As you explore career and educational options, you might find yourself wondering what the field of human services entails. Often related to social services and community services, these jobs frequently, though not always, revolve around helping people. Human services roles are excellent choices for people who are good at communicating and building relationships and have the patience, compassion and empathy to relate to and encourage others. Depending on your level of education in human services, you might attain a role such as social service assistant, case worker, social worker or licensed counselor or clinical social worker.
Understanding the Field of Human Services
When you first hear the term “human services,” it might sound strange. Despite having some similarity in title, it’s not quite like the business field of human resources. Instead, it refers to the service-oriented roles of helping people. In a broad definition of the term, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes community and social service occupations, along with personal care services like the fitness training occupation, as part of this field. More commonly, though, work in human services refers to jobs like social work assistant, mental health assistant and counselor, which share the common theme of helping people in need.
While some colleges and universities offer degrees specifically in human services, others award degrees in more specific programs of study through a human services school or department.
Human Services Roles With an Associate’s Degree
An associate’s degree from a community college is the quickest type of human services degree you can earn. Typically requiring just two years of study, the coursework in an associate’s degree in human services program includes studies in case management strategies, crisis management and intervention, awareness of diversity and the skills to build and manage relationships through effective communication.
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An associate’s degree program in this field can prepare you for any number of assistant, aide and paraprofessional roles in human services. You might work as a community and social services specialist or a community outreach worker. Some associate’s programs in human services may even qualify you for entry-level roles in substance abuse or mental health counseling, but these roles may be very limited and depend on your state’s regulations as well as employer policies.
Although jobs for social and human service assistants are growing at a much faster than average rate, they don’t pay particularly well. The BLS reported a median wage of just $33,750 for this occupation, which doesn’t always require a college education at all.
Jobs With a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services
At the bachelor’s degree level, your career options in human services will be more plentiful and promising. Bachelor’s degree programs in human services often include studies in psychology, specifically abnormal psychology or psychopathology, and sociology, especially as it pertains to social problems. Coursework in the research methods used in social science is also important. Often students leave these undergraduate programs with a solid understanding of the organizational systems used in human services, the laws and ethics that related to the field and the history and current state of public policy and advocacy.
You can work in several different capacities with a bachelor’s degree in human services, including in positions like medical and health services manager, nursing home administrator, correctional treatment specialist and social and community service manager, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Human service roles are somewhat different than social work roles. Generally, social service professionals are part of the administrative field, developing and carrying out programs, while social workers are more likely to have direct client interaction. Graduates of human service bachelor’s degree programs who decide that they want to move into the social work setting can use their bachelor’s degree as a foundation for pursuing a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.
Leadership positions in human services are the highest-paid, but they tend to require years of experience to attain.
Graduate Studies in Human Services and Related Fields
At the graduate level, coursework tends to be specialized as well as advanced. By the time you are considering a master’s degree in a human services field, you should have a more focused idea of what you want to do with your education. This plan will guide you in choosing the right program for you. For example, if you decide to enter into the counseling or clinical social work fields within human services, you will want to take coursework in those specific fields. Otherwise, your master’s degree won’t qualify you for licensure in your intended career. Master’s degrees in human services prepare students – usually, those who already have some work experience in the human and social services field – for high-level administrative and leadership roles. Whether you choose a program in human services specifically or in a related field such as social work or counseling, you should expect to devote a great deal of your graduate school career to supervised fieldwork.
Social and community service managers are some of the highest-paying roles in the human service field. The BLS reported a median wage of $65,320 for this management occupation.