An online master's in human services prepares graduates for careers in mental health counseling, public health education, or public policy. These professionals manage case workers in government agencies and campaign for public health and welfare concerns in nonprofit organizations. They may also counsel individuals struggling with substance abuse.
These growing fields offer ample employment opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 18% growth in social and community service manager jobs from 2016 to 2026, thanks to an aging population that needs more social services. A recent shift in correctional policy to provide rehabilitation and treatment opportunities to drug offenders may also contribute to the projected increase in human services jobs.
The focus on integrated and collaborative care will also drive growth in employment for marriage and family therapists, which the BLS projects will increase by 23% between 2016 and 2026; rehabilitation counselors, who should experience a 13% occupational growth in that time; and medical and health services managers, a career where jobs are projected to grow by 20% during that period.
Earning a human services master's degree online combines a rigorous, relevant curriculum with flexible scheduling and the ability to study anywhere with an internet connection. The range of specialty options allows students to tailor their degrees to their professional aspirations. This guide can help you choose the best online degree for your goals and needs.
Online Master's in Human Services Program Ranking Guidelines
We selected the programs based on the quality of the program, the types of courses offered, the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the school’s reputation for effectively providing online degree programs.
The Best Online Master's in Human Services Programs
1. University of Northwestern – St. Paul
St. Paul, Minnesota
Located in Minnesota, the University of Northwestern offers an MA in human services for students who want to expand their roles in the organized service sector. As a Christian university, UNW's program explores faith and biblical-life standards in relation to human service.
Students in the online master's in human services at UNW earn the degree at their own pace through the flexible online or blended format, the latter of which provides benefits of the online and on-campus classroom experience. The curriculum includes coursework in theories of human development, worldview leadership, and ethics and legal issues in human services. The program offers a concentration in family studies, which allows students to focus on serving and studying certain populations.
UNW's 36-credit MA in human services program leads to a non-licensure degree. Graduates often pursue careers in public health, law enforcement, education, ministry, behavioral health, and social and human services. Students planning to pursue positions that require licensure may need additional certifications, practicums, and education. Most students complete the program in 18 to 22 months.
2. Liberty University
Liberty is a private Christian college in Lynchburg, Virginia, and offers a fully online MA in human services counseling. Liberty has offered distance learning programs for more than 30 years.
Online courses run in eight-week sessions. Students are not required to log on at specific times, making the program convenient for students with personal or professional commitments.
The 30-credit online human services master's degree at Liberty offers a selection of 10 cognates, which are similar to specializations. Available cognates include marriage and family, executive leadership, and crisis response and trauma. Applicants should research their state's requirements for counseling licensure, as Liberty's program does not award licensure.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Liberty offers a generous transfer credit policy; transfer applicants should submit graduate credits at the time of application. Liberty allows students to dual enroll in both the BA and MA in human services programs.
3. Northeastern University
Based in Boston, Massachusetts, NEU offers a fully online MS in human services program that accommodates the schedules of working professionals. Students can complete the online program on a full-time or part-time basis. The program includes no in-person requirements, but students collaborate and interact virtually with peers and instructors.
The curriculum comprises core classes, electives, and specialty area requirements. NEU's master's in human services offers specialty areas including leadership, global studies, and organizational communication. Students learn about state and federal human service policies and gain knowledge of leadership development and functions within human service groups. Students explore effective social programs, methods for developing community, and mental health and immigration issues.
NEU's programs adhere to a hands-on approach that emphasizes practical experience. Students in the online master's in human services program complete a capstone experience, which prepares students for careers in the field. The program requires 45 to 46 credits, which most full-time students complete in two years.
4. University of Illinois at Springfield
UIS offers several online programs and degrees, including an MA in human services administration with available concentrations in social service administration, alcohol and substance abuse, child and family studies, and gerontology. The social service concentration is offered entirely online; all other concentrations are available in a hybrid format.
Required classes include social policy and human services, psychology of aging, and child abuse and neglect. The program requires 44 credit hours, including 24 hours of core classes and 20 hours of concentration classes. Full-time students who earn their master's degree in human services online typically graduate in two years. Part-time students complete the program in three to four years.
Both online and on-campus programs at UIS operate on a semester system. Early applicants receive preferential consideration. Applicants must have taken two prerequisite classes, such as human behavior, lifespan psychology, research methods, or statistics; those without completed prerequisites may be admitted on a conditional basis. Students must earn at least a B in their first eight hours before beginning graduate coursework.
5.Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
Located in Winona, Saint Mary's University offers an MA in health and human services that prepares students for roles in healthcare and human service organizations. Graduates work in agencies, hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals. The fully online human services master's degree program is ideal for working professionals and students with personal responsibilities.
The university provides each online student an iPad with the study platform preinstalled. Asynchronous coursework allows students to complete degree requirements at their convenience, and distance learners have opportunities to interact virtually with faculty and peers. The curriculum includes a capstone course and classes such as health sector leadership initiative and analysis. Full-time students complete the 40-credit degree in as few as 26 months.
Some program pathways involve additional requirements, such as a practicum. Saint Mary's University accepts applications on a rolling basis, and accepted students begin classes the next semester. Online students have access to an advisor, who ensures they are on track to graduate. St. Mary's University accepts up to six approved transfer credits.
6. Concordia University, Nebraska
Concordia offers an option to help students earn their online human master's degree quickly; the MHS in human services leadership and management includes 12 courses, each lasting eight weeks. Students can complete the accelerated online program in one year.
Concordia's master's in human services is available in fully online and hybrid formats. Transfer students may bring up to 25% of required credits. Concordia offers free textbooks at its Lincoln campus and assists online students with obtaining textbooks before the first day of class.
During Concordia's Concierge Registration program, a group of enrollment experts helps students choose the right classes to meet degree requirements and determine whether Concordia's program fits their career objectives and licensing and certification requirements.
To speed the admissions process, Concordia requires no standardized test scores, such as GRE or GMAT scores. Applicants submit undergraduate transcripts, and Concordia covers the fees for obtaining official transcripts. Applicants also submit their resume and an essay describing their academic and career goals.
7. Saint Joseph's College
Brooklyn, New York
Founded in New York in 1916, SJC offers an MS in human services leadership that is ideal for students with busy schedules. Courses are delivered asynchronously, so students can complete coursework at their convenience.
SJC students earning their master's in human services online apply classroom knowledge to the workplace and apply theory to practical experiences. The program provides a holistic education in leadership and human service organizations.
The fully online curriculum comprises 10 classes, each taught by a respected instructor. The research-driven curriculum covers topics such as political, social, financial, and regulatory conditions affecting human services. The program prepares students for service-based leadership careers.
Applicants must have a bachelor's degree with at least a 3.0 GPA and must submit a resume and official transcripts. Transfer students can bring up to six previous credits earned with a grade of C or better. Discounted tuition is available for military members.
8. Southeastern University
Located in Lakeland, Florida, Southeastern offers an online MA in human services degree. As a Christian college, Southeastern applies a biblical worldview to human services. Coursework covers topics such as contemporary and historical issues in human services, legal and ethical issues in human services, and the integration of human services and theology. The program is nonclinical and does not award licensure.
Available concentrations include administrative, gerontology, emergency management, ministry, and children and family. The online master's in human services requires 36 credits and is offered in an accelerated format with eight-week classes. Full-time students complete the program in one year.
Applicants must have at least a 3.0 GPA, with some exceptions, and must submit GRE or GMAT scores, an essay detailing their reasons for pursuing a human services career, and three references from a personal, a professional, and an academic contact. Applicants must also submit to a background check.
9. Wilmington University
New Castle, Delaware
Located in New Castle, Delaware, WilmU offers a convenient online program with a flexible study schedule. The online MS in administration of human services allows students to choose between semester or block program structures.
Students pursuing the degree on a 15-week semester structure take weekly classes, which last two to two and a half hours. Courses in the seven-week block structure attend weekly sessions of up to five hours. Students can accelerate their studies by taking two blocks at a time.
The 33-credit program teaches students to analyze legal and ethical issues affecting human services and provides knowledge of information management and information technology. Students develop the self-discipline and problem-solving skills necessary for any career in human services.
Students pursuing WilmU's master's degree in human services online communicate with faculty and peers through online discussions, chat rooms, and email. Applicants must submit undergraduate transcripts, and accepted students must complete a degree objective statement before finishing their fourth course.
10. Bellevue University
Based in Nebraska, Bellevue offers an online MA in human services program designed for working professionals who want to advance their careers. Bellevue's human services master's degree program prepares students for administration and management positions with nonprofit organizations.
Online students have access to career services, including mock interviews and resume reviews. Military students receive discounted tuition and access to the Military Veteran Services Center, which is staffed with military members.
Students complete at least six hours of behavioral science prerequisites before beginning the 36 hours of major credits. The curriculum covers topics such as ethics for human services, social and cultural diversity, and community engagement. Graduates pursue careers as community and social service specialists, mental health and substance abuse counselors, social workers, and behavioral disorder counselors.
Applicants must have at least a 2.5 undergraduate GPA or a 3.0 graduate GPA. Applicants who hold a master's degree are not required to submit undergraduate transcripts. All applicants submit recommendation letters and a personal essay.
What is a Master's in Human Services Degree?
Online human services master's degree programs provide the same training as traditional programs. Students can tailor their academic path and choose a specialization to fit their interests within human services studies. This is where various coursework, concentrations, and internship offerings come into play.
Most schools build their human services curricula around core topics, including social services, counseling, the healthcare system, organization management, legal and ethical standards, and community relations. Some programs also require a thesis. Course and thesis requirements help students develop the skills necessary for corresponding careers, but concentrations -- such as child and family services, substance abuse, and gerontology -- help meet each student's individual needs.
Many programs also require clinical or teaching experiences, meaning you should find a program that can help you secure internships close to home.
Online Master's in Human Services Programs
Online classes feature the same rigorous curricula as on-campus programs, and instructors often utilize new technology to record lectures, promote class discussions, and share instructional materials. Course schedules depend on each school's format. Some schools offer accelerated classes in eight- to 10-week sessions, instead of traditional 15-week semesters.
Many classes follow asynchronous schedules, which allow students to log into the learning management system at their convenience to complete assignments. Students in these classes must still follow course syllabi and complete all tasks by their due dates. Online courses provide students with flexibility in completing their assignments but still require a significant investment of time and attention. Many schools suggest students set aside 3-5 hours per credit per week to complete reading assignments, watch lectures, and write papers.
Some classes require students to log in at specific times to watch webcast lectures and participate in discussions. Other courses may require on-campus visits for lab work, exams, or special team-building activities. Review each syllabus to check for specific schedules and assignment due dates. Online learning requires students to motivate themselves and stay on track with course requirements.
The Advantages of a Master's Degree in Human Services
Some careers welcome entry-level applicants with bachelor's degrees, but online master's in human services degrees prepare graduates for highly specialized careers in counseling or leadership positions within organizations. Most programs offer concentration options that allow students to gain expertise working with particular populations, such as senior citizens, or in specific fields, such as government agencies or nonprofit administration. These positions also offer above-average salaries for entry-level jobs. Some jobs, such as counseling, require candidates to hold master's degrees to qualify for state licensing or professional credentials.
Earning a master's in human services also allows students who studied different disciplines to gain relevant education and experience to switch careers. The broad range of topics within the human services field welcomes graduate applicants from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. The master's degree also allows students who are looking to change careers to qualify for more senior positions.
|Degree Level||Average Salary|
|Bachelor's in Human Services||$39,000|
|Master's in Human Services||$57,000|
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Human Services?
An online master's in human services qualifies graduates to pursue job opportunities in areas like management and private practice. This rewarding field of highly educated candidates makes an advanced degree critical for even midlevel positions. A master's degree can guarantee higher earning potential and a greater scope for progression. When pursuing an advanced degree, consider which career possibilities interest you most.
- Social and Community Service Managers: Planning and programming make up the primary duties for social and community service managers. These professionals collaborate with stakeholders to develop and implement service programs and oversee administrative functions. They evaluate programs to determine areas for improvement, report on effectiveness, and organize outreach and promotion efforts. Candidates draw upon their education and work experience to qualify for managerial positions.
- Health Services Manager: These healthcare executives develop goals and objectives for their department and organization to better serve their clients and patients. Health services managers recruit and train new staff members, monitor facility improvements, and prepare budgets. They may work in nursing home administration, oversee clinical departments, or manage patient records. They should understand clinical needs and foundational business concepts.
- Rehabilitation Counselor: These counseling specialists help clients overcome disabilities or traumatic injuries to lead independent lives. They consult with medical and mental health specialists to develop comprehensive treatment plans and locate resources to help clients live independently. Many rehabilitation counselors help clients identify possible career options and obtain necessary training. A master's degree allows counselors to provide more services and obtain specific licensure or certification.
- Marriage and Family Therapist: These therapists specialize in working with families and couples, discussing feelings and experiences to overcome relationship challenges. They help clients adjust to difficult changes and make decisions for their futures. They may refer clients to other service providers, depending on their needs. All states require therapists to hold licensure, which mandates completion of an appropriate master's program, supervised experience, and passing an exam.
- Health Educator: Health educators promote wellness to individuals and communities. They work to combat specific community health concerns, such as diabetes or cancer, through education, promotion, and public policy. They may take leadership roles in staff supervision and training for other health professionals. They also collect data to measure the effectiveness of public health campaigns and determine community health needs.
|Job Title||Entry Level (0-5 Years)||Midcareer (5-10 Years)||Experienced (10-20 Years)||Late Career (20+ Years)|
|Social and Community Services Manager||$41,000||$51,000||$59,000||$60,000|
|Health Services Manager||$50,000||$63,000||$68,000||$72,000|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||$50,000||$55,000||$64,000||$73,000|
Choosing an Online Human Services Graduate Degree Program
Students should carefully evaluate each online master's in human services to determine whether it aligns with their educational and professional goals. Graduate programs offer diverse curriculum options and specializations. Many students begin their search with colleges close to where they live, as nearby institutions often offer access to on-campus services and support in finding internships and fellowships.
Online learning, however, allows students to go beyond geographical boundaries to find programs that meet their unique needs. Many schools provide flexible enrollment options and dedicated faculty to assist distance students. Read on to learn more about how to choose the right school for your future.
- Program Cost: Program costs include tuition, required fees, book expenses, transportation and lodging for on-campus requirements, and supervision fees for internships. These costs may vary significantly between schools. Some may charge additional fees for out-of-state students; however, many schools waive these charges for online learners.
- Transfer Policies: Many online master's in human services programs accept graduate credits from other institutions. Schools often cap the number of transfer credits at nine, but some may allow up to 15 credits. Students typically must have earned at least a B in their transfer courses. Each school evaluates descriptions for prior courses to determine whether they can transfer for credit.
- School Size and Type: A program's size and structure can impact your school choice. Private colleges and universities typically boast smaller classes, which allow for more interaction between instructors and students. Large public universities may enroll more students in larger classes but also offer more research and specialization opportunities.
- Program Length: Many schools cater their human services online master's degree programs to working students, allowing students to enroll part-time with one or two courses each term. On this schedule, many students complete their degrees in 3-4 years. Students can elect to attend school full-time, taking three or more courses each term, and graduate in two years or less.
- On-Campus Requirements: Online programs allow students to complete their degrees remotely. Check with your school for any on-campus requirements, such as orientation, faculty conferences, or intensive summer sessions. These requirements give students hands-on experience and allow them to develop professional networks. Make sure to account for travel expenses along with your program costs.
- Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: Earning a master's degree generally requires completion of a capstone project. The capstone may include a written thesis, an independent research or professional project, or a supervised internship or fellowship. Many students take these courses in their final semester, applying the skills and knowledge gained throughout their coursework.
Accreditation for Online Human Services Master's Degrees
Students should make sure their selected school holds institutional accreditation from a recognized organization. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education maintain lists of recognized accrediting agencies. Schools must undergo rigorous evaluations of their curricula, facilities, student services, and student outcomes to earn accreditation from one of the seven regional accrediting agencies, such as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Your school's accreditation status impacts your ability to transfer credits to other colleges, gain access to federal financial aid, and earn professional licensure or credentials after graduation. While institutional accreditation evaluates the college as a whole, programmatic accreditation focuses on the human services programs. The Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE), approved as a national accreditor by CHEA in 2014, evaluates human service programs for compliance with the national standards established in cooperation with schools, practitioners, and professional organizations.
Schools achieving this designation demonstrate consistent, high-quality instruction and curricula relevant to industry needs. About 50 schools currently hold accreditation status, with almost 100 member schools. In addition to accreditation, CSHSE offers a professional credential for human services program graduates.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Master in Human Services Degree Program?
Online master's in human services degrees usually require 30 or more credits, which full-time students typically complete in two years. Students who continue to work while taking classes benefit from part-time class schedules, which may require three or more years to graduate. Program lengths vary depending on students' course loads and whether the school organizes students into learning cohorts, where they move through their curriculum as a group.
Class format and scheduling may also impact how long it takes to graduate with a human services master's degree online. Many schools use the traditional 15-week semester format, in which students enrolled in nine credits are considered full-time. Some schools utilize accelerated courses, which meet for either eight or 10 weeks. This format allows students to focus on fewer classes at a time while earning more credits each year. Many part-time programs allow students the flexibility to take one or two additional courses each term or reduce their enrollment to only one or two classes, depending on their work and family commitments.
Courses in an Online Master's in Human Services Program
Students examine changes in human development and behavior from birth through old age. The curriculum covers sociological, cultural, biological, and spiritual processes and theories and how those processes impact behavior in individual, family, or group settings. This information helps human services workers develop intervention and treatment strategies.
Students learn the roles of human services professionals and their professional and legal responsibilities to clients. Case studies and class discussions help students develop critical analysis skills and evaluate ethical questions while adhering to personal and professional codes of conduct. The course often integrates the professional standards of the National Organization of Human Services and other professional organizations.
Policy Issues in Human Services
Students explore the history of social welfare policy and services and the underlying values and philosophy for various approaches. The course asks students to critically evaluate policies and services related to healthcare, mental health, child welfare, corrections, income maintenance, and elderly services. Assignments often include discussions, class presentations, research papers, and exams.
Counseling Adolescents and Their Families
This course helps students evaluate mental health interventions and treatments for adolescents by examining the age group's common behavioral and emotional issues. Students discuss external and internal conflicts with a cross-cultural, comparative perspective. Students evaluate research-backed methods of adolescent and family treatments.T
Society and Cultural Diversity
Students discuss issues relating to client diversity and identify cultural biases that may impact service delivery or effectiveness. The course integrates professional standards regarding theories of identity development, social justice, and multicultural counseling, and develops students' cultural self-awareness. Assignments include class discussions, participation in multicultural events, and research papers and essays.
Human Services Professional Associations
- American Public Human Services Association: The APHSA connects members with national policymakers and stakeholders to strengthen communities and support the well-being of children and families. It operates collaborative centers on child and family well-being, employment, and economic health, in addition to the National Collaborative for Integration of Health and Human Services. Nine affinity groups focus on specific professions and programs. Members include individuals, local agencies, state agencies, and organizations connected to the field.
- National Organization for Human Services: The organization welcomes practitioners from all areas of human services, offering opportunities to collaborate on and advocate for effective policies and legislation. Members receive a quarterly newsletter and annual peer-reviewed journal, discounts on conference fees, access to online discussion forums and job postings, and the opportunity to apply for scholarships and grants. Students, educators, and practitioners may join.
- National Council on Family Relations: Members include therapists, educators, social workers, public health workers, clergy, and researchers. The organization publishes scholarly journals and hosts an annual conference to support family professionals and keep them up to date on the latest trends and theories in family science. Professionals may seek the certified family life educator credential, developed by the council.
- American Counseling Association: This organization formed in 1952 to serve professional counselors with continuing education credits, ethics consultations, and legislative advocacy. The group consists of 19 chartered divisions, which serve various counseling specialties. Members may access a digital job board that offers job postings and career resources and take part in networking events. Membership also includes insurance, travel, and educational discounts.
- American Society for Public Administration: This organization promotes the public service profession by advocating for professionalism, ethics, accountability, and social equity. Members enjoy networking and professional development opportunities, including an annual conference and ongoing distance learning. The society's journal, Public Administration Review, serves professionals, academics, and students interested in public sector management. In addition to local chapters, the organization includes 30 special-interest sections focusing on topics such as health and human services administration, labor relations, and public management practice.