Study Human Services: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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

The human services field encompasses a number of occupations in mental health, education, substance abuse, social services and corrections. Professionals in the field provide counseling, training and education, guidance and resources to children and adults experiencing environmental, learning or physical challenges. Human services specialists work at public and private schools, government agencies and hospitals. Among the skills required to perform well in the industry, compassion and cultural sensitivity are important, although knowledge of psychology, sociology and business acumen are equally important. Degree programs provide an educational foundation in written and oral communication, crisis management and counseling techniques.

The associate's degree provides a foundation for entry-level support opportunities. The bachelor's degree offers the education required to begin a clinical career or transition into management positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects average (18%) through faster-than-average (25-28%) for multiple careers in the industry (

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level support opportunities in multiple settings People who want to pursue a career in management, social work or probation services
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Childcare worker ($21,000)*
- Social and human services assistant ($31,000)*
- Substance abuse counselor ($41,000)*
- Probation officer or correctional treatment specialist ($52,000)*
- Social worker ($54,000)*
- Social and community services manager ($63,000)*
Time to Completion Two years full time Four years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits in general education, subject matter and business coursework
- Internship
- Roughly 120 credits in general education, subject matter and upper-division courses
- Fieldwork or internship, depending on the career focus
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Limited Yes

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

Associate's in Human Services

The associate's degree program places emphasis on best practices, therapeutic services and the development of positive attitudes in supporting individuals experiencing a range of challenges. You learn to match client needs with suitable resources, manage caseloads through report creation and apply mathematics to statistical information, budgets and reports. Programs offer a strong foundation in human psychology, sociology and the human services system. The curriculum also addresses ethical and state-level standards and some programs offer specialization in child, elderly or substance abuse topics.

Pros and Cons


  • Faster-than-average job growth was expected for social and human services assistants (28%) and substance abuse counselors (27%) from 2010-2020*
  • Many programs offer an area of emphasis, which can increase your marketability
  • Competition against high school graduates for some positions may make you more competitive


  • Comparatively low entry-level salaries and heavy workloads for several positions cause many people to leave the profession
  • Advancement usually requires a bachelor's degree in human services or a related discipline
  • You may compete with graduates of a bachelor's degree program for some career opportunities

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

Courses and Requirements

Associate's degrees offer basic training in the identification of resources and the execution of standards designed to help people live productive lives. Programs offer a number of science-based coursework so students develop an understanding of how society affects individual decisions and how abnormal psychology contributes to specific behaviors. The program requires roughly 60 credits in general education, subject matter and elective coursework. You learn how to apply psychological, sociological and environmental assessments to the process of locating appropriate resources to resolve crises and promote self-sufficiency. Some programs require an internship or field experience.

Following are common courses offered by the program:

  • Sociology of relationships
  • Child psychology
  • Human services management and administration
  • Crisis intervention
  • Case management
  • Resolving conflict
  • Interviewing techniques

Online Degree Options

The Council for Standards in Human Service Education accredits a number of human services programs. You can find online programs that hold an institutional accreditation, although locating online degrees with the human service accreditation may prove slightly more difficult. Online programs offer coursework similar to traditional classes and are designed for working professionals seeking advancement or a career change.

Stand out With This Degree

Employers experience a difficult time locating employees with substance abuse and addiction expertise. Some schools offer substance abuse certificate programs that work in conjunction with an associate's degree. While the certificate program may cost more, the BLS reported that substance abuse counselors earned $10,000 more per year than social and human services assistants did in May 2011. Following are a few more steps you can take to stand out:

  • Participate in field experiences or internships to build your hands-on experience.
  • Choose a specialization to build your expertise. In addition to substance abuse, you can work with the elderly, mentally ill or in vocational rehabilitation.

Degree Alternatives

The BLS reported that advancement with an associate's degree usually requires that candidates pursue a bachelor's degree. The bachelor's degree takes more time and more money, although careers requiring higher education generally paid a higher salary. For example, the bachelor's degree can prepare you for a career in social and community services management, which paid a mean wage of $63,000 in May 2011. In addition, the bachelor's degree program provides the foundation required to pursue some certifications, which can also boost your earning potential.

Bachelor's in Human Services

The bachelor's degree program develops the foundation to work in service administration or direct care through coursework in liberal arts, management and a focus on specific populations. You learn about the funding sources that support social service programs, how technology benefits clients, the importance of Civil Service regulations and how to improve a program based on statistical observation. Programs offer a broad range of courses in human service practice, communication, technology and mathematics. Some programs prepare graduates for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid certification.

Higher education also offers the option to pursue a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). The BSW program prepares you for entry-level social work opportunities through professional courses and fieldwork requirements. Programs prepare you to apply the principles of social work and human behavior to the assistance of people from diverse backgrounds that face multiple challenges.

Pros and Cons


  • Some salaries are relatively competitive (for example, social workers earned a mean annual wage of $54,000)*
  • The BLS projects strong job growth for social workers (25%) and social and community services managers (27%) from 2010-2020**
  • The degree offers a strong liberal arts and science-based education that you can transfer to several job opportunities


  • Programs dependent on government funding may experience hiring fluctuations when state and federal agencies cut program spending
  • Access to high-technology courses is usually unavailable, and seeking additional computer skills, which offers an asset in the industry, costs more and takes more time
  • The heavy workload and stress levels for some opportunities, including probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, are not for everyone

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

Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's degree program provides training in the assessment and intervention of environmental and physical challenges and the evaluation of a program's overall effect on the population. Consequently, you learn to assess individual needs in a case management or administration capacity. Programs usually require 120 credits in general education, subject matter, upper-division and elective courses. Schools place emphasis on the development of written communication skills that support the design of case studies and proposals and grants to meet program requirements. You take courses in information technology, psychology, cultural sensitivity, human behavior, ethics and counseling techniques.

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs exist and schools may offer them through a 100% online curriculum. You may find programs offer additional areas of specialization, such as public health or politics. Programs offer a well-rounded education similar to those offered through campus-based coursework. Some schools design programs in an accelerated format to meet the needs of people seeking career advancement.

Stand out With This Degree

Experience plays an important role in securing some industry positions. Taking advantage of internships and field experiences throughout your studies will build your hands-on experience. In addition, identifying and joining the appropriate associations can boost your ability to locate employment opportunities and demonstrates to employers that you take the profession seriously. Funding for human services programs typically comes from the federal or state governments. If funding sources cut spending, you may experience difficulty locating suitable work; consequently, supplementing your studies with electives in general business topics, including finance or operations, can make other job opportunities available.

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