Human services is by nature and design more than just a job description or a particular career path. Rather than defining any one specific occupation, it encompasses a broad range of professional callings and activities that work in concert to form an integrated system of social support for people in need, at-risk populations, and others who are struggling to maintain a reasonable level of stability in their lives. Indeed the human services sector is often described metaphorically, as an interlocking web of local, state, and federal agencies and programs, non-governmental and philanthropic organizations, and dedicated individuals from various professions who form what is commonly known as the social-safety net. This includes doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and other healthcare workers; psychologists, counselors, and social workers; and specialists in substance abuse, vocational training, mental health, veterans affairs, children, and the elderly.
In other words, whenever and wherever there are people in need, human service professionals move in to improve conditions and provide relief. Coordinating these efforts is complicated. Understanding the systems that human service professionals rely on is complicated as well. And learning the proper strategies for assessment, intervention, and remediation involves building a strong foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as developing the sensitivity and determination it takes to thrive in the field as a human services professional. A bachelor's degree in human services is designed to initiate this process, to give students the tools and confidence they need to begin working in human services and/or pursue a graduate or professional degree in a specific area of the human services sector.
Benefits of a Earning a Bachelor's in Human Services
A bachelor's degree in human services cuts across disciplines in a targeted way. It is meant to introduce students to the array of programs and policies that fall under the wide umbrella of human services, and to the various disciplines that contribute to the creation of a flexible, sustainable, and resilient social safety net. At the same time, it aims to provide students with the practical skills required to go out into the field and work in human services, with real people dealing with real problems in situations that are very real.
In that sense, a bachelor's degree in human services has the benefit of training students to begin a career in human services upon graduation, even as they may consider the options for pursuing a graduate degree. As part of a bachelor's degree program, students are often encourage to participate in internship programs that introduce them to the different kinds of work being done by human services organizations and agencies. And, as we'll see below, a degree in human services is a great way to prepare for a range of rewarding careers in sectors of the economy that are experiencing a good deal of growth.
What to Expect in a Human Services Bachelor's Program
A bachelor's degree in human services is an undergraduate degree, which means that most are designed to be completed in four years. The first two years often include a number of general education requirements, from classes in math and science, to language and humanities courses. This will vary from school to school, and from program to program, so it's important to have a good sense of what the gen-ed requirements are, and to have a well-thought-out plan for tackling that coursework as you move through those first two years.
The core curriculum in human services at the bachelor's level includes coursework in psychology, sociology, political science, and communications. Depending on the focus of the program, students are generally required to move beyond intro classes in these disciplines, and into upper-level coursework that addresses subjects that are integral to human services, like social welfare systems, social psychology, juvenile justice, and the politics of public policy.
While the course titles and descriptions will undoubtedly vary from program to program, the list below represents typical classes that are part of a bachelor's degree program in human services:
- Lifespan Development: How human psychology evolves over the course of the human lifespan, from infancy to old age.
- Social Problems and Social Policy: The impact of social conditions on individuals and groups, and how social policy works to create better conditions and address existing problems in society.
- Research Design and Methodology in Human Services: Designing, carrying out, and analyzing research in human services to create useful data and metrics for measuring outcomes and creating new programs.
- Human Services Organizations: The structural components of human services agencies and organizations, and how to navigate the world of human services.
- Social Welfare Systems: A historical and cross-cultural survey of different systems for providing social welfare and human services.
- Community Health Policy: The intersection of public policy and healthcare, and the role human service professions play in the healthcare system.
- Drugs and Society: The impact of substance abuse on individuals, families, and communities, and the impact of public policy and the legal system on communities dealing with drug abuse and addiction.
- Race and Ethnicity: The psychology and sociology of race and ethnicity, issues surrounding discrimination, and how public policy can address these problems.
- Case Studies in Human Services: An exploration of the roles human services play in communities and with families and individuals in need.
Popular Specializations in Human Services
At the bachelor's degree level, specialization is generally achieved through elective coursework and internship opportunities. Many programs offer students the options of either double majoring in human services and another discipline, or of minoring in a complementary discipline such as psychology, sociology, communications, political science, or economics. These can be important considerations for future career options, so it's helpful to go into a degree program with a basic understanding of how the human services sector is organized along professional lines.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), "Jobs in human services are separated into two types: Those in which workers deal directly with clients and those in which workers provide administrative support for an organization that provides services." In the first category, you find caseworkers, social workers, and counselors who provide assistance to individuals and families in need. Work of this sort requires a firm grounding in the principles of psychology, communications skills, diversity training, and sociology. It might also be helpful to learn a second language, or take a course in nutritional science to augment your skill set in this regard.
In the second category, you find program coordinators, financial/development directors, grant writers, and public policy experts. If you're aiming for a career in the administrative side of human services, it can be advantageous to take courses in business and finance, to develop a solid knowledge of data analysis, and to polish up your computer literacy and writing skills.
Careers in Human Services
The higher paying professional jobs in human services -- psychologist, clinical social worker, registered nurse, to name three -- require graduate degree and special state-issued licenses. However, most entry-level positions in human services are open to those holding a bachelor's degree, whether it be a BA in human services or the largely equivalent BS in human services. It's worth noting that the typical differences between a BA and a BS are no more significant than the general variations in bachelor's degree programs. So your best bet is to find a school that fits your needs in terms of location, finances, and curriculum.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists seven types of organizations that employ entry-level human services professionals:
- Employment agencies
- Food and nutrition agencies
- Housing and shelter organizations
- Legal and victims assistance organizations
- Multipurpose human service organizations
- Public safety and disaster relief organizations
- Youth development organizations
It also provides a useful list of the various population groups that human service professionals tend to work with. These include children and families, the elderly, the homeless, immigrants, people with addictions, people with criminal records, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, and veterans. Some of the jobs that correlate with these populations are as follows:
- Crisis intervention counselor
- Community outreach worker
- Group home worker
- Home health aide
- Juvenile court liaison
- Life skills instructor
- Mental health aide
- Probation officer
- Residential counselor
- Social service liaison
- Substance abuse counselor
The BLS does not maintain specific job growth and salary data for each of these job descriptions. However, the chart below offers an overview of average annual salaries, entry-level education, licensure/certification requirements, and job growth projections for several careers in human services, as reported by the BLS:
|Occupation||Average Annual Salary||Entry-Level Education||Licensure/Certification Requirements||Job Growth|
|Social and Community Service Managers||$62,740||Bachelor's Degree||None||10%|
|Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists||$49,060||Bachelor's Degree||None||4%|
|Social Workers||$45,500||Bachelor's Degree||Licensed Clinical Social Worker||12%|
|Health Educators and Community Health Workers||$42,450||High School Diploma||Certified Health Education Specialist||13%|
|Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists||$42,250||Master's Degree||Certified Professional Counselor/Marriage and Family Therapist Certification||19%|
|Social and Human Services Assistants||$29,790||High School Diploma||None||11%|
|Personal Care Aides||$20,440||None||None||26%|