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Human Services Degrees

Human services covers a wide range of careers, all of which center around working to support people, communities, and public interests. Careers in this field can be quite challenging as clients are often people in crisis, so those who enjoy helping people in need will be best suited for this line of work. Human services positions can range from being very hands-on with the public, to being entirely behind-the-scenes office work, and often involve a combination of both.

People who work in human services are most often referred to as social workers, though this title may also covers people working in healthcare, community groups, and advocacy organizations. Human services employees are most often involved in some aspect of assessing the needs of a particular client and creating assistance plans. The level of education required for a career in human services can vary widely depending on what specialty is desired. The human resources industry has grown tight in recent years, and an overeducated workforce means that employers can and do regularly hire overqualified candidates for positions. For this reason, most careers in this area now require at least a bachelor's degree, and frequently a master's degree. Most degree programs in human services do not include any certifications, licenses, or exam sittings that may be required on a state or regional level for certain jobs in the field. Therefore, prospective students should do research into any additional qualifications they may need to obtain and present when seeking employment upon graduation.

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Associate Degrees in Human Services

An associate degree can help graduates gain entry into the human services career vector, and more importantly, can provide the groundwork for more advanced degrees in the field. As a two-year degree, an associate degree costs less than a higher level degree and, depending on the employment it yields, may also have a faster rate of return. Many associate degree programs are available online, allowing working adults to obtain them at their own rate and on their own schedules. Application requirements may include presenting proof of a high school diploma or GED, submitting GRE scores, and undergoing interviews. In addition, applicants may be asked to submit to background checks of their criminal records and histories.

Unlike more advanced degrees in the broad field of human services, which tend to focus on specific tracks, associate programs tend to focus on the core principles and foundations needed to become a human services practitioner. That said, some associate programs may focus on specializations such as adult development and aging services, or children, youth and family services. Courses will likely cover psychology, sociology, social work, diversity, and community resources. Associate programs generally take 18-24 months to complete and consist of 60 credits. Cost varies, but quality degree programs can be found with annual tuition between $6,000 and $11,000. Graduates with an associate degree in human services might be qualified for work in entry level positions such as preschool teacher, social services assistant, residential counselor, case management aide, community outreach worker, probation officer, substance abuse counselor, and gerontology aide.

Bachelor's Degrees in Human Services

Increasingly, employers are looking for candidates with bachelor's degrees or higher to fill entry- and mid-level positions in the field of human services. Bachelor's degrees are available with specializations as diverse as gerontology, substance abuse, child and family services, and leadership. Degree level and specialization play large roles in defining a graduate's employment and career opportunities, so all prospective students should research programs thoroughly before applying to them to insure they match their career goals. Prospective students should also be aware that specializing early may allow them to segue into more advanced degrees or related professional fields, such as psychology or public administration, at a later date.

Bachelor's programs in human services are inter-disciplinary, commonly requiring four years and 120 semester credits to complete. Many programs are offered for under $10,000 per year, but annual tuition can reach as high as $35,000. Depending on specialization, programs may prepare students to perform such tasks as planning and coordinating social services activities, working with and understanding diverse cultural groups, providing intervention strategies, and understanding retirement issues and personal care needs. Some programs require students to complete internships. Online programs are common, allowing working adults to earn degrees at their own timing. Students may wish to study a foreign language as part of a minor while obtaining a bachelor's degree in human services. Learning Spanish language, in particular, may increase employability, due to the large population of Spanish-speaking people in the United States.

Graduates of bachelor's programs in human services may be qualified to find work work as probation officers, eligibility workers, human services screeners, juvenile court liaisons, human services liaisons, behavioral management aides, case management aides, community outreach workers, and rehabilitation case workers. In 2017, the median salary for human services workers was just over $27,000.

Master's Degrees in Human Services

Master's degree programs in human services typically take 18 months to two years to complete and require completion of 36 to 54 semester credits. Both on-campus and online degree options exist. Requirements for admission to a master's program usually include proof of minimum grade point average, transcripts from an accredited undergraduate institution, a goal statement, and a resume covering related professional experience. Annual tuition for the average master's program ranges widely, from between $5,000 and $20,000 per year.

Most master's programs in this field have numerous options for specialization across topics as varied as nonprofit administration, global studies, and military families and culture. Some programs allow students to customize a focus. Master's programs can prepare students for advanced-skill jobs such as marriage and family therapists, drug and alcohol counselors, directors of human services, or medical and health services managers. 

Doctoral's Degrees in Human Services

Admission to a doctoral degree program in human services requires completion of a master's degree from an accredited university in human services, counseling, social work, or psychology. Many online programs exist in addition to standard on-campus programs, though some online programs may require on-campus residence. Doctoral programs are typically two years and 56 to 62 semester credits in length, and annual tuition varies between $10,000 and $35,000 per year. PhD graduates will be suited for advanced placement within the industry as leaders, researchers, faculty, managers, program developers, consultants and board members.Most focus on administration, professional practice, or academic research, or any combination thereof. Individual students may customize their degrees to suit their career goals, so should have clear career plans going when beginning a program. This will allow them to utilize their educational experience to the fullest extent.


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