Gerontology Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with a PhD or master's degree in gerontology? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and gerontology degrees.
View available schools

Study Gerontology: Degrees at a Glance

Gerontologists are research, healthcare and social services professionals who specialize in the study of aging and serve the elderly in many capacities. A gerontologist may conduct research or develop best-practice healthcare policies to benefit the elderly, counsel seniors as a social worker, or run an assisted living facility or advocacy organization. The job outlook for gerontologists varies by specialization, but hiring is expected to be brisk and employment secure due to the retiring baby boomer generation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of nursing home managers, for example, is projected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 22% from 2010-2020. Students planning for high-level management or teaching positions may benefit from an advanced gerontology degree. Those seeking to serve the elderly in a financial, medical or legal capacity may combine a gerontology degree with an MBA, law or nursing degree.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Those whose careers require a thorough knowledge of aging and the elderly People who want to work in academia or government as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Social worker in gerontology ($40,000)*
- Government affairs representative ($81,000)**
- Nursing home administrator ($91,000)**
- University professor ($68,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 6-8 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's exams
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 4-6 more graduate level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation prospectus (proposal)
- Dissertation
- Teaching requirement
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in gerontology or related field Bachelor's or master's degree in gerontology or related field
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Source: *Payscale.com (May 2012 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Gerontology

A traditional Master of Science in Gerontology is a multi-disciplinary degree and examines the physical, psychological and sociological aspects of aging as its core subjects. Such programs provide students with a choice of electives in several possible areas, such as administration or counseling. Some students earn a gerontology master's degree as part of a dual degree combined with another field of study, such as business administration or nursing. Students need to be prepared to take courses that cover a wide variety of subject matter and prepared to deal with individuals who are battling age-related disorders.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree in gerontology equips the holder to make a positive contribution to society by serving and advocating for seniors
  • A master's degree in gerontology prepares individuals for executive positions*
  • Job prospects are projected to be good in the coming years, and employees in this sector may enjoy greater-than-average job security, due to the expected needs of aging baby boomers*

Cons

  • Those who work directly with seniors must have the temperament to deal with potentially depressing realities with patience and compassion
  • A master's degree program is demanding in terms of time and money
  • Graduate-level coursework is difficult, and gerontology coursework demands a grasp of diverse subjects such as physiology, psychology, research methodologies and counseling.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

A master's degree can take up to two years to complete and requires students to take rigorous coursework, pass subsequent exams and research and write an original master's thesis. Students are usually required to have a bachelor's degree to apply and must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA to stay in a master's program. Gerontology examines aging from many different angles, ranging from issues confronted by seniors individually to those they experience as a group in society. Core courses often include subjects such as:

  • Research methods
  • Physiology of aging
  • Geriatric psychology
  • Service delivery issues
  • Government policy issues

Depending on the focus of the individual program, students may also elect to study eldercare marketing or management, administration of senior housing facilities, gerontological counseling or end-of-life care.

Online Degree Options

Accredited master's degrees in gerontology are readily available, either completely or partially online. The requirements for online programs are generally the same as those offered in on-site programs, with the main difference being that students watch lectures, submit work and participate in discussions through the Internet rather than in a classroom setting. Many online master's degrees are designed for working professionals who want the degree to qualify for career advancement.

Stand Out With This Degree

Students who have already chosen an area of concentration might do well to enter a master's program designed to help them get jobs in that specific sector, such as senior housing administration, senior counseling or elder care marketing. Another practical alternative is to earn a dual degree combining gerontology with another, primary degree, such as law, business or nursing.

Most career choices will make use of computer technology, so some level of computer proficiency will also help a job candidate stand out in a crowded field of applicants. Joining a professional organization, such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, may also be beneficial.

PhD Degree in Gerontology

PhD-level gerontology coursework is interdisciplinary, drawing from the social sciences, medicine, psychology and theory, and students must be able to synthesize in-depth information from these diverse disciplines. A PhD program often includes 4-6 advanced core and elective courses, as well as courses teaching the methodologies students will need to research and write an original doctoral dissertation. Doctoral students are expected to be able to work both independently and with a faculty advisor. The dissertation they produce must contribute something new and original to scientific knowledge in the field of gerontology.

A PhD in Gerontology is required to teach this subject at the college level. It may also be useful for students who plan a government or research career, and may be helpful to those who wish to work as independent consultants or start senior-focused businesses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD identifies the holder as an expert in gerontology and may result in a well-paying government or research position
  • A PhD may be parlayed into lucrative corporate consulting work, either part- or full-time
  • Stipends and tuition waivers are available to help with costs

Cons

  • PhD coursework is complex and difficult, and the program takes a long time to complete
  • Employers, especially corporate employers, may prefer hands-on job experience to an advanced degree
  • Holders of PhD-level jobs tend to have less direct contact with the elderly

Courses and Requirements

A PhD in Gerontology program usually starts with advanced coursework that builds on the knowledge and competencies acquired in the master's degree program. Programs often include core subjects such as the physiology, psychology and sociology of aging; research methodology; and electives chosen by the student that focus on a certain aspect of gerontology, such as aging and social policy, or the biology/physical changes of aging.

Students must pass rigorous exams at the end of these courses. Passing students then select a topic and embark on research culminating in an original doctoral dissertation. The doctoral student will choose a topic and conduct research with the help of a faculty mentor, but students at this level are expected to work independently.

Online Degree Options

At the time of publication, gerontology PhD programs were not available online, though a few schools offer accredited online PhD programs with a gerontology track or minor. Online PhD in Health Sciences offers many specialty tracks, including gerontology, but requires students to attend some on-site sessions, in addition to online learning. Some programs may require students to attend on-site seminars or conduct on-site research.

Stand Out With This Degree

Doctoral students who are training for jobs in academia or research positions should take every opportunity to publish while in grad school. An understanding of new professional fields will help job applicants present themselves as in touch with current trends in gerontology. Specializing in one of the newer niche subjects, such as gerontechnology/ergonomics, financial gerontology or intergenerational family mediation, may also help job candidates stand out from a crowded field of job applicants. Computer competencies, especially those likely to be used in a college classroom environment, are also valuable. It may also be an advantage to join a professional association, such as The Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • MSPY - Industrial/Organizational Psychology Specialization
      • MS in Educational Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA-Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
      • MS in Psychology: General Psychology
      • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • MS in Psychology: Industrial & Organizational Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Health Psychology
      • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Psychology - General Psychology
      • MA Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • MA Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in General Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Psychology
      • MS in Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
      • MS in Psychology - Child and Developmental Psychology
  • Tallahassee, FL

    Florida State University

  • Tucson, AZ

    University of Arizona

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Psychology
  • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MA-Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
  • M.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Human Factors
  • MS in Psychology: General Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Health Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Rockies

  • Master of Arts in Psychology - General Psychology
  • MA Counseling
  • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Master of Science in General Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS in Psychology
  • MS in Psychology - Industrial Organizational Psychology
  • MS in Psychology - Child and Developmental Psychology

What is your highest level of education?