Human Service Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Class Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in human service? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and human service training programs.
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Studying Human Service: Degrees at a Glance

Human service personnel combine their knowledge of human services principles with compassion to deliver crisis intervention, vocational rehabilitation or mental health services. Professionals work in hospitals, social service agencies, schools or treatment programs, to name a few. Employers seek job candidates with experience, certification or specialized education, depending on job responsibilities.

Colleges and universities prepare graduates to enter the field through coursework that emphasizes tolerance, cultural diversity and resource management. The associate's degree program can prepare you for a career in substance abuse, behavioral disorders or general services administration. The bachelor's degree program offers the foundation required to enter the industry's program management sector or pursue a career in direct services.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected strong job growth from 2010-2020. Social and human services associates could expect a 28% increase in jobs ( Social and community services managers could expect a 27% increase.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? People interested in entry-level jobs in a range of human service occupations Individuals who want to work in human services management or program administration positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Social and human service assistant ($29,000)*
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ($39,000)*
- Community outreach specialist ($51,000)**
- Social and community services manager ($59,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full time Four years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits
- Practicum
- Roughly 120 credits
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (August 2012 figures).

Associate's in Human Services

The associate's degree program prepares students to work with children and adults who face mental illness, substance abuse or vocational challenges. The program emphasizes the development of a non-judgmental approach to assisting people from a variety of backgrounds. You may participate in guided internships and some programs require clinical coursework. You will learn to assess client situations, manage case files and plan programs tailored to each individual's circumstances. Some programs require a negative criminal background check before admission.

Pros and Cons


  • Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor positions were projected to grow 27% over the 2010-2020 decade*
  • Some substance abuse positions offered relatively competitive salaries
  • Many programs offer the foundation required to transfer to a bachelor's degree program


  • Many positions in the field pay relatively low salaries; social and human service assistants earned a median annual salary of $29,000**
  • Counseling and rehabilitation opportunities may require a bachelor's degree
  • Advancement to higher-paying positions or those that offer more responsibility usually require higher education

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree program offers the foundation required to manage client crises, establish a self-improvement program and identify the programs best suited for assisted rehabilitation. Programs require roughly 60 credits in subject matter and elective coursework. You learn a range of skills in group dynamics and facilitation, substance abuse treatment and community resources. Following are some common courses offered by the program:

  • Principles and techniques of behavior management
  • Human services introduction
  • Modalities of treatment
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Helping techniques
  • Counseling and interviewing
  • Integrative health

Online Degree Info

The online associate's degree program offers coursework similar to campus-based learning experiences. Courses focus on several topics in the industry, including drugs and crime, juvenile delinquency and rehabilitation strategies, to name a few. You may select from an internship, if available in your state, or a capstone project. Schools design online programs for working professionals and may offer an accelerated learning experience.

Stand Out with This Degree

The BLS revealed that employers experience difficulty hiring human services personnel with the appropriate education and experience in substance abuse and addiction. If you find the idea of helping people with addictions appealing, consider taking courses in alcohol and drug services. If you prefer working in another area, you may inquire about pursuing the Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner (HS-BCP) credential. The Center for Credentialing & Education confers the certification, which validates your education and skills in the provision of assessment and treatment planning, case management and effective interviews.

Bachelor's in Human Services

The bachelor's degree program emphasizes social service program administration or direct care management. Programs also offer courses that develop skills in the resolution of problems faced by specific populations. You can build a curriculum that provides training for assisting the elderly, chemically dependent, families experiencing a crisis or individuals exiting the criminal justice system. The program can prepare you for a career in residential services, youth development or corrections. If you are interested in social work, the Bachelor's in Social Work, or BSW, offers the standard education required for social work positions.

Pros and Cons


  • Positions paid a relatively competitive salary; social and community service managers earned a median salary of $59,000 annually*
  • Some schools offer a generalist approach to human services education, which might lead to a career in programs that address the needs of different populations
  • Some programs provide the foundation required to pursue a master's degree in rehabilitation or counseling


  • Many social services programs rely significantly on government funding, and budgetary cuts in social programs can affect the availability of jobs
  • Some substance abuse and behavioral disorder counseling positions require a master's degree
  • Programs may limit the exposure students have to technology and focus purely on the human services industry

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

Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's degree program takes a practical and theoretical approach to the assessment of human needs. Programs require roughly 120 credits in technology, sciences, family dynamics and grant writing activities. You learn the counseling methodologies, Civil Service regulations and case management strategies that support the effective execution of social services programs. Many programs require a capstone project and you may complete a portfolio or case study during this course. You can expect to take courses in the application of human services, helping skills, crisis intervention, first aid, human services and diversity, non-profit fundraising and counseling theory.

Online Degree Info

Several universities offer an online human services bachelor's degree program. You may find programs offer a specialization, in criminal justice, for example, or emphasize leadership. Schools design programs to provide coursework similar to traditional classes and require roughly 120 credits in human behavior, human services skills and cultural diversity courses. You may find some programs that offer an internship component, which you can coordinate in your area.

Stand Out with This Degree

Experience and an education tailored to meet the demands of a specific population may lead to the best job prospects. Some employers prefer candidates who possess a bachelor's degree to have related experience for program administration roles. Following are a few steps you can take to stand out:

  • Take courses in fundraising or grant writing, program management and policy analysis. Understanding the needs of a specific population and translating government policy into a working program can improve your marketability.
  • Participate in internships that reflect your focus area. Working with the chemically dependent represents a different challenge than working with people released from the criminal justice system. Employers may prefer candidates with experience specific to the population they serve.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • Bachelor of Social Work
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  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics

What is your highest level of education?

Bryant & Stratton College

  • BS Human & Social Services

What is your high school graduation status?

Purdue Global

  • Bachelor of Science in Human Services

Which subject are you interested in?

University of Maryland Global Campus