Degrees in Human Services

Degrees in human services offer a broad education in communication, regulation, and cultural competency that qualify you for a wide range of positions in social service and assistance programs. Degrees are available at the associate through doctoral levels to provide qualifications for everything from entry-level administrative work to high-level management and policy jobs.

A degree in human services is a solid investment in the social justice economy.

You pursue this kind of education not just because you are interested in a job and a career. You do it because you are interested in health, equity, and justice. You see a role for yourself in making lives better, and you have a hunger for the knowledge you need to make a real difference in that role.


What Makes a Degree in Human Services Different?

What Skills Will You Learn With a Degree in Human Services?

The Importance of Accreditation for Degrees in Human Services

The Costs of a Degree in Human Services

An Associate Degree in Human Services Offers a Ground-Level Entry Point Into the Profession

A Bachelor Degree in Human Services Forms The Strong Base of a Career

Earning a Master’s Degree in Human Services Opens New Doors in Advanced Practice

A Doctoral Degree in Human Services Takes You To The Highest Level

Going with a Degree in Human Services Online Offers More Flexible Training Options

What Kind of Jobs are Available With a Human Services Degree?


There are many different kinds of jobs that fall under the heading of human services. With a human services degree, jobs you might qualify for can be distinct from those in social work, psychology, or counseling, however. A broader perspective comes from a degree in human services than you will get with any of those other fields, which qualifies you for unique and important positions that specialists can’t fill.

Human services degrees evolved in the 1950s and 1960s alongside the changing education process for social work and mental health services. Those clinical roles came with more specialized degree requirements. But there were still many more general roles in the expanding social services field that needed to be filled. Professionals like eligibility screeners, outreach workers, and court liaisons needed training in human services, but not in-depth expertise in counseling or psychology.

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Multidisciplinary knowledge and practices are key to human services work, and a degree in human services is exactly where you learn those things. There are thousands of human services jobs in the United States today in need of qualified people to fill them. With the education that any of these degrees has on offer, you can get the knowledge and qualifications you need become a human service professional and start making a difference.

Today, there are over 600 collegiate human services degree programs in the United States. You can earn a degree at every level of education, and find tens of thousands of jobs that require that education.

What Makes a Degree in Human Services Different?

Human services is a broad subject. As an interdisciplinary field, it includes a range of professions including:

  • Professional counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • Psychology
  • Social workers

Around the edges, human services work is also performed by professionals as varied as nurses, sociologists, and first responders.

So why would you choose to get a degree in human services instead of a more specific field of practice?

Sometimes The Broader Perspective is More Illuminating

A narrow focus in any particular kind of human services work is great for specialists, but sometimes keeps them from knowing about or seeing solutions available through other types of human services. It’s the old “if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” issue. Counselors counsel, therapists offer therapy, social workers socialize… but sometimes a client needs someone who can tie it all together and get them all the different services they need for each of their issues.

A man named Jose came to Phoenix in 2013. It was by bus, he remembers, but he couldn’t remember how or why. He’d lived on the streets in his native Puerto Rico and in New York for a time, but by the time he arrived in Phoenix he was 79 and couldn’t remember his birthday or come up with any identifying documents. Like so many in similar positions, he ended up in the hands of a non-profit human services agency.

Jose had a lot of challenges, way outside the scope of a single specialist. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He had no home, no health insurance, no family, and no way to find any.

Human services specialists, however, were able to work with various private and government agencies to uncover his identity and enroll him in Social Security and health insurance programs. They found an assisted living facility for him that specializes in memory care. And although his closest blood relatives were found to have passed away, now he says he has a family: the human service professionals who have taken care of him.

That’s where a degree in human services comes in handy. With a broad, interdisciplinary perspective on everything that human services can accomplish, you’re better equipped to understand all the options for assistance and offer objective recommendations on what would be best for the task at hand. You will get more exposure to all the different kinds of human services programs and specialties, and you may see solutions that specialists won’t even be aware of.

A degree in human services offers the broad perspective you need to identify the right solutions for people in need.

Finally, that kind of perspective gives you the ability to help coordinate services that are coming from different kinds of human service professionals. You can help them talk to one another and to the clients and sort out any snags.

A Generalist Degree Offers More Employment Options in More Fields

It’s also true that it’s often better to get a more general bachelor’s degree if you are not completely sure what field you want to specialize in. Many human services roles require a master’s-level or higher education. Social work, psychology, or even nursing will probably need a graduate degree. But what if you aren’t sure which direction you want to go? Many students spend a lot of their college experience figuring out what it is they really want to do in life.

Starting off with a human services degree gives you the flexibility to go into any of the most popular specializations in human services work.

On the other hand, if you start off with, say, a bachelor’s in nursing, you could find it quite difficult to transition to social work or some other highly specialized field.

The multidisciplinary degree in human services is widely accepted as a degree that will prepare you for any of the various specialties that you might decide to go into later in your career. It’s a good investment no matter what path you decide to follow.

You Can’t Be Effective in Human Services Leadership Without a Human Services Education

In a similar way, if you want to become a leader and manager in human services, it’s helpful to get the big-picture perspective of the field. A high-level administrator in a human services agency might need to know a bit about social work, a bit about counseling, a few things about healthcare. Getting a specialized degree in any of those fields leaves you hanging when it comes to what you need to know about the others.

A human services degree, on the other hand, gives you a general perspective and important knowledge in all of those fields and more. And it offers the kind of preparation you need to lead and bring human services professionals together to accomplish bigger things.

Human services training often comes from a socioecological perspective that helps you make cross-disciplinary connections that specialists might miss. That is particularly true at the level of policy and advocacy. You can’t afford to lose sight of the conditions on the ground, in the community, when you are lobbying for new laws or funding.

As a human service professional leader, you have to have the kind of education that gives you a view from every side of the table. You need to understand budgeting, politics, and the latest in sociological research. And you have to tie those views together to support your positions on social justice efforts.

With a degree in human services, you get the kind of general education that lets you accomplish all of that and more.

What Skills Will You Learn With a Degree in Human Services?

Even though human services degrees are not specialized in the way that a social work or counseling degree is, they offer a valuable set of core skills training that can serve you well in all kinds of human services jobs.

Communication and Social Skills
A human service professional, you won’t be shocked to find out, spends a lot of time dealing with humans. That means communication skills are key. You will be expected to learn written and verbal communication styles, focusing on clarity and empathy in order to help you get your point across with compassion but without confusion. Maybe most importantly, you will learn active listening skills, improving your communications skills by drawing information out of your clients while you build trust and understanding.

Human Psychology
When you deal with humans, you inevitably deal with human psychology. With a human service degree, jobs available to you involve working with folks who probably have even deeper psychological issues than most. A crucial part of helping them is understanding those issues, so you’ll receive training in basic psychology, both for individuals and social psychology. You’ll also have classes in counseling in both individual and group settings.

Problem-Solving
People who are new to human services work sometimes are surprised at how much of it involves just basic problem-solving skills. Clients have often lost their ability to work through the causes of their issues or to think through possible solutions. That becomes your job. Although you won’t find a class on problem solving on the curriculum, you will get plenty of courses designed to build your critical thinking and analysis skills.

Ethics and Human Services Law
Part of helping people figure out problems is understanding what the available solutions look like. That means getting a solid understanding on what the laws and regulations regarding human services work look like. And together with the laws on the books, you’ll get rigorous training in the more fundamental rules of ethics that govern your interactions with the vulnerable populations you work with.

Community Organizing
Solutions in human services don’t just revolve around fixing individual issues. In many cases, system problems require system action. That means knowing how to get organized. Everyone is capable than anyone. Things you could never accomplish on your own can become light work if you get the entire community pulling in the same direction. You will learn the basics of contacting and organizing communities large and small as you study for your degree in human services.

Advocacy and Leadership
Another step up the ladder from just organizing involves leading. Whether you are responsible for only a small team of rehab case workers or end up running an entire government social services agency, your degree in human services will have classes to prepare you to step up and lead from the front. One of the most important tasks for human service professionals at every level is to be a voice for people who have no voice. A good degree in human services program will prepare you to speak out and advocate for those in need.

Learning By Doing Is a Critical Part of Degrees in Human Services

One hallmark of a good degree in human services is that it includes hands-on field experience. There is no substitute for getting out on the ground and handling real crises with real people to test your training. In fact, to receive specialty accreditation for a degree in human services program, college have to provide field experience that is integrated with their basic curriculum. Students should e exposed to human services agencies and clients early in their training and have hundreds of clock hours involved with everything from observation to direct client contact.

Your supervised experience in a degree in human services program will be a big eye-opener about the realities facing human service professionals. Depending on your own background, you might find yourself experiencing cultures you didn’t even know existed and meeting people you would never encounter normally. You will certainly be confused and a little overwhelmed by the chaos at first.

But you’re getting dipped into those experiences with plenty of guidance and advice. It’s a learning experience, one that you will build by processes like keeping logs of your experiences, meeting with your professor and class, and conducting research and writing papers to process and pull insights from your encounters.

You will be prepared for the experience by getting assignments that are based on the mission of the agency you are placed with. A placement at an after-school program for minority boys in the inner city might come along with research assignments about learning styles or the effects of poverty on academic achievement, for instance. An internship at a homeless shelter might be assigned with projects to study how urban planning can mitigate the crisis.

Tying those kinds of academic studies to your lived experiences in real social and human services agencies is what turns theory into practice in human services jobs.

That kind of real world experience gives potential employers a reason to be confident in you and your skills right after graduation. You will get the benefits of that experience while you’re still working under the oversight of your instructors and supervisors, which ensures you will get it right the first time when you are out on your own.

The Importance of Accreditation for Degrees in Human Services

To make sure that human services degree programs include all those important elements, the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE) was established in 1979. The Council is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the key specialty accreditor for programs in human services at American universities and colleges.

That means the organization has the right connections in the industry, the right evaluators, and the right standards to ensure that human services degrees deliver the kind of education they promise you. The quality, consistency, and relevancy of any program that gets their stamp of approval is unquestioned.

There are only 54 programs currently credentialed by CSHSE in the United States, so they comprise an elite group. The Council offers accreditation at the associate, bachelor, and master’s degree levels.

Every program has to meet 10 general standards that cover the philosophical basis, personnel, cultural competency requirements, and other general academic and administrative qualifications. These are general best practices that make sure the school has the basic competencies in organization and teaching down cold. In practice, these aspects are also covered by the general regional accreditation that most schools already hold.

The meat and potatoes comes in the curriculum standards. There are separate categories for associate/baccalaureate evaluation and for master’s program, but they evaluate whether or not the program gets across the information that new human services grads at any level need to know. They include:

  • History of the field
  • Human systems
  • Services delivery systems
  • Inquiry and information literacy
  • Program planning and evaluation
  • Client interventions and strategies
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Values and attitudes
  • Administration
  • Self-development
  • Field experience

Although each standard has clear objectives and requirements, every school chooses how to teach to those standards. CSHSE programs don’t come out of a cookie cutter. There can be real differences in philosophy and the details. But you can be assured you are getting everything you need to know when you attend an accredited degree in human services program.

Accredited Degrees in Human Services Offer a Shortcut to Board Certification

Another reason to go with an accredited degree in human services is that it makes your path to earning a Human Service Board-Certified Practitioner credential a bit easier.

Offered by the National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) in collaboration with CSHSE, the HS-BCP credential is part of a larger trend in all human services fields to develop a more professional and effective workforce. The HS-BCP normally requires passing a national standards examination and proving that you have accumulated at least 350-hours of post-graduate work experience in the field.

If you graduated with your degree from a CSHSE-accredited school, however, you will be exempt from the experience requirement. Since CSHSE standards include field experience standards, the Board already knows you have the practical experience you need from working in jobs with human services degree requirements.

NOHS (National Organization for Human Services) was founded in 1975 largely because the state of human services education wasn’t meeting the needs of communities. Both professional care providers and politicians faced frustration in getting qualified candidates to work in an expanding and increasingly specialized field.

There were already professional bodies out there to support social workers, therapists, counselors, and psychologists. But cooperation and communication between the fields was lacking.

With the support of both the National Institute of Mental Health and the Southern Regional Education Board, NOHS was created to develop and strengthen the kind of human services education programs at every level that would fix those problems.

Today, the organization offers a way for the various human services professional organizations and practitioners to communicate. It supports the research and curriculum development that goes into what you study every day in human services degree programs. And it supports state, local, and national human services organizations to further the professionalization of the field. There are six regional organizations that are affiliated with NOHS:

  • New England Organization for Human Service
  • Mid-Atlantic Consortium for Human Services
  • Southern Organization for Human Services
  • Midwest Organization for Human Services
  • Northwest Human Services Association
  • Western Region of Human Service Professionals

The Costs of a Degree in Human Services

A college degree in the United States is one of the most prized academic credentials in the world. People come here from all over to study at superb American universities.

But those degrees do not come cheap.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracks college costs in a variety of categories. For the two-year community colleges where you are most likely to earn an associate degree, the average annual cost of attendance in 2017/2018 was $10,704, putting the total cost at over $21,000 for even an entry-level degree.

For four-year universities, the annual cost is almost what your entire two-year degree will run you at the associate level. Each year of attendance for a bachelor’s program is $23,835 on average.

Your total cost for a human services bachelor’s degree can reach over $95,000, including tuition, fees, room and board. The costs go up as the degrees get more advanced. NCES data from 2019 shows that the average cost of a two-year master’s degree in the U.S. was almost $25,000. That is assuming you attend a public school at the in-state tuition rate. Private schools, or attending out-of-state schools, will run about double that cost.

For doctoral programs, the annual costs are similar to master’s programs, but you will spend more than twice as long earning the degree, sending those costs skyrocketing.

Paying For Your Degree in Human Services

All these expenses can add up to a lot of debt before you even become a human service professional. Figuring out how to pay for your degree in human services without getting saddled with crushing debt is an important part of your plan.

Scholarships for Human Services Degrees

You can start in the same place that any college student will start: the federal Pell Grant program. Available to undergraduate students who can demonstrate a financial need, these awards can reach more than $6,000 per year and do not need to be paid back.

There are also scholarships that are granted exclusively to students pursuing human services work. These are usually granted by colleges themselves that have endowments for that purpose, or by organizations that are already engaged in funding human services work.

You may qualify for these simply by majoring in human services. For example, NOHS offers the David C. Maloney Scholarship each year, worth $2,000, to students enrolled in a human services program at the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level.

In other cases, you might qualify based on not only your interest in a degree in human services, but other personal factors. The Pride Foundation offers the Bill Bendiner and Doug Morgenson Scholarship for $12,000 to students interested in human services who have resided in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, or Washington for one year, and who self-identify as LGBT or come from LGBT families. And the National Federation of Filipino American Associations offers the Alex Esclamado Scholarships in Human Services to students of Filipino descent who are studying in the field.

Other scholarships may be available depending on your ethnic and socioeconomic background, entirely separate from your course of studies.

Scholarships are competitive, so even if you qualify, you usually have to do more than just apply. The typical scholarship will not only require proof of financial status, ethnicity, and residency, but also recommendations from teachers or coworkers, and an essay in which you make your case as a good candidate for the award. No one wants to throw money away, so anything in your background to demonstrate your commitment to both your studies and the field of human services will be valuable. That can include volunteering at a local homeless shelter or significant personal impacts from human services work… maybe your uncle spent time in such a shelter, for instance, and that motivated you to get into the field.

Colleges Loans for Human Services Degrees

It’s unusual to be able to pay for your education entirely through grants and scholarships. Unless you or your family have a lot of money laying around the house, that probably puts you in the same boat as about 70 percent of all college students in the country: taking out student loans.

The average amount borrowed for student loans in 2018 at the bachelor’s degree level was almost $30,000 according to NCES.

That can be more than half your annual salary, so it’s a big commitment. Although student loans are low-interest and have generous repayment schedules, it’s a lot hanging over your head as you start out a career.

You do have to be cautious about where you get those loans, however. There are predatory private lenders that charge higher rates and have less generous terms. A good place to start instead is through the Federal Student Aid programs. Although the paperwork is intimidating, it’s well worth your time to apply for this type of loan before you look for private options.

That’s because human services falls into the category of public service. That can make you eligible for a terrific program that can have your loans forgiven after a certain period of time through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

If you have outstanding federal student loan debt, but you work for a government agency or non-profit, you can have that debt canceled after making a minimum of 120 payments. Since almost all human services professionals end up working for the government or non-profit agencies, that makes you a shoo-in for this program.

Some states have similar loan forgiveness programs, so don’t forget to investigate the options in the area where you plan to work.

An Associate Degree in Human Services Offers a Ground-Level Entry Point Into the Profession

An associate degree in human services will usually take about two years to complete, or a little over 60 credits of coursework. You can find these degrees at both community colleges, which only offer two-year programs, or four-year universities.

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In both cases, an associate degree can either serve as its own level of qualification for some types of human service jobs, or as a starting point for a baccalaureate degree. Many four-year human services degree programs will accept an associate degree as fulfilling the first two years of study for a full four-year bachelor’s degree. That offers you a less expensive route to a better job, since two-year schools are typically less expensive and easier to get into than larger universities.

Associate level coursework will focus on ground-floor introductions to psychology, sociology, communications, and the other basic skillsets outlined for human services jobs. Specializations are not common at the associate level, but some applied programs may have tracks for substance abuse, family violence, or other specific types of training.

With your human services degree, jobs you qualify for will be entry-level at best. The degree is an excellent choice for a low-cost, flexible way to get started on a four-year bachelor’s degree in the field, however, since many universities accept the two years of study at the associate level as fulfilling the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

The Differences Between Arts and Sciences Degree in Human Services

As you look at associate programs, you will notice they come in a few different flavors. None of these have any practical difference in the kinds of work you can do or how employers will view your degree.

  • Associate of Arts in Human Services (AA) – AA degrees may be the least common type of degree in human services at this level. On the surface, this seems a little strange, because arts degrees are known for their focus on the humanities… communication, reading, history, art, and social studies, the core foundation of the modern liberal arts degree. These degrees often offer a more well-rounded general education and cover topics outside the usual course of study in human services.
  • Associate of Science in Human Services (AS) – The AS degree is more common in human services studies. Science in this context doesn’t necessarily mean what you think of as science, the chemistry and biology and physics. Instead, it means the degree has a stronger focus on the practical elements of human services training, with less general coursework than an AA.
  • Associate of Applied Science in Human Services (AAS) – This is another type of sciences degree in human services that might be the most common one offered at the associate level. An AAS degree is focused almost entirely on the core topics of study needed by human service professionals. It aims to get graduates job-ready by the time of graduation, but is not always accepted for transfer to four-year programs because it contains few or no general studies courses. An AAS is more likely to offer certain specializations than the other degree types.

Your choice in terms of getting a human services job won’t matter a great deal. The AAS will help you hit the ground running, but an AA or AS will be equally accepted by any employer.

The real difference comes in terms of transferability to a four-year degree. If you plan to move up to earn a bachelor’s in any field, and AA or AS might be a better choice because they will be more likely to transfer.

This depends a lot on both the school you get the associate degree at and the one you plan to transfer to. Regional schools are more likely to have specific agreements for transferability. You can check these out and get a firm answer about whether or not your degree will be accepted before you even start.

If you plan to attend a school further away, you might find that no matter what kind of degree you get, not all of the credits will be accepted for a transfer.

And, of course, if a higher degree isn’t in your goals, there’s no cause for concern with any of these types of degree in human services.

A Bachelor Degree in Human Services Forms The Strong Base of a Career

A four-year bachelor’s degree in human services is where your career will really start to flourish. This is the minimum degree level for many jobs in the field, and it’s definitely required for any kind of promotion above the entry level.

That’s because your coursework gets both broader and deeper than at the associate level. Almost all bachelor’s programs in human services are bachelor of science degrees, tightly focused on practical matters in the field.

Bachelor’s Programs Have More Depth in Human Services Subjects

Bachelor’s programs have the time to take a deep dive into the skills and expertise required for human services jobs. You’ll get multiple classes on all of the core subjects mentioned above, plus dozens of elective options in various specialized practices in human services, topics like:

  • Substance abuse and society
  • Digital health & wellness
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Medical and psychosocial aspects of disability

It’s a terrific opportunity to tailor your education to exactly the area you want to work in. If you don’t know what area that is yet, it’s also the perfect chance to learn more about a lot of different aspects of human services so you can pick a focus later.

Bachelor’s degrees are also more likely to offer concentrations in the field, such as:

  • Substance Use & Recovery
  • Military & Veteran Support
  • Rehabilitative Services
  • Social & Emotional Wellness

Bachelor’s Programs Have More Breadth in General Education

You’ve got four years of study to fill here, and it won’t all be in human services. The great advantage of the bachelor’s degree in human services is that you will spend a lot of your credit hours studying a wide range of subjects outside the human services field.

Stuff like math, literature, and history might not seem to have a lot to do with your job at first glance. But they are all part of becoming a well-rounded citizen and human service professional. The general studies requirements in your degree are designed to sharpen your critical thinking skills and expand your general knowledge of the world you live in. That’s the same world that needs your effort and compassion to help those in need. The better you understand it, the more you will be able to help.

There are also general requirements at the bachelor’s level that can be useful as a human service professional. Your required social studies courses will expose you to other cultures that you might end up working with in the field, and language requirements can build your communication skills to work with immigrant communities.

Fieldwork Experience in Bachelor’s Programs

The bachelor’s level is also where your field work experience really kicks in to high gear. You’ll rack up hundreds of hours of supervised fieldwork with real-life clients facing real-life problems, usually at a variety of different real-world human services agencies.

That kind of on-the-job training both hones your skills and gives you a clear idea of the different kinds of jobs with human services degree that are available.

If you are cut out for a career as a human service professional, field experience in your college program will also get your blood pumping and get you stoked to get out in the workforce.

You will spend time working with clients in both group settings and one-on-one, and always with the guidance of experienced professionals to keep you on the rails as you build confidence and technique.

Learn More About The Bachelor of Human Services Degree

Earning a Master’s Degree in Human Services Opens New Doors in Advanced Practice

Master’s degrees in human services are becoming the new normal as the field becomes more and more professionalized. These two-year programs stack on top of your bachelor’s degree with much greater focus on the details and in specific focus areas within the profession.

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A master’s is commonly required for clinical work in counseling and therapy, which are licensed by most states. You’ll also need to pick up a master’s if you are headed for management in human services-focused agencies or non-profits.

You’ll find a wealth of concentration options in most master’s programs, such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Grief Counseling
  • Student Affairs
  • Life Coaching
  • Trauma and Crisis Counseling
  • Management
  • Family and Community Services

The coursework will reflect the concentration you pick, along with more advanced studies in general human services subject like:

  • Behavioral science
  • Ethics
  • Cultural awareness and competency

You’ll also get even more time in the field at the master’s level, working at a more advanced level than your bachelor’s studies, and typically within your chosen focus area.

The Master’s Thesis Offers Both Research and Understanding

A traditional part of master’s-level studies is the thesis paper. A unique analytical research paper that is the product of your own original thinking and research, it’s designed as an in-depth experience to sum up the knowledge and practice you have learned during your master’s studies.

The thesis paper offers you the opportunity to direct the structure of your degree in a way that will shape it specifically to fill your career goals. Together with your thesis advisor, you’ll choose a topic that is both relevant to your studies and of interest to the field of human services as a whole. You then conduct research studies, either experiments you design yourself or investigations of existing literature, and come to conclusions based on that research.

This all results in a publication-worthy paper ranging from 40 to 80 pages in length that you will have to defend against a committee of faculty and other human services professionals so that every tiny flaw is discovered and corrected. It’s a challenging experience, but one that really puts a capstone on your studies.

More and more degrees in human services are making the thesis optional today, offering a capstone project as an alternative. While it is just as in-depth and challenging, a project is more action-oriented, involving setting up real services or programs to explore and assess your ideas.

Either option really cements the education you get as a master’s graduate, and prepares you for a career as a high-level human service professional.

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A Doctoral Degree in Human Services Takes You To The Highest Level

The very highest level of study in human services is the doctoral degree. Taking between three and seven years to earn, these programs combine a high level of instruction and investigation into core human services concepts with a high degree of independence and the ability to build your own path.

Doctoral programs offer the same type of concentration options as you find at the master’s level.

Doctoral programs in human services frequently focus on management or administrative roles compared to the clinical training you find at the master’s level.

In addition to concentration options, you also have several different types of doctorate to pursue at this level.

  • Doctor of Philosophy – The most common doctoral program for human services professionals is the PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy. These programs tend to have a strong academic and theoretical focus and were originally intended for professionals looking for careers in teaching or research. They are the most common doctorate offered in the field, however, and graduates occupy all types of advanced positions in human services.
  • Doctor of Human Services – The DHS degree is a relatively new doctorate in the field. Where a PhD focuses more heavily on research and academic applications, the DHS focuses on applied studies in human services. It’s a professional doctorate aimed at individuals who plan to work effectively as managers and high-level practitioners in the field, as opposed to researchers or academic positions.
  • Doctor of Education – The EdD is an uncommon type of human services doctorate. But it’s one that makes a lot of sense for anyone who plans to specialize with a human services degree for jobs in schools or the field of education. Like the DHS, it’s a professional doctorate, designed to prepare graduates for real-world applications of human services theory. But unlike the more general DHS, the EdD is focused specifically on applications in the world of education.

As a practical matter, the advanced education you get with any of these degrees will qualify you for all doctoral-level human services jobs. There are many PhDs working in hands-on clinical positions, and DHS grads who are professors or who work in educational settings. The choice of degree has more implication for the ease of finding resources and support in your selected field of study.

Doctoral Dissertations Put a Stamp on Your Career

You have an opportunity to further customize your studies through your choice of dissertation topic. The dissertation is a version of the master’s thesis on steroids. It’s about three times as long and can take as much as two entire years of your program to focus on. You’ll do more research and come up with more creative and independent thoughts as part of the process.

Your dissertation will be the primary thing you are known for as you enter the profession. It can shape the entire course of your career. You will likely be asked to present on the topic at regional or national conferences and you may end up publishing in academic journals.

That makes your choice of topic very important, and the quality of work has to be to the highest standard.

Learn More About the Doctorate of Human Services Degree

Going with a Degree in Human Services Online Offers More Flexible Training Options

Although many degree programs were offered online before COVID-19, the mass transition to online classes worldwide settled the question of whether an online degree is equal to traditional studies.

No one who came through the coronavirus pandemic can ever doubt that online learning is an option that is here to stay.

That kind of flexibility is something you can take full advantage of at any level of education in human services.

With remote studies, you have the option of choosing from programs in human services all over the country. You can maintain your current residency and keep your cost of living the same, which can offer real financial advantages. That’s not to mention the fact that you avoid the hassle of having to relocate for four to eight years.

Because online programs are also usually offered asynchronously, you get the advantage of flexibility in time as well as space. You can choose to stream classes at 3am while you are laying in bed, or at work on your lunch break. It’s far easier to coordinate online learning around your existing work or family obligations, which means you can keep your life pretty much how it is, even as you build for your future.

With the strong emphasis on practical field experience, even the most online program in human services isn’t really entirely online. They are more often hybrid programs, with academic work completed over the internet and your regular field placements on-site at actual human services agencies. Still, that lets you stick with your own town and focus on the communities closest to you, which gives you a leg up on your future job prospects versus if you had to do all your fieldwork halfway across the state.

What Kind of Jobs are Available With a Human Services Degree?

With a human services degree, jobs you’ll qualify for cover a wide range of specialties. Since a human services degree can serve as an entry point to everything from social work to clinical psychology, employment in human services offers a tremendous range of different salaries, working environments, and job duties.

Almost all of those jobs are on the table with a degree in human services, but the more specialized positions—which usually come with higher salaries—probably also require advanced degrees in a specific field. But a degree in human services at the associate or bachelor’s level can set you up for earning that advanced degree for a job as psychologist or clinical social worker.

Because the range of possibilities is so broad, you’re better off checking out our pages about careers in social work, how to become a psychologist, or about the counseling occupation if those are paths you are interested in. You can also get a deep dive on human services salaries if you are most interested in the numbers side of the field.

Most of these careers fall into a broad category established by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as Community and Social Service Occupations. As a whole, that group of professions are expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent from 2019 to 2029, a much faster pace than most other jobs in the U.S.

That’s good news on the employment front, since it means you will have plenty of opportunities no matter what level your degree is at.

Jobs and Salaries You Can Expect with a Human Services Degree

As noted, most human services workers will find jobs in either federal, state, or local government agencies, or in non-profits dedicated to public assistance work. And those jobs can involve everything from spending your days in court as a guardian ad litem for neglected children to hopping around to disaster areas to arrange for housing for displaced victims.

The thread all of them have in common is that they will take full advantage of the kind of education you get in a degree in human services, and they will deliver challenging, but satisfying opportunities to touch people’s lives and make them better.

A full breakdown on the kind of positions you will find and the salaries can be found on our Human Service Salaries page. Here is a quick overview of just a few of those options, however:

  • Case Worker – $47,390 to $78,230
    • Case workers are the classic human services generalist position. They are assigned to protect and supervise the overall care and well-being of children and adults who are unable to care for themselves, coordinating care among public assistance agencies and keeping contact with their charges to evaluate their needs.
  • Community Economic Development Officer – $67,150 to $112,480
    • These human service professionals work at the community level, identifying issues that affect many people and working with local business and government agencies to bring resources into the community, resolve social conflicts, or solve environmental issues.
  • Family and Human Development Worker – $47,390 to $78,230
    • This category of human service professional can be found everywhere from neighborhood food banks to suicide prevention hotlines. They handle all kinds of organizing, coordination, and light counseling services.
  • Rehabilitation Case Worker – $35,950 to $63,790
    • Rehab case workers deal with clients in recovery or healthcare settings, arranging for their needs to be met after they have left the acute care stage of interventions. They line up social assistance and medical services and make sure everyone is on the same page to get the client the help they need.
  • Youth Worker – $35,060 to $54,230
    • No population is more vulnerable than children, and youth workers focus on providing support and assistance to that group at the most important formative stages. They help kids improve their self-image, social relationships, and with their basic education. Something as simple as providing clothes for foster youth can make a complete difference in the course of a life.

As you can tell, a degree in human services opens up a lot of different opportunities in the field. Only you will know which of those is closest to your heart. But everyone knows how much those jobs are needed and how big a difference they make to people with no other hope.