The aging of the U.S. population presents far-ranging implications for individuals, families, policymakers, and healthcare providers. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates a steep increase in the population aged 65 and over, which is projected to reach 83.7 million by 2050. Within this changing demographic environment, human services and healthcare professionals with specialized gerontology training can expect many challenging and rewarding careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% expansion of entry-level positions in social and human services through 2026, and an 18% increase for social and community service managers during that same period.
Many of these positions require postsecondary degrees. A bachelor's in gerontology unlocks career opportunities in an array of settings, including hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation and nursing facilities, and social service agencies. A gerontology degree program prepares its graduates to enter the workplace with the knowledge and skills to improve and maintain the well-being and quality of life of the aging, and to advocate on their behalf.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Gerontology?
A gerontology degree provides a range of fulfilling professional possibilities for students who possess a genuine concern and commitment to the physical, psychological, and social challenges that older people face. Whether you enroll in a gerontology bachelor's degree online or in a campus-based program, your studies will include an introduction to the field, theoretical approaches to adult development, an overview of healthcare and social services designed for the aging population, and public policy analysis.
Many schools offer a bachelor's in gerontology in both online and on-campus formats. Distance learning offers a flexible schedule may attract working professionals interested in exploring new career opportunities. Returning students whose family responsibilities make it difficult to enroll in a campus-based program may also find this option appealing. Some students, however, prefer a traditional brick-and-mortar program. This pathway to a gerontology degree may appeal to recent high school graduates, particularly those who have already developed an interest in working with the elderly in social services and healthcare careers.
Students in on-campus programs often cite the benefits of interaction with other students in their cohort, which can include collaborating on group assignments or fieldwork placements. They receive valuable academic and career mentoring from faculty and advisers, and in the semester or two prior to graduation, students may take advantage of their school's career placement services or opportunities for paid internships. As demand continues to grow for professionals equipped with the foundational knowledge and applied skills to work with the aging population, a bachelor's in gerontology provides a competitive edge in both the workplace and graduate school admission.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Gerontology?
Graduates of a gerontology degree program apply their specialized training in a broad range of careers that assist older adults. A bachelor's in gerontology provides the foundation for positions as healthcare administrators and social workers in medical centers, residential facilities, and social service agencies. Whatever the intended career path, earning a gerontology degree demonstrates you share a genuine concern for maintaining the health, productivity, and independence of the aging population.
- Medical and Health Services Managers
These administrators direct and coordinate medical and health services in hospitals, clinical departments, or medical practices. They recruit, train, and supervise staff members and make sure that the facility remains compliant with laws and regulations. Most of these professionals have earned a bachelor's degree. Some positions may require a master's and healthcare experience.
Median Annual Salary: $98,350
Projected Growth Rate: 20%
- Social and Human Service Assistants
Working under the supervision of social workers, psychologists, or other community and social service directors, social and human service assistants identify healthcare benefits and services for their clients and help them acquire the resources they need. Assistants with college degrees typically take on more responsibilities, such as coordinating programs or managing group homes.
Median Annual Salary: $33,120
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Social Workers
These professionals work in healthcare clinics, agencies, hospitals, and private practice, and help their clients deal with challenges in their lives. While many social workers enter the field after receiving a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field like gerontology, clinical social workers must have a master's degree and two years of supervised experience.
Median Annual Salary: $47,980
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
OT assistants and aides help chronically ill or disabled patients develop the skills necessary for daily life. They implement treatment plans, such as teaching patients how to exercise or use special equipment. These therapists need at least an associate degree from an OT program, and licensing or certification as required by the state where they practice.
Median Annual Salary: $56,690
Projected Growth Rate: 28%
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Health educators and community health workers develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities, and teach people to manage existing health conditions. Health educators need at least a bachelor's degree, while community health workers may enter the field with a high school diploma. Some employers and states require certification.
Median Annual Salary: $43,360
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Gerontology
Every gerontology program establishes its own curriculum, but most undergraduate degrees share some common features. In addition to coursework that addresses psychological, social, cultural, and biological approaches to the study of aging, students should expect to take a core set of required courses in the liberal arts and sciences. Many bachelor's in gerontology require internships or fieldwork experiences. Some programs offer concentrations in subfields of gerontology that help students focus on career or research interests.
Most campus-based bachelor's in gerontology programs require four years of full-time study. Students pursuing a gerontology bachelor's online may complete their degree in as little as two years. Students who must keep working or manage family commitments while attending school may prefer the flexibility of an online or part-time program. Whatever path you choose, however, make sure your intended school holds regional and/or national accreditation.
The cost of a gerontology degree varies significantly by type of institution and location. For example, public institutions usually charge lower tuition rates than private schools. Students attending college out of state generally pay higher tuition and fees, although some online programs charge the same rate regardless of your state of residency. On the other hand, online programs often charge technology fees that do not apply to campus-based students.
If you select an on-campus program, you must budget for expenses beyond just tuition, including books and supplies, transportation, housing, and meals. Some distance learning and hybrid programs may also require occasional travel to campus for face-to-face classes. Students can offset these costs by exploring federal and private sources of financial aid, and by investigating the possibilities for work-study or off-campus employment.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Gerontology
Before choosing a bachelor's in gerontology, make sure you understand what accreditation means for your education and career prospects. Many schools receive either national or regional accreditation from independent accrediting agencies attesting to their academic standards.
Regionally accredited colleges or universities have demonstrated their commitment to quality education, while national accreditation is granted to technical, vocational, and for-profit schools. Nationally accredited schools often have less rigorous admissions requirements and lower tuition rates. Students should note that accreditation status may impact eligibility for federal financial aid and their ability to transfer credits. Additionally, employers and graduate programs may not accept applicants from unaccredited schools.
In addition to regional or national accreditation, some high-performing programs within accredited institutions seek out specialized accreditation. The Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council (AGEC) awards the only programmatic accreditation for gerontology programs in higher education. Widely recognized as a prestigious credential, very few bachelor's in gerontology programs have received the AGEC designation. However, the absence of this programmatic accreditation should not dissuade you from considering an undergraduate program.
Bachelor's in Gerontology Program Admissions
Applying for college takes a lot of time. If you plan to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar college directly after high school, you should start applying right after the end of junior year. Some schools have rolling admissions -- especially online schools -- while most colleges set application deadlines at least six months prior to your start date.
You should select two or three "target schools" where you really want to attend and have a good chance of gaining admission. You should also include a few "safety schools" where you feel very confident about your chances, and one or two "reach schools" that you would like to attend, even though your academic record may place you in the lower end of the applicant pool.
Although some on-campus programs require SAT or ACT scores, most schools consider overall academic performance and other factors of college preparedness. Online programs that appeal to working professionals or others who have been out of school for a while may not ask for standardized tests or a minimum GPA.
- Minimum GPA: Most colleges require a minimum GPA of 2.5 or 3.0. Some schools may look positively at a GPA below the minimum if grades have steadily improved throughout high school.
- Application: Applying to several schools can be time-consuming. Some students use the Common App to make the process easier. This allows students to complete a single form for multiple college applications.
- Transcripts: Almost all colleges require a sealed, official transcript of your high school grades submitted with the application. Expect your high school to charge a modest fee for preparing and mailing transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Schools may ask for three or more recommendations. Choose recommenders who will describe you in positive ways and make sure to give your teachers enough time to complete the letters prior to the application deadline.
- Test Scores: Students take the ACT or SAT early in their senior year, if not before. Colleges evaluate these standardized test scores as one of many factors in their admission decision. Some schools do not require them at all.
- Application Fee: Applying to several schools can be costly. Colleges charge an average application fee of $40, though students who can demonstrate financial hardships may receive a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Gerontology?
The number of courses and electives, total credits required for graduation, and other program characteristics vary from school to school. However, the time it takes to complete a bachelor's in gerontology degree depends on your program's curriculum and graduation requirements, as well as whether you take a full- or part-time course load.
Courses in a Bachelor's in Gerontology Program
Gerontology programs prepare graduates for career and research opportunities that address the challenges faced by the aging population. Coursework covers the field of aging from scientific, social, and cultural perspectives. While no common gerontology curriculum exists, most undergraduate programs focus on lifespan development, medical issues and healthcare, social services, and public policy.
- Introduction to Gerontology
This foundational course introduces gerontology as a multidisciplinary field of study, and combines theoretical perspectives, research findings, and policy analysis. Using a life course approach, students examine basic theoretical perspectives, social issues unique to aging populations, demographic trends, cultural and global differences in aging, healthcare, social and public policy, and issues related to retirement, death, and bereavement.
- Adult Development and Aging
Students learn the physical, social, and emotional changes that happen over the course of the human lifespan. Particularly suited for students entering human social services careers, this course covers developmental changes and stability in early, middle, and later adulthood. Students also examine how culture and community impact different developmental processes.
- Aging and Diversity
This course presents a multicultural paradigm for the study of the aging U.S. population, and examines demographic shifts, cohort variations, health differentials, life expectancy, and psychological attitudes and social perceptions about aging held by different ethnic and racial groups. The course also addresses cultural competency for gerontology professionals in social services and healthcare.
- Long-Term Care Administration and Policy Analysis
This course explores the ways agencies, entitlement programs, and the healthcare industry serve the aging population. Students receive knowledge relevant for administrative positions in the public and private sectors. They also examine various models for policy analysis, and analyze the social, political and economic forces that influence the delivery of institutional and community-based long-term care for older adults.
- Research Methods in Gerontology
This course explores the applications of social scientific research methods to the study of aging. Course content includes quantitative and qualitative methods, data collection, measurement, data analysis, and interpretation of findings. The course places special emphasis on methodologies used by social service administrators, policy analysts, and program directives; this includes program evaluations and needs assessment.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Gerontology?
Most bachelor's degrees in gerontology require 120 credits. Although it takes four years of full-time attendance to earn a degree, several factors may impact the actual length of time needed to finish. Some students maintain continuous full-time enrollment over the course of four years; others must juggle a career or family responsibilities while attending school. These students may have to pause their education for a semester or two, or take courses on a part-time basis.
The flexibility of online programs may appeal to those students who grapple with work and family commitments. Some distance learning programs offer accelerated degrees that students complete in 18 month to two years. Other ways to shorten the time needed to graduate include transfering credits or presenting high school AP courses that count for required or introductory college courses.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Gerontology?
The cost of an undergraduate degree has risen steadily in recent years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), full-time undergraduates at four-year institutions paid higher average tuition and fees in 2016-17 than in 2010-11. The average tuition for public four-year institutions rose to $8,800 in 2016-17, a 12% increase from 2010-11. The average tuition for private nonprofit four-year schools grew by 15% to $33,500 in the same period.
The overall cost of a bachelor's in gerontology depends on many factors, including the type of institution, location, and program requirements. Every college sets its tuition pricing differently. A program offered at a public institution, for example, usually offers better value than a private school, and in-state tuition may be more affordable than attending college out-of-state.
Besides tuition and fees, students must budget for other essential expenses, including books and supplies, technology fees, transportation, housing, and food. When comparing on-campus programs, students should research the cost of living in the communities around campus. Students should also investigate financial aid opportunities, and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for federal loans or grants. Students who plan to work while going to school should investigate work-study programs, as well as opportunities for off-campus employment.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Gerontology Prepares For
- Gerontological Specialist
A widely recognized organization for the credentialing of gerontologists in the U.S., the National Association for Professional Gerontologists NAPG administers several levels of credentials that validate academic and professional competency. Professionals or administrators who hold a bachelor's degree in gerontology from an accrediting institution may apply for the gerontological specialist credential.
- Advanced Aging Life Care Professional
The ALCA -- also known as the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers -- oversees several credentials for specialists who improve the quality of life for aging adults and their families. Applicants for credentials must meet rigorous educational requirements and adhere to the ALCA code of ethics for geriatric care managers.
- Occupational Therapy Board Certificate in Gerontology
The American Occupational Therapy Association grants their board certification in gerontology to qualified occupational therapists with five years of experience in the field. They must have completed 5,000 hours in a gerontology-related field, and 500 hours delivering OT services specifically to elderly patients. Applicants must submit an application along with a self-assessment and a portfolio.
- Certified Geriatric Care Manager
The CGCM certificate, offered by the International Commission on Health Care Certification, assesses knowledge of care planning and care management practices for health and human services professionals who provide case/care management services to older adults. Candidates must hold a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a healthcare-related field and 120 hours of postgraduate training in geriatric care management.
- Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker
The National Association of Social Workers offers this credential to social workers who assist patients and their families affected by serious and life limiting illness. Licensed social workers may apply for the CHP-SW certification if they have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and have completed 20 or more continuing education hours in hospice and palliative care.
Resources for Gerontology Students
AGHE provides leadership and support for educators, students, and practitioners in gerontology. It offers publications on gerontological standards, teaching resources, and directories of gerontology and geriatric programs in higher education.
AgeLab, sponsored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, provides a variety of resources, practical tools, and research that focus on improving the quality of life of older people, their families, and their caretakers.
Formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, this well-known nonprofit boasts over 30 million members. AARP members have access to a variety of services and informational materials on healthcare, insurance, travel, and lifestyle resources.
HCBS offers program developers, policy makers, researchers, advocates, and students a broad range of tools, data, programs, and other resources to assist older adults and people with disabilities to secure living arrangements in the most appropriate settings.
AgeWork bills itself as the only focused career site in gerontology. The website includes publications, career planning resources, substantial employment listings for job seekers and employers, and a recruiter support center.
Professional Organizations in Gerontology
Students who join a professional association in gerontology receive tangible rewards in the form of contacts with practitioners in the field, mentoring and support, and opportunities for scholarships and internships. This list includes many of the best known professional organizations in the field. Most organizations offer discounted student memberships and provide access to networking events, continuing education, job boards, and other career resources. These can prove invaluable as you graduate and enter the workplace.
Established in 1939, GSA represents over 5,500 members with research interests in aging populations. GSA publishes two online journals, hosts webinars and professional development workshops, and sponsors an annual conference.
AGS, through the Health in Aging Foundation, provides a variety of resources to educate policymakers, professionals, and the general public on best practices for elders in the healthcare industry.
ASA enhances the knowledge and skills of those who improving the quality of life of older adults and their families. It offers online webinars, continuing education, and an awards program.
NAPG offers credentialing and professional development opportunities for aging specialists, and provides consulting services in the public and private sectors. Students receive a two-year discounted membership, which grants them access to networking events, conferences, and continuing education courses.
As an affiliate of the International Federation on Aging, IAGG boasts a membership of over 45,000, with 73 member organizations in 65 different countries. It promotes gerontological research and training globally.