degree in human services?

Earning your Ph.D. can allow you take on management or directorial positions. You will likely be in the highest salary range and working in positions such as:

  • Professor of human services
  • Chief executive of a human services organization

Financial assistance for human services students

As well as the usual student grants and federal programs described on the Federal Student Aid website, students interested in human services degrees may find the following scholarship programs helpful. These scholarships do not have to be repaid and are available in amounts of up to $5,000. Scholarships for human services majors include:

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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