Best Online Master’s in Human Services Programs
The human services field presents significant opportunities for passionate individuals who want to help others. Professionals with a master's in human services can access growing workforces and strong wages. Compare top online master's in human services degrees by cost, academic quality, and flexibility.
Published on January 28, 2022 · Updated on July 22, 2022
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Human services careers allow you to have an impact on the lives of individuals and communities. This can be done through direct services, policy and program implementation, and research.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 12% growth in community and social service jobs from 2020-2030. Professionals in these occupations earn a median annual salary of $47,520, as of May 2020.
While similar to a master's of social work, a master's in human services focuses more on administrative duties and leadership. In addition, it stresses measuring program effectiveness over clinical counseling services.
However, some master's in human services programs offer concentrations that can lead to work as a counselor helping people with substance misuse, marriage and family therapist, or school counselor.
A master's degree in this field can prepare you for leadership positions with nonprofit organizations or human services agencies.
Graduate school tuition and required fees averaged $19,790 in the 2019-2020 academic year, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported. Students can expect to dedicate about two years to their master's study. Many online colleges and universities give learners the flexibility to continue working while advancing their education.
What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Human Services?
Human services encompasses numerous programs designed to help people in communities lead healthier lives. These programs can include public health initiatives, family support services, counseling, social work, or substance misuse intervention.
Many people seeking careers in this field actively look for ways to help people and take on complex problem-solving to identify creative solutions to issues. Essential skills and qualities for this field include compassion, good judgment, and communication skills.
Your online master's in human services curriculum can help you develop effective skills for leading teams, fostering collaboration, and measuring program outcomes. Your master's program can also include training for counseling careers.
Earning a master's degree in human services usually takes two years and includes 30 credits. Schools may offer a master of science (MS) or master of arts (MA) degree.
An MS typically emphasizes quantitative analysis. An MA may include more training in humanities. Both degrees may offer a capstone experience, such as an internship, research project, or thesis.
Because human services covers such a variety of disciplines, many schools offer concentrations within their master's in human services curriculum. These tracks build on general degree requirements with a series of courses on a specific topic.
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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Human Services Program?
Human Services Delivery Skills and Processes
This foundational course looks at human services regulations and policies that govern government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Students learn about social movements, organizational policy, and regulation review. The class may also look at the human services field from a historical perspective.
Group Theories and Human Systems
While some social services careers focus on serving individuals, most human services roles look at groups of individuals. This course explores group dynamics and research to inform service delivery and enhancement for specific groups and communities.
Cultural Diversity and Advocacy
Students evaluate issues and trends in a multicultural society to identify and eliminate bias and discrimination. The course may focus on the role of cultural diversity in learning, counseling, or social services policy. Students will critically evaluate policies or programs and discuss changes that promote equity and opportunity.
Students learn to identify grant and funding opportunities, evaluate grant requirements, and write grant proposals. The course also looks at the grant review process and grant reporting procedures. Students may gain hands-on practice in grant identification and proposal preparation.
Human Services Administration
This interdisciplinary course draws from principles of organizational behavior and leadership. Students examine leadership issues and human services policies to develop effective leadership styles. Assignments help students demonstrate problem-solving skills.
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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Human Services Program?
Admission requirements can vary from school to school. Most schools require a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a minimum 2.5 GPA. If your undergraduate degree falls outside the human services field, you may need to take foundational classes before beginning graduate-level courses.
You may also be required to fulfill additional steps than those outlined below, like an interview.
Your graduate school application lists basic information for admission to the program. This can include your academic information, names of references, and proof of residency status. While undergraduate programs may accept a centralized application, such as Common Application, graduate schools do not.
A master's in human services program may require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores for admission. The Educational Testing Service administers the GRE at testing centers across the country. The test covers six sections, with multiple-choice questions and two essays. Students receive scores in analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. Test takers averaged scores of 150 in verbal reasoning and 153 in quantitative reasoning from July 2017-June 2020.
Letters of Recommendation
You should ask former professors, professional mentors, or workplace supervisors familiar with your work to write letters of recommendation. Be respectful of their time and always contact them several weeks ahead of the school's deadline. Provide your letter writers with your resume, personal statement, and academic information to help them draft a recommendation letter that encompasses your goals and skills.
Resume and Work Experience
Your resume details your professional work experience and volunteer activities. If you have worked in human services, that experience can help your application stand out. Be sure to highlight specific job duties, successful projects, and professional recognition. Some accelerated programs may require two or more years of professional experience for admission.
The essay portion of the application not only demonstrates your ability to write professionally, but it also allows the admissions team to better understand your goals. The essay may serve as a personal statement, or the school may provide a prompt. Pay attention to instructions, such as length or writing style.
Your transcript will verify your undergraduate degree and coursework, ensuring you meet the degree and GPA requirements. If you have taken graduate-level coursework from another college, you can apply for transfer credit after you receive an admissions decision. However, many graduate schools may limit transfer credits.
What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Human Services Degree?
A master's in human services program can help prepare you for numerous careers depending on your area of focus.
Graduates interested in becoming counselors or therapists must meet specific licensing requirements to help individuals and families overcome struggles. Or, your degree can help you pursue a management role at a nonprofit organization or community service agency.
The BLS projects a 12% increase in community and social service occupations from 2020-2030. The agency projects a 15% increase in employment of social and community service managers, with about 18,300 job openings, on average, each year. Much of the demand comes from increased services for an aging population.
Nonprofit organizations employ more than 12.3 million people nationwide, as of 2016. Those organizations need effective leaders.
Graduates with a master's in human services may find themselves building a career in a public service organization or agency. In addition to helping others, such careers may help defray educational costs through public service loan forgiveness programs. Be sure to check into loan and employment requirements.
Marriage and family therapists need a master's degree in counseling from an accredited program and a license to practice. These therapists help couples and individuals discuss experiences and emotions. They help clients develop strategies for coping with difficult situations and making decisions. They may work in a mental health office, the office of other healthcare providers, or as self-employed therapists. The BLS projects a 16% growth in employment from 2020-2030.
Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $51,340
School counselors must meet the requirements of their state department of education for licensing. Most states require a master's in counseling or a related field, such as human services, focusing on counseling. These counselors work with students to develop class schedules that align with individual career goals, address behavioral issues like bullying or substance misuse, and assist with testing programs. The BLS projects 11% growth in employment for school and career counselors and advisors from 2020-2030.
Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $58,120
Social and Community Service Manager
Community service managers coordinate programs and initiatives that serve a community or group within a community. The manager may evaluate the need for programs to address many issues, like hunger, wellness, domestic violence, or mental health. Managers also seek funding, track program effectiveness, and manage staff. Managers may work in government agencies or nonprofit organizations. The BLS projects a 15% growth in employment for these managers from 2020-2030.
Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $69,600
Medical and Health Services Manager
These managers work with medical providers to oversee business and facility operations to treat patients better. They may lead a department or entire facility, managing hiring, budgeting, and regulatory compliance. The BLS projects a 32% growth in employment from 2020-2030, driven by the increase in health services, preventative medicine, and holistic wellness programs. Many managers earn a master's degree and often bring work experience in the health field.
Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $104,280
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Continuing education requirements vary depending on your field. Counselors, therapists, and social workers typically must complete ongoing professional education to maintain their license. If you have sought a professional credential, such as human services-board certified practitioner, you must complete 60 hours of relevant continuing education every five years.
You may also choose to continue your education by pursuing a doctorate in human services, especially if you wish to teach at the college level. Universities offer either a doctorate emphasizing the practical application of theories and research or a Ph.D. in human services focusing on original research. Both require 3-5 years and 55-65 credits.
How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Human Services Program?
Graduate students paid an average of about $19,790 in tuition and required fees in 2019-2020, NCES reported. Private schools typically charge more than public institutions, around $26,600 annually compared to $12,410. Students often pay less at public schools in their home state. Some online schools charge all students the same tuition no matter where they live.
While tuition makes up the bulk of what you will pay, to get the true cost of your degree, consider what you'll pay for books, supplies, and travel, if necessary.
Graduate schools often offer flexible enrollment options that can help students balance career and family obligations as they pursue their degree. Consider the program format and if you can enroll part time or take accelerated classes.
Online programs may feature asynchronous courses that allow you to complete assignments around your other commitments. Some schools use a cohort model, meaning students move through the curriculum as a group.
While an online master's in human services allows you to access schools across the country, many students still choose a school close to home. NCES found that more than 80% of distance education students attending public institutions in fall 2018 selected colleges in their state. About 35% of students at private nonprofit colleges were in-state learners.
Choosing an online school close by can save on travel costs if your program requires in-person sessions. It may also increase your alumni network with potential employers in your area.
Be sure to choose a college or university with regional or national accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This ensures the school meets specific standards and can allow you to be eligible for federal financial aid.
The Council for Standards in Human Service Education provides programmatic accreditation for human services programs. If you plan to seek licensure in counseling, education, or social work, ensure your school meets state licensing requirements and holds proper accreditation.
Also, consider the school's alumni network and how to connect with graduates in your career field and the internship opportunities available. Many schools offer services through video conferencing or websites to serve their online student community.
Best Accredited Online Master's in Human Services Programs
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Human Services Programs
Earning a master's in human services can help prepare you for leadership positions in human services agencies and organizations. Community and social service occupations will continue to grow in the coming years, with the BLS projecting 12% growth in this career field from 2020-2030.
While some positions require a bachelor's degree, job-related experience and a master's degree in human services may equip you with the leadership skills necessary to manage complex organizations.
Human services can encompass multiple disciplines. Earning a master's in human services can help prepare you to take on various positions such as individual counseling, agency administration, or program design and development. Many graduates work in government agencies, nonprofit management, social work, or emergency response.
Because the human services field includes so many specializations, many schools offer concentrations or tracks within their curriculum that focus on specific careers. You can tailor your degree to your interests with these concentrations, such as emergency management, counseling, rehabilitation, or leadership.
Yes. The BLS projects 12% growth in human services occupations from 2020-2030, with thousands of job openings each year. Much of this job growth will come from the increase in services for senior citizens and in addressing substance misuse in communities.
The BLS projects about 18,300 job openings for social and community service managers each year, on average, from 2020-2030. The overall projected job growth is 15% during that decade.
Human services graduates work in various settings — from medical offices to government agencies and schools to nonprofit organizations. About 12.3 million people work for nonprofits in the U.S. A master's in human services can help you pursue leadership positions in these organizations, developing funding sources and administering effective community programs.
Community and social service workers earned a median annual salary of $47,520, as of May 2020. Salary potential depends on the type of job you hold, your education and experience, and where you live.
Social and community service managers, for example, need a minimum of a bachelor's degree, though many employers prefer applicants with a master's degree. They earned a median annual salary of $69,600, as of May 2020.
Earnings varied for these managers, however. The top 10% earned more than $115,800. The federal government offered the highest average annual salary, $109,020. In terms of location, Washington, D.C., paid the most — with an annual mean wage of $105,560 — compared to $40,010 a year in Puerto Rico.
Your online master's in human services can prepare you for many higher-paying positions, including careers in health services management. These managers earn a median annual salary of $104,280, as of May 2020, with the top 10% of these managers earning more than $195,630 a year.
The BLS projects a 32% increase in employment for these managers from 2020-2030, with more than 51,000 job openings, on average, each year. Much of this growth will come from increased demand for healthcare services from an aging population.
These managers organize staff, handle budgets, ensure compliance and market services. Experience in interdisciplinary care and holistic services can prepare you to manage multiple departments focused on patient wellness.
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