What Can You Do with a Human Services Degree?

Woman showing what can you do with a human services degree in the community

With a human services degree, you can work in a variety of industries, including government, nonprofit and community organizations.

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When you think about the principles that are most important to you, do they factor into choosing your career path? If your career goals include making an impact on a personal level by working for departments and organizations whose purpose it is to help facilitate change and improve lives, a degree in human services is a great match for your education and career. Because of the versatility of the degree, whether you are content with a bachelor's or plan to continue your education by working toward a master's in social work or another related field, a bachelor's in human services provides you with the knowledge and skills you need to begin your career - and build a successful one.

What Is Human Services?

Caring for the Community

From the social worker running an anti-bullying campaign for an after-school program to the caregiver at an adult daycare, human services are just that - providing services that the people of the community need. Built on a foundation of ethics and an understanding of cultural and economic diversity, those in the human services field strive to help people with varied backgrounds find the services and programs that they need to better their situations, whether they are advocating for children, giving care to the elderly, or assisting in rehabilitation treatment.

Considering a Human Services Degree

An extensive amount of thought goes into choosing a degree path that is right for you. If you're drawn to working closely with your community and the people that make up your neighborhood, a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services is a path worth your consideration. Gaining some insight into what human services are and the possible employment options upon completion of your degree can help you determine if human services are the right field for you.

Even if you know the human services sector is where you want to focus your energy; you may have personal considerations that you need to take into account when beginning a degree program. Whether you're weighing your future earning potential with the cost of your education regarding both time and finances, or you're concerned about the prospective outlook for job availability in the human services field after you graduate, here are some answers to help you decide what you can do with a human services degree?

Studying Human Services at SNHU

Many students who enter the human services degree program are "helpers," who are invested in making a positive impact on individuals and communities. Those who choose human services as a career are there because they want to be - they want to make people's lives easier, better and safer. Providing care and assistance for those who need it most, human services professionals are out to change the world for the better, one person at a time.

The Bachelor of Arts in Human Services degree is a relatively new program that became available online at Southern New Hampshire University in 2015. As the associate dean of Social Sciences, Dr. Michelle Alvarez was one of the many faculty members who helped bring this degree path to the university. Alvarez said that the core of human services "is the desire to help others navigate avenues for bettering themselves." When describing the people that enter the human services profession, she notes that they are very empathetic to others - a trait reinforced by a curriculum that teaches the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication and promotes cultural understanding. The breadth of courses available to you is both specific in focus and makes up a diverse course load that provides a solid foundation for any career in the human services sector. Faculty members like Alvarez believe the value of this degree program lies in how the values and ethics learned over your course of study can be applied in whatever setting you find yourself.

Students currently enrolled in this degree path are as varied in their backgrounds as the kinds of careers they may enter after completion of their studies and are interested in positions across the spectrum of human services. While some students are beginning their educational journey, others are going through a career shift, moving from higher paying professions to human services because it matches their values. "You do it because you love the field," said Alvarez, adding that students who are making this kind of transition do so because "it's appealing to the passion they have for helping people." The human services students in the program are impassioned about entering a career in which they can make a difference; they work hard to achieve the goals they've set for their education and make the time to succeed.

The BA in Human Services program provides you with courses that produce a well-rounded education, which help facilitate a certain transition into your new career. Before you graduate, you should be able to evaluate programs and services that are already in place and assess what is still needed to benefit the community. You'll learn to identify problems and provide plans of action, as well as be culturally aware and understand the legal and ethical standards within the field.

To help students who want to focus their education on specific career paths, there are two concentrations within the human services degree program that may be a direction in which you would be interested in taking your career:

  • Child and Family Services: An online Bachelor of Arts in Human Services with a concentration in Child and Family Services means that you enter the workforce with an in-depth understanding of the cognitive development of children, how trauma impacts a child and their family, and the laws and ethics surrounding child advocacy. Careers with this focus may include a child welfare advocate, family court liaison, and domestic violence counselors.
  • Gerontology: Added in 2016, the online BA in Human Services with a concentration in Gerontology prepares students for helping those who are in need of aging services and programs. You should be knowledgeable of the aging process, the importance of continued healthcare and the policies that affect seniors. Careers in gerontology include geriatric care manager, mental health aide, and home health administrator.

You may also choose a general human services degree, which allows you to select from courses in either of these concentrations or other relevant areas.

Careers in Human Services

Human services encompass a broad range of careers, and what sector you will serve best in depends on your personal and professional interests and goals. Positions span from working for the government in the justice system to nonprofit organizations working closely with communities to assisting with mental health and wellness facilities.

After you graduate with your bachelor's degree in human services, the kind of careers that you can expect to start out in are entry-level for social advocacy, child welfare, or counseling, with expanding opportunity upon completion of a master's program.

  • Government (Justice System): Positions for human services within the justice system occur on both state and federal levels, and in some cases regional or local. Justice system careers include probation officers, juvenile detention workers, juvenile court liaisons, and caseworkers. These roles are an important part of our justice system, ensuring that cases are handled properly with a high degree of ethics and with hopes that rehabilitation and intervention will prevent future trouble with the law.
  • Community Services: As a community advocate, outreach personnel are liaisons between the government and the people. Human services departments are comprised of an array of organizations that are in need of well-educated human service professionals. The duties of these agencies include helping people find employment and performing eligibility screenings for state and federally funded benefits such as welfare and the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
  • Social Work: Social workers are a diverse group, helping with children and their families in cases of child or domestic abuse, with overcoming adversity, or finding assistance in cases of extreme hardship. Becoming a social work assistant or social services liaison after completing a bachelor's in human services would provide you with field work and experience that would be beneficial if you choose to further your education by pursuing a master's focused in social work.
  • Nonprofit Sector: Nonprofit organizations are an excellent place to look for employment in human services, with compensation that is reasonably comparable with salaries at for-profit companies.

Additionally, you may find yourself in a situation that will afford you the opportunity to experience the duties of other positions, making you a well-rounded and adaptable candidate - highly sought after traits - for future employers. Working in community outreach as a group activities coordinator, a counselor, or as life skills instructor with a nonprofit organization will bring you closer to the heart of why you entered the human services profession.

  • Health Services: There are many ways to work within the healthcare system that doesn't involve becoming a doctor or nurse. A home health aide, group home worker, or gerontology aide all provide a health service, whether it is physical, mental, or emotional. Health is an important aspect of human services with many organizations striving to improve the health and wellness of children, families, the elderly, and entire communities.
  • Mental Health and Wellness: A sector of human services that is consistently growing and expecting an increase in demand is mental health and wellness. If you are interested in helping those living with mental illness, you may find work as a psychological aide, a crisis intervention counselor, or as a behavioral management aide. If your calling is helping those battling with substance abuse or addiction, you may look for employment at a rehabilitation center as a caseworker or as a drug or alcohol addiction counselor. You may also choose to continue your education by earning a master's degree in counseling and becoming a licensed clinical mental health counselor.

Your future career in human services is heavily determined by the direction you want it to take. Because the field is expansive with differing kinds of employment opportunities, you may find that over the course of your program your career path will narrow as you find an area that fits you better than others. Maybe you'll realize that you not only did well in a child welfare course highlighting ethics and law, but you are now very interested in becoming a child advocate. Maybe you would prefer to work in health services and realize during your studies that working in a rehabilitation facility is where you would be doing your best work. The diversity of courses taken by human services degree-seekers imparts on students a strong foundation of ethics, an understanding of the varied disciplines required for the field and their application, and will help you determine what sector of human services for which you are best suited.

Employment Outlook

Human services as a whole have a projected growth of 21% through 2022. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, social workers are expecting a 12% increase in job availability and social and community service managers are expecting a 10% increase through 2024 - both above average growth rates, with a higher median rate of pay for positions within this field in comparison to all other occupations at this level. Social and Community Service Managers had a median annual wage of just over $60,000. Compensation for other positions within this field varies depending on the area in which you are employed and often commensurate with experience and education.

Social change has brought about many new challenges, and one of these is an increase in demand for human service workers across the board. A few of the reasons for the growth in demand are increased life expectancy, mental health advocacy, substance abuse treatment options, and immigration.

An aging population has fostered the need for more retirement communities and senior homes, adult daycare facilities, and caseworkers representing the elderly. Better medical care, higher standards of living, more comprehensive knowledge of healthcare, and cleaner water over the past century has spurred a surge in life expectancy all around the world. With life expectancy increasing, the number of seniors who need care or assistance in finding programs that will help them administratively, financially, and medically has also increased.

Advocacy and public awareness for mental health issues including substance abuse and addiction have created a need for more human services in those areas as well. In acknowledging mental illnesses as conditions that need to be treated, just like we treat physical illnesses, an increase in number and variety of counselors at different levels is changing the way we respond to mental health concerns. Counselors and aides trained specifically for handling grief or showing people how to better manage their stress are being used by government, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations.

Recognizing the correlation between drug or alcohol abuse and crime, increasing rehabilitation efforts within the community and within the criminal justice system aims to reduce the number of repeat offenders, decrease minor offenders in an overpopulated prison system, and fix the problem rather than perpetuate the cycle of crime. Treatment in mental health or rehabilitation facilities instead of prison time when appropriate has the potential to not only assist the individual but also positively affect families and communities.

In our current social climate, the topic of immigration is at the forefront. Immigrants and refugees, including children, need advocates and access to information regarding the services available to them as they settle into a new life. Meeting the needs of immigrants and their families as they begin to build a home in a new country, and in many cases start a path to citizenship, requires the cultural sensitivity and empathy of human services professionals.

The impact of human services is immense and can help create changes in our society that can make a difference in both the short and long term. Human services workers are an essential part of building better communities, and furthering your education can allow you to become a part of this growing field.

Pursuing Your Bachelor of Arts in Human Services

So what can you do with a human services degree? The more you think about what's included in human services, the more you realize how versatile this degree can be. The kind of careers the field encompasses continues to broaden, reaching out into every corner of the community. If you're interested in working in a job that's embedded within the community and looking to help people improve their lives, a bachelor's degree in human services provides a solid basis for any position within the field and an excellent stepping stone for a future master's degree.

Pete Davies is a marketing and communications director in higher education. Follow him on Twitter @daviespete or connect on LinkedIn.

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