Social Services Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in social services? Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your associate's or bachelor's degree in social services.
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Studying Social Services: Degrees at a Glance

As a student in a social services degree program, you prepare for a career in helping those in need. You may study human behavior, psychology, sociology and philosophy. Additionally, common problems that people face, such as addiction, domestic abuse and mental illness are commonly covered.

You may qualify for a variety of careers with a degree in this field; some of the most common are social service assistant (associate's degree) and social worker (bachelor's degree). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that employment for social service assistants should increase 28% during 2010-2020, and employment for social workers should increase 25%; both projections are considered faster-than-average.

Here's a side by side comparison of these degrees:

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in pursuing an entry-level position or those seeking entry to a bachelor's degree program Associate's degree holders wishing to advance their education or careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean salary) - Social and human service assistants ($31,000)*- Social worker ($54,000)
- Social and community service manager ($63,000)*
- Correctional treatment specialists ($52,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 2 years full-time after completing an associate's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60-66 credits of coursework - Approximately 120 credits of coursework
- Field experience
- Senior project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED Associate's degree or a minimum amount of college credit
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Social Services

Several associate's degree programs are available in this field, although you may find them under similar titles, such as human services or social work. Depending on the school, you may find degrees awarded as an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science, which are designed to transfer to a bachelor's program. You may also find Associate of Applied Science degrees, which prepare you to immediately enter the workforce.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You may qualify for some entry-level positions after graduation
  • Degree program prepares you for a bachelor's program in the field
  • Some schools offer flexible scheduling options, including online, night and weekend courses

Cons

  • Advanced positions typically require a bachelor's degree
  • There is a high rate of turn-over among social and human services assistants due to low pay and high workload
  • May compete for entry-level positions with individuals who have less education, but more experience

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Most associate's degree programs require students to possess a high school diploma or GED as a requirement for admission. You can expect to earn about 60-66 credits and take coursework grounded in sociology, psychology and biology. Common core classes may include:

  • Anthropology
  • Human development
  • Social problems
  • Social welfare services

Some programs may require you to complete a fieldwork practicum in a clinical setting. If a clinical component is included, you may need to satisfy certain prerequisites, such as completing specific classes, maintaining a certain GPA and clearing a criminal background check.

Online Degree Options

Online programs leading to an associate's degree in social services do exist, but aren't common. They're normally offered entirely online, although some programs may require you to take exams on campus or at another proctored location. While the curriculum is similar to an on-campus program, you may be able to complete courses at your own pace. Capstone projects are sometimes required, and you usually communicate with instructors via email. If you plan on transferring to a bachelor's program, you may want to discuss your proposed curriculum with an advisor to ensure classes will transfer.

Stand Out with this Degree

According to the BLS, social services for the booming elderly population, families and individuals with substance abuse problems are expected to be the most in demand. Tailoring your curriculum to specialize in one of these areas can set you apart from other candidates.

Another way you can stand out among competitors is to join honor societies, such as the Tau Upsilon Alpha, which is affiliated with the National Organization for Human Services. You can check if your school has a chapter and participate in various events that promote community service.

Bachelor's Degrees in Social Services

In a social services bachelor's degree program, you delve deeper into topics related to sociology, psychology and human development while broadening your knowledge about the most crucial issues facing the field. Eligibility for this program may require you to have either an associate's degree or a specific number of credits; typically, coursework must be relevant to the social services field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A bachelor's degree may qualify you for more career opportunities in the social services field
  • You can prepare for graduate school in a social services bachelor's degree program
  • Professional experience is obtained through internship opportunities or fieldwork requirements

Cons

  • An associate's degree or specific amount of college credit may be required for admission
  • Some positions, such as counselor or clinical social worker, may require a master's degree
  • Most programs have a limited amount of spaces available or require a minimum number of students to start a class.

Courses and Requirements

Your core classes teach you to work with people dealing with a multitude of problems and the methods for aiding them. Common classes may include:

  • Counseling theory and techniques
  • Social stratification
  • Human growth and development
  • Abnormal psychology

In addition to completing the requirements for your major, some schools may encourage you to complete a minor in a complementary field, such as women's studies. Most programs also include a field work component where you obtain practical training in a social services agency.

Online Degree Options

Very few online programs exist for this degree program. Those that do exist are typically hybrid, and you can expect to complete some courses online and on campus. Fieldwork is also normally required in these programs.

Stand Out with this Degree

While earning your degree, look for clubs or other student organizations where you can get involved serving the community. Clubs that focus on a related field of social services, such as psychology, may also be worthwhile. Student clubs also give you opportunities to gain leadership skills by organizing events or attaining an officer position.

You can also consider becoming a student member of the National Association of Social Workers. Student members receive access to various resources, including scholarship opportunities and scholarly publications containing the latest research. You can also attend networking events and conferences.

Social services workers usually use computers and other technology on a daily basis in order to keep track of cases. Mastering database management and industry-specific software programs can make you a more desirable candidate to employers.

Popular Schools

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Excelsior College

  • AS in Science in Liberal Arts (Human Services)
  • AS in Arts in Liberal Arts
  • AS in Science in Liberal Arts

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