Associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in social services, human services, social work or related areas are available, though a master's degree is necessary to work as a clinical social worker. Students in these programs will develop strong communication skills and cultural awareness. They also teach students about mental illness and educate students about issues like substance abuse.
A criminal background check, course placement exams and a high school diploma or equivalent are often requirements for admission into an associate and bachelor's programs. A bachelor's degree and sometimes human services experience are required for master's program. Before graduating, master's students may be required to write a thesis. Students also spend time completing internships and field practice.
Associate of Science (A.S.) in Human Services
An Associate of Science program in human services prepares students for entry-level employment in human services, which encompasses social services. After completing this two-year program, graduates can work with people with substance abuse issues, emotional or social problems, developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.
Courses feature classroom learning and supervised clinical practicum, along with classes covering:
- Behavior management
- Human services
- Group dynamics
Bachelor of Arts (B.S.) in Social Service
A four-year bachelor's program in social service program trains students for social service careers. This degree is not very common, but many schools offer related degrees like Bachelor of Science in Human Services and Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. Students are taught about community health, family counseling and substance abuse.
Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in social service learn through seminars and field experience. Some programs require that students choose an area of specialty within the program's curriculum. Courses available include:
- Human growth and development
- Abnormal psychology
- Counseling theory
- Child psychology
- Mental health disorders
Master of Social Work
A two-year master's degree in social work program prepares students to become leaders in the social work field. Students learn how to help families, children, individuals or communities deal with problems. Students may be allowed to choose their own areas of study and research options.
Most master's degrees in social work programs allow students to work closely with professors to develop their own course of study. Some coursework includes:
- Human behavior
- History of social welfare
- Social work practice
- Social work statistics
- Social policy
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a human services associate's degree program can choose to transfer to a baccalaureate program focusing on social work, sociology, psychology, counseling or criminal justice. Students may also choose to directly enter the workforce. Job titles are varied, but some popular ones include:
- Outreach worker
- Mental health worker
- Addictions counselor
- Case manager
Salary Information and Employment Prospects
Social service graduates find employment in numerous locations but commonly work as social workers or mental health workers. They may work for local, state or federal social services agencies. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social worker employment from 2014-2024 was expected to increase 12%, which is faster than average. Additionally, counselor employment should increase by at least 12%, depending on specialty.
The BLS reported that the median per-hour rate for social service occupations as of May 2015 depended on the person's focus. For example, mental health and substance abuse social workers earned a median of $20.28, which translates to $42,170 per full-time year, while those that the BLS grouped as 'all other social workers' earned a median of $28.15, or $58,560 per year.
Graduates of master's degree programs have obtained the necessary academic degree needed to pursue state licensing and certification. Application for licensure should be made with the state board where the applicant wishes to practice. These levels of certification can include certified master social worker, certified social work manager and licensed clinical social worker. Graduates must complete supervised practice hours, which can range from 100-3,000 hours, before taking the exam.
Individuals with an associate's or bachelor's degree in a social services or a related field may be suitable to work with people with substance abuse issues, emotional or social problems, developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. A Master of Social Work degree and licensure is needed to be a clinical social worker.