What is the Difference Between Social Work and Human Services Degrees?

You have recently graduated from high school, or you are thinking about enrolling in college after being off for a couple of years, and you are interested in two main fields of study – social work and human services.

Which one should you pursue? The first thing you will want to do is research both degree programs and career fields. Why? You need to know if you have the skills and patience to be successful in one or both career fields, before enrolling in a degree program.

What Does the Social Work Field Entail?

A social worker provides a variety of resources and services to people, who need extra help managing their lives.

In other words, a social worker offers financial, personal, mental health and physical assistance to disadvantaged and disabled individuals (i.e. addiction, domestic abuse, unhealthy relationships, doctor’s appointments, transportation, child and elder abuse, hospice decisions, self-esteem issues, jobs, education, managing money, government assistance, healthcare, housing, problem-solving and communication issues, etc.).

These professionals help people regain some control over their lives. To obtain a degree in social work, also known as sociology, you will (at minimum) need to enroll in an undergraduate degree social work program at an accredited college or university.

What Does the Human Services Field Involve?

Those, who pursue a human services degree, typically work as: child and family case managers at social service agencies (i.e. Department of Children’s Services (DCS) or Child and Family Services) or clinics/hospitals.

Depending on the level of the degree (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate), they may also work as: psychologists, psychotherapists, marriage and family therapists, licensed social workers, residential directors at social service agencies, human service technicians or assistants.

To earn a degree in human services, you will need to (at the very least) enroll in an undergraduate human services program at a recognized college or university.

What are the Major Differences?

Truth-be-told, there aren’t many differences between social work degree programs and human services programs. Most colleges and universities include the same psychology, social work, and liberal arts courses in their social work and human services degree programs.

In addition, the amount of time spent earning both degrees (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate) is the same for both degree programs.

As of May 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, social workers typically make $64,360, per year, depending on education, experience, and location, which is slightly more than the majority of human services specialists (approximately $62,304, per year, depending on education, experience, and location)

Moreover, social workers typically have to be licensed to provide services, while human service specialists do not have to be licensed in certain career fields.

Social work degree programs place more emphasis on education, while human services degree programs place more emphasis on field work and experience.

A social work degree prepares you to get your license and possibly teach and/or conduct research studies on sociology-based issues, while a human services degree prepares you to work as: an advocate, aide or assistant in health fields.

What is a Social Work Degree?

A degree in social work involves dedication and persistence. In addition, a career in social work can be stressful, demanding, and emotionally draining.

As a social worker, you will be required to work with diverse populations, so it is important that you decide, before enrolling in a social work degree program, whether you have the patience and social skills (i.e. empathy, problem-solving and communication skills) needed to be successful in this field.

It is extremely important that you also be sensitive towards other people’s problems. Your clients and patients need to feel that they can talk to you, and you will be understanding and non-judgmental.

Admittance into a social work program involves several steps. The first step you will want to take is to fully complete the program’s application. The questions on this document will help college representatives determine if you are the “right” candidate for the program (i.e. emotional stability, thought process, ability to communicate effectively, goals, etc.).

More than likely, you may also be required to complete several interviews with social work faculty members. You may also be asked to complete a college essay on a pre-selected topic and submit your high school or previous college transcripts.

If you are admitted to the program, you will be required to attend orientation where you will sign a document stating that you will adhere to the National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics.

Once you have successfully enrolled in a reputable social worker program, you will be required to complete two types of social work courses. The first type consists of liberal arts courses like: English communication (i.e. oral communication and composition), fine arts and literature, humanities, natural sciences, foreign languages, mathematical and quantitative reasoning, social sciences, and writing.

The second type consists of more social work courses like: sociology, research, human behavior, social welfare programs, policies and issues, introduction to psychology, social work practice and practicum (an internship at a social services agency, clinic or hospital).

You should be able to graduate with a bachelor of social work degree (BSW) within 4 years. A master of social work (MSW) will probably take you another 2 .5 years to complete, and a doctorate (Ph.D.) in this field can take you between 3 and 7 years to complete.

Once you graduate from your social work program, you will be able to seek employment (depending on your degree) as a: social work college instructor/professor, sociologist (private practice), child social worker, family social worker, sales representative, researcher, social services case manager/director or human resources executive.

What is a Human Services Degree?

A human services degree teaches you how to help people improve their lives. As a human services specialist, your primary function will be to help individuals better manage the challenges, trials, and difficulties in their lives.

A human services degree program teaches you how to accurately observe and interview clients and patients, develop treatment plans, and effectively manage individual in the midst of a crisis.

This degree prepares you for a career in the mental health field (i.e. counselor), social work (i.e. clinical social worker, case managers/workers, aides, advocates, etc.), and law enforcement (i.e. police officer or probation officer).

Related Reading: Online Master’s Degrees in Human Services Without GRE

During your human services program, you may be required to complete the following coursework: English composition, introduction to human services, developmental psychology, crisis intervention with diverse populations, and abnormal psychology.

Like a social work degree, it will take you 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree in human services, 2 years for a master’s degree in the field, and up to 7 years for a doctorate in human services.

You may be be required to complete a supervised practicum (internship at a social services agency, hospital, or clinic) before graduation.

Once you have graduated, you will provide direct care services (i.e. therapeutic, residential, vocational, etc.) to diverse populations at residential treatment facilities, mental institutions, skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes), social service agencies, hospitals or clinics.

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