When you’re eager to make a difference in the world, launching your career in community and social services through one of the fastest associates degree programs available seems like a great option. However, the more you think about your career plan, the more you begin to wonder what you can actually do with an associate’s degree. Many positions in human services require at least a bachelor’s degree, and for some, you need a master’s degree. Here’s a breakdown of just how much an associate’s degree in human services will help you in pursuing some of the most common jobs in the community and social services occupation, including human service assistant, social service specialist, community health worker, social worker and social service manager.
Social and Human Service Assistant
Social and human service assistant is an entry-level role in the field, making it the most accessible career path with an associate’s degree. You are likely to be able to find a job as a human and social service assistant with your associate’s degree. According to O*NET, 22 percent of the profession has less education, reporting only a high school diploma. However, for the best social and human service assistant roles, you will face competition from more highly educated job candidates, since 27 percent of the profession reports having a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education and another 18 percent have a master’s degree.
The job titles that fall under social and human service assistant are plentiful and diverse. You might end up in a role as a human service worker, mental health technician, social work assistant, case work aide, family service assistant or addictions counselor assistant. Each job role confers somewhat different objectives and responsibilities.
Just as varied are your potential work environments. Social and human service assistants can find work in private and government offices, hospitals, physical and mental health clinics, shelters and group homes, as well as in home-based programs, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of the more than 413,700 Americans working in social and human service assistant roles, 29 percent work in the individual and family services industry. Other top employing industries include nursing and residential care facilities, community and vocational rehabilitation services and state and local government entities.
With a much faster than average rate of job growth expected – 13 percent compared to the 5 percent expected across all occupations – this occupation should see opportunities rise by 52,200 over the course of a decade, the BLS reported.
Community and Social Service Specialist
What exactly differentiates human and social service assistants from human and social service specialists? There’s a lot of overlap, but specialist roles are primarily higher-level positions than assistant roles. Although some common job titles can fit under both categories – such as caseworker, community coordinator, advocate and outreach specialist – these roles may include more substantive work in the social services field than an assistant is trusted to provide.
As you might expect, specialist roles in community and social service also pay considerably more than assistant jobs. While the median wage for a social and human service assistant is $33,750, community and social service specialists see a median salary of $46,050, according to the BLS. Although you might not call either job lucrative, this is a considerable pay difference of more than 35 percent.
If you’re wondering why someone would earn a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree to work in an assistant-level role, it’s likely because these candidates are the ones with job duties and pay rates that generally fit into the specialist category. With each level of advanced degree – bachelor’s compared to associate’s and master’s compared to bachelor’s – your income potential increases significantly, according to the BLS. The extent of the services you are able to provide, and the impact you make on the lives of clients and patients, expands simultaneously.
The BLS acknowledges unspecified community and social service specialist roles as employing 98,170 workers in the United States.
Community Health Worker
Public health is paramount, and not only during times of dramatic global pandemic. Healthcare educators and community health workers make their communities healthier through sharing health information or providing a critical link between communities, especially underserved communities, and the healthcare system.
An associate’s degree in human services may help you prepare for either of these roles, but it may only be the first step into the profession. Generally, you can become a community health worker with only a high school diploma, the BLS reported, but having an associate’s degree can help you qualify for higher-level roles in the field and prepare for valuable voluntary certification.
Becoming a community health educator may take a little more effort in terms of formal education. The BLS lists a bachelor’s degree as the typical education needed to work in this field, with master’s and doctorate degrees sometimes required for high-level roles. However, the majority of health educators – 62 percent – report having only an associate’s degree, according to O*NET.
If you decide to go back to school so you can advance in your career as a community health worker or qualify for a health educator role, your associate’s degree in human services provides a good foundation for bachelor’s degree studies in community health education.
Social worker may be the ultimate helping profession. If you have a calling to become a social worker, you will likely need more than your associate’s degree. Your next educational step, whether you take it immediately after completing your two-year degree or after you gain a few years of experience as a social work assistant, should be to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work degree. A bachelor’s degree is the level of education typically required for most direct service roles in social work, according to the BLS. Among child, family and school social workers – which account for nearly half of the massive social work occupation of more than 700,000 workers in America – 69 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 26 percent have a master’s degree, according to O*NET. Just 6 percent of this profession reported having only an associate’s degree.
When is a master’s degree necessary for social workers? When you want to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or LCSW, graduate school is mandatory. With a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree, you can become qualified to diagnose and treat mental and behavioral health disorders, much like a counselor or therapist. The difference is that, as a social worker, you approach therapeutic intervention from the perspective of how the social environment contributes to individuals’ wellbeing and function.
To become licensed as a clinical social worker, you also need two years of clinical practice experience after earning your MSW degree, the BLS reported.
Social or Community Service Manager
The most senior types of positions in the field of human services are social or community service manager roles. These roles include supervisory duties and top-level responsibilities in managing programs and organizations. You don’t necessarily need a master’s degree to become a social or community service manager, since the BLS reported a bachelor’s degree as the minimum education required for this role. Half of social and community service managers get by with only a bachelor’s degree, according to O*NET.
However, almost one in four of these professionals report having a master’s degree. A graduate degree may be particularly valuable if you aspire to someday move into a role as social and community service director, the highest-level career in this field, which typically requires candidates to have plenty of work experience, the BLS reported. Having a master’s degree can also raise your earning potential. Social and community service managers with a master’s degree report a 30 percent wage premium for having this advanced education, according to the BLS.
Since only 8 percent of social and community service managers have an associate’s degree as their highest level of education, it may not be realistic to expect to move into a management position with only your associate’s degree.