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What’s the Difference Between a Social Work Degree and a Human Services Degree?

While online social work and human services degree programs prepare professionals with the skills to improve people’s lives, each field addresses similar problems from a different perspective.

As “helping professionals,” those who choose careers in social work and human services are motivated by a desire to improve the lives of people in need. They work in similar settings, such as home health agencies; hospitals; health clinics; various social services agencies at the community, city, and state levels; the criminal justice system; and even private practices.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

A typical work day for a social worker involves working face-to-face with clients on their biggest problems, diligently finding solutions, and making sure their clients receive vital assistance quickly. Common ongoing challenges include serious concerns like:

What’s the Difference Between a Social Work Degree and a Human Services Degree?

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Advanced age
  • Physical ailments
  • Mental illness
  • Child and spousal abuse

Graduates of online social work programs—for example, those who’ve earned a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree—are equipped with advanced skills that can help clients in need enjoy more stability and safety in their daily lives.

Social workers help their clients in two key ways:

  • Direct Service Social Workers—These professionals understand the array of social services available, from local, county, state, and federal agencies to religious and private nonprofits. They are able to interview clients, assess their needs, and develop an action plan for connecting them with vital financial, social, healthcare, and mental health services.

  • Clinical Social Workers—With additional on-site training after completing their master’s degree in social work, clinical social workers can function as counselors, helping clients deal with their emotions, develop coping strategies, and adapt to their environment more effectively.

With specialized Master of Social Work elective clusters, students in online degree programs can focus on particular interests like addiction; children, families, and couples; crisis and trauma; and other areas of personal and professional interest.

Job Growth for Social Workers

Employment of social workers is projected to grow 13% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all professions. The median annual wage was $60,470 in May 2019, and the top 10% earned more than $82,540.1

What Can You Do With a Human Services Degree?

With an online master’s degree in human services, graduates have the knowledge to work at the program level of social and human services agencies and function as change agents for improved services. Human services professionals function as program managers, administrators, and directors. Their responsibilities include:

  • Managing staff and the daily activities of the human services agency or department.
  • Coordinating with other human services and social services agencies.
  • Researching to determine whether services are effectively reaching target populations.
  • Identifying the strengths and weaknesses of existing services.
  • Recommending and implementing improvements in the delivery of existing services.
  • Adjusting human services programs to meet the community’s changing needs.

With MS in Human and Social Services degree specializations, students can focus on areas like criminal justice; military families and culture; disaster crisis and intervention; gerontology, and other subjects of interest.

There is a growing global need for those with doctoral degrees in human services. These professionals direct needed resources to vulnerable, underserved populations around the world. A PhD in Human and Social Services prepares professionals to be agents of positive change, implementing effective policies and practices at the highest level.

Job Growth for Human Services Professionals

Employment of human and social services professionals is projected to grow 17% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average for all professionals. The median annual wage was $67,150 in May 2019, and the top 10% earned more than $112,480.2

Whether you choose a social work degree or a human services degree, you can look forward to a rewarding career—and making a real difference in helping to improve the lives of others.

Explore Walden University's online social work and human services degree programs to launch, advance, or change the direction of your career. Earn your graduate degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.