Online Family Services Degrees: Overviews by Degree Program Levels

Dec 02, 2019

Get info about online programs in family services. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, as well as career and continuing education options.

Essential Information

Online programs of study in family services are not common, but there are a few at the undergraduate certificate, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Family service programs may be listed as Children, Youth and Family Services; Family Studies and Human Services; and Family Services

These programs may go by a variety of names, but all offer courses in human services and sociology. Some programs let students view lessons at a time of their own choosing, while other online programs have set class times. Although students take their courses online, many programs require internships that, of course, must be completed in person.

Courses in a family services program vary, depending on the level of study. At the certificate and bachelor's degree level, students look at the basics of family services, such as relationships, sociology and physiology. Students in a master's degree program may have the opportunity to specialize in an area such as substance abuse or gerontology. A master's program may offer courses on management and administration.

Online students may be required to have experience using certain types of software, such as Wimba Classroom or Eluminate Live.

Some professionals in family services, such as clinical social workers and counselors, must be licensed. Before choosing any online program of study, a prospective student should make sure it meets the standards of the state licensing agency.

Undergraduate Certificate in Children, Youth and Family Services

An online undergraduate certificate program can be a first step toward a career in family services. These programs aren't widely available, but there are some programs. Since this is not a full degree program, it requires fewer credits than most undergraduate programs. No prior college-level education is necessary, but applicants must have finished high school or earned a GED to be admitted.

Information and Requirements

The courses offered in an online family services certificate program may be taught by the instructors who teach traditional on-campus versions of the same classes. This program is available completely online, with no in-person components. Generally, about 10 courses make up the core requirements, so it may be possible for some students to finish the program in less than a year.

Classes in this certificate program take place in a virtual classroom that allows interaction between classmates and instructors. Message boards, Skype, e-mail and software like Eluminate Live are also commonly used. Each class in the program may take a slightly different structural approach, so the software used for one class will not necessarily be used by another.

Course Topics

Overall, the coursework in online family services certificate programs focus on human behavior and development. There aren't usually any general education requirements.

Intro to Sociology

The basic principles of sociology, including human interaction and behavior, are discussed. Societies and social behavior are also covered.

Human Physiology

Topics in science-focused classes often cover nutrition, health and other basic issues relevant to family services. A survey of the body systems may be included.

Human Development

Maturation and development at all stages of life may be covered in this section of the program. Family development can be a particular focus.

Family Studies and Human Services Bachelor's Degree Completion

Online family studies bachelor's degree-completion programs are designed for students who have already earned some college credits, but who haven't earned a degree. It focuses on filling in educational gaps that graduates need to understand family and human services. Students are usually required to have about 30 college credits, or the equivalent, to enter the program. Specific college coursework in subjects like English, biology, anthropology and communications may be necessary prerequisites. Applicants may need to apply as transfer students.

Information and Requirements

The course load in an online family services bachelor's degree completion program typically requires multiple semesters, even if the student takes classes full-time. Though this is a fully online program, some field work might be required.

The method of course delivery may vary across the curriculum. Students might be required to participate in video conferences, message boards, e-mail exchanges and interactive digital classrooms. Other tools for virtual course delivery may include watching or listening to course components recorded on CD or DVD and software like TELENET 2 and Wimba Classroom.

Course Topics

Although students in an online family studies bachelor's degree-completion program must fulfill core course requirements, there is usually some flexibility in selecting electives and supplemental classes. If a student has a particular interest within the broader discipline of family studies and human services, they can tailor their program to focus on that subject. Advisors are often available to help students select courses based on career goals.

Family Diversity

This course helps students understand the impact of diversity. A focus on professional applications for this information is included.

Human Aging

Focused on human development, particularly in the elder years, this course discusses the various ways people age. Processes, issues and contexts are covered.

Professional Parent Interaction

Students in this class learn how to interact with and educate parents. Discussion of family dynamics is also included.

Family Services Master's Degree

Family services master's degree programs can be available with a variety of titles and concentrations, and may grant either Master of Arts or Master of Science degrees. The specific degree field might be in human services or a related area, such as child, youth and family studies. Programs may also offer specialization or concentration in areas like administration, child and family studies, substance abuse and gerontology. Prerequisites might include a strong undergraduate liberal arts background and completion of specific courses at the school or equivalent courses from another school.

Information and Requirements

These programs often have coursework that can be completed online on the student's schedule, so long as deadlines are met. Some schools might require students to attend a one-day, on-campus orientation before beginning coursework in the program. Some programs include practicums or internships that the student will have to complete at a designated location. Class meetings might take place over phone or video conference, through email or in a virtual classroom, while course materials could be in a print, online video, CD or DVD format.

Course Topics

Though programs will vary by specialization, there are typically a core set of classes that relate to working in the public and nonprofit sectors. Required core courses may also cover public policy and ethics.

Public Administration

Students gain a foundation of knowledge to build upon during the course of the degree program. Basic information about public administration is covered in order to give students intellectual tools for success while pursuing advanced education in the field.


The purpose and function of fundraising is covered by introducing students to a variety of fundraising methods. Context for how these methods might be employed is also given.

Grant Writing

Grants are an essential aspect of the nonprofit sector, and this course introduces students to the protocol for writing effective proposals. Students are also introduced to methods for finding relevant grant opportunities.

Career Information

Undergraduate Certificate in Children, Youth and Family Services

If the goal in completing this program is to land a job in social work or counseling, further education is likely to be necessary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most social workers need at least a bachelor's degree ( However, this certificate may be adequate preparation to work in a preschool or day care center, since many workers in this field don't have postsecondary education, reported the BLS.

Family Studies and Human Services Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in this field may satisfy requirements for an entry-level position in social work or other human services fields.

Family Services Master's Degree

According to the BLS, graduates from family services master's degree programs qualify for advanced careers in nonprofit organizations, including management and executive positions. Employment opportunities for social workers were expected to grow 11% in the decade between 2018 and 2028, according to BLS data. Nonprofit employees tend to earn less than those in the private sector, though managers and administrators often earn salaries equivalent to their private sector counterparts, the BLS reported.

Continuing Education Information

Undergraduate Certificate in Children, Youth and Family Services

If graduates of this program wish to go on to advanced careers in social work or public advocacy, they can apply earned credits toward a bachelor's degree program in a relevant field like psychology or political science. Schools offering online certificate programs may also offer degree programs.

Family Studies and Human Services Bachelor's Degree

Career options can be expanded through further education, including earning a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) or a master's degree in counseling or psychology. Counseling careers often require licensure, which usually requires earning a master's degree. Additionally, a graduate degree can help pave the way for career advancement to non-profit directorial or management positions.

An online program in family service at the undergraduate and graduate level can be a good starting point for individuals who want to become social workers and public advocates. Just keep in mind that licensing is required and varies by state.

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