What Can You Do with a Degree in Human Services?
The field of human services seeks to meet basic human needs with the application of interdisciplinary study and practice. Drawing on sociology, social work, healthcare, criminal justice, and public policy, it provides a holistic approach that can prevent harm, rehabilitate disabilities, and improve the overall quality of life for disadvantaged populations. Whether this approach comes through the provision of services or the administration of them, a degree in human services is the starting point for people who want to help those who need it most.
A bachelor’s degree in human services can form the foundation for a multitude of compassionate and impactful careers. Core classes focus on crisis and intervention, case management, conflict studies, nonprofit budgeting, and human services interviewing. Many human services programs recommend building up secondary language skills to facilitate interaction with underserved minority populations. Outside of the core curriculum, human services specializations exist in areas like addiction, criminal justice, child development, psychology, social justice, and more.
Graduate-level degrees are an increasingly popular option for human services professionals, and in some cases, are a requirement for top-end careers in the field. While the undergraduate study of human services provides familiarity with a vast array of applications, it’s in the master’s and doctorate programs that expert specialization takes place. Depending on one’s chosen professional path, a human services professional may decide to pursue that graduate-level education in an area like psychology, social work, public health, or healthcare administration, often gaining hands-on experience in the process.
A human services degree can prepare students for a wide array of rewarding and meaningful jobs. But in some cases, some may need to go a little further to land the career they want. While one may pursue certification as a generic human services practitioner (HS-BCP), more specialized vocations can have more skilled and strict credentialing and educational requirements.
Read on to get a look into ten careers you can pursue with a human services degree, and what the path to each looks like.
Case managers work with a team to coordinate services for those in need. While case managers often focus on a particular service area (e.g., mental health, substance abuse, rehabilitation) or demographic (e.g., children, adults, seniors), they all focus on connecting clients to a broader sphere of services, including employment, social work, and counseling. In their day to day work, case managers perform intake interviews, make home visits, and empower their clients to utilize all the resources at their disposal.
Unlike social workers, however, case managers don’t usually provide therapy to their clients—and, as such, they generally don’t need a master’s degree to get started. Licensing requirements vary depending on which specialization a case manager works in, but all case management workers can apply for cross-disciplinary certification through the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC).
Community Outreach Worker
While numerous government-sponsored and charity-run resources exist for those in need, too many times they lack visibility. That’s where community outreach workers come into play, acting as field agents for a community’s education and assistance programs. Community outreach workers have direct lines of contact with underserved members of a community, not only providing them with available resources but also using their input to re-design those resources for maximum effect.
In addition to working in the field with an underserved population, community outreach workers network with other education and assistance programs in the area to share knowledge and best practices on how best to serve their community. While this is a job with long hours and lots of footwork, it also comes with a tangible impact, and it generally only requires a bachelor’s degree in human services to get started.
Home Health Aide
Home health aides provide a helping hand to those with physical, mental, and chronic disabilities. Typically working with a senior-age demographic, they assist in daily activities like taking medication, finding transportation, maintaining community engagements, and even keeping a client’s house stocked and tidy. More well-trained and equipped than a family member might be, they can perform small amounts of medical assistance, such as taking a pulse, checking blood sugar, changing bandages, or helping with the detailed issues of artificial limbs, ventilators, and wheelchairs.
While some home health aides may only need an associate’s degree or vocational training, a bachelor’s in human services can help them provide a wider range of care and community connection. Competency exams may be required, depending upon the specific demographic serviced, but state licensure is not necessary. The Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) provides informational resources and networking opportunities for aspiring and working home health aides.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists help keep families together and thriving. By creating a safe and objective environment, these therapists use both group and individualized sessions to coach families through better methods of communication, reconciliation of emotional conflict, and improvement of overall relationship dynamics. In the course of their work, marriage and family therapists can help reduce domestic violence, child abuse, juvenile delinquency, and divorce rates—while also contributing to the creation of happy homes and healthy relationships.
Marriage and family therapists will need an undergraduate human services degree as well as a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology, social work, counseling, or a related field to practice. State licensure requirements vary, but most requirements adhere to the criteria of board certification as a marriage and family therapist (MFT), available through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Occupational therapy is one of the most in-demand sub-disciplines of human services, with a high-growth forecast for the coming decade. Occupational therapists work with disabled patients and help them develop the skills needed for self-sufficiency in their lives and work. Most occupational therapists will specialize in a particular kind of disability or a specialized demographic of clients. Typical responsibilities include performing client interviews and evaluations, developing personalized plans of action, offering coaching and mentorship sessions, and referring clients to tangential resources.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in human services or a related field, a master’s or doctoral degree is generally required for this type of profession. After a certain amount of supervised work experience, occupational therapists need to be licensed to practice, and requirements vary from state to state, but all states require certification through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is a professional association for occupational therapists that provides resources on policy, education, careers, and events in the discipline.
Probation officers supervise people who have been placed on probation with the goal of rehabilitating them and aiding their integration into society. Working with either adults or juveniles, a probation officer is first and foremost responsible for developing and monitoring individualized treatment plans. This requires frequent meetings with the person on probation, connecting them with resources, coordinating with their family members and new employer, as well as writing detailed progress reports.
Probation officers can usually get started with a bachelor’s degree in human services or a human services-related field, and on-the-job training (often sponsored by the state) culminates in official certification. After reaching a permanent position, probation officers may join professional societies based in their state of practice, or national associations such as the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and the Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association (FPPOA).
Public Policy Consultant
Public policy consultants tackle human services issues with a macro-level approach, starting from the top down. Working for either government agencies or non-profit organizations, they coordinate between human services resources, underserved populations, advocates, and elected officials to influence public policy and develop the most efficient and compassionate systems of aid for those in need. Public policy consultants stay up to date with relevant pending legislation, foster working partnerships with key stakeholders, develop media and fundraising campaigns, and attend both community-level and national-level meetings to advocate for their cause.
This requires an expert-level understanding of both a singular issue and the legislative machinery that can affect it. As such, public policy consultants almost always pair a human services degree with a master’s. Those working in public policy consultant roles can network with peers across issue areas by joining professional associations, such as the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM).
Social and Community Manager
Social and community managers oversee nonprofit and government organizations that provide support to a community’s at-risk population. Their organizations may raise awareness about a key issue, or even take proactive steps towards solving it. Whether the scale is local or global, social and community managers need to secure funding, community trust, and stakeholder buy-in—and all of that requires a heavy mix of legwork, compassion, and negotiation. A mix between a public policy consultant and a community outreach worker, social and community managers need both a lobbyist’s talent for communication and a counselor’s ability to listen.
While there are no formal certification or degree requirements to practice, most social and community managers typically have graduate-level education, especially in organizations with larger scales of operation. The National Association of Nonprofit Professionals (NANPP) provides networking, training, mentoring, and job placement opportunities for social and community managers working with all different types of human services issues.
Social workers are human safety nets, helping people cope with everyday problems like unemployment, illness, and mental health. Working with a particular demographic or problem set, they perform intake assessments and maintain case files on clients to connect them to resources that can help. Advocacy and therapy are both parts of this role, as raising awareness for an issue can be just as important as coaching clients through the circumstances of that issue.
Licensed and certified social workers will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a human services field as well as a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which includes supervised practice and field internships. Social workers need to be state-licensed to practice, though requirements vary. Resources regarding employment, continuing education, advocacy, and practice can be found at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
Substance Abuse Counselor
A substance abuse counselor specializes in treating patients with chemical dependency issues. Through interviews, referrals, mentoring, and therapy, these counselors develop personal treatment plans and coach their clients through to self-sufficiency. Typical responsibilities include coordinating with family members, finding job opportunities, and teaching healthy coping mechanisms for recovery.
While some substance counselors only have a bachelor’s degree in human services or a related field, many go on to complete a master’s program. Most states require substance abuse counselors to receive certification, and requirements vary. In addition to state-level options, substance abuse counselors may seek out national certification through the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Further certifications are available through the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCCAP).