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Written by Sarah Shelley

If you have a passion for exploring social issues and helping others, then a career in human services might be well-suited for you. But before you dive into a degree program, it's important to understand what a human services degree entails and what kinds of careers you can explore with this type of degree. From there, you can get a better feel for whether this is the right path for you. 


What is a Degree in Human Services?  

So, what is human services and what is a human services degree? In the simplest terms, the field of human services entails the study of different social structures and how people live and operate within those structures. 

Scope and Importance of Human Services 

Human services majors play an important role in analyzing social structures and the way people within a society operate within them. This is important because with a better understanding of these concepts, human services professionals can explore important social issues and even advocate for changes that can improve the quality of life for people living within a certain segment of society. In many ways, the everyday actions of human services workers can improve the lives and well-being of other people. 

The Interdisciplinary Approach of Human Services 

The scope of the human services field is far-reaching, involving an interdisciplinary approach. More specifically, those with a background and education in human services often go on to work in such roles as social worker, career counselor, probation officer, and community health worker. While most people tend to think of social work when they think of a career in human services, the reality is that there are many different things you can do with this kind of background. 

Some more examples of careers you may be able to pursue with a human services degree include: 

  • Family support worker 
  • Home health case manager 
  • Adult daycare case manager 

Different Types of Human Services Degrees 

There are several options to consider when it comes to human services degrees, ranging from certificates and undergraduate degrees to more advanced degrees, such as a master's in human services. Ultimately, the degree type that is right for you will boil down to your current level of education, your professional goals, and how much time you're willing to spend in school. 

Certificate Programs in Human Services 

If you're looking for a short program that isn't too rigorous and won't take too long to complete, a certificate in human services may be ideal for you. Typically, these programs are available to those with a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) and can be completed in anywhere from a few months to a few years. This type of program can be a good way to introduce yourself to the field, qualify for entry-level human services jobs, and determine whether you want to pursue a more advanced degree down the road. 

Associate Degree in Human Services 

Another option to consider if you already have your high school diploma is an associate degree in human services, which is generally considered to be the next step up from a certificate program. Typically, associate degrees in human services typically require more credit hours than a certificate program. The average student can expect the length for an associates in human services program to be completed around one to two years (depending on your enrollment status).  

Bachelor's Degree in Human Services 

A bachelor's degree in human services usually takes around four years to complete, but can be a great way to gain the foundational knowledge you need to help others and make a real difference in your career. In addition to core required courses, some bachelor's degree programs in human services may also offer concentrations for students to choose from, such as mental health or addiction. 

Some bachelor's degree programs in human services may also include an internship component. This can be a great way to gain some valuable hands-on experience while you're still in school. 

Master's Degree in Human Services 

For those who already have a bachelor's degree in human services or a related field, a more advanced degree (such as a master's degree in human services) can be an excellent way to further your knowledge and sharpen your skills. Most master's degree programs in human services are designed to be completed within about two years. Moreover, concentrations may be available to help you hone your studies in a particular area of interest. 

Obtaining a master's degree in human services can also be a great way to set yourself apart from others in the job market while potentially qualifying for more advanced roles in the field. 

Deciding Between Online and Campus-Based Human Services Programs 

As you explore human services degree programs, one thing you'll likely notice is that there are both online and on-campus formats to choose from. How can you decide which format is best for your needs and goals? Here are a few things to consider. 

Comparing Learning and Interaction 

Start by thinking about your own unique learning style and how important face-to-face interaction is to your learning experience. Many online programs in human services are asynchronous in nature, meaning you won't be meeting in a real-time format. If you're the type of person who prefers one-on-one interactions in the classroom, then an on-campus program may be the better option for you. 

Evaluating Program Format and Resources 

Consider the overall format of the program, including the types of courses that are required. Ideally, a human services degree program should include coursework in research, diversity, counseling, and case management. You'll also want to find out if the program you're considering has any additional requirements, like an internship. 

If you're looking at an online program, you'll also want to find out what format to expect from your classes. With an asynchronous format, you'll never have to worry about meeting at a specific time or date. Instead, you can generally work at your own pace and on your own time. On the other hand, if your online classes are offered in a synchronous format, then you may need to meet occasionally for live sessions, lectures, and discussions. Knowing whether your classes will be synchronous or asynchronous in nature can help you plan accordingly around your busy schedule while setting yourself up for success. 

Whether you choose to attend in-person or online, you'll also want to research the specific support and resources that your school has to offer. At best, you'll select a school that will support you from your first day through graduation and beyond with tutoring support, professional development, and other resources to help you make the most of your education. 

Considering Cost and Flexibility 

Finally, consider the overall cost and flexibility of an online program versus an on-campus option. With an on-campus program, you could be limiting your options to schools that are within commuting distance from your home. With an online human services degree program, you can attend school across the state or even across the country. This opens your options and gives you more to choose from. 

Of course, cost is another important consideration when choosing a human services degree program. In general, online programs tend to be more affordable because they don't require commuting costs or student housing expenses. That said, the cost of your program will boil down to many factors, including the cost per credit hour and any additional fees. 

Career Opportunities With a Human Services Degree 

Now that you have a better idea of what is a degree in human services, you may be wondering what you can do with a human services degree. Because this is an interdisciplinary program, there are plenty of options for knowledgeable human services professionals to choose from. 

Roles in Administrative Services 

Many people who graduate with human services degrees go on to work in administrative roles across a variety of fields and industries. For those with more advanced degrees and more experience, it is not uncommon for these administrative roles to involve leadership or managerial work. These professionals may work as program directors for social services organizations. They may also oversee other human services professionals, leading and managing them daily. 

Opportunities in Child and Family Social Work 

Another common sector that human services graduates end up in is that of social work. Specifically, social work is a subsector within the overarching field of human services. It often involves human services professionals (including social workers) putting their knowledge and skills to work to help families and children within their own communities. If you're interested in social work, ethics, and policy, then this line of work may be right for you. 

Social work is also an in-demand career path. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for social workers is projected to grow by seven percent between 2022 and 2032 alone, with an anticipated employment change of 53,800 jobs during that time. That's faster than the national average growth for all occupations. 

Careers in Corrections 

Many human services graduates also go on to work in corrections. These professionals may explore careers as correctional social workers, where they provide counseling for people going through certain behavioral or mental health disorders while in rehabilitation. In addition to working as a clinical social worker at a correctional facility, some human services professionals may also go on to work as re-entry services social workers. In this type of role, you may work with inmates in areas such as substance abuse treatment and even workforce development, preparing inmates to lead successful lives after they are released from prison. 

Prospects as a Substance Abuse Social Worker 

Substance abuse is another common field that human services graduates end up in. Often, people with substance abuse disorders require specialized treatment and care. Having said that, this type of work can be especially rewarding for those who have the patience and compassion to take on the role. In addition to jobs in substance abuse social work, these professionals may also work as behavioral disorder counselors and mental health counselors. 

The Role and Impact of a Human Service Worker 

Human services professionals play such an important role in helping individuals and populations alike live happier and healthier lives. If you're the type of person who enjoys advocating for others and knowing that you're making a difference, then a career in human services can be an excellent choice. 

Daily Duties and Responsibilities 

The exact duties and responsibilities of a human services worker can vary greatly depending on the specific sector that you're working in and your job title. On any given day, it is not uncommon for human services professionals to take on such tasks as: 

  • Evaluating the needs of a client or clients 
  • Developing treatment/action plans 
  • Providing clients with emotional support and resources 
  • Monitoring the physical and mental well-being of clients 
  • Determining a client's eligibility for certain services or programs 

If you end up in a leadership or administrative role in human services, you may also take on additional tasks that involve leading groups, presenting, training, and handling administrative duties like filing paperwork. 

Influence on Individual Lives and Communities 

There is no overstating the influence that human services professionals can have on the populations that they serve. At the end of the day, people who go into this profession are doing it to make a difference in the lives of their clients. The decisions that they make and the people that they advocate for daily help them improve the quality of life among individuals and communities alike. 

Interested in Studying Human Services? 

With so many career opportunities to consider, obtaining a degree in human services is a sensible first step toward an exciting professional journey. Not all human services degree programs are created equal, though, so it's important to explore your options and select a program well-suited to your needs and goals. 

At University of the Cumberlands, we're proud to offer both associate and bachelor's degrees in human services, including both on-campus and online options. Whether you pursue an associate degree, a bachelor of arts, or a bachelor of science in human services, you can enjoy a 100% student-focused program with plenty of support and resources along the way. 

Get in touch today to learn more about University of the Cumberlands' human services degree programs or get started with your application