A master’s degree in gerontology focuses on the care of and quality of life for aging populations. The healthcare field is growing in the United States, and it demands skilled workers to assist aging clients. Gerontology professionals need training in the provision of care for elderly patients, both in healthcare settings and in their communities. A gerontology master’s degree prepares students to care for aging clients, advocate on their behalf, and research methods to keep them healthy and active.
Should I Get a Master's in Gerontology?
A master’s degree in gerontology may appeal to professionals currently working in the medical field, along with students interested in aging care. As workers advance in the healthcare industry, they may develop a preference for a specific population group, such as children or the elderly.
Prospective students considering a master’s in gerontology can select a fully online, hybrid, or on-campus program. On-campus courses require in-person meetings at scheduled times each week. Hybrid courses combine elements of online and on-campus classes, where students complete most of their work online but meet periodically on-campus. Fully online courses are individually paced, and students communicate with the instructor through video or email.
Master’s in gerontology programs should provide students with a comprehensive overview of aging services and care. They learn about the biological, political, and socioeconomic factors affecting the elderly, which equips them to pursue careers in aging research and policy. Gerontology programs help those in the healthcare field understand the unique circumstances surrounding elderly patients, and help them work with administrators to create better care plans.
In school, gerontology students network with instructors and advisers for career advice, job and internship suggestions, and industry connections. Students approaching graduation may reach out to these mentors for letters of recommendation. Learners build a sense of community at school that they can leverage during their job search.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Gerontology?
Gerontology majors often pursue careers in healthcare, but many decide instead to work in research, politics, or economics. The best master’s in gerontology programs cover a vast array of disciplines including epidemiology, sociology, and psychology. Courses encourage students to look at the world through the eyes of an aging client, which helps learners develop empathy and create real-world solutions for their problems. Graduates may pursue careers as community advocates, researchers, epidemiologists, and social workers. They work directly with clients, providing care or working to change policies that affect their quality of life.
- Social Worker
Social workers work with clients to identify their needs and help them obtain services such as food stamps, healthcare, and education. In hospitals and nursing homes, social workers help clients understand their medical conditions and their insurance options. They also work with other healthcare personnel to monitor the client’s condition.
Median Annual Salary: $47,980
Projected Growth Rate: 16%
- Social and Community Service Managers
Social and community service managers advocate for the aging population, speaking to elderly clients along with the people who work with them to determine which issues need attention. They reach out to other community leaders to develop programs and community initiatives.
Median Annual Salary: $64,100
Projected Growth Rate: 18%
- Medical Scientists
Using medical samples, these scientists research chronic diseases and the bacteria that cause them. They work with healthcare officials to create initiatives to address health concerns. Medical scientists are tasked with developing recommended dosages and other procedures regarding pharmaceutical production.
Median Annual Salary: $82,090
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Epidemiologists collect data from the general public to learn about diseases and prevent outbreaks. They conduct interviews and surveys to identify public health concerns. Once they identify an issue, they lead efforts to educate the public and limit the spread of disease. They work primarily with data sets to identify at-risk groups.
Median Annual Salary: $69,660
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Medical and Health Services Managers
Medical managers supervise healthcare facilities. They handle everything from staffing to making sure facilities comply with government regulations. Managers represent their facilities at board meetings and public events, setting goals for each department to meet and prepare budgets.
Median Annual Salary: $98,350
Projected Growth Rate: 20%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Gerontology
The average gerontology master’s degree takes two years to complete. Most programs comprise 12 courses, and curricula include core classes that focus on foundational skills and electives covering specialized topics. Some schools offer prior learning credits to applicants with relevant work experience or military training. To qualify, students meet with a board that reviews their work or military qualifications.
Depending on the school, the curriculum can also feature a practicum or direct experience requirement. During the practicum, students shadow an employee, and write about the tasks and activities that employee performed. Students use theories and methods learned in class to complete practicum assignments. Some curricula may feature a capstone or thesis project. Capstone projects might be written or visual projects focusing on a major-related issue, while thesis projects require original research and a written report.
Students, especially working professionals, should keep these requirements in mind when choosing a program. Students who can dedicate more time to projects and field experiences might opt to study full time, while part-time students must to work with instructors and facilities to coordinate experiences or project meetings around their schedule.
Prospective students should also account for program cost. Schools charge per credit, course, or term. Part-time students taking fewer than three courses per semester might consider a per-credit course plan. Applicants should also know their prospective schools’ accreditation statuses. Regionally accredited schools receive recognition and funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Students attending these schools qualify for different forms of financial aid and, in most cases, can easily transfer college credits to other schools.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Gerontology
Every master’s in gerontology student should be familiar with the three forms of accreditation: regional, national, and programmatic. Regionally accredited schools are evaluated by one of the six regional accrediting bodies in the United States, each of which sets strict guidelines for faculty members and programs. Once approved, schools can distribute federal funds to students, and use federal funds to sustain programs.
Many organizations see regional accreditation as the gold standard. National accreditation is the second most common. Nationally accrediting bodies create their own standards for program evaluation, and primarily serve trade and vocational schools that grant certificates and degrees. Students must understand that transferring credits from these schools can be difficult, because their accrediting standards are not always up to par.
Programmatic accrediting bodies are program-specific, reviewing those programs to make sure they provide students with the skills needed to work in the industry. The Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council inspects gerontology programs. The council works with the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.
Master's in Gerontology Program Admissions
Gerontology master’s program applicants must submit a few documents and fill out an application. Each school’s application process depends on its admissions deadline. For schools with a regular admissions deadline, students submit applications between the fall months and January. The rolling admissions process starts in September and ends mid-summer. Once students know their school’s application deadline, they need to research its admission requirements. Many schools handle the admissions process online, in which they ask students to complete an applicant profile and upload their documents. This system makes it easier for students and schools to manage the application process.
Programs require certain test scores (GRE/GMAT), minimum GPA requirements (3.0 or higher), prerequisite courses, letters of recommendation, and a resume. If students don’t meet the basic program requirements or submit the right documents, their application to the program may be denied. Students should apply to multiple schools to increase their chances of acceptance.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Most programs want students to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. This degree does not have to be health-related, but graduate programs may give preference to graduates with healthcare-related degrees.
- Professional Experience: Students with experience working with aging populations may apply for a gerontology master’s degree. These students already work as nurses, social workers, and home health aides.
- Minimum GPA: Schools want learners that understand advanced multidisciplinary concepts and theories. Therefore, they look for students with high GPAs over an extended period of time.
- Application: Applications can take a few hours to complete. Some include sections for essays or personal statements. Interfolio allows students to fill out a general application and use it to apply for multiple schools.
- Transcripts: Schools request undergraduate transcripts to see the applicant’s grades, GPA, and course load. Ask your undergraduate school to send the application directly to the admissions department free of charge.
- Letters of Recommendation: Programs want letters from at least two different people vouching for your work ethic and ability to pass the courses. Ask mentors such as former instructors or supervisors for letters.
- Test Scores: Some schools ask applicants to submit GRE or GMAT test scores. They use these scores to evaluate applicants’ critical thinking and analytical skills.
- Application Fee: Fees range in price, with some exceeding $100. Schools charge students for processing their applications and materials. Some institutions offer fee waivers for students who can demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Gerontology?
Gerontology is a broad field, so many students choose to narrow their focus by declaring a concentration. Most concentrations focus on an area of gerontology that requires specialized training, like long-term care or psychology, to provide learners with valuable insight into the aging population, their struggles, and ways to help them cope with changes.
|Geriatric Care Management||This track trains students to work in long-term healthcare environments for the elderly. These include nursing homes and assisted living communities. Students learn administrative practices and direct care techniques for patients. Instructors teach them how to create and manage care plans using facility and outside resources.||Medical and Health Services Managers|
|Geropsychology||Geropsychology combines elements of traditional psychology with gerontology. Psychologists help aging individuals deal with the psychological, emotional, and behavioral changes that come with age. Students learn to help patients cope with dementia, and even provide forgiveness counseling. More hospitals and long-term care facilities are seeking professionals trained in geropsychology to help their clientele.||Social Workers|
|Medical Physiology||Medical professionals will appreciate this track that aims to train them in geriatric care. In this concentration, students learn about common illnesses and issues that afflict the elderly. Students explore the brain system, examine the biological aging process, and study the functions of the body.||Medical Scientists|
Courses in a Master’s in Gerontology Program
Course titles differ between schools, but their objectives remain generally the same. Gerontology courses use biology, sociology, physiology, and other disciplines to teach students about geriatric care, the aging process, and measures used to help the aging population. See below for a sample master’s in gerontology curriculum.
- Geriatric and Age-Related Disease
This course teaches students about the diseases, illnesses, and disorders affecting aging populations. Students research mental illnesses such as dementia and depression, along with physical disorders like osteoporosis. The course also tackles preventative care measures for the elderly and care facilities for aging adults.
- Biology of Aging
This course details the aging process, drawing similarities between humans and other species, like rodents. First, instructors help students define aging and the concepts surrounding it. Then, students advance to the biology and physiology of aging. The course concludes with common interventions. In addition to concepts, students learn medical terminology.
- Population-Based Research on Aging
Students assess population-based research methods for various diseases plaguing the aging community. Students pinpoint the techniques needed to research comorbidity, chronic conditions, and nutritional epidemiology. Learners investigate physical functions and the performance measures used to identify them. The course also touches on the social aspects of aging and hospitalization.
- Theories of Aging
In this course, students explore various theories on aging and how to implement those theories in patient care. Modules cover psychology from both the classical and modern perspectives. Other modules delve into longevity and the mechanisms of aging. Students also examine sociological perspectives on modernization and social stratification.
- Healthy Aging; Biological Outcomes
The course explores the effect lifestyle changes have on older adults. Students analyze geroscience and the biological factors associated with aging. The course focuses on the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and unbalanced diet, and promotes the benefits of proper diet, exercise and sleep.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Gerontology?
Depending on the student’s enrollment status, a gerontology master’s degree may take three years to obtain, but most schools create curricula that take two years to complete on a full-time basis. Most programs require 36 credits or more to graduate, with each course worth one to three credits. Full-time students take a full course load each semester, allowing them to finish in two years or less. Most part-time students only take one to two courses each semester, extending the length of the program.
To speed up the process, students enroll in summer courses or classes during winter break. Students with financial aid packages can receive additional funding for summer and winter courses. Learners also enroll in self-paced online courses to fulfill program requirements. In a self-paced program, students complete coursework by set deadlines and can turn in assignments early. For students with other commitments, accelerated courses help them graduate on time.
How Much Is a Master’s in Gerontology?
Tuition prices range for gerontology master’s programs based on a few different factors. Typically, public universities and colleges cost less than private schools. Public institutions receive additional government funding, and can therefore keep tuition rates down and offer even lower rates to in-state residents. Private schools tend to cost more and charge the same rate of tuition for both state residents and out-of-state students. In both public and private settings, tuition rates can rise each year due to the economy and other outside factors.
One of those outside factors is program length. Typically, it takes full-time students about two years to finish the program. Part-time students may need up to three years. Adding a specialization can extend the program’s length. Spending extra time in school usually leads to additional tuition and fees. Most universities and colleges charge fees for a variety of services, including lab equipment and access. On-campus students also incur expenses for room and board and insurance. Schools eliminate some of these fees for online students, but online learners still pay a technology fee.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Gerontology Prepares For
Students with a gerontology master’s degree qualify for this certification. The association reviews students’ transcripts to verify their educational background. Once approved by the board, applicants move on to the exam process. The board allows students to apply for this credential and renew it under the board’s student membership.
- Gerontologist Specialist
Intended for professionals with a bachelor’s degree in gerontology, this credential requires an application, a transcript submission, and an exam. Professionals and administrators who provide care services to senior citizens can apply for the test. If applicants do not pass the test, the board suggests materials to help them retake it.
- Gerontological Coordinator
Applicants can take this exam once they obtain their associate degree or 24 college credits in gerontology. Applicants renew their credential every two years after receiving 20 hours of professional education.
Resources for Graduate Gerontology Students
The academy touts itself as a public policy institute concerned with researching issues surrounding older population issues and presenting them to policymakers and academics. It works under the Gerontological Society of America, and publishes findings in a quarterly report, available online.
Led by the American Psychological Association, this online resource provides valuable information about the field of psychology. Students find career guides specifically made for different types of students and data on popular psychology career tracks.
In 2016, the academy created the nation’s first gerontology accrediting association. It oversees gerontology programs and publishes a journal on gerontology education.
The administration collects data on aging populations and posts the research on its website. In its database, students find information organized into custom tables and state profiles.
The census happens every 10 years, but the bureau is constantly working on population reports to publish its findings and educate the public. Students use the bureau’s website to locate demographic information.
Professional Organizations in Gerontology
Joining a professional organization while pursuing a gerontology master’s degree exposes students to a world of networking opportunities, continuing education courses, and mentorships. Organizations strive to educate their members and keep them up-to-date with the latest developments in gerontology. Many associations conduct their own research and publish reports and journals to share their discoveries with the community. By joining a professional organization, students gain access to career services, conferences, and other resources that prepare them to work with aging populations.
The society aims to encourage scientific research and scholarly study of gerontology. Its publications promote this mission through scholarly articles, written to educate the public about aging populations.
The non-profit society boasts nearly 6,000 members dedicated to improving aging populations’ quality of life. Members include doctors, nurses, and esteemed gerontologists. They advocate for health programs and better public education.
This organization administers credentials to professional gerontologists. It offers networking opportunities and continuing education courses for those interested in advancing their careers.
The society works to improve the skills of those working with elderly populations by providing training resources and professional education to its 5,000 members.
The association promotes psychology research in many different disciplines, including gerontology. It seeks to establish high standards and a strong code of ethics for psychologists.