Earning an Online Gerontology Bachelor's Degree

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The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a steep increase in the population aged 65 and over, which is projected to reach 83.7 million by 2050. As our society ages, professionals with specialized gerontological training enjoy more employment opportunities in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, clinics, and social service agencies.

An online bachelor’s degree in gerontology offers fulfilling career possibilities for students who possess a genuine concern and commitment to the physical, psychological, and social challenges that older people face. This guide provides information about the field of gerontology, accredited online programs, graduation requirements, financial aid, and career and salary potential.

Overview of Gerontology Degrees

Gerontology incorporates multidisciplinary perspectives from biology, sociology, and psychology for the scientific study of and the problems of aging. An online bachelor’s in gerontology offers an appealing educational option for practitioners already working in healthcare and related fields or those caring for an aging family member.

Gerontology programs also attract traditional college-age students with an interest in social services, who maintain and promote the wellbeing of the elderly, and their quality of life. An online gerontology degree delivers the same curriculum as campus-based programs, while offering the flexibility needed by students who must work or manage personal commitments while attending school. Some distance learning and hybrid programs may require occasional travel to campus for face-to-face classes or a period of residency to complete a supervised practicum or internship.

The career outlook for gerontology degree holders has never been more promising. Between 2016 and 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% expansion of entry-level positions in social and human services, and an 18% increase for social and community service managers. As the U.S. population ages, gerontology specialists may find promising career paths in other sectors that require expertise and understanding of this demographic group, including education, marketing, and policy and advocacy work.

Application Process

Applying for college takes time and planning. While some schools offering online programs have rolling admissions, many colleges and universities set application deadlines at least six months prior to your intended start date. Most institutions require a minimum GPA of 2.5-3.0 for admission. Some programs may also ask for SAT or ACT scores. Still, several online programs may not require standardized tests scores or a minimum GPA, instead prioritizing factors like overall academic performance, work experience, and community service.

Almost all schools require official, sealed transcripts from an applicants' previous high schools and colleges. Many institutions ask for three or more letters of recommendation from teachers or supervisors who know the applicant well and can speak directly about their readiness for college-level work. They may also ask for a personal essay detailing your interest in gerontology and describing your career goals. Colleges charge an average application fee of $40, but students demonstrating financial hardships may request a fee waiver.

What Will I Learn?

An online gerontology degree requires approximately 120 credits, depending on each school's program requirements. Most bachelor’s programs allocate 50-60 credits for general education, liberal arts, and science core courses; 30-35 credits for foundations and required classes in the major; and the remaining are credits for electives. Many programs require four years of full-time enrollment, though some accelerated online programs may take 18 months to two years to complete.

Most undergraduate programs explore biological, social, and cultural perspectives on aging, with courses on lifespan development, healthcare and medical issues, social services, and public policy. The list below describes courses offered in a typical gerontology bachelor’s program. Some programs offer concentrations that allow students to specialize in subfields within the gerontology major, providing the opportunity to explore research and career interests. Common gerontology concentrations include community health and social services for the aging; law, public policy, and healthcare advocacy; and long-term care and nursing home administration.

Introduction to Gerontology

This foundational course frames gerontology as a multidisciplinary field of study, combining theory, research findings, and policy analysis. Using a life course approach applicable to a variety of professional paths, students examine gerontological theories, social issues unique to the aging population, demographic trends, healthcare delivery, and social and public policy. They also explore cultural and global differences in aging, along with death and bereavement.

Adult Development and Aging

Students learn about the physical, social, and emotional changes that happen over the course of the human lifespan. Particularly suited for students entering counseling and social service careers, this course outlines developmental changes and stability in early, middle, and later adulthood. Students also examine how culture and community impact development.

Research Methods in Gerontology

This course explores the applications of social scientific research methods to the study of aging. Course content includes quantitative and qualitative methods, data collection, measurement, data analysis, and interpretation of findings. The course emphasizes methodologies used by social service administrators, program directors, and policy analysts, including descriptive methods, program evaluations, and needs assessment.

Long-Term Care Administration and Policy Analysis

Students in this course learn how agencies, entitlement programs, and the healthcare industry serve the aging population, preparing them for administrative roles in the public and private sectors. Students examine the social, political, and economic forces that influence the delivery of institutional and community-based, long-term care for older adults. They also explore various models of policy analysis.

Aging and Diversity

This course presents a multicultural paradigm for the study of the aging U.S. population, examining demographic shifts, cohort variations, life expectancy differences, health differentials, and psychological attitudes and social perceptions about aging held by various ethnic and racial groups. The course also emphasizes the importance of cultural competency for gerontology professionals in social services and healthcare.

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation

Healthcare and social and community service professionals must recognize evidence of elder abuse and neglect, and know how to implement protocols for dealing with these cases. This course outlines the signs and symptoms of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation; reporting requirements; and how practitioners work with Adult Protective Services and other legal, medical, and community agencies.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Gerontology?

The demand for skilled, competent professionals to serve the needs of the elderly population continues to rise as the nation ages and life expectancy increases. An online bachelor’s in gerontology equips graduates with the specialized knowledge and understanding they need to work with aging populations in the healthcare and social services industries, among others. This section describes the training received in an online gerontology degree and provides information about career possibilities and salary potential.

Core Skills

Each undergraduate gerontology curriculum offers a unique program with its own set of core requirements and electives or concentrations. Still, the best programs provide their students with the knowledge and skills they need to care for aging populations. This degree combines coursework about the physical, mental, and emotional changes experienced by individuals as they age, with practical training in healthcare administration, social and community services, and policy analysis.

The best gerontology programs instill in their graduates with the appropriate attitudes and understanding for working with elderly clients. They help students identify ageism and stereotypes about older people that can affect the quality of care and services. Their courses recognize diversity among the aging population, with respect to personalities, cultural and racial backgrounds, functionality levels, and health needs. Gerontology graduates entering the workplace in healthcare, social work, and community services settings must both advocate and practice. They should have knowledge about the availability, accessibility, and affordability of services. They should also evaluate and assess how well programs serve the needs of elderly clients. These professionals should identify weaknesses and work with other professionals, healthcare providers, social workers, and policy makers to improve services.

Potential Careers & Salaries

As the baby boomer generation ages, its need for healthcare, social assistance, and support services creates an expansion of gerontology-related careers, especially those requiring postsecondary education and advanced credentials. For example, a BLS report projects increased demand in healthcare and social and community services careers, estimating jobs to grow by more than a third through 2024.

The increasing demand for healthcare has spurred a 16% job growth rate for healthcare practitioners and technical occupations, and a 23% growth rate for healthcare support positions. Other occupational groups serving the needs of aging populations should also experience rapid growth rates. Personal care and service occupations, including personal care aides and home healthcare workers, are projected to grow by 19% through the next decade. The trend among older Americans to maintain healthy lifestyles has also created increased demand for personal trainers, fitness instructors, and recreational therapists.

Browse Bachelor’s in Gerontology Careers

Health educators teach individuals and groups how to maintain wellness. Community health workers collect and share information about health concerns with members of specific communities, such as aging populations. Many positions in community health and health education require a postsecondary degree.

Annual Median Salary

$45,360 per year

Social and community service managers administer programs for social service providers. They often focus on a specific demographic group, such as older adults. Employment requires at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, public health, or a related field of study, such as gerontology.

Annual Median Salary

$64,100 per year

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Gerontology?

Students pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in gerontology invest a significant amount of time and money into their education, so it's important to know their investment will pay off. No degree can guarantee a job, but graduates with their bachelor’s in gerontology can find employment in many settings, including healthcare, social work, administration, and direct personal care. They provide a wide range of services, including assisting healthcare professionals with treatment; providing therapy or recreational activities; and offering housing, financial, and insurance assistance.

Educational and training requirements depend on your chosen field of practice, but a bachelor’s degree generally prepares graduates for entry-level and mid-level careers, including leadership and supervisory positions. Specialized roles, especially those in clinical social work and related fields, may require graduate training, but bachelor's degree holders still qualify for many career paths and advancement opportunities.

Accreditation for Gerontology Bachelor's Programs

Before selecting a bachelor’s program, make sure you understand what accreditation means. Most schools receive either national or regional accreditation from independent accrediting agencies, which attest to their academic standards. Most four-year, degree-granting institutions hold regional accreditation, while technical, vocational, and for-profit schools usually receive national accreditation. Accreditation status impacts how financial aid agencies, graduate schools, and employers view programs.

In addition to regional or national accreditation, some programs seek out specialized accreditation. The Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council (AGEC) awards the only programmatic accreditation for gerontology. While recognized as a prestigious credential, very few gerontology bachelor’s programs have received AGEC designation. The absence of this programmatic accreditation should not hold you back from considering an undergraduate program, as long as the college or university has been accredited by another independent accrediting bodies, such as the Higher Learning Commission, recognized by the U.S Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Gerontology Professional Organizations

Professional associations in gerontology offer undergraduate and graduate students useful benefits in the form of professional contacts, mentoring and career support, and scholarship and internship opportunities. This list describes a few of the best-known professional organizations in the gerontology field. Most of these organizations offer discounted student memberships; access to networking events, conferences and workshops; continuing education; job boards; and other career resources that provide a competitive advantage to students preparing to enter the workplace.

Gerontological Society of America

The oldest and largest organization devoted to education, research, and practice in the field of aging, GSA represents over 5,500 members. It publishes two online journals, organizes congressional briefings, hosts webinars and professional development workshops, and sponsors an annual conference.

American Society on Aging

ASA strives to enhance the knowledge and skills of those who seek to improve the quality of life of older adults and their families. Its members include practitioners, educators, policymakers, and students. ASA offers online webinars, continuing education, and a leadership awards program.

National Association for Professional Gerontologists

NAPG offers credentialing to promote academic quality and best practices among professionals. It sponsors continuing education opportunities for specialists in aging, and provides consulting services in the public and private sectors. Students receive a two-year discounted membership, granting them access to networking events, conferences, and courses.

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