Associate’s Degrees in Human Services: Everything You Need to Know

associates in human services community worker helping break groundThose who work in the field of human services put their passions to use by improving the lives of those who need their skills the most. There are many roles within the human services field, and while most entry-level positions require a bachelor’s degree, it’s possible to get your start with a 2-year associate’s.

If you’re looking to join this rewarding field quickly, earning an associate’s in human services might be a great option. Where do you start, what’s required, and what kind of jobs can you pursue with this degree? Read on to get answers to all these questions and more.

What Is an Associate’s Degree in Human Services?

An associate’s in human services is typically a 2-year degree that prepares you for the most entry-level roles within the field. Though individual programs will vary, you’ll likely focus on the introductory aspects of subjects such as psychology, sociology, social work, and diversity.

It’s important to note that while social work falls under the broader umbrella of human services, these 2 degrees are not the same. An education in human services prepares you to coordinate within a larger community or organization, while a social work degree allows you to work directly with clients. If you’re looking to pursue social work as more than an assistant, you’ll need to earn at least a bachelor’s.

AA in Human Services

Programs vary based on the institution you choose, but an Associate of Arts (AA) in Human Services will likely focus on humanities and social science, on top of your human services-related courses.

AS in Human Services

An Associate of Science (AS) in Human Services will likely be very similar to an AA, though may focus more on classes that involve scientific analysis. The title of these degrees most frequently comes down to the division of the school in which the program best fits and the general education classes you’ll take.

Most employers do not have a preference for which degree type you hold, so long as it’s from an accredited program. You can verify these credentials through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Human Services Careers You Can Have with an Associate’s

An associate’s in human services can’t get you in the door to all roles within the field, but you can choose to pursue entry-level positions. These roles typically work as a type of assistant to higher level positions.


Social work assistant

While an associate’s degree doesn’t let you serve individually as a social worker, it’s possible to find work as an assistant. In this role, you might help organize cases and coordinate service plans. You may also interview clients, file reports, or help others understand the resources that are available to them.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau Labor Statistics (BLS), social and human service assistants earn an average of $35,460 per year. This varies depending on where in the country you live and the exact industry in which you work.

Highest-paying locations include California, Washington, D.C., Connecticut, Washington state, and Alaska. Top-paying industries include legal services, federal executive branches, scientific and technical consulting, and scientific research and development.

Other requirements

These roles usually require some type of on-the-job training.


Case management aide

Case management aides work with low-income, disabled, or elderly clients in settings such as hospitals, rehab centers, and mental health facilities. Providing administrative support to a case manager, this role typically takes on duties such as screening clients, managing files, and entering data into the system.

Salary

The BLS doesn’t provide specific salary information for case management assistants. That said, according to individual reports on PayScale, the median salary is $38,120 per year.

Other requirements

Like a social work assistant, a case management aide will likely undergo on-the-job training.


Community outreach worker

As an outreach worker, you’ll serve your local community through coordinating education, training, health services, and events for organizations that are typically nonprofit or healthcare-based. The role also serves as a liaison between the people in the community and the various organizations.

Salary

The BLS doesn’t have salary information for community outreach workers specifically. However, community health workers and community and social service specialists earn average annual salaries of $40,150 and $44,780, respectively.

Other requirements

On-the-job training is likely required for this role as well.


Typical Degree & Career Paths in Human Services

Though you can get your start in human services with an associate’s degree, most professionals in the field eventually pursue advanced education.

A bachelor’s degree can prepare you for roles such as a community service manager, probation officer, mental health counselor, and more. Those with master’s degree can focus on advanced specialties such as family counseling and emergency management.

At the highest level of this education are the PhD in human services and Doctor of Human Services degrees. Both of these focus on foundational theory and allow you to hold high-level roles in healthcare, social work, or community organizations.

Can I apply associate’s degree credits toward a bachelor’s degree?

Usually, yes. If you hold an associate’s degree in human services, many programs will allow you to transfer those credits over to earning this bachelor’s. You could also possibly earn credits for applicable work experience. This could mean completing your bachelor’s degree in as little as 1 1/2–2 years.

Academic Requirements Before Starting an AA or AS in Human Services

You’ll need a high school diploma or GED before you can pursue an associate’s degree in human services.

Do you need to take the SAT or ACT?

Many community colleges that offer these programs are open enrollment, meaning anyone with a high school diploma or GED is eligible to attend. However, some have a more selective admission process and will require certain scores on the SAT or ACT.

Even if your program doesn’t require these exams, it’s likely that you’ll still need to take a placement test to determine if remedial or developmental coursework is necessary. If you’ve taken the SAT or ACT, those scores might be able to take the place of the other exam.

Are there GPA requirements?

Most community colleges don’t require a certain GPA for admission, though they might if they consider their human services program selective.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate’s Degree?

Associate’s degrees typically take 2 years to complete.

The Associate’s in Human Services Curriculum

An associate’s degree program for human services will generally focus on major subject requirements in the areas of psychology, sociology, social work, biology, and diversity, with an emphasis on crisis counseling, intervention, case management, and more.

What core classes are involved?

The core classes you take will vary depending on your program. These might include versions of the following:

  • Introduction to Human Services
  • Introduction to Social work
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Principles of Sociology
  • Social Issues in Diversity
  • Client Assessment and Planning
  • Perspectives on Human Behavior
  • Principles of Ethical and Legal Practices

Number of course credits

Schools generally require around 60 course credits to earn your associate’s degree in human services. Some students, especially those who won’t be attending on a full-time basis, may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis.

Is a practicum or fieldwork required?

An associate’s degree doesn’t typically require a practicum or fieldwork. In the roles available to those with this degree, you’re likely to get the kind of experience you need with on-the-job training.

Can you specialize in an area of interest?

You won’t specialize in a particular concentration with an associate’s degree program. If you’d like to specialize and advance your career, you can pursue a higher degree, take additional classes, or attend seminars dedicated to your chosen topic.

Can I Get an Online Associate’s in Human Services?

Yes, there are many options for earning your associate’s in human services degree online.

Online

You can easily find programs that allow you to earn your associate’s degree 100% online.

These cover the same curriculum as on-site courses, offer flexibility to those who are working or taking care of children, and typically lead to the same kind of job opportunities after graduation.

Classroom

Students who want a more traditional college experience can find plenty of programs that allow them to take all of their courses on campus. There’s still flexibility here, however, as many schools offer in-class courses at night and on the weekends.

Hybrid

An increasingly popular option for degrees of all levels is the hybrid program. This blends a mix of online and on-campus courses. You may take most of your classes online and go to campus just 1 or 2 times a week.

Accelerated

You may be able to find an accelerated program that allows you to earn your associate’s degree in less than 2 years. However, these are typically available to those who previously earned credits through a state-approved program that allows high school students to attend college courses and earn credit to apply to their college education later.

How to Pick a Degree Program

When researching programs, consider what aspects are the most important to you, including requirements, cost, curriculum, and flexibility. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Does this program offer the types of classes I’m interested in?
  • Does the school offer part-time programs?
  • Can I take classes online, at night, or on the weekends?
  • What financial aid is available?
  • Does the school offer job placement services?

In addition, it’s important to remember that the school you choose should be accredited. This makes certain that the program meets quality standards and can properly prepare you to enter the workforce. You can check accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education or organizations like the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE).

Financial Aid for Human Services Students

There are several different types of financial aid available for students seeking an associate’s degree in human services. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines how much assistance the U.S. government thinks you’re eligible to receive. This can come in the form of loans, grants, and work-study.

Of course, there are private loans available from banks and other institutions. You might also be able to qualify for scholarships or grants based on academic merit or other criteria. These may be available to all types of students, or they might be designed for particular people based on things such as ethnicity, background, medical condition, military service, and more.

Do Human Services Jobs Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?

It’s possible to find loan forgiveness through the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, though you must meet certain criteria. These include having direct loans and securing full-time employment at a government or nonprofit agency. You may also qualify for state-sponsored forgiveness programs that have their own criteria for employment and more.

What Professional Organizations Are There for Human Services Careers?

Becoming a member of a professional organization can provide great opportunities to network, gain new education, and obtain certification. Some prominent groups include:

  • National Organization for Human Services (NOHS): The NOHS works to strengthen the community of human service professionals by expanding developmental opportunities and advocating and implementing policy change. They also offer grants and scholarships, as well as the Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner certification. This credential is available to anyone with at least an associate’s in human services who can pass the national exam.
  • American Public Health Services Association (APHSA): Members of the APHSA include human service workers in the local, state, and social sectors, as well as individuals with an interest in health or human services. The nonprofit is made up of multiple programs that assist people in improving their lives and push for policy change.
  • National Council on Family Relations (NCFR): The NCRF aims to understand and strengthen families through research, theory, and practice. They hold annual conferences, publish academic journals, and allow for up-and-coming professionals to collaborate with industry vets.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re a tireless advocate for the community with a passion for social change, a career in human services may be just what you’ve been looking for. But embarking on the path begins with the right education.

If you’re looking to start entry-level work within the field, use the Find Schools button to research associate’s degree programs that fit your needs.

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