Masters in Human Services | Program Guide

By: Staff
Last Updated: November 2019

The human services field takes an interdisciplinary approach to helping communities and individuals in need. This profession includes many roles and offers plentiful career opportunities. A master's degree in human services can open the door to a leadership position, career advancement, and licensure as a counselor or therapist.

Degree Snapshot
Time to Complete Internship/Practicum Component
2-3 Years Dependent on Program

Why Get a Master's Degree in Human Services?

A master's in human services is ideal for professionals who wish to advance their careers, including through licensure. The degree provides opportunities for specialization, advanced coursework, and leadership training.

Allows You To Specialize According To Your Interests and Career Goals

Master's degrees in human services offer many concentrations, such as those listed below. By selecting a program that matches your specific career goals, this degree can help you qualify for your desired job.

Sample Concentrations:

  • Community and social services
  • Family studies and interventions
  • Criminal justice
  • Gerontology
  • Disaster crisis and intervention
  • Mental health facilitation
  • Nonprofit administration

Prepares You For Leadership Positions in the Human Services Field

Through advanced coursework, master's programs prepare human service professionals to develop, assess, and manage human service programs, qualifying graduates to move into a variety of leadership positions.

Makes You a More Competitive Job Candidate

In a competitive job market, a master's degree can help you stand out among other applicants. This degree provides the level of specialization and advanced knowledge many employers seek. Additionally, individuals with a master's qualify for more licenses and certifications, which can also attract employers.

Example Courses in a Human Services Master's Program

Master's-level courses in human services vary by school, program, and area of concentration. These interdisciplinary programs can expand and deepen professional knowledge and prepare graduates for more specialized jobs, clinical practice, or leadership positions.

Courses typically explore human behavior, public policy issues, counseling and communications skills, management techniques, and research tools in greater depth than at the undergraduate level. Most programs also require students to demonstrate mastery of advanced skills through an internship or capstone project. See below for sample core human services courses offered at this level.

  • Foundations of Human Services

    This course offers an advanced overview of guiding theories, the historical development of human services, and current challenges. Students can explore the societal role of human service professionals and the values and beliefs that guide their work. Topics include the helping relationship, cultural diversity, and public policy.

  • Interviewing and Assessment Skills

    Students in this course refine the communication skills they need to develop and maintain a helping relationship with those they serve. These skills include interview strategies, as well as formal and informal assessment methods. This advanced course prepares students to interact directly with clients and oversee the work of case managers.

  • Social Welfare Policy

    This course examines the historical, political, and cultural aspects of public policymaking related to human services. Students explore current policy challenges. Learners also discuss how differing viewpoints on human needs and the role of government can affect social welfare policy and the role of human services professionals.

  • Advanced Professional Ethics

    This course explores the moral, ethical, and legal bases for current professional and ethical standards within the field of human services. Students can gain familiarity with current codes of ethics to examine their beliefs and values, along with how these may impact their professional practice.

  • Program Design and Implementation

    This course prepares students to design and maintain evidence-based human service programs that meet client needs and use resources effectively. Topics include current research, needs assessment, delivery models, and evaluation strategies.


Accreditation is an essential factor to consider when selecting a program. Because accreditation demonstrates that a school or program meets specific standards for quality, employers, credentialing bodies, and other schools typically require it. Look for schools that hold regional accreditation, since schools and employers usually value it more than national accreditation.

You may also find human services programs accredited by the Council for Standards in Human Services Accreditation (CSHSE) or other bodies. Although not required, graduating from a CSHSE-accredited program makes it easier to earn human services-board certified practitioner (HS-BCP) certification.

What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Human Services?

A master's degree in human services qualifies graduates for specialized and leadership positions in a variety of settings, including those listed below. Depending on the concentration you pursue, you may qualify to run a social service program or provide direct clinical care to clients as a licensed counselor or therapist. Some programs prepare graduates to work with a particular population, such as youth, the elderly, immigrants, or the disabled. This degree offers a higher level of career preparation than a bachelor's degree.

Learn More About What You Can Do With a Human Services Degree

Career Advancement in Human Services

If You Haven't Already, Earn Your Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner Credential

The Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE) offers HS-BCP certification to human services professionals who want independent verification of their knowledge and education. If you do not already hold this credential, earning it may help you advance your career or stand out among job seekers.

Applicants must hold a human services degree and demonstrate 350 postgraduate hours of work experience (unless they graduated from a CSHSE-accredited program). Candidates must also pay an application fee ($210) and pass the HS-BCP exam ($100). Exam questions cover human services content areas such as assessment, treatment planning, ethics, case management, and program development.

To maintain their credential, individuals with an HS-BCP must pay an annual fee ($40) and complete 60 clock hours of continuing education every five years.

Pursue a Doctorate Program in Human Services

If you wish to teach human services courses at the college level or move into a senior leadership position, you may need a doctorate. A Ph.D. in human services can open the door to a career in higher education, research, consulting, or senior management.

Ph.D. in Human Services

Join A Professional Organization

Professional organizations provide networking and career opportunities, along with resources on best practices, legislative changes, research findings, and other developments in the field. Joining organizations like those listed below shows dedication to your profession and provides opportunities to grow as a professional.

  • American Counseling Association This member organization represents professional counselors. ACA offers resources on licensure, continuing education, advocacy tools, and counseling publications. Networking opportunities include an annual conference and issue networks. Job seekers can benefit from an online career center.
  • American Public Human Services Association APHSA represents the interests of human service leaders and pushes for legislation that benefits children and families. This nonprofit provides many resources and networking opportunities, including conferences, publications, professional development, and career services.
  • National Association of Social Workers NASW serves the interests of social workers and their clients. The association offers resources that promote best practices in the field. Benefits include continuing education opportunities, conferences, and professional certification for social workers.
  • National Council on Family Relations This nonprofit uses research to promote the needs of families. For human services professionals, NCFR offers networking and professional development opportunities, such as discussion groups, conferences, and continuing education. NCFR also offers professional certification in family life education.
  • National Organization for Human Services NOHS promotes professional HS-BCP certification in human services and represents the interests of practitioners. The organization offers conferences, webinars, awards and scholarships, and publications.
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