Human services is a broad designation for programs and policy initiatives that provide assistance to individuals and populations in need. The health and human services sector encompasses a range of governmental agencies, community organizations, non-profit groups, and private enterprises that administer and coordinate the delivery of social welfare programs, humanitarian aid, nutritional and vocational assistance, mental health services, housing, and many other basic needs. Becoming a human services professional involves integrating knowledge from a variety of areas, including behavioral science and sociology, organizational leadership and communication, and social service policy and management, and cultivating a balance of compassion, understanding, and pragmatism. Master’s in human service degree programs are designed to provide instruction and training in these areas in order to prepare students for advancement in the field of human services.
Human services is a multi-disciplinary area of academic study and professional practice. A master’s in human services degree is a Master of Arts, Master of Science, or Master of Professional Studies degree that provides training and instruction in the theoretical underpinnings and professional practice of human services. This typically includes didactic instruction in human social and psychological development, behavioral science research methodologies, human service program assessment and administration, financial and human resource management, and ethical standards of practice. Students in human services master’s program also study theories of mental health counseling, develop intercultural competencies, while learning how to write grants and funding proposals, coordinate community activism, and provide leadership in social policy initiatives. Most master’s programs in human services also include applied learning experiences through supervised internships, practicums, and/or capstone projects.
Online master’s in human services programs offer a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional campus-based programs by providing all of most of their coursework using distance-learning technologies. Students in an online program receive the same instructional curriculum as their campus-based counterparts without having to relocate or commute to a college or university campus. Lectures and other course materials are accessed by online students through a secure Internet connection using a learning management system (LMS), which is a platform that supports interactive instructional activities, communication with instructors and advisors, and discussion groups among students. Online master’s in human services programs with internship or field work components generally allow students to complete these requirements at a local agency or organization.
There are no formal licensing requirements in the field of human services, and master’s in human services programs do not prepare students for licensure in fields like social work or counseling. The Council for Standards in Human Services Education (CSHSE) provides voluntary accreditation to master’s in human services programs, and maintains suggested curricular guidelines for these programs in its National Standards for Master’s Degree in Human Services. However, CSHSE accreditation is not required, and many programs that have not sought CSHSE accreditation offer instruction and training consistent with CSHSE guidelines. While there is no formal naming convention for a degree in human services, most are clearly designated as human services degree programs in the following ways:
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research of master’s in human services programs and classifies programs based on several criteria. Every program listed on the site must be offered by a regionally accredited, non-profit college or university. These programs must offer a curriculum that addresses core topics and proficiencies in human services, including theories of human development and sociology; human services policy and management; social science research methods; and organizational management in the non-profit and human services sectors. In addition, OnlineEducation.com examines the format of each program to ensure that all or most of the coursework is offered online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus visits per year are not classified as online programs and are therefore not currently included on the site.
The master’s level coursework in human services varies by program, and many programs offer optional specializations, tracks, or concentrations that allow students to pursue advanced training in areas like clinical counseling, organizational leadership, non-profit management, mental health administration, and global policy. However, the core human service curriculum encompasses classes that cover topics in four basic areas: communication and organizational management; the ethical and professional practice of human services administration; social science theory and research methods; and contemporary social and human services policy.
These programs typically include some training in cultural and socioeconomic diversity issues, as well as in the theory and practice of mental health counseling. And most online master’s in human service programs include a final project, capstone, and/or internship component which allows students to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world human services context.
The table below provides an overview of actual courses offered by online master’s in human services degree programs.
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Introduction to Human Services Administration||An examination of the administrative tools used by professionals in human and social services organizations, including written and oral communication skills, human resources management, and client relations.|
|Quantitative Research Methods||The role of research and its application in human services programs, and the use of statistical methods to assess and analyze human services programs.|
|Ethics for Human Services||Ethical standards for professional conduct and management in the field of human services, and the role of ethics in the decision-making process.|
|Qualitative Research Methods||The use of various qualitative research methodologies to assess and improve human services programs, including single-case studies, interviewing techniques, and the integration of data into qualitative research design.|
|Community Engagement||Strategies for promoting community engagement in social and human services issues through volunteerism, social networking, and leveraging existing community assets and networks.|
|Communications for Human Services||Written communication strategies for human services professionals in areas that include client reports, psychosocial histories, evaluations, professional papers, research reports, papers for mass audiences, and requests for funding.|
|Social & Cultural Diversity||An examination of cultural, social, religious, and economic factors among ethnic and minority populations, and how understanding these factors contribute to the improvement of human service programs.|
|Career Development||Theories of career development applied to human services organizations, including strategies for motivating, training, and promoting employees.|
|Sustainable Funding||An overview of private and public funding sources for human services programs, and how to secure sustainable funding through public policy research, community engagement, and effective grant writing.|
|Nonprofit Administration||Theories and principles of management applied to nonprofit organizations, and the legal and regulatory framework in which nonprofit organizations exist.|
|Leadership Theories & Research||Theories and practices of effective leadership applied to human services management.|
The basic requirement for admissions to an online master’s in human services program is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree are typically required to submit two or three letters of recommendation and/or a short personal goals statement along with their undergraduate transcripts and application fees. Some programs have more selective admissions criteria and may require or prefer a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher. Some programs may also request that applicants submit standardized test scores, usually the GRE. There may also be undergraduate course prerequisites (e.g., statistics, sociology, and/or psychology) that must be met before enrollment in the program begins.
All of the master’s in human services degree programs included on this site are offered online by accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. However, there are structural variations and formatting differences that can be important considerations for prospective applicants, particularly applicants who intend to work while earning their degree or who have other significant commitments outside of school. Key areas of concern in this regard include: method of online instruction; enrollment options; and required campus visits.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two modes of online instruction. Synchronous instruction simulates a traditional classroom experience by streaming lectures, discussions, and other course activities in real-time. Students in a course that uses synchronous instruction must be prepared to log on to the LMS at designated times in order to view and participate in live activities. Asynchronous instruction allows students to access weekly lectures and other course materials at times of their own choosing and does not include formal online class meetings. Students in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction have more flexibility in terms when they view online lectures and presentations, but this method of instruction generally requires more self-discipline. Students who prefer more structure should look into programs that utilize synchronous instruction. Conversely, students who require more flexibility may want to find programs that use asynchronous instruction.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Online master’s in human services programs may offer different enrollment options, which affects the time it takes to complete a program and the number of course credits students must earn each semester/term. A typical online master’s in human services program can be completed in 12-to-16 months of full-time enrollment by students who are able to take a full course load – the equivalent of four or five classes per semester. The completion time for students who enroll part-time in the same program and take only two or three courses per semester extends proportionally to two or more years. Some programs are only offered part-time, while others have full-time and part-time options. For students who intend to continue working while earning their degree, this can be an important area of consideration.
Campus Visits: While many master’s in human services programs offer all of their coursework online, some hold on-campus orientation and immersion sessions that online students are required to attend. These campus sessions may include a variety of instructional and networking activities, and typically provide students with an opportunity to meet with instructors and classmates. They can be a valuable addition to an online program. Generally, campus visits do not last longer than a week, and they may be as short as two or three days. However, they require travel, which may be difficult for some online students. Prospective applicants should examine programs carefully to determine whether or not they require campus visits. OnlineEducation.com does not currently include master’s in human services programs that require more than two campus visits per year.