Whether you seek entry-level administrative work in human services or plan to pursue a master's degree and licensure for clinical or counseling work, earning a human services bachelor's degree online makes an excellent first step in your journey to helping others in a professional context. The information presented on this page intends to help you choose the right school or program to achieve your own personal and professional goals. Read on to learn more about degree options and courses, potential careers, and professional organizations in the field.
Overview of Human Services Degrees
The umbrella term "human services" covers the fields within modern social services and mental health services. Though they handle different tasks, administrative assistants, social workers, mental health counselors, and probation officers all work toward the common goal of meeting human needs and improving the quality of others' lives. Working in human services usually provides steady employment as well. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that community and social services occupations will grow by 14% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average growth of all other jobs.
Several college specializations can help you get a start in human services, including psychology and sociology. But an online human services degree provides one of the most direct paths to entry-level work — an ideal program for high school graduates or associate degree holders with a passion for helping others.
In earning a human services degree online, students complete a curriculum with a heavy focus on analysis, evaluation, and problem solving. Common learning outcomes include the ability to analyze diverse human behaviors, to evaluate ethical and social issues and challenges, and to identify effective strategies and communication methods.
The standard application process for a bachelor's degree in human services is fairly simple. College applications require you to submit high school transcripts and any applicable college transcripts (for dual-credit courses or to confirm the completion of an associate degree). Admissions departments use these documents to confirm enrollment and graduation as well as your GPA. Most undergraduate degrees require a minimum high school GPA of 2.5.
Before applying, confirm with your school which test scores you need to submit, ACT or SAT. To better your chances of acceptance, aim for above-average scores in these tests — at least 26 and 1200, respectively.
Once you have gathered and prepared the required documentation, you must fill out an online application form and pay a $25-$50 fee, which covers the administrative costs of application processing. Keep a close eye on your application deadline and try to apply as early as you can, allowing time to respond to any issues that may occur.
What Will I Learn?
A human services online degree develops critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze and solve problems within contexts of diverse populations, healthcare settings, and socioeconomic/psychosocial issues. Bachelor's degrees typically require the completion of 120 credits.
The exact breakdown of credits and courses can vary depending on the program you select, but an average college experience includes 45-60 general education credits (waived if you already possess an associate degree), 30-36 credits in major core courses, and 12-24 credits in electives and/or concentration courses. Popular concentration options in human services programs include child and family services, substance abuse, and gerontology.
The sample courses listed below give you a closer look at what you can generally expect from the best online human services degrees. Note that specific course offerings and class titles vary from school to school.
- Introduction to Human Services
This introductory course traces the historical evolution of human services through the modern day. Students develop an understanding of potential career settings, scope of job duties and functions, and basic required skills. It also introduces the analysis of ethics and behavioral/social issues and theories.
- Communication Skills for Human Services Personnel
Human services professionals must possess the ability to communicate with diverse individuals and groups. Devoted to communication within the field, this course examines interpersonal and group communication, evaluates classic and new communication theories, and promotes skills in presentation, active listening, and empathy interviewing.
- Cultural Awareness in the Human Services
Students prepare to work with diverse groups of people through the examination of how gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, income, age, and physical or mental ability impacts one's cultural identity. These courses emphasize the development of knowledge and skills directly related to culturally-competent delivery of human services.
- Social Science Research Methods
This course presents a broad introduction to research methods used in the social sciences, covering surveys, experiments, quasi-experiments, and case studies. Students study published research, identify design flaws, and review various research tools, data collection, and data analysis methods.
- Abnormal Psychology
Introductory study in abnormal psychology introduces students to a survey of human behavior concepts. Course content may cover major psychological disorders and their symptoms: depression, anxiety, bipolarity, substance abuse, dissociation. Students identify differences between normal and abnormal reactions to environmental stimuli.
- Human Services Capstone
A human services capstone, which takes place in the final semester before graduation, requires students to synthesize and integrate all major concepts learned throughout their degree. This culminating experience commonly requires researching and writing a substantial paper on a topic in human services.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Human Services?
Now that you know more about the application process and the degree plan itself, explore the subsections below — on core skills, employability, and potential careers and salaries — to understand how an online human services degree prepares college graduates for work in the industry.
During a human services bachelor's program, students gain analytical, evaluative, and problem-solving skills as each relates to the contexts of working in human services occupations. Human services professionals work with diverse people and situations, so they need to understand complex socioeconomic, cultural, and ethical issues, as well as how to communicate with others, form meaningful connections, and discuss difficult scenarios in order to determine the best plan of action.
Analytical, evaluative, and communication skills are especially important for caseworkers and counselors who spend time working with children, individuals suffering from substance abuse, or those dealing with mental health problems. The ability to analyze complex family problems and situations allows a social worker or social services manager to determine the best way to resolve issues. For a probation officer or individual working in corrections, communication skills may be the key to creating a collaborative, supportive rapport with individuals who may otherwise view the relationship in a negative light.
Regardless of where your human services career takes you, from entry-level jobs to managerial roles, the skills you gain in your undergraduate degree form the foundation of everything you do.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Online human services programs prepare individuals to pursue administrative work, managerial positions, and office or domestic counseling jobs. Human services graduates can use their skills in many industries, including mental health care, counseling, criminal justice and corrections, nonprofits, and government social services.
Human services professionals work with families, children, substance abusers, low-income individuals, the elderly, the unemployed, the homeless, and all those least able to help themselves. However you aspire to help others, an opportunity is available for you. Several potential occupations for human services graduates make up the list below, including information on median salaries and daily tasks.
BROWSE BACHELOR'S IN HUMAN SERVICES CAREERS
Social and Community Service Manager
Social and community service managers work for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit social service companies, coordinating and supervising programs and employees. These professionals work with community members, planning outreach activities, writing proposals, and overseeing administrative tasks.
Annual Median Salary
$64,100 per year
Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services and work to promote the rehabilitation of offenders in custody, on probation, or on parole. Work requires conducting interviews to assess progress, providing resources such as job training, and completing investigations.
Annual Median Salary
$51,410 per year
Medical and Health Services Manager
Also called healthcare administrators, these professionals plan, direct, and coordinate medical and/or health services offered within a facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and medical practices. Work requires extensive organization, goal development, and communication with others to improve the quality and efficiency of care.
Annual Median Salary
$98,350 per year
Caseworkers, also called social workers, work on the front lines in human services. They visit with people to assess needs and goals, follow up on support services, and respond to crisis situations. Caseworkers may focus on children, families, or healthcare patients.
Annual Median Salary
$47,980 per year
Substance Abuse or Behavioral Disorder Counselor
Counselors in substance abuse or behavioral disorders offer advice and support to clients in order to help them recover an improved quality of life. Daily work involves evaluating and assessing clients, helping them identify problems that interfere with recovery, and recommending treatment goals.
Annual Median Salary
$43,300 per year
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Human Services?
A bachelor's degree prepares graduates for many entry-level job opportunities in human services: administrative assistant, caseworker, correctional treatment specialist, and even some non-clinical counseling positions. Those interested in pursuing mid-level, leadership, or clinical counseling jobs in mental health or rehabilitation may want to consider continuing their education with an advanced degree. Clinical counseling positions, for example, require master's degrees and state licensure.
To pursue work in some service fields, like psychology or therapy, college students must plan to pursue graduate education upon completion of their bachelor's. For health services majors, however, a master's degree or doctorate isn't required to secure employment or future promotions. Years of work experience, professional development, and non-degree certificates can all make a big difference in moving up to more advanced or supervisory roles, especially if you work for the same organization or agency.
Accreditation for Human Services Bachelor's Programs
When seeking out prospective schools and programs, investigate their accreditation status. Accreditation ensures the quality of an institution and its educational offerings, and it can impact the transferability of credits.
In addition to regional or national accreditation of the college from accrediting bodies like the Higher Learning Commission, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or Middle States Commission on Higher Education, human services degrees may possess programmatic accreditation from the Council for Standards in Human Services Education. This organization evaluates individual college programs for adherence to certain standards and industry best practices, including the quality and experience of program faculty, the content of curriculum, and data including budgets, graduation rates, and policies.
While this type of evaluation can provide peace of mind concerning the quality and value of a student's educational experience, remember that programmatic accreditation is voluntary and does not necessarily mean one program is inherently better than another.
Human Services Professional Organizations
Human services students and professionals looking for online and in-person networking opportunities, community building, training and development, or career resources should consider joining a professional organization. Learn more about three of the top national human services organizations in the list below. Additional organizations exist for those working in specialized fields like substance abuse counseling. Membership for college students often comes at a reduced cost or no cost.
National Organization for Human Services
NOHS boasts a national organization and four regional organizations. Students join for $35 and receive benefits including an annual peer-reviewed journal, access to a members-only forum, national conference discounts, and eligibility to apply for scholarships or grants.
American Public Human Services Association
APHSA, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing local and state professionals in health and human services, offers memberships to individuals, including students, at no cost. Member receive access to a bi-monthly magazine, best practices guides, and online webinars.
National Association of Social Workers
NASW is the largest membership organization for social workers in the world, and dedicates itself to professional growth and development through benefits including chapter meetings, legal resources, continuing education opportunities, and a peer-reviewed journal. Students join for $57.