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What Does a Career in Human Services Entail?
Are you considering a career in human services? If you enjoy working with others to help them prevent or solve problems, this may be a good fit. It's important to realize, however, that the field of human services is extremely broad. There are many human services professions that included under this umbrella, and human service professionals can be found in a wide variety of work environments, from group homes to government agencies. Some human services workers even manage their own practices. While responsibilities vary greatly from job to job, they typically include determining what type of aid their clients need, developing a treatment plan, coordinating services for families and communities, assisting with paperwork, and checking to ensure that services are provided appropriately.
While human services workers hold a wide variety of positions, they always strive to provide their clients with the highest quality of life possible. Some of the most common career options include:
- Health Educators
- Community Health Workers
- Child and Family Services Specialist
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Probation Officers
- Juvenile Court Liaison
- Rehabilitation Counselors
- School and Career Counselors
- Social and Human Service Assistants
- Social Workers
- Substance Abuse Counselors
- Drug and Alcohol Counselor
- Mental Health Counselors
- Substance Abuse Treatment Specialist
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Components of a Successful Career in Human Services
Working in the human services field can be very challenging. Offices are often understaffed and professionals are expected to manage large caseloads. To fulfill their duties effectively and meet deadlines it is not uncommon to work evenings, weekends, or even holidays. Additionally, some client circumstances and experiences can be emotionally difficult to process. All of these factors can make the work environment very stressful.
As such, not everyone is well-suited to earn a bachelor's degree in human services. Those who are most successful in the field possess the following qualities while dealing with various populations in and out of the office:
- Communication skills required to facilitate constructive conversations with clients about the challenges in their lives, including those with a developmental disability or mental health issue
- Compassion for others who are in stressful or difficult situations, including those who are under child and family services review and those with substance abuse issues
- Interpersonal skills that help make clients feel comfortable sharing and discussing sensitive issues
- Organizational skills that allow for the completion and proper filing of lots of paperwork for many different clients across many human services offered at the local or state level
- Problem-solving skills required to help clients find solutions to the problems
- Time-management skills that allow for the effective use of business hours to ensure clients are getting the attention they need
How to Earn an Online Degree in Human Services
Because there are so many different professions in the human services field, it is important that you thoroughly research your specific job of interest. The education and certification requirements vary drastically from position to position. Moving forward, keep the following general steps in mind as you begin pursuing a career in this field:
- Earn a high school diploma
- Determine which profession you are most interested in
- Research the corresponding education requirements
- Research state requirements for employment, certification, and licensure
- Secure entry-level employment or enroll in a human services degree program
- Complete necessary postsecondary (bachelor's degree or master's degree) education
- Apply for certification or licensure (if applicable)
Typical Human Services Degree Requirements
Your intended profession will dictate whether or not you need a degree in human services. Some jobs require only a high school diploma or GED. If you are interested in enrolling in a human services degree program, however, there are several additional requirements you need to be aware of, whether you attend online or in-person. In most cases, you will need to:
- Have a minimum cumulative grade point average (GPA)
- Provide standardized test scores (ACT or SAT)
- Submit an application and essay
- Send letters of recommendation
Online human services degrees are available at every academic level: associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, and doctorate. Depending on your intended career, you will need to successfully complete one or more of these human services degree programs.
Typical Human Services Certifications Needed
Certification requirements vary greatly from profession to profession. Human service assistances, for example, do not require certifications or licenses to practice. Marriage and family therapists, however, are required by every state to be licensed before they can work professionally. Your certification requirements will depend on the human services career you intend to pursue. Some common certifications in the field include:
- Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)
- Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner (HS-BCP)
- Certified Case Manager (CCM)
- Certified Community Service Worker (CCSW)
Many professions that necessitate the administration of counseling services require a counseling license, such as a mental health counselor or a drug and alcohol counselor. These must be obtained through your state licensing board; the application requirements and process vary per state.
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Academic Standards for Human Services Degrees
Whether you plan to earn an online associate degree or doctorate, the college or university you choose will have certain academic standards in place. All institutions establish performance guidelines for their students. While these can vary, most expect those enrolled to maintain a minimum GPA and follow a code of conduct.
GPA minimums vary from school to school. When a student drops below the designated threshold, he or she is often placed on academic probation. Failing to improve grades can lead to academic suspension.
Student codes of conduct outline unacceptable behavior in and out of the classroom. Academically, two of the most common standards deal with cheating and plagiarism. Students caught taking part in either of these actions may be placed on academic probation, suspended, or dismissed permanently.
Exam and Experience Needed for Human Services Degrees
Because there are many routes to various human services careers, it is important that you thoroughly research your intended profession before moving forward. Most undergraduate colleges and universities do, however, require applicants to take an admission exam. The majority of institutions accept both ACT and SAT test scores. Additionally, individuals seeking a master's degree may need to take the GRE before enrolling.
Human Services Degree Options
While some entry-level human services positions require only a high school diploma or GED, most professionals earn an associate, bachelor, or master degree. Some jobs in the field even require a doctorate. Generally, the more education you complete, the more marketable you will be. Your specific career goals will dictate the level of education you require.
As you consider the various degree options, it is also important to keep the cost of your education in mind. The following average tuition rates may help determine your best course of action:
Online Associate Degree
An online associate’s degree in human services can help you attain an entry-level job in the field. These programs generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and can be completed within two years. Most institutions offer both associate of arts and associate of science degrees. The former focuses primarily on humanities and social science, while the latter focuses more on scientific analysis. This degree option will prepare you for further education or for employment as a social work assistant, case management aid, community outreach worker, child care worker, teacher’s assistant, or mental health aide.
The required coursework varies from program to program, but often consists of the following:
- Introduction to Human Services
- Principles of Sociology
- Social Issues in Diversity
- Client Assessment and Planning
- Perspective on Human Behavior
Online Bachelor Degree
An online bachelor’s degree in human services can help you attain more advanced employment in the field. Some jobs, like social worker and substance abuse counselor, require a minimum of an undergraduate degree. These programs usually consist of 120 credit hours of coursework, which include a combination of general education and content-specific classes. Full-time students can expect to graduate in about four years. Graduates can either continue their education or find work as a caseworker, child advocate, probation or parole officer, social worker, substance abuse counselor, or senior center director.
The required coursework varies from program to program, but often consists of the following:
- Human Services Organizational Systems
- Communication Skills for Human Services Professionals
- Public Policy and Advocacy
- Law and Ethics in Human Services
- Case Management
Online Master Degree
An online master’s degree in human services can help you attain employment in management and academic positions within the field. In particular, individuals interested in administration should consider graduate education programs. Additionally, having a master’s degree makes candidates more competitive during the interview process.
These programs usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take approximately two years to complete. Graduates can either continue their education or find work as a marriage and family therapist, human services educator, social and community service manager, higher education counselor, director of human services, or college instructor.
The required coursework varies from program to program, but often consists of the following:
- Human Development and Human Behavior in Context
- History, Multiculturalism, and Diversity in Human Services
- Skills and Practice in Human Services
- Professional Ethics and Personal Values
Online Doctoral Degree
A doctoral degree in human services can help you attain the research, analytical, and advocacy skills necessary to be an active leader for positive change within your agency or community. While few jobs require a doctoral degree, having one will prepare you for advanced employment within the field. These programs usually consist of 55 to 62 credit hours of coursework and take between three and four years to complete. Graduates can find work as executive directors, lobbyists, vocational rehabilitation administrators, college professors, and research.
The required coursework varies from program to program, but often consists of the following:
- Helping Individuals, Organizations, and Communities
- Research Theory, Design, and Methods
- Management and Leadership Development in Human and Social Services
- Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis
- Advanced Program Evaluation
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Earning Potential for Human Services Degree Fields and Occupations
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for community and social service occupations in 2017 was $43,840. Notably, this is higher than the median annual wage reported for all occupations, which was $37,690 in 2017. It is important to realize, however, that the median salary takes into consideration all job types within the human services field, from social service assistants to marriage and family therapists. Your salary will ultimately depend on the profession you choose and the level of education you complete. Earning additional certifications can also increase your potential pay.
Human Services Median Salaries by Occupation
Earning a degree in human services will qualify you for a wide variety of career options. The level of education you attain, however, will have a large impact on what jobs you qualify for. Your degree type and location will also influence your future salary. While there are numerous positions available in the field, some of the most prominent employment opportunities include:
- Social Worker:
Social workers work closely with patients and their families. These professionals assess and treat a wide variety of issues, as well as serve as an advocate. They often provide access to resources, facilitate education, write referrals, and work with support groups. Social workers also help patients understand and cope with various emotional and social problems.
- Family Service Worker:
Family service workers work directly with families in order to educate, advise, and offer aid in stabilizing living situations. These professionals focus on the family unit as a whole. They do this by assessing the quality of care provided during home visits, acting as a liaison between parents and treatment professionals, and providing life skills education.
- Clinical Social Worker:
Clinical social workers provide therapy to people who are in need of mental and/or emotional support. These professionals also coordinate other services, such as patient interactions, healthcare, discharge instructions, and aftercare. Other responsibilities include communicating with patients to ensure the appropriate actions are taken during treatment and conducting periodic psychosocial evaluations.
- Geriatric Social Worker:
Geriatric social workers provide assistance and care to the elderly. They help the elderly within various environments to ensure a productive and satisfying life. These professionals are genuinely compassionate and care for patient well-being. Responsibilities include coordinating transportation, making decisions about health services, assisting with transitions, noticing client patterns, supporting involvement in group activities, and keeping elderly patients company.
- Marriage and Family Therapist:
Marriage and family therapists counsel individuals and families regarding a wide range of psychological issues. These professionals may encounter a broad scope of problems but often help address depression, substance abuse, psychological issues, infidelity, and low self-esteem. They do this by assessing each individual’s needs and suggesting possible treatment plans.
- Drug and Alcohol Addiction Counselor:
Drug and alcohol addiction counselors work with patients who struggle with drug and/or alcohol addiction. They often manage numerous cases and provide both individual and group counseling. These professionals also work with family members to help them understand how to aid in the patient recovery process. If necessary, drug and alcohol addiction counselors will also refer patients to appropriate medical facilities.
- Child Welfare Specialist:
Child welfare specialists are responsible for the wellbeing of the children assigned to them. These professionals place children into suitable environments, perform regular home visits to ensure proper care, verify adequate healthcare is provided, and confirm access to an education. If standards are not met or the childcare provided is unsatisfactory, child welfare specialists may decide to place children into new living situations.
- Case Manager:
Case managers work with a wide variety of patients, from recovering addicts and ex-convicts to elderly individuals and people with severe illnesses. These professionals provide advice and guidance that is intended to help improve their patients’ quality of life. They often coordinate treatment plans with healthcare providers and potential employers.
- Non-Profit Administrator:
Non-profit administrators working in human services organize and lead a team responsible for developing relevant non-profit community programs. This may include coordinating donation collection, running a service event, or planning a fundraiser. These professionals also assist in the training and management of staff members and volunteers. They are responsible for planning and directing the administration aspects of their organization’s programming.
- Professor of Human Services:
Professors of human services are responsible for educating students about the human services field. They also assist with research development, dissertations, and thesis-based papers. In addition to preparing lectures, grading assignments, and advising students, these professionals spend time researching new developments in the field, working with students, and publishing their personal findings.
Annual Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry-Level Median Annual Salary||Mid-Career Median Annual Salary||Late-Career Median Annual Salary|
|Family Service Worker||$32,300||$36,300||$38,400|
|Clinical Social Worker||$48,100||$59,400||$65,100|
|Geriatric Social Worker||$41,300||$53,000||$64,500|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$49,500||$57,800||$65,000|
|Certified Drug and Alcohol Addiction Counselor||$35,800||$41,500||$48,600|
|Child Welfare Specialist||$34,000||$36,600||$61,100|
|Professor of Human Services||$60,100||$70,900||$99,100|
Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn a human services degree online?
In most cases, it will take a full-time student two years to complete an associate degree and four years to complete a bachelor's in human services degree. The timeframe for online programs in human services is often comparable. Some colleges and universities do offer accelerated degrees to individuals who have several years of work experience. Working professionals taking classes part-time, however, may require additional time to complete program requirements.
How much does an online human services bachelor’s degree cost?
The total cost of a bachelor’s human services degree can vary significantly depending on the institution type, location, and your place of residency. According to the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series, the average in-state tuition paid by students attending a public college or university during the 2017 and 2018 academic year was $9,970. The average total cost of attending a private institution during the same time period was $35,260. Students enrolling out of state, however, paid significantly more.
Does the online school have the major(s) you’re considering?
Before enrolling at a particular college or university, it is important you confirm that the major you want is offered. While many institutions have human services programs, not all of them do. You can find a list of offered majors on most school websites, as well as the degree requirements and course information if they do offer a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services online or on-campus.
How many students graduate “on time,” or within four years?
Most online bachelor’s degree programs will take four years to complete, but this is not always the case. Some colleges and universities have more rigorous requirements that result in graduation delays. To avoid surprises, take time to research your program’s anticipated graduation timeframe. This information can usually be found online. If you have trouble locating it, however, contact the school directly. It is also a good idea to inquire about program graduation and employment rates before enrolling.
What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How it is regarded in the field?
Another important consideration is the accreditation status of the college or university you are interested in. Academic institutions can choose to have their online programs accredited, which verifies that they meet certain established field standards and requirements. Schools are not required to go through the accreditation process, however.
Students who choose to enroll in unaccredited online bachelor's in human services degree programs may face complications in the future. Not only is it difficult to transfer credits from these institutions, but some certification boards and employers do not recognize the resulting degree. Additionally, some companies may hire their graduates but at a lower pay rate.
It is best to enroll in a human services degree that is accredited. The most prominent accrediting agency for the field is the Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE). This organization strives to assure the quality, consistency, and relevance of human service education though research-based standards and a peer-review accreditation process.
Alternatively, you can choose a college or university that is regionally accredited. While not as well-renowned, this will be sufficient as long as you plan to work within the specific region. Other acceptable regional accreditation agencies include:
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Human Services Scholarships
Paying for your human services degree can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are financial aid options available to help. The best kind of aid is scholarships which, unlike loans, do not need to be repaid after graduation. These awards can help cover program tuition, fees, room, board, and books.
Some great scholarship options include:
Truman Scholar Awards
Amount: Varies (3 scholarships available)
The Truman Scholar Award is funded by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Each year, the foundation provides a total of $30,000 in financial aid to full-time junior-level students who want to work in social services within government, education, public interest, or non-profit sectors. Between 55 and 65 scholarship are awarded annually. Candidates must be nominated by their undergraduate institution.
The James F. Reville Scholarship
Deadline: Varies (Previously January 21)
The James F. Reville Scholarship is funded by The Arc New York. Each year, The Arc New York awards two recipients a financial aid award of $3,000. Applicants must be a current New York resident and pursuing a career related to the field of intellectual or other development disabilities such as social work, management, or psychology.
Harold McPheeters Scholarship
The Harold McPheeters Scholarship is funded by the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS). Each year, NOHS awards financial assistance to a student who is currently enrolled in a human services program. Applicants must be a member of NOHS but can be seeking an associate, bachelor, or master level degree. The award is based on demonstrated competence in human services coursework.
David C. Maloney Scholarship
Deadline: May 15
The David C. Maloney Scholarship is funded by the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS). Each year, NOHS awards financial assistance to a student who is currently enrolled in a human services program. Applicants must be a member of NOHS but can be seeking an associate, bachelor, or master level degree. The award is merit-based.
Professional Human Services Organizations
Those working in human services should also consider joining a professional organization. These are available at the state, national, and international levels and offer a plethora of advantages to their members. While membership benefits vary, most offer exclusive access to field resources, discounts, training, certification programs, and networking opportunities. Some of the most prominent professional organizations, associations, and societies for human services professionals include:
American Counseling Association
The American Counseling Association (ACA) is the world’s largest organization representing professional counselors who work in various practices. The organization is committed to addressing critical and strategic issues facing the profession. Members receive access to tools, education, and consultation to help with standards compliance, as well as educational opportunities, free publications, and discounts.
National Organization for Human Services
The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) is dedicated to strengthening the community of human services by expanding professional development opportunities, providing certifications, and enhancing communication. Student, faculty, practitioner, associate, and retired members receive access to exclusive publications, job postings, scholarship and grant eligibility, national conference discounts, and an online forum.
National Council on Family Relations
The National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) is dedicated to understanding and strengthening families. The organization has members in all 50 states, as well as 35 different countries. Members receive exclusive access to academic research journals, networking opportunities, professional resources, discussion groups, a newsletter, publication options, and a job board.
There are several ways you can begin preparing for a career in human services. As a student, take time to discuss your goals with a school counselor or advisor. These professionals can provide situational guidance and offer preparatory suggestions that are relevant to your specific circumstances. As a current professional, take time to discuss your interests with your employer. He or she can direct you toward the resources you need. It either case, the next step is enrolling in the appropriate online degree program. Keep the following in mind as you move forward.
Choosing an Accredited College
As previously covered, the accreditation status of your program or institution is extremely important. It is recommended that you avoid enrolling in a college or university that is unaccredited. Failing to do so can cost you both significant time and money, especially if you are unable to find acceptable employment after graduation. Review potential school websites for details about their accreditation status. If you have trouble locating this information, contact the admissions department directly.
On-Campus vs. Online vs. Hybrid Degree Programs
Many colleges and universities now offer multiple degree options. While most professionals enroll in traditional, on-campus programs, there are alternatives. If you work professionally and are unable to consistently attend classes at the institution, opting for a distance learning degree may be preferable. Online programs, however, do not offer opportunity for hands-on learning, networking, and in-person instruction. This can be detrimental, which is why some schools now offer hybrid programs. A hybrid degree program bridges the gap between on-campus and online learning. While the majority of coursework can be completed from anywhere, students must complete short on-campus residencies each semester.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are human services?
Human services can be broadly defined as any service that supports people, though this can include services that help provide the homeless with shelter, those that offer counseling to people suffering from addiction or mental health problems, and promoting human happiness and competence. The real issue with defining human services is that they could encompass jut about everything. However, many see the whole as a cluster of paths including counseling and mental health services, early childhood development services, family and community services, and personal care services. Thus, you could work as a preschool teacher, sociologist, or school counselor and still find yourself within this field.
What’s the difference between this and social services?
Social services tend to focus on improving equity and equality and narrow down who they aim to help by only helping those who are most in need. While a sociologist or school counselor might be included in this group, a preschool teacher might not.
Post Graduate Job Placement Assistance
After graduation, your top priority will be finding employment. This can be a stressful experience, especially if you have never done it before. Fortunately, many colleges and universities now offer job placement assistance to current students and alumni. The services offered vary, but often include access to career coaching, interview preparation, resume development, internship placement, and job fairs. Determine what job placement resources are available at your preferred schools before enrolling.
Importance of National Ranking
Like accreditation, national ranking should play an important role in your human services program selection process. Colleges and universities with high national rankings are well-regarded by potential employers. Graduating from one may give you an advantage over other candidates, as well as set you up for additional advancement opportunities in the future. Attending a low-ranked institution, on the other hand, may make finding a job more challenging or result in a smaller starting salary.