Human services is less a job title than it is an umbrella covering a wide array of professionals working to bring health and social services; guidance and counseling; and other supports to communities in need. In other words, human service professionals move in to improve lives whenever and wherever necessary. Their services can encompass everything from housing, disability services and public health to child and senior welfare. Jobs that confront societal ills like substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, racism and crime also fall under the rubric of human services.
Addressing communities’ most difficult challenges is decidedly complicated. Understanding the systems upon which human service professionals rely is equally so. Learning the proper strategies for assessment, intervention, remediation and administration of care means building a strong foundation of theoretical and practical knowledge, all while developing the sensitivity and determination needed to thrive in the field. Human services degree and certificate programs aim to do just that, but finding the right focus and level takes research. We created this guide to help future human services professionals find the right programs for them.
Certificates and non-degree awards in human services
Human services certificates offer bachelor’s and graduate degree-holders a means of professional advancement or specialization. One student may see them as valuable resume-builders while another considers as a shorter, more streamlined pathway to advanced knowledge compared to formal degrees. Still others pursue certificates to meet continuing education commitments to employers or state licensing boards, depending on the field.
The curriculum and length of a human services certificate program depend on its end-goal: an entry-level program for students with minimal human services experience may be more comprehensive, and therefore longer than those limited to specific skills and disciplines. Prospective students should review programs’ target learners and intended outcomes before applying.
Notable human services certificate programs
Certificate of Human Services at Louisiana State University
Louisiana State University’s Certificate of Human Services is an undergraduate program for those who currently or want to work for government, nonprofit, medical, research and other social service organizations. The University states its curriculum establishes core competencies required to succeed in the field. Bonus: professionals in jurisdictions that require licensing can sometimes apply human services certificate courses toward continuing education requirements. Louisiana State’s human services certificate is flexible: students can complete programs entirely online and tackle courses at their pace, so long as they finish within four years.
Associate degrees in human services
Associate degrees in human services are the most basic degrees one can earn. While it is no hard-and-fast rule, most associate programs satisfy one of two objectives: four-year college transfer or direct workforce entry. Transfer programs supplement general education courses required by four-year institutions with some human services classes. This pathway can save students hundreds or thousands of dollars in bachelor’s education costs. Vocational or applied associate degrees minimize or exchange general education classes for career-targeted courses that can translate immediately to the field. Relevant careers might include social work or case management assistance, community outreach or youth program counseling, among others
The majority of associate degrees in human services require about two years of full-time study. Programs often consider the needs of busy students; flexible evening, weekend and online human services degrees are prevalent.
Notable human services associate degree programs
A.A.S. in Human Services at Tidewater Community College
Tidewater Community College’s Associate of Applied Science in Human Services degree is a prime example of a workforce-targeted program. According to TCC, students are trained “to be on the front lines of community service.” As an “applied” degree, human services graduates are prepared to enter the workforce as case manager aides, social work assistants, client advocates and other community support professionals. Students who intend to advance to bachelor’s programs can take advantage of TCC transfer agreements with Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, St. Leo’s University and Virginia Wesleyan College.
- Department:Social Sciences and Education
- Location: Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, Va.
- Online learning options: Tidewater Community College does not offer an online human services degree. It does, however, offer an online A.S. in Social Sciences program.
Bachelor’s degrees in human services
A bachelor’s degree in human services cuts across disciplines in a targeted way. It introduces students to the array of programs and policies that fall under the broad 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 support real people dealing with real problems.
Bachelor’s programs in human services emphasize coursework integral to human services, like social welfare systems, social psychology, juvenile justice and the politics of public policy. Students achieve specialization through electives, concentrations and internships. Many programs let students double major in human services and another discipline, or minor in a complementary discipline such as psychology, sociology, communications, political science or economics. Graduates can either advance to graduate school or find work as social workers, case managers and other relevant professions.
Notable human services bachelor’s degree programs
B.A., B.S. in Human Services at Columbia College
Columbia College is a private, nonprofit institution offering a B.A and a B.S in Human Services. Columbia College says its Bachelor of Art is ideal for students with prior work or educational experience in human services while the Bachelor of Science serves those completely new to the field. This distinction allows students to enroll programs that suit their goals. According to CC, both human services degrees prepare graduates for careers or advanced studies in lots of different fields. Students complete a series of core classes and select targeted electives in areas like child welfare, disabilities and substance abuse. Columbia College’s combine live peer-instructor interaction with flexible, independent work.
- Department:Department of Human Services
- Location: Online; Columbia, M.O.
- Online learning options: Columbia College’s B.A. and B.S. in Human Services programs are available online.
B.A. in Interdepartmental Studies, Applied Human Services at the University of Iowa
The University of Iowa is a powerhouse of high-ranked social services programs, and its B.A. in Interdepartmental Studies with a concentration in Applied Human services is no exception. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked its social psychology program no. 3 in the nation while its public health, sociology, political science, psychology and sociology programs all placed in the top 35. The publication does not rank human services programs specifically. The University of Iowa’s B.A. in Interdepartmental Studies students can design an individualized course of study or select a preapproved one in their chosen specialty tracks. Human services students focus their studies even further by concentrating in community services, aging services or corrections. They balance academic courses with on-the-ground training in required internships.
- Department:Division of Interdepartmental Programs
- Location: Iowa City, Iowa
- Online learning options: Students interested in online learning may be able to complete some of their chosen courses online or, alternatively, pursue UI’s fully online Bachelor of Liberal Studies with a concentration in Health and Human Studies.
Master’s degrees in human services
Rising human services professionals with bachelor’s degrees have no shortage of career options, but those working toward clinical, research or administrative positions must usually aim higher. Human services master’s students solidify essential skills and knowledge using an integrated, interdisciplinary approach that touches upon various disciplines, all while establishing research, evaluation and policy-making savvy. Note that human services graduate programs are more specialized than undergraduate programs. Many, if not most master’s degrees offer concentrations in areas like child and family services, substance abuse or social work.
Human services master’s programs require two years of full-time study, though some colleges offer accelerated or other specialized degrees that impact program length. Online and hybrid learning formats are common.
Notable human services master’s degree programs
M.A. in Human Services at the University of Illinois
The University of Illinois’ M.A. in Human Services prepares students for human services specialist and management positions in multiple settings. Students can choose from four different concentrations: alcohol and substance abuse; child and family studies; gerontology and social services administration (SSA). While all specializations are segueing toward a hybrid format, the SSA track is available entirely online. Social services programs and the University of Illinois are kindred spirits: U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 national rankings placed IU programs no. 7 in psychology, no. 23 in political science and no. 42 in sociology. That it was named one of the top 50 universities in the country, period, and one of the ten best online graduate schools is no minor footnote.
- Department:Department of Human Services
- Location: Online; Springfield, Ill.
- Online learning options: Students enrolled in the SSA track can complete the program entirely online.
Doctorates in human services
A Ph.D. in Human Services is ideal for students with undergraduate and professional experience in human services, social work, psychology and other related disciplines. A Ph.D. the highest degree one can earn in the discipline and are especially appealing to students interested in social policy research; social program design, implementation, and evaluation; or the academia.
Doctoral human services curricula explore critical research and analysis skills and offer students the opportunity enhance and explore professional strengths and interests. Most require a commitment of three to five years and a research dissertation.
Notable Ph.D. in human services programs
Ph.D. in Human Services Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
By the time most human services students reach the doctoral level, they focus on specialized disciplines like counseling or social work. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Ph.D. in Human Services Psychology lets them buck that trend. The University describes the program as a holistic “reconceptualization” of human psychology that cultivates a “generic nature of knowledge” applicable to many advanced human services and research positions. Students interested in clinical roles may want to consider the program’s Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology tracks; those seeking academic, administrative and policy-making positions can look to the Community and Applied Social Psychology track.
- Department:Department of Psychology
- Location: Baltimore, Md.
- Online learning options: The Ph.D. in Human Services Psychology is a campus-based program.
Online human services degrees
Human services is by nature a keenly interpersonal discipline: it’s hard to adequately support people and communities without interacting with them on a human level. Contrary to common perception, one really can forge these connections in online programs. Today’s sophisticated Web-based communication and collaboration tools make online learning richly interactive. Some researchers suggest online students develop closer working relationships with their peers than most campus-based students, who may not interact outside of assigned group work. Online graduate schools further support human-to-human connections through on-site internships completed within their local communities, no travel required.
Prospective students facing personal or logistical barriers that make regular campus courses challenging will be pleased to know online certificates and associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in human services are increasingly common — more so with each passing year. Research and dissertation requirements make online Ph.D.s relatively rare, but many doctoral candidates can complete some of their classes online. Online human services programs are just as rigorous as those taken on campus and confer the exact same degrees.
Notable online human services degrees
Online B.A. in Human Services at Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University’s takes innovative learning and flexibility to a whole new level. It’s College for America division was the first fully competence-based school in the nation, offering degrees based entirely on life experience and independent study. While SNHU’s B.A. in Human Services is not competency-based, it promotes the same sense of convenience and accessibility: students attend online and set their own schedules. In addition to completing general education and core human services courses, students choose specialized classes through one of SNHU’s three human services concentrations: Child and Family Services; Gerontology and Substance Abuse.
Online M.S. in Human Services at Northeastern University
Northeastern University’s online online M.S. in Human Services prepares students to work with vulnerable populations in nonprofit, government and nongovernment organizations. According to the program’s official Web page, students work and collaborate online in a flexible, yet interactive way throughout all core, elective and specialized classes. Learners can concentrate in Global Studies, Leadership or Organizational Communication. Northwestern University’s assigned student success specialists are on-hand to help students select concentrations and courses that match their career goals.
- Department: College of Professional Studies
- Location: Online; Boston, Mass.
- Online options: All coursework is online, save required practical learning experience often fulfilled within students’ local communities