Deciding on which college major and degree to pursue is not an easy feat for a large number of people. The fact that this one piece of paper potentially affects what you do for the rest of your life makes it a high priority.
So let’s say that you’ve looked into several programs and you’ve heard of the human services degree. You take a career assessment that reflects your desire to work with people and possibly help them with any problems they may be experiencing.
You do a college major search and see that human services is offered as its own program at several schools. As you begin to look through the courses offered at each school, you notice that there are some variations. This makes you wonder what path you should truly take, and whether a human services degree is actually the right fit for you.
Although I can’t tell you specifically which program is going to be the best fit for your wants and needs, I can give you some details that should make the decision process a little easier.
Do You Enjoy Working with People?
It may seem obvious, but a human services degree is going to lead you to a career where you interact with people on a daily basis. You may fill roles such as a case manager, parent educator, intake coordinator, or other positions at a nonprofit organization or your local government.
Can You Interact with a Wide Variety of Personalities?
Getting enjoyment out of working with others is just the first important step; the second part is determining whether you have the ability to effectively communicate with a wide variety of personalities. People who get a human services degree work with people from all walks of life – the homeless population, foster parents, low-income families, and everyone in-between.
Here are a few key questions to ask yourself:
- Are you able to not take things personally?
- Do you know how to engage a shy individual?
- Can you redirect effectively?
- Are you willing to facilitate meetings with several individuals?
Are You Interested in Studying Psychology and Human Interaction?
Human services degree programs vary from school to school, but odds are that you will be required to take psychology courses of some sort, even if it’s only through general education requirements or prerequisites.
The great thing about psychology is that it teaches you how about various mental health issues, as well as how the brain develops over the years. This information becomes very valuable when you are working with clients as many people who seek services have a mental health concern or developmental problem of some sort. Even if one doesn’t exist, you still may need to fill the role of being a preventive educator so that clients can learn to avoid these issues in the future.
Are You Willing to Work Inconsistent Hours?
Some jobs allow workers to do the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, but the majority of positions will require flexibility of some sort. For example, I work with adolescents in the foster care system and a majority of them are still in high school. When school is in session, most of my meetings are held during the evening hours because the teens don’t get out of school until 3 p.m. or later.
If you aren’t able to work a flexible schedule, then you may have a more difficult time finding a job right away.
Are You Okay with the Salary Level that Comes with a Human Services Degree?
It’s no secret that a human services degree isn’t going to make you rich. In fact, social and human services is a low paying occupation because most of the positions come from nonprofit organizations.
Now, you can get jobs in other fields (i.e. human resources, etc.), but you may need to have more specialized education to get hired. In this case, you need to decide if the human services degree is going to benefit you more or if another major would be a better fit.
Although money may not be top-notch in this field, don’t let it hold you back if you truly have a passion or helping others. As long as you are aware that the salary levels are lower than business people or engineers would get paid, then you won’t be caught off guard when you get a job offer down the road.
Do You Know How to Handle Stress Well?
Human services is a rewarding field, but it can also be physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. It’s not uncommon to hear about workers changing fields because they have reached ‘burn out’ level and don’t want to work under stressful conditions anymore.
Ask yourself these questions when considering how well you handle stress:
- Are you able to separate work life from home life?
- Do you practice self-care?
- Do you have a coping strategy you can use when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
- Do you get too emotionally invested in things?
What Experience Do You Have?
Getting experience in the field is one of the best ways to determine if a human services degree is truly the right fit for you. If you don’t have any experience yet, I encourage you to sign up as a volunteer at your local YMCA, food pantry, senior living facility, or other agency so that you can get some firsthand experience.
*Check out The Best Places to Find Internships for College Students for a variety of internships, volunteer opportunities, and other activities that will help you gain experience.*
A human services degree offers a wide variety of opportunities and you may not yet know which population you would like to work with, but getting experience as soon as you can will help you decide which path is going to be best for you. Personally, I began working with children and saw myself making a career out of it. I did volunteer with some adults for a short period of time and it was valuable experience, but I also realized that working with youth was where my heart was.
If All Else Fails, Take a Career Assessment
There are tons of free career assessments available online and at local schools so that you can find out what your true interests are. When you fill these out, make sure you are completely honest so that the results are accurate. This is a great starting point if you are trying to decide between a large list of majors, or if you have no direction as to where you see yourself working in five years.
The human services degree is continuing to evolve and more schools are adding it to their list of majors every year. By asking yourself the questions above and evaluating what your true career goals are in life, you should now have a good idea of whether a human services degree would be a good fit for you.