Gerontology associate's degree programs give students basic knowledge of the psychology of aging, case management and the delivery of health and social services. Students complete training at a long-term care facility and a hospice as well as a gerontology internship. Bachelor's degree programs cover similar topics and also look at ways to help older people live productive, fulfilling lives. Research and internships are part of the program. Prerequisites often include a high school diploma for both the associate's and bachelor's degree programs.
Most master's degree programs in gerontology are designed to prepare students to become nursing home administrators or executives with programs for the aging. These degree programs are focused on research and may include courses in public policy, dementia and health promotion as well as business-oriented courses such as finance and marketing. The program culminates in a gerontology internship and graduate thesis.
To gain admission to a master's degree program, students will need to hold a bachelor's degree. Other requirements include satisfactory scores on the GRE, a minimum undergraduate GPA, letters of reference and a personal statement outlining academic and career goals.
Graduates of bachelor's and master's degree programs can become licensed nursing home or residential care/assisted living administrators.
Associate of Applied Science in Gerontology
Students in associate's degree programs learn about development across life spans, the psychology of aging and the impact that the elderly have on culture and society. Topics covered in this degree program include case management, addiction, research and methods for providing health and human services to the elderly. Course topics that are common to this degree program include the following:
- Adult development
- Injury prevention
- Ethics in aging
- Sociology of aging
- Gerontology fundamentals
Bachelor of Science in Gerontology
This interdisciplinary degree program explores challenges faced by aging populations, the science of aging and the increasing need for elderly services. Rather than focus solely on illness and the negative implications of aging, this degree program focuses on caring for individuals with longer life spans and providing services that encourage physical activity, optimal nutrition and independence. Students also examine the effects of recreational and leisure activities for the elderly, in addition to exploring cultural, ethical, psychological and gender issues in aging.
Students who plan to attend medical school will have science coursework requirements in addition to the gerontology curriculum. Core gerontology courses include the following:
- Elder services
- Aging physiology
- Aging psychology
- Aging biology
- Aging in the United States
Master of Science in Gerontology
A master's degree program in gerontology educates students to work as directors and administrators of elderly services. Candidates receive instruction on research methods and study psychology, sociology and physiology as they relate to the process of aging. Community and government initiatives are analyzed with regard to how they promote the health and wellbeing of aging populations. Current healthcare and social service organizations are reviewed for competency, and social policies that have been implemented for the elderly are examined. Other topics include cultural, ethnic and gender influences on aging.
Coursework in this degree program is research intensive and consists of studies in finance and marketing (as they apply to aging services), gerotechnology and dementia. Other courses in this degree program include the following:
- Health promotion
- Women and aging
- Public policy
- Aging and disease
Popular Career Options
Career options for associate's degree program graduates include entry-level positions in healthcare facilities, senior centers nursing homes and a variety of other settings: Popular careers for graduates include the following:
- Activity assistant
- Gerontology specialist
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs go on to work in long-term healthcare facilities, nursing homes, senior housing communities and community health organizations. Popular career options for graduates include the following:
- Case manager
- Recreational therapist
- Human services advocate
Graduates of master's degree programs are qualified to take high-level management positions in a variety of departments and organizations that provide support and care for aging populations. Popular careers for graduates include the following:
- Nursing home administrator
- Senior center director
- Geriatric care manager
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies nursing home administrators in the broader category of medical and health services managers. The BLS predicted that job openings for these managers would increase by 17% between 2014 and 2024, and it noted that there would be extra demand for nursing home administrators due to the aging baby boomer generation. In May 2015, the average salary for medical and health services managers working in nursing care facilities was $87,970, per the BLS (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
Students who hold associate's degrees in gerontology can improve their job prospects by completing an additional certificate program that covers a gerontology specialization. Certificate program options include activity professional, behavioral and cognitive care, end of life care and horticultural therapy. A graduate can also advance his or her education by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in gerontology.
Bachelor's degree program graduates may continue on to medical school to receive Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees followed by resident training in geriatrics. Graduates may also enroll in master's degree programs in social work and gerontology.
Graduates who are interested in becoming licensed administrators can take the Nursing Home Administrators Licensing Examination or the Residential Care/Assisted Living Administrators Licensing Examination, both offered through the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards. All 50 states require nursing home administrators to be licensed; licensing requirements for residential care/assisted living administrators vary by state. Graduates who are interested in research or teaching at institutes of higher education can apply to a doctoral degree program in gerontology.
Studies in gerontology are available to students in the form of associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees. These programs can prepare graduates for careers ranging from activity assistants in long-term care facilities to nursing home administrators and geriatric case managers. Graduates also have the option of improving their employment prospects with a certificate program in a specialty area.