Human Services Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Human Services?

A human services degree program is meant to equip students with the skills required to serve clients in a variety of public outreach organizations. Human services graduates work alongside social workers, detectives, doctors and other specialists who help individuals tackle major challenges in their lives. Many people, no matter what job they choose, end up serving others. Even Milton Hershey, the American chocolatier, acknowledged this when he said: “Business is a matter of human service.”

Many different opportunities exist with a human services degree. From disaster response to hurricanes to helping people manage a downturn in the economy, human services workers can advocate on behalf of citizens who are struggling. They can help people with substance abuse problems or who are victims of crime or violence while others assist the aging population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the growing senior population is increasing the demand for different types of human services jobs, something to keep in mind if you are thinking about a career in human services.

Types of Human Services Degrees

There are a variety of human services degree programs for prospective students to choose from. With the proliferation of online learning programs, many busy professionals and working parents who could not make the commitment to an on-campus program can now complete human services degree programs on their own schedules.

If you have made a decision about the specialty you would like to pursue, make sure your chosen college or university employs experienced faculty members who share your passion. If you are uncertain as to which area of human services you would like to specialize in, investigate programs that allow you to explore multiple options before committing to a concentration.

However, as important as a concentration is how far you wish to pursue your degree. Do you want the quick, foundational grounding of an associate degree, or are you looking for the longer and more involved education of a master’s degree? Let’s review some of the details for each degree level and see which might suit your needs.

Certificate Programs in Human Services

Certificate programs in human services give students a chance to gain some basic knowledge of this field. Not only can this program expand your knowledge when it comes to the people around you and the different challenges they face, but it can show prospective employers that you have the drive and tenacity to learn new skills, which can lead to a competitive advantage in the job market.

Factors prospective students should consider

The length of a certificate program in human services at the undergraduate level may vary. Furthermore, some programs can be ground-based whereas others can be completed online. Even though you can complete entry-level courses, you may be able to transfer some of your credits to an associate or bachelor’s degree program if you stay at the same school.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Since a certificate in human services is intended to deliver a basic introduction to important theories and concepts in this field, courses you might take include:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Marriage and family
  • Sociology
  • Social problems
  • Theories of personality

Skills students can learn

You can develop helping and interpersonal skills as well as insight into intervention methodologies used at the individual, group, and community level.

Jobs related to this degree

After you obtain an undergraduate certificate in human services, you could be ready for employment as a caseworker aide, clinical social worker aide, family service assistant or social and human services assistant.

Associate Degree in Human Services

An associate degree in human services can give students the opportunity to gain specialized skills required by most entry-level positions in the human services field. Cornerstones of the program include gaining real-life skills that could be used in advocacy organizations, government agencies, health facilities, non-profits and other types of groups. According to The College Board, most human services majors lead to an associate degree.

Factors prospective students should consider

Students can usually transfer credits from their associate programs toward a full bachelor’s degree if they decide to pursue further study, but they may find an associate degree is sufficient for their needs as well. You may also be able to complete your degree in as little as 18 months at some schools.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

An associate-level human services degree program typically focuses on a wide range of interpersonal and human conditions, from crisis counseling and intervention to case management, information systems, sociology and psychology. Generally speaking, in these programs, you can expect to see courses such as:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Introduction to psychology
  • Introduction to social work
  • Principles of sociology
  • Social issues in diversity

Skills students can learn

A human services degree at the associate undergraduate level can help you learn how to communicate with diverse groups of people, become more empathetic, work well with others and strengthen your professional writing skills.

Jobs related to this degree level

After completing an associate degree in human services, you could be prepared for job occupations like advocate, community service assistant, human service assistant or social service specialist.

Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services

If you’re working to complete a four-year human services degree program, then chances are good that you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Across all fields, these programs usually combine specific career-related courses with broad exposure to arts and humanities. The goal of a human services bachelor’s program is both to help students understand different cultures and populations, and to teach students methods of advocating for individuals and families in need.

Factors prospective students should consider

If you already earned an associate degree in human services, you may be able to accelerate through a bachelor’s degree program. At some schools, you might be able to finish the last two years of a bachelor’s degree as quickly as 18 months.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

Core human services major requirements for bachelor’s programs are usually similar, encompassing subjects like developmental psychology, ethics, human services, and research design and evaluation. Human services-oriented courses you may see in your curriculum include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Lifespan development
  • Sociology of social problems
  • Public policy and advocacy
  • Social science research methods

Skills students can learn

You can develop assessment, case management and program development skills as well as become better at communication and critical thinking.

Jobs related to this degree level

A bachelor’s degree in human services may qualify you for jobs, such as addiction counselor, assisted living manager, mental health worker or outreach worker.

Master’s Degree in Human Services

If you’re committed to improving the lives of others and determined to reach the highest level of education in your field, a master’s degree in human services can help you achieve both goals. This level of degree program can help you focus on your area of interest, whether that’s conflict management, mental health, crisis intervention or managing community needs. Earning a master’s degree in human services can also help you to have a greater impact overall, since such a degree is often required for high-end positions within this important field

Factors prospective students should consider

Online human services degrees combining bachelor’s and master’s level work could be available, enabling you to more quickly accelerate through two degree programs.

Types of courses and clinical experience offered

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

  • Conflict management and negotiation
  • Criminal justice
  • Family studies and interventions
  • Gerontology
  • Military families and culture

Skills students can learn

A human services degree at the master’s level can help you to develop better written communication and research skills, understand program planning and review, and learn how to assess community needs.

Jobs related to this degree level

After completing a master’s degree in human services, you could pursue jobs such as child and family services reviewer, director of human services, human service program administrator and human resources generalist.

Online or Campus-Based Human Services Programs?

Interestingly, many online human services degrees are available at the undergraduate to graduate level and some of these provide the opportunity to combine programs, such as a dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Other degrees, specifically at the master’s level, can enable you to focus in a specific area, like human service leadership. Additional benefits to online degree programs in human services, particularly at the master’s level, include rolling admissions and flexible distance-based schedules. Why is this important? An article in the “Journal of Social Work Education” reports that online master’s degree in human services are the most sought after of all online human services degrees and that online degree programs open up opportunities in learning for people seeking to advance their education in the field.

Financial Aid for Human Services Students

Paying for a college education can be a challenge for anyone. Student loans are available to help, especially through the federal government. Grants, work-study programs and scholarships also can help to off costs. Students interested in human services major may find scholarship programs helpful, particularly since scholarships do not have to be repaid and sometimes are in available in amounts up to $5,000. Scholarships for human services majors include the:

There are many different ways to help pay for college. For ideas and tips on college savings opportunities, be sure to visit the page on paying for college.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Human Services?

A degree in human services is relevant to a diverse category of careers. Graduates holding a degree in human services can often find employment in mental health care, group homes, adult daycare facilities, substance abuse treatment centers or elderly care centers. The table directly below provides data on a variety of human services occupations, with numbers pulled from the BLS. This information can help to provide insight about potential human services degree salary, job growth and total employment.

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Rehabilitation Counselors109,040$40,160
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers117,770$51,670
Healthcare Social Workers174,890$59,300
Child, Family, and School Social Workers327,710$51,030

Administrative Services Managers

An administrative services manager oversees and directs other professionals. Administrators can run entire agencies, or they can be appointed to head up temporary projects or task forces. Many administrators also spend large amounts of time lobbying politicians or other funding officials to maintain or increase project funding.

Back at the office, administrators develop budgets for their companies and keep track of whether their team members stay within budget guidelines. They also evaluate performance levels and coach individuals to work more effectively.

  • Administrative services managers typically have a bachelor’s degree and some related work experience.
  • The International Facility Management Association offers a competency-based professional certification program for administrative services managers. Two different levels are available: Facilities Management Professional (FMP) and Certified Facility Manager (CFM).

Child and Family Social Workers

The core focus of the child and family social worker is on helping vulnerable children and families access affordable housing, safety in the home, and government benefits like food stamps and housing assistance. Child and family social workers usually work in agencies that are concerned with the welfare of children in their community. Some of these professionals support unemployed or inexperienced parents, teaching them ways to take care of their children. Others work with children who have been removed from their homes when their parents have committed crimes or proven themselves unfit for parenting. In the most extreme cases, child welfare workers investigate reports of abuse and neglect, working with law enforcement officials to prosecute the individuals responsible.

  • Although some social workers may only need a bachelor’s degree in social work to find entry-level employment, clinical social workers need a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting to seek employment.
  • All states require clinical social workers to become licensed, although licensing requirements vary by state.

Corrections Officers

Traditionally, many human services professionals who worked with prison inmates held jobs as parole officers and halfway house coordinators. These professionals came into the picture after time had been served in prison, helping ex-convicts to learn new skills and adjust to their new lives as honest citizens. However, as the emphasis in society moves towards preventing crime, many human services professionals are working as corrections officers, assisting convicts during their prison stays rather than after them. Through developing career skills workshops and behavior modification programs, corrections officers work to help inmates acclimate to their new lives long before their release dates.

  • Correctional officers typically attend a training academy instead of attending college. A high school diploma is required, but some college courses may be helpful for entry into the academy.
  • Certification is not required for this career.

Substance Abuse Social Worker

As our society begins to understand more about substance abuse, people are becoming less reluctant to seek help in their battles against drug and alcohol addiction. Whether they’re assisting counselors at rehabilitation facilities or helping patients in outpatient recovery programs, there are many human services professionals who are helping to meet this demand for substance abuse social workers.

Substance abuse social workers focus on helping their clients manage or overcome mental illnesses or addictions. They supply information on available support services and guide their clients through plans designed to help them develop and maintain a basic standard of living.

  • Substance abuse social workers may only need a bachelor’s degree in social work to find entry-level employment. However, clinical social workers who serve in this role need a master’s degree and 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting to seek employment.
  • All states require clinical social workers to become licensed, although licensing requirements vary by state.

Social and Human Services Assistants

Social and human services assistants endeavor to assist individuals who suffer from mental health problems, addiction or poverty. They might be determining what type of aid their clients could benefit from; collaborating with social workers to develop treatment plans; assisting clients with daily activities such as cleaning, eating and bathing; helping clients apply for various forms of assistance; or checking in with clients to make sure they are functioning and thriving.

While many of these workers are employed in individual and family services, some work in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers or for the state or federal government.

  • These workers are typically trained on the job after earning a high school diploma.
  • Certification is not required for this career.

Human Services Associations and Organizations

As you consider the prospect of earning a human services degree, it’s important to think about the certifications your future career may require. Here are some of the associations and organizations that might be able to help you earn the certification associated with the career you’re aiming for.

  • National Organization for Human Services — This organization offers conferences and continuing education opportunities for human services professionals. They also offer opportunities to earn the Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner credential, which helps workers in this field display their in-depth knowledge and understanding of human services.
  • International Facility Management Association — This association offers resources, tools and continuing education for administrative services managers and other facility management professionals. They also award several credentials for facility managers, including a Facility Management Professional credential, a Sustainability Facility Professional credential and a Certified Facility Manager credential.
  • The National Association for Addiction Professionals — This national agency offers resources, advocacy, education and national events for addiction professionals. Also, there are nine different credentials you can earn from them, related to different areas of drug and alcohol addiction.
  • National Association of Social Workers — This organization offers resources, news, continuing education and special events social workers can pursue in addition to their state license. Through them, social workers can also earn certification for various disciplines within social work, such as substance abuse, gerontology or military service members and their families.

Article Sources


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