An overview of the different areas you can specialize in on a human services degree
Human services is a fascinating area to study and work in. It’s a field that enables you to dedicate your career to helping other people, whether that’s at the individual level, family level, community level, or even national level. As a result, you get to work with a broad range of people of all different ages and backgrounds and who are facing all sorts of different challenges that you can assist them with. Coupled with the fact that you can make a genuine and lasting difference in the world doing this work, it’s no wonder that this is a sphere in which you can benefit from high levels of job satisfaction as well as strong employability.
Part of what makes studying for a human services degree so interesting is the varied nature of the program. As an interdisciplinary subject, it combines elements from many different fields, including psychology, sociology, public policy, and social work. In addition to this, there are also many specialist concentrations that you can choose to focus on during your studies. This allows you to tailor the program you follow to fit your specific interests and career aspirations.
This post will talk you through some of the main specializations that are available to you on a human services degree, as well as discussing why you might want to follow a specialist program track and how to choose which one is the most appropriate for you.
What is ‘human services’?
Simply put, human services refers to the provision of various organizational structures and systems that are designed to meet people’s needs. As you can imagine, this covers a very wide range of services, from those related to criminal justice and social welfare to those concerned with both physical and mental health. These services not only have an impact on the individuals who utilize them but on society as a whole, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a critical field to get right.
Therefore, a career in human services is well suited to those who have a deep desire to help other people. The sort of roles a bachelor’s in human services degree leads to are ones that require high levels of compassion and empathy, strong communication and listening skills, good organizational abilities, patience, and dedication. To get a better feel for exactly what it involves and whether the field is right for you, you can always undertake some volunteer work in your local community. This has the added bonus of looking impressive on your resume when you apply for the course!
What does studying on a human services degree involve?
Having read around the subject and decided that it’s a career path you’re interested in following, you might be curious to know a bit more about what studying for a human services degree is like before we move on to the specializations. On average, a bachelor of science in human services takes four years to complete if you study full time. Nowadays, you also have the choice between distance learning courses administered online and traditional courses held on campus.
Whichever you choose, you will complete a series of academic modules each semester on relevant topics. Some of these modules will be core courses that are mandatory for all students, while for others, you will have the choice between a selection of elective courses. If you are studying for a human services degree with a specialist track, this will affect which modules you must take and which modules you can choose between.
As a general overview, the types of modules you can expect to take regardless of your program track include:
- Abnormal Psychology
- Research Design
- Racial and Ethnic Relations
- Developing the Helping Relationship
- The Human Services Professional
- Person-Centered Planning and Case Management
- Advocacy in the Global Community
- Measuring and Evaluating the Effectiveness of Human Services Delivery
Modules are generally taught through a mixture of lectures, seminars, and tutorials, with assigned reading lists and written assessments conducted either through coursework or examinations. There may also be some group work projects or presentations.
Whether you choose to take a specialist track or not, you will likely be required to complete an independent research project or dissertation towards the end of your human services degree. You can choose your own topic for this (although it must be approved by college faculty), which means you can focus on an area that is of particular interest to you and aligns with your career goals. The emphasis here is often on originality and creativity, and if you are hoping to progress to master’s level study or even a Ph.D., then it’s good practice for that.
What areas can I specialize in on a human services degree?
As well as taking a general human services degree, many colleges offer you the choice to narrow your focus to a particular concentration within the field. This will affect the modules that you take and also the topic you focus on for your final project. The following are some of the most common areas in which you can specialize.
The modern criminal justice system is complex, and this track focuses on understanding how it affects both the victims of crime and the offenders – as well as local communities and the wider society.
Some of the modules you might study include contemporary criminal justice systems, courts and judicial process, criminal law, law enforcement, restorative justice, juvenile delinquency, criminology and social control, victimology, community response, and modern legal debates.
This specialism suits those who are interested in working as a juvenile court liaison, probation officer, parole officer, or caseworker fighting to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and ethically by the legal system.
Addiction is, unfortunately, an all too common problem in today’s society, whether it’s to alcohol, illicit substances, gambling, or shopping. This specialism focuses on providing you with the tools to understand what drives addiction and what puts people at high risk of developing it and prevention methods, and how to help treat the condition.
Some of the modules you might study include addictions assessment, prevention and treatment of addiction, case management and addictions, the brain and human behavior, and social influences on behavior.
This specialism suits those who are interested in working with people who either suffer from addiction or are at risk of doing so, for example, by working in a substance abuse treatment center or as an addiction counselor.
Children and Adolescents
Our childhood is one of the most influential times of our lives, and many support services are geared towards helping adolescents navigate these critical years. From social media and bullying to mental health conditions such as depression, you can focus on a broad range of relevant topics on this type of program.
Some of the modules you might study include child and family relationships, trends and issues in children and adolescents, mental health crisis response for children and adolescents, human development, and social influences on behavior.
This specialism suits those who want to work with young people of all ages, whether within the school environment or outside of it.
Many human services are specifically designed to improve the lives of those who have disabilities. This area focuses on advocacy, policy, law, and other types of support for individuals with disabilities and their families.
Some of the modules you might study include proactive intervention for people with disabilities, understanding the ability in disability, disabilities and family, and advocacy, policy, and disability law.
This specialism suits those who are interested in working with children and/or adults who have various kinds of disabilities.
This focuses on specifically preparing you for leadership roles, either in the private, public, or non-profit sector. You’ll learn not only how to develop your leadership skills but how to apply them in order to tackle key social issues and implement meaningfulchange.
Some of the modules you might study include psychology of leadership, ethics of leadership, the making of public policy, leadership and volunteerism, and key skills for leaders in the public sector.
This specialism suits those who are interested in pursuing community organizer roles, program director positions, and similar top jobs.
These are just some of the options available to you if you want to study for a human services degree with a specialist track. Others include psychology and disaster and crisis intervention. Even if you choose to study a general human services program, many of the specialist modules listed above will still be available to you, and you will be able to pick a topic related to these specialisms for your final project if you wish.
How do I choose a human services degree concentration?
So now that you know more about the specialisms that are open to you, how do you choose which one is right for you? For some people, this choice is easy because they have always had a particular interest in one area, and for others, all it takes is a quick read of the options to find one that stands out. If you’re finding it hard to decide, though, here are some tips. Just remember, there’s no need to enroll in a specialist concentration if you don’t want to!
Firstly try reading around the different specialist subjects a little more. Look in more detail at the topics that each one covers, and see if anything catches your attention. If you have the time and ability, doing some volunteer work or community service in one or two fields that you’re contemplating can be very helpful. It enables you to get some relevant experience – which will also be beneficial when it comes to applying for a human services degree program – and see firsthand what is involved.
Another tactic is to research the sorts of job roles that each concentration leads to and consider whether they are positions you would be interested in holding. You could also think about whether they are growing or declining industries, how well they pay, whether a higher level of study is required than just a bachelor’s in human services degree, if the role would enable you to travel, what options there are for career progression, and so on.
As part of this, try speaking to people who are currently in the positions that you’re thinking about to get the inside scoop on what it’s actually like to do the job. This can also be an effective way to expand your professional network ready for when you’re applying for positions in the industry.
What are the benefits and downsides of choosing a specialist track for my human services degree?
There’s no objectively right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding whether to choose a specialist concentration for your human services degree. The appropriate choice will depend entirely on you and your situation.
For example, if you aren’t sure exactly what area of human services you would like to work in, or if lots of different topics in the field interest you and you want to follow a broad study curriculum, then a general human services degree is probably the best option for you. This will also give you the most freedom when it comes to picking modules and choosing a topic for your final dissertation.
On the other hand, it’s a different story if there is one particular area of the field that has captured your attention and you know for definite that you want to work in. Assuming that it’s possible to choose that area as a human services degree specialist track, doing so will enable you to fully dedicate yourself to that area and get the most thorough education in it. This could give you an edge when it comes to applying for jobs after graduation and might provide you with more opportunities for networking or volunteering in your chosen area.
For those who are still unsure, the best advice is to talk to the admissions tutors at the colleges you’re thinking of applying to. They’ll be able to give you specialist advice and help you make the decision that’s right for you.