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Is a Human Services Degree Worth It?

If you’re interested in a career that’s focused on helping others, either at the individual or community level, a degree in human services can introduce you to a variety of relevant subjects, such as ethics, public policy and advocacy.
 A graphic of hands cupping a heart next to the image of a man working at a desk writing about how a human services degree is worth it.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

If you're interested in a career helping others, you might want to consider a job in human services. Multidisciplinary in nature, a human services degree combines psychology, sociology, advocacy and public policy to provide the foundation for a career helping others as a guiding force, as a support and as a facilitator.

The National Organization for Human Services (NOHS) describes human services professionals as people who work in a variety of ways to meet human needs by applying an interdisciplinary knowledge base. They do this by helping communities and individuals with prevention strategies, problem mediation and services that improve overall quality of life, according to NOHS.

Danielle Boucher, an academic advisor at SNHU.

Danielle Boucher knows a few things about the field of human services. She started her career working for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services in the Child Protection & Juvenile Justice Division. She liked that the role combined aspects of criminal justice, psychology and the ability to help others.

Boucher applied that love of helping others to earn a master’s degree in human services, which led to her full-time role as an academic advisor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). She has also served as an adjunct instructor for SNHU's human services program since 2016. These roles give her a combined 20 years of experience in the field of human services.

What is a Human Services Degree?

A human services degree is an interdisciplinary degree that includes courses on law and ethics in human service, public policy and advocacy, communication skills for human services professionals and a mix of courses in psychology and sociology. The degree is designed to prepare you for a career in a variety of "helping" professions, according to Boucher.

Find Your Program

What Can You Do With a Human Services Degree?

Some ways you might use a human services degree is to work in child and family services, gerontology or substance abuse. Each of these areas would allow you to help individuals and communities through a mix of applying advocacy, compassion and policy.

A white outline of a hand holding a yellow heart

There is always a need as a society to help individuals and communities, both short and long-term. “We have an obligation to each other to support, (to) demonstrate care (and to) ensure equity,” Boucher said.

Boucher described human services as being about “heart work” at its core. Whether you work directly with clients or logistically behind the scenes, human services allow you to apply your wide-ranging understanding of people to help individuals and the community as a whole, she said.

In terms of specific jobs or career paths available with human services degrees, there are many. In Boucher’s experience, the most common jobs obtained and desired in the field are in the areas of health education, criminal justice and substance abuse management:

  • Health Education Specialists. Working in a healthcare facility, nonprofit organization or perhaps a state or local health department office, this role focuses on community support, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You may work to develop programs to help communities with health concerns, create educational materials about local health issues or create public health campaigns. You may also write grants and oversee grant-funded programs. According to BLS, the median pay for jobs in this area was $62,860 as of 2023.*

  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists. In this field, you may work as a parole or probation officer or in a correctional treatment center, perhaps creating treatment or rehabilitation plans, writing reports and possibly offering substance abuse counseling, according to BLS. The job outlook for this area is steady and has a median salary of $61,800 per year as of 2023, per BLS.*

  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors. People working in this area may provide support and assistance for those dealing with alcoholism or drug addiction, according to BLS. They may help clients manage behavioral issues or provide referrals to other specialized services. You may work in a hospital setting, outpatient center or residential center to work with individuals or groups. BLS reports that job growth in this area is strong, with the median pay as of 2023 was $53,710 per year.*

If you know that you want to make a real difference in your community, a human services degree could be a great place to start.

What Skills Do You Need to be Successful in a Human Services Career?

While there are many skills and personal aptitudes that could lend themselves well to a role in human services, there are five in particular that Boucher feels could be particularly helpful in building a human services career. They are:

  • Attention to Detail. This skill is critical in both observing clients to make assessments, and to articulate your observations ethically and legally.

  • Desire to Make a Difference. In a helping profession such as human services, a sincere desire to help others, make a difference in their lives and advocate for them is as at the heart of what you’ll do.

  • Empathy. While a sense of empathy tends to come naturally to people drawn to human services, it’s not fixed. Empathy can be developed and expressed, Boucher said.

  • Grit. In the context of human services, grit means that you stay focused, determined and passionate even when working through challenges. Having the grit to work through those challenges is essential so you can continue to serve as a support and facilitator to those you’re trying to help.

  • Writing Skills. You’ll write a lot in the human services field. Some courts require very specific documentation, infographics, timeline mapping and summaries. Written communication must not only be compliant, but detailed and organized. “Failure to do so, or having to rewrite something, could (negatively) impact a case or outcome,” Boucher said.

These skills not only round out what you have to offer to those you serve; they create a skill set that can make you an attractive candidate to prospective employers, as well.

Why Pursue a Degree in Human Services?

A blue graphic with an icon of two white outlined hands shakingIf helping others, serving your community and treating others with a sense of empathy are core to who you are, a human services degree could be right for you.

“A human services degree has so much value due to the contributions one can make,” Boucher said. There is a true joy and passion in helping others and your community, and with that service to others comes personal satisfaction as well, she said.

Boucher's personal philosophy is that the field of human services is about "leading with an open mind (and) heart, approaching others with curiosity and (having) a desire to understand." Earning a degree in human services can help lead you on a path to working directly with individuals or supporting those who do with compassion and care.

Discover more about SNHU's human services degree: Find out what courses you'll take, skills you'll learn and how to request information about the program.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.
A former higher education administrator, Dr. Marie Morganelli is a career educator and writer. She has taught and tutored composition, literature, and writing at all levels from middle school through graduate school. With two graduate degrees in English language and literature, her focus — whether teaching or writing — is in helping to raise the voices of others through the power of storytelling. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.