A master’s degree in Human Services provides individuals already working as human services professionals the knowledge and credentials to become leaders in the field, or to specialize in an area of interest. These programs typically do not require previous education or experience in human services, so a master’s may also be ideal for someone passionate about helping others and looking to start a career in human services. Demand for qualified professionals is expected to grow due to increasing needs for more services as well as replacing professionals leaving the field. The knowledge and skills gained from a master’s in Human Services, as well as the research conducted in many master’s programs, enriches the work that is most important to the profession: service to individuals and communities.
A quality master’s program in Human Services combines the study of relevant theory with practical application, advancing students’ knowledge of human services and preparing them to be leaders in the field. Using data from the Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and published materials from the program’s university, rankings are based on multiple measures to ensure the merit of the program, and all schools are accredited by regional or national accrediting bodies. Programs that are accredited by the Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE) have been peer-reviewed and meet national accreditation standards, and programs that are members of CSHSE might also follow national standards, even if they do not seek accreditation from CSHSE.
The curriculum of a master’s in human services is typically interdisciplinary, pulling from social sciences, counseling, social work, family studies and business administration. Students should expect to learn how to design, deliver, administer and evaluate services and programs for individuals and communities. A deeper understanding of the origins and theories that drive human services will be the core of most programs, as well as practical coursework in administration and leadership, assessment and data collection, ethical and legal issues, and grant-writing. Some programs offer specializations such as a focus on working with special populations, crisis intervention, policy analysis, family services, or non-profit administration. Most include internship opportunities, field experiences, capstone projects, and opportunities for comprehensive research, so while earning a degree online, students still get practical experience in the profession that is relevant to their goals.
All master’s coursework will vary slightly depending on the university and the specialization that the student is working toward. However, there are commonalities between all degrees in the human services field. A sample of these courses is outlined below:
Students are introduced to the foundations of human services, including history, development of the human services profession, and relevant theories. Examines strengths and weaknesses of services delivery systems and how human services responds to the needs of a constantly changing society. The course also reinforces the competencies needed to be an effective human services professional, as well as examines ethical standards of the profession.
Examines the competencies needed to administer human services programs and address the challenges of providing services to individuals and communities. Also introduces students to foundations of human services administration including communication, supervision, policy implementation, strategic planning, organizational behavior, management and evaluation of services, and leadership.
Evidence-based practice is critical to effectively informing the practice of human services professionals. Coursework surveys different methodological practices for conducting research and evaluation, including design, implementation and assessment. Connects theory to practice through case studies, discussions and research projects. Other topics might include ethical issues in research or how cultural differences affect research and evaluation of services.
Students identify issues at the local and national level that affect communities and explore how to effectively advocate for social change. Examines how to encourage community involvement and engage diverse populations in issues of social change.
Explores in-depth relevant theory pertaining to human development across the lifespan. Analyzes social issues and challenges people face at different developmental stages in life, and the role of development in meeting those challenges. Reflection on self and others deepens student understanding of the complex factors that play into human development.
Explores sources and strategies for funding, how to engage donors, create proposals, philanthropy, grants and contracts, marketing, public relations, and managing funds. Introduces grant proposal writing including skills for writing a good proposal and grant writing cycle.
Most master’s degree programs require students to pick a specialization to focus on during the duration of their studies. Some popular options are outline below:
A concentration in administration of social services prepares students for roles in executive leadership. Study leadership and organizational theory as well as strategic planning, program development, challenges in leadership, teamwork and communication, and how to be a visionary leader in the profession.
A concentration in counseling and case management to prepare students for work in addictions treatment programs. Study theoretical foundations of addictions counseling, how to assess substance abuse and work with clients in recovery.
A concentration combining the intersection of human and health services, preparing students for administration roles in both sectors.
A concentration in working primarily with children and families. Study human development and family theories, family dynamics and techniques for assisting families through challenges.
A concentration studying the justice system and human services directly related to the justice system. Study the relationship between behavioral health and the law and how to work with clients and their families.
A master’s in Human Services typically culminates in a capstone, internship or field experience where students integrate their learning and practically apply new skills in the human services field. These culminating courses typically require something like a community services program proposal or assessment, a service-learning project or creating a professional portfolio of work from an internship. Some programs will also include a thesis or research project as a culmination to completing the degree.
Programs that are accredited by the Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE) have been peer-reviewed and meet national accreditation standards, and programs that are members of CSHSE might also follow national standards, even if they do not seek accreditation from CSHSE. If you are seeking a master’s degree for a licensing requirement, like substance abuse counseling or nursing home administration, be sure the program outlines how it fulfills, or at least prepares, students to meet licensing requirements. A high quality human services program incorporates theoretical learning with relevant and practical experience in the field that can be tailored to the student’s professional goals, is accredited by a regional or national accrediting body, and strives to follow CSHSE standards in its curriculum.
Human services is a broad field and professionals work in a variety of settings, so career opportunities are diverse and allow for professionals to be mobile within the field of practice. Professionals work in varied settings, from non-profits to government agencies, and may have many different titles during their career. Some of these job titles might include case worker, substance abuse counselor, client advocate, probation officer, mental health aide, community outreach organizer, or social services manager. While the median salary is listed with the following job descriptions, obtaining a master’s degree may increase opportunities for pay and advancement.
Oversee administration of services and programs, including working closely with community members to identify needed services and conduct outreach, analyzing data and evaluating effectiveness of services, strategic planning, fundraising and grant writing, managing funds, hiring and supervision of staff.
Evaluate mental health and addiction behaviors of clients, assess readiness for treatment, develop treatment plans and goals with clients, counsel clients to identify challenges to recovery, work closely with family members, work with clients individually or in groups, teach coping and life skills necessary to recovery.
Work with parolees or probationers and families to assess progress of probation and evaluate course of action, make referrals and provide resources, drug test offenders with drug testing as part of probation and work with substance abuse counselor, testify in court on behalf of client, document progress and maintain case files, make home visits and have regular contact with clients
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Growth in human services management is expected to top 18%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, faster than average for non-human services management positions. Employment opportunities in facilities and programs that serve the elderly, mentally impaired, or developmentally disabled are expected to be in high demand, according to the National Organization for Human Services, as well as working in drug addiction treatment programs, according to BLS. A projected growth in the elderly population, job turnover in the field and an increased need to provide services to more people are also cited by NOHS as reasons for expected job growth.
Joining a professional organization opens opportunities for scholarships, awards, job networking, professional development, attendance to regional and national conferences, and access to peer-reviewed academic journals relevant human services education and professions. Some scholarship and award opportunities are only open to members, and membership usually provides a discount on professional development resources and conferences. Student membership rates are typically discounted, and membership can be a great way to access job boards, internship opportunities, and stay up-to-date on the latest research happening in the field.
Guided by principles of social justice advocacy, collaboration and accountability, the organization strives to meet its mission of strengthening the human services community. It accomplished this through promoting professional development and certification opportunities to its members and adopting a set of national standards for ethics for human services professionals. The organization also offers awards and scholarships and publishes the Journal of Human Services and a quarterly newsletter.
Represents state and local human services agencies and leaders. Mission is to influence policies and practices at state and local levels that support families and build communities. Offers opportunities for professional development and education through conferences and publications. Works collaboratively with the Center for Child and Family Well-Being, Center for Employment and Economic Well-Being and the National Collaborative for Integration of Health and Human Services to work across multiple sectors that have influence in the human services field.
There are numerous financial aid programs available to students in a human service master’s program. All prospective students should start by filling out a FAFSA form online to determine grant eligibility at the federal level. Many scholarships require that students complete the FAFSA form before they are eligible to receive additional scholarships. Below you’ll find a list of scholarship options for human services students:
There are several human services scholarships that students can apply for. The David C. Maloney Scholarship, the Harold McPheeters Scholarship and the Davis Putter Scholarship are all available to eligible students.
Some schools offer their own department-based scholarships to human services students. For example, California State university and other bay-area schools sponsor the New Leader Scholarship that is awarded to students enrolled in a human services master’s program.