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 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 twelve careers you can pursue with a human services degree and what the path to each looks like.

Become a Behavior Therapist

Behavior therapists work with patients to help them overcome or manage mental disorders, including autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, and more. Most behavior therapists specialize in working with one particular disorder or condition. To help patients, behavior therapists will meet with them one on one to teach them the skills they need to accomplish their goals.

Topics that may be covered in sessions can include language skills, social skills, anger management, problem-solving, and independence.
The most common form of therapy behavior therapists use is called applied behavior therapy (ABA). The goal of ABA is to increase helpful behaviors and decrease the ones that are not. This is done through positive reinforcement and skills teaching.

Currently, applied behavior analysts must be licensed in 31 states. The most common certification earned is that of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). There is also a Board Certified Behavior Assistant Analyst (BCaBA) option.

Additional education is typically required for this field. A degree in human services is an excellent first step to becoming a behavior therapist. Typically, it is followed up with a master’s degree in behavior therapy or a related field. To earn a BCBA certification candidate must meet one of the following eligibility pathways:

  • A master’s degree from an Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) accredited program and 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork
  • A master’s degree with verified required coursework and 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork
  • A master’s degree and verified faculty placement and 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork
  • A postdoctoral degree and experience and 500 hours of supervised fieldwork.

Once eligibility has been established, candidates may sit for the BACB exam. The exam costs $245 and consists of 185 multiple-choice questions.

Become a Case Manager

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 Certified Case Manager (CCM) certification through the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC).

To earn a CCM certification candidates must first meet eligibility requirements which include education and work experience. For the education requirement, candidates must hold a license such as a registered nurse or licensed clinical social worker, or a bachelor’s or master’s degree in human services from an accredited institution, or a certification in health or human services discipline.

Work experience requirements include either 12 months of case management experience supervised by a CCM, or 24 months of case management experience, or 12 months of experience as a supervisor of individuals who provide case management.

Once eligibility has been determined, candidates may apply to take the CCM exam. This exam covers care delivery and reimbursement methods, psychosocial concepts and support systems, quality and outcomes evaluation and measurements, rehabilitation concepts and strategies, and ethical, legal, and practice standards. There are 180 multiple-choice questions in total that must be answered in three hours.

Become a 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.

Become a Gerontologist

Healthcare providers who specialize in working with the elderly are called gerontologists. While some of these providers may be nurses, occupational therapists, or social workers, many are social services assistants who have entered this field with a degree in human services. There are several human service degree programs that offer a specialization in aging or gerontology to help students prepare for this career.

Typical day-to-day duties for gerontologists can include meeting one-on-one with elderly clients to assess their needs, helping clients access social service, scheduling doctor’s appointments, advocating for services for elderly patients, and educating families on how to best support their aging family members. Currently, there are no state licensing requirements to work as a gerontologist, and there are no certifications for professionals in this field. However, as this field grows, that may change, so if this career sounds interesting, be sure to check with a local licensing board.

Become a 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 served, 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.

Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists (MFT) help keep relationships together and thriving. By creating a safe and objective environment, these therapists use both group and individualized sessions to coach families and couples 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. Marriage and family therapists must be licensed in the state where they provide services. The requirements vary by state so candidates should contact their local board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) maintains a list of all MFT licensing boards.

As an example, in Texas, the requirements to be a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) are:

  • Hold a master’s degree or higher from a Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy accredited program
  • Complete two years and 3,000 hours of supervised work experience
  • Pass the Texas state jurisprudence exam
  • Pay a $90 licensing fee
  • Pass the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) exam

Become an Occupational Therapist

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 patients and help them develop the skills needed for self-sufficiency in their lives and work, or to recover from a disease, injury, or illness. 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 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).

To be eligible to sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must graduate from an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredited program within the past three years. The exam consists of three clinical simulations and 170 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in four hours. Topics covered include:

  • Evaluation and assessment
  • Analysis and interpretation
  • Intervention management
  • Competency and practice management

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.

Become a Probation Officer

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).

Become a 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).

Become a 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.

Become a Social Worker

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. Many states use the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB) exam to verify competence in this field. Candidates should contact their local boards to learn about the necessary requirements.

In California, for example, the requirements include:

  • A master’s degree in social work from an accredited institution
  • A Live Scan fingerprint that is submitted to the FBI and Department of Justice
  • A criminal background check
  • Passing the California law and ethics exam
  • Passing the ASWB clinical exam
  • Having 104 weeks and at least 3,000 hours of supervised work experience

Resources regarding employment, continuing education, advocacy, and practice can be found at the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

Become a 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 Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCCAP) or the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC).

For example, in Texas, the requirements to become a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors (LCDC) are:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have an associate’s degree or higher
  • Pass the exam given by the Texas Certification Board of Addiction Professionals (TCBAP)
  • Complete a 300-hour practicum delivering chemical dependency services
  • Have 270 hours of chemical dependency related education
  • Provide two letters of recommendation
  • Complete 4,000 hours of supervised work experience
  • Pass a background check including fingerprinting
  • Sign the state’s ethics and standards agreement
Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).