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Why you should consider taking your human services degree online

If you are hoping to study a degree program that enables you to dedicate yourself to helping others, there are lots of great options out there.

You could go into the medical field and become a nurse or a doctor, you could train as a language teacher via a Virtual Language Class and help to shape the minds of the next generation, or you could think about working in human services.

The field of human services covers a very wide variety of systems and organisations that are set up to help meet a broad range of people’s needs. It can cover everything from assisting with access to basic needs such as food and shelter – for example in response to poverty or a natural disaster – to providing support with more complex needs related to mental health or criminal justice.

For those who would like to pursue a career in this area, taking an online human services degree is one of your best options. This route enables you to study a rich curriculum related to the industry from the comfort of your own home, meaning you can still fulfil any existing work or family obligations that you have. This is without sacrificing anything in terms of the quality of your education.

This article will take a closer look at the sorts of topics you might study on an online human services degree, examine the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning, and also give you some top tips for completing a degree program online.


The human services curriculum

The field of human services is an extremely broad one. As an interdisciplinary subject it combines aspects of psychology, social sciences, public policy, and a range of other academic disciplines to create a genuinely interesting and wide-ranging curriculum. Consequently it can also help you progress to an equally varied range of careers after you graduate.

Most online human services degree programs last four years if you study on a full-time basis, and up to eight if you study on a part-time basis. The curriculum will be divided up into modules, and you will be expected to complete a certain number of these each year in order to fulfil your credit requirements. Normally there is a series of core modules that are compulsory for all students, as well as a selection of optional modules that you can choose between. This gives you the chance to tailor your study program to suit your own personal interests and career aspirations.

The modules that you take are going to vary according to the college or university that you enrol with. This is why it’s important to check the course list for each program that you’re considering applying to, whether it is for a medical oncologist job or social worker. You want to make sure you choose an online human services degree that enables you to focus on the aspects of the industry that you are most passionate about and are relevant to the job role you’re hoping to get after graduation. 

For guidance, these are the types of modules that you can expect to cover, or have the option to take, during your online human services degree:

  • The Humanitarian in Practice
  • Living and Learning in a Technological World
  • Research Design
  • Racial and Ethnic Relations
  • Developing the Helping Relationship
  • Person-Centred Planning and Case Management
  • Measuring the Effectiveness of Human Services
  • Understanding Urban Culture
  • Crisis and Positive Intervention
  • Mental Health Crisis Response
  • Advocacy in the Global Community
  • Cross-Cultural Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Methods in Psychological Inquiry
  • Statistics
  • Data Analysis
  • Public Policy
  • Ethics in Public Leadership
  • Volunteerism
  • Contemporary Criminal Justice Systems
  • Restorative Justice
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Victimology
  • Mobilising and Coordinating Community Response
  • Advocacy and Disability Law
  • Disabilities and Family
  • Proactive Intervention Strategies
  • Human Development
  • Social Influences on Behaviour
  • Child and Family Relationships
  • Prevention and Treatment of Addiction
  • Case Management and Addictions


This gives you a good idea of just how varied a curriculum you can study on an online human services degree, as well as the wide range of workplaces you could be employed in afterwards. Human services personnel can be found working in places as divergent as government agencies, non-profit organisations, schools, hospitals, correctional facilities, specialist treatment centres, and community centres.


The experience of studying for an online human services degree

When studying for an online human services degree, you can expect each module to be delivered using cutting-edge software and technology. This could include for example recorded and live lectures, online discussion forums, interactive quizzes, audio material, video material, assigned reading, written coursework, exams, and group projects.

Before the program begins you might be invited to take a tutorial on how your college’s virtual learning environment works, to ensure that you’re comfortable with the systems they use in advance of the first module. Don’t worry if you struggle at first though, because faculty staff and college support services will always be available via phone, video call, email or instant messaging to help you out.

In addition to the modules, towards the end of your course you will likely be required to complete an independent research project and write your findings up in a dissertation. You will be allowed to choose your own topic for this – although it must be relevant and approved by your faculty supervisor – which means you can focus on an area that truly piques your interest and is linked with your career goals.

One of the reasons that it’s possible to study a completely online human services degree is because there is no requirement to complete any in-person hours, for example internships or work placements. However if you have the time and would like to, arranging some volunteer work or community service near to where you live can be very helpful. It not only enables you to get a realistic idea of what working in human services is like, it can also be useful in determining which area of the field you want to work in once you graduate. Plus of course it will look great to future employers when they check out your resume!


The advantages of doing an online human services degree 

Now that you know a bit more about what studying for an online human services degree is like, let’s talk about the advantages of this style of learning. Firstly there’s the flexibility it offers you. As a distance learning student you can study at a time of the day that suits you, on the days of the week that suit you. So for some people this might be fitting in an hour every morning before work, or staying up an hour later in the evening once your family has gone to bed. Alternatively you could get all of your academic work done on weekends or your days off.

In line with this, you can also study at a location that suits you. For example if you have the space you could set up an inspirational home office, or if not you could head out to a local library to find peace and quiet. If you prefer the creative background noise of a coffee shop, this can also be a great option.

Online learning additionally offers more flexibility in terms of the institutions you can choose to study with. If you attend classes on campus then you have to either choose somewhere that’s commutable from your house or somewhere that you’re willing and able to move to. With distance learning however, you can study at colleges and universities all across the country – or even the world!

Another advantage people are not always aware of is that taking an online human services degree can be cheaper too. This is partly because tuition fees are often lower for distance learning courses, and partly because you save money on extra costs such as commuting, accommodation during the semester, parking on campus, and so on.

Finally, taking an online human services degree also enables you to use some innovative software and technology. This is more true now than ever before, because the COVID-19 pandemic forced many colleges to move all of their teaching online and as such resulted in accelerated developments in this area. Not only is using this technology fun, it can also be helpful for your future career because the likelihood is that many workplaces will soon be using similar systems. By having the opportunity to get used to it in a supportive environment, you’ll have the edge when using it at work.


Potential downsides of doing a degree online

Although there are many advantages of studying an online human services degree, it’s important to recognise that there are some potential downsides to distance learning too. The study experience is very different to that of taking a course on campus, and for some people it may feel unsatisfying. This is especially true if you are hoping for the traditional college experience of sports games, extracurricular societies, and late nights spent studying in the library. Have a careful think about exactly what you’re hoping to get from your degree, and choose the option that best matches that.

The other aspect to bear in mind is that you will need to take a little more responsibility for your studies than if you were learning on campus. You won’t have professors looking over your shoulder to check that you’re on track, or fellow students to form a physical study group with. Having said that, you will of course be able to form virtual study groups! Plus in reality, many students don’t find this responsibility to be a downside at all, and in fact enjoy the extra independence.

Finally, with an online human services degree you might need to put in more effort to make friends with your fellow students than you would during an on-campus program. That’s because you won’t have the same chance meetings in campus coffee shops, nights out together, or quick social chats before and after lectures. However there will still be plenty of opportunities to network virtually, work together on group projects, and make meaningful connections – it just means that you might have to be more deliberate about it.


Tips for studying for an online degree program

If you’ve never completed any formal online education, studying for an online human services degree might seem a little daunting. To help you out, here are some of our top tips for how to prepare for virtual learning and get the most out of the experience:

  • Figure out your ideal study schedule in advance. Work out when the best time is for you to get your work done, and make sure you stick to it.
  • Set aside a dedicated study space. Ensure that you have good lighting to prevent eye strain, an ergonomic chair to prevent back pain, and enough space to work comfortably.
  • Do your best to ensure that you have adequate internet connectivity and a suitable laptop or desktop computer (with a webcam and mic) to work on.
  • Purchase all the stationery that you might need in advance, so you don’t get caught short when you need it.
  • Sign up to a free, short online course to get a feel for what online study is like. It doesn’t have to be in a related field to your online human services degree (although this would be helpful). Try a language course, an art course, coding… anything that interests you and will give you the chance to get used to virtual learning.
  • Speak to your college advisors and see if you can get any suggested reading in advance of the start of your first semester. This will give you a chance to read around the subject early on, and prepare you for what you’re going to learn.
  • Make use of college support services. Being an online student doesn’t mean that you can’t access these, and they are there for a reason!
  • Speak to your professors if you’re struggling. They will be happy to help or advise you however they can.
  • Get your family on board. Make sure they know not to disturb you when you’re studying, and that you might need them to help out more with household chores.
  • Look into funding options early. Studying online doesn’t automatically exclude you from financial aid and scholarships, so make sure you don’t miss out.

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