Connect With Your College Education
There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 college degree programs related to human services across every level and practice area:
- Social Work – The CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) lists more than 800 accredited bachelor’s and master’s programs in social work.
- Counseling – Combined, there are nearly 750 master’s and doctorate programs in counseling accredited by the APA-COA (American Psychological Association Commission on Accreditation), CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs), and MPCAC (Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council).
- Human Services – For undergrads who already know they want a general foundational degree, there are about 100 bachelor’s programs in human services offered through accredited schools, and more than 30 additional associate’s accredited by CSHSE (Council for Standards in Human Services Education) offered at colleges and CCs.
If you want to get an education in human services there’s no problem finding a program that will get the job done. But you’re looking for more than that.You want a program that will inspire you to confidently follow your path to a successful and fulfilling career.
Finding Your Path
Human services is a huge sector with an array of professions as exciting as they are diverse… In a field that’s all about rising to the occasion to meet people’s needs, it seems like new opportunities emerge almost weekly.
Even as the field experiences growth and an expanding number of opportunities, it remains competitive with the best opportunities going to job candidates with the right degree. Even entry-level positions in this field are increasingly requiring a bachelor’s degree just to get an interview.
Many positions, including those in human services administration, usually require a master’s, and becoming a clinical social worker or counselor requires a master’s degree just to meet minimum qualifications for licensure. You know you need a degree that will allow you to check the box for meeting these requirements, but more importantly, you want an education with some heart and soul; the kind that prepares you for the amazing and challenging work that lies ahead for you in your career. Regardless of what subsector or specialty you want to focus on, getting a quality education is an important first step.
A Bachelor’s You Can Build On: That’s why it’s a great idea to start off with a bachelor’s degree that you can build on later when you have a better idea what direction you are definitely committed to. You’ll probably need a master’s degree or maybe even a doctorate at some point in your human services career. A strong bachelor’s is the best way to prepare yourself for those eventual goals.
No matter what bachelor’s program you select, you’ll get a strong general education in the basic elements of liberal arts and critical thinking that the American college experience is famous for.
Honing a Specialty at the Graduate Level: Master’s degrees represent a deeper and more intensive focus on the core concepts and practices of the subject. With your bachelor’s already under your belt, you won’t be expected to revisit more general liberal arts courses.
Master’s degrees have a practical, job-oriented aspect to them. They are often required for licensing or certification. A PhD typically has a more academic focus and may be more research oriented. They are often considered primarily as preparation for teaching or dedicated research positions.
At the master’s level, social work, human services, and counseling programs allow you to chose a specific focus area. Because of the considerable amount of overlap between these three disciplines, these concentration areas are often available across degrees classified as counseling, social work and human services:
These areas could include:
- Advanced Generalist
- Clinical/Direct Practice
- Children, Youth and Families
- Community Justice
- Community Health
- Community Development
- Mental Health
- Military Social Work
- Housing Services
- International Social Work
- Rural Social Work
- School Social Work
There are several educational paths you can take to get the degree you will need for your career in human services. A number of degrees are fairly interchangeable with certain career paths. Some jobs, however, will require specific degree specialization and licensure.
Human Services Degree
In most cases, a human services degree will take an interdisciplinary approach and combine knowledge from several disciplines. This could include aspects of sociology, criminal justice, health and human services, social work, and psychology.
At the bachelor’s level, a human services degree is a good way to get a taste of several different specializations so you can make an educated decision about continuing with a master’s.
Social Work Degree
A degree in social work sets you down the path toward a licensed, hands-on role in social services or advocacy, often with the specific goal of becoming a LCSW (licensed clinical social worker. There are still many future career options you can exercise with a social work degree, but it’s the best choice for jobs that are specialized in offering directed services to individuals and communities. Niche positions you could qualify for with a master’s and LCSW licensure include:
- Child Welfare Case Worker
- Clinical Social Worker
- Child and Family Social Worker
There are also many opportunities at the bachelor level, but for professional licensing, you will find a master’s degree in social work essential.
At the doctoral level, you will find both the DSW and PhD degrees available. The DSW (Doctor of Social Work), offers a more practice-oriented focus than the research-heavy PhD.
A psychology degree bridges the divide between social work and healthcare. With a doctorate, you can become a researcher or a practicing clinical psychologist. But you can also stay on the social services side of the family and go into counseling or other human services roles, often with a particular focus on behavioral research or treatment.
Professional counseling of all kinds play a major role in getting people the help they need. Sometimes counseling services start with the assessments necessary to know whether a mental health issue is in play so as to know how to direct therapy and services, other times it’s court-ordered for families as part of shared custody agreements and parenting plans.
Whether it’s addiction counseling, anger management, marriage and family therapy, crisis counseling, mental health assessments and therapy, the counseling discipline is inseparable from the field of human services, and every one of these roles require some sort of state license.
In many states, chemical dependency counselor licensing only requires a bachelor’s degree. But mental health counselors dealing with severe and chronic mental health disorders and marriage and family therapists who often work with children are required to hold a master’s degree at minimum.
Master’s degrees in general counseling psychology are available, but many programs are also designed with a focus that aligns with specific roles and practice environments:
- MA/MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- MA/MS in Substance Abuse Counseling
- MA/MS in Marriage and Family Therapy
- MEd/MAEd in School Counseling
- MA/MS in Counseling Psychology – Trauma and Crisis Intervention
To fill advanced positions in counseling and to become a licensed psychologist, you’ll need to take the next step by earning a doctorate, most often a practice-focused PsyD, or a more research-focused PhD.
Human Services Administration Degree
No one gets rich in human services but administrators make more than most. According to national salary aggregator site Indeed.com, management salaries in human services ranged from $52,122 to $91,159 in 2018. It’s not one percenter territory, but it’s better than the median $43,700 salary for social workers reported by the National Association of Social Workers in 2010.
Administration is also a rare and critical skill to cultivate. While many people who go into the field understandably focus on the hands-on elements of service, the coordination and activism required to create effective social service systems is a massive multiplier to their efforts. In fact, the entire field would be almost entirely ineffective without skilled administrators to ensure services are delivered to the right people in the right places at the right time.
A master’s degree is going to be required in virtually all administrative positions. If you have strong skills in organization, planning, and evaluation, it’s worth considering a master’s in human services administration. Learning the leadership and supervisory skills to fill that niche can be every bit as rewarding as delivering direct face-to-face services.
How to Find the Right Education Program
Picking the right path to head down is an intensely personal decision. There’s no one right choice to make. The first and most important factor is finding a degree concentration that helps you maximize your natural talents and proclivities.
Once you’ve zeroed in on your degree of choice, the next decision involves finding a school that meets your needs. For many, location of the school is a key factor driving their decision.
Increasingly, as part of the information revolution, students are choosing to attain their degrees through online programs. The flexibility offered by taking classes online is second to none. Students can often tailor courses in terms of when they take classes, study and take tests with a level of convenience that programs housed in brick-and-mortar universities can’t touch.
Other things you will want to think about include:
- Your experience in the field: If you don’t have much exposure to social services, don’t be too sure of your initial inclination about what role to pursue… experience can change your mind quickly.
- Your financial status: A college education in America today is expensive—averaging between $10,000 and $35,000 per year. Your ability to pay the price or find grants or loans to cover it is critically important to your future.
- Regional universities: Although there are more online and remote educational options available than ever, the reality is that most folks pick schools near where they live or hope to practice. The relative strengths and weaknesses of programs at those schools should factor into your thoughts about degree choice.
We have a lot of tools and information here to help you find the right school to match whatever combination of factors apply. From top schools by region to the most valuable, you’ll find resources here to find the right fit for your career goals in human services.
Human Services Education Requirements By State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia