By: Counselor-License.com Staff
Last Updated: November 2019
Human services professionals assist individuals with daily challenges and help improve the quality of life within communities. Human services professionals may work with populations such as families, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, and members of marginalized groups. Occupations in this field include social work, counseling and therapy, and community health education.
A human services bachelor's degree introduces students to key concepts related to abnormal psychology, community development, and social services administration. This degree also prepares graduates to earn a master's in human services or a related field, which students need to pursue certain careers in social work and public health.
What is Human Services?
- History of Human Services
In the U.S., the field of human services dates back centuries. However, the field gained new attention in the mid-20th century as academic scholars began to recognize the importance of community-based health and mental health services. The Community Health Act of 1963 provided federal funding for community health centers and research facilities across the country. Prior to 1963, this funding primarily supported institution-based care for the mentally ill.
The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 also played a pivotal role in the history of human services. The act created community-based funding programs for low-income families and established the Head Start program for children in public schools. In 1979, President Carter renamed the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Human Services Today
Though the term human services covers many occupations, all professionals in this field share the common goal of helping individuals, families, and communities overcome challenges. For example, social workers help low-income people secure housing and apply for welfare benefits, while community health workers lead outreach programs that address issues such as HIV prevention, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse.
Counselors also fall under the human services umbrella. These professionals assist clients with behavioral, emotional, and mental health disorders. The nature of their services depends on their specialty and license. For instance, marriage and family therapists meet with couples and their children to discuss household issues, while substance abuse counselors help clients struggling with addiction.
Differences Between a Human Services Program and a General Counseling or Therapy Program
A bachelor's in human services covers topics related to community systems and infrastructures, including social welfare policy, social services administration, sociology, and economics. By contrast, a bachelor's in counseling or therapy primarily focuses on topics related to a therapy or counseling career, including human development, personality theory, and counseling laws and ethics. Both degrees typically include an internship or practicum component.
Many students with a bachelor's degree in human services can immediately enter the workforce because not all prospective jobs in the field require a graduate degree, though some roles require an advanced education. Graduates with a bachelor's in counseling or therapy typically need to pursue a master's program due to state licensure requirements. For example, marriage and family therapists need a master's degree or higher to qualify for the required license in all 50 states.
Human services degree programs and counseling degree programs may share several common courses. For instance, both pathways typically include an introductory course in abnormal psychology, although counseling tracks include additional, more advanced courses on this topic. As far as differences, human services learners typically focus more on the laws and policies that shape community-based support and intervention systems, while counseling and therapy students focus on counseling techniques and research.
The table below lists some common courses in counseling and human services programs.
General Counseling or Therapy Program
- Counseling and psychotherapy theories
- Techniques in counseling
- Ethics in counseling
- Multicultural counseling
- Evaluation and assessment
- Research and statistics
- Group counseling
Human Services Program
- Crisis and intervention
- Public policy and advocacy
- Case management
- Ethics and laws in child welfare
- Family and community systems
What Can You Do With a Human Services Degree?
Students with a degree in human services enjoy diverse career opportunities. Many graduates pursue specialized areas in social work. For example, healthcare social workers help patients adopt lifestyle changes after receiving a medical diagnosis, while child and family social workers primarily assist vulnerable children and low-income households.
Graduates may also find administrative jobs within human services organizations, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, unemployment offices, and community health centers. Administrators staff offices, handle employee compensation and benefits, and perform other tasks to ensure the organization runs smoothly and efficiently.
Where Do Human Services Professionals Work?
Due to the multidisciplinary nature of human services, professionals in this field may work in a variety of settings. We list some common workplaces for human services employees below.
- Government offices
- State, local, and private hospitals
- Community health centers
- Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers
- Nursing homes and assisted living centers
- Unemployment offices
How Much Do Human Services Professionals Make?
Human services salaries vary significantly by job title. Educational background, licensure and certification, and location also influence earnings in the human services field.
Average Salary of a Human Services Professional
$40,168Learn about what jobs you can get with a degree in a human services here
Human Services Degree Programs
Students pursuing a career in human services can earn a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in the field. Graduates qualify for different jobs depending on their degree. The table below compares bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in human services.
Human Services Bachelor's Programs
A bachelor's in human services includes foundational coursework in social services administration and case management. Graduates may pursue entry-level jobs or advance to a graduate program.
Time to Completion: 4 Years
Career Opportunities: case manager; social worker; human resources assistantLearn More About Human Services Bachelor's Programs
Human Services Master’s Programs
A master's in human services includes advanced coursework in social and community management. Graduates may pursue administrative or leadership roles.
Time to Completion: 2-3 Years
Career Opportunities: human resources director; nonprofit executive director; policy analystLearn More About Human Services Master's Programs
Human Services Ph.D. Programs
A Ph.D. in human services largely focuses on academic research and advanced policy work. Graduates may pursue jobs as nonprofit executives, professors, or professional researchers.
Time to Completion: 3-7 Years
Career Opportunities: researcher; professor; department chairLearn More About Human Services Ph.D. Programs
Online Human Services Degree Programs
Online human services degree programs offer students the flexibility and accessibility to balance school with work and family obligations. Some online pathways feature an asynchronous format, meaning students can complete assignments and courses on their own schedule, with no set class times. Additionally, some online programs offer accelerated options that enable students to expedite graduation. For example, learners may finish an accelerated online human services bachelor's degree in two to three years.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Human Services Program
Aspiring students should evaluate prospective programs based on key factors such as accreditation, cost, and delivery format. The following sections highlight the importance of these factors in more detail.
Colleges and universities voluntarily seek accreditation, which indicates that a school meets high academic quality standards. Third-party accrediting bodies evaluate courses, departments, student outcomes, faculty, and other variables. Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, while specific programs within an institution may earn programmatic accreditation.
The U.S. Department of Education does not provide federal loans or grants to students who attend non-accredited institutions. Accreditation also affects credit transferability, since many regionally accredited schools do not accept credits from non-accredited or nationally accredited schools.
Many bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs in human services receive programmatic accreditation from the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE). Attending CSHSE-accredited programs often leads to more job prospects and may help graduates qualify for professional credentials, such as the human services board-certified practitioner credential from the Center for Credentialing and Education.
Tuition, fees, and living costs for human services students vary by institution. Some schools price tuition rates lower for in-state residents, while other schools charge online students the same rate regardless of residency. Additionally, public universities that receive government funding tend to offer cheaper tuition than private colleges, which primarily rely on donor contributions.
On-Campus vs. Online
Online learning allows working professionals, parents, and other learners with commitments to complete coursework on their own schedule. It also allows learners to pursue a degree without relocating. However, many students may benefit more from the structure, in-person assistance, and collaboration from on-campus learning.