2020 Best Online Bachelor's in Human Services Degrees

By OnlineU Staff | Updated November 24, 2020
Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, Certificate
Average Tuition: $25,179
Average Salary: $63,162

Accredited online human services degree programs are offered at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Online human services degree programs train students to serve the public in a variety of capacities including alcohol and drug counseling, rehabilitation counseling, family and marriage therapy, social work, and school counseling. Aspiring undergraduate students looking to tailor their search may want to focus on the schools on our best colleges rankings list, which highlights top schools, based on tuition rates and alumni salaries reported by PayScale.

Prospective students should consider the accreditation of their online degree programs. Depending on their career plans, accreditation may be a requirement. Counseling, social work, and other clinically focused programs require state licensure so students should consult their state board for relevant accreditation requirements.

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2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Human Services Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Human Services Badge

The following 5 schools offer the best online bachelor's in human services degrees, based on their low tuition rates and high mid-career salary potentials. Ranked #1 is SUNY Empire State College, with a low tuition of $10,943 and a high median salary of $65,700. At #4, University of Maine at Augusta has the least expensive tuition on the list, charging only $8,970 per year for its Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

Rank School Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 $10,943 $65,700
# 2 #2 $13,454 $52,900
# 3 #3 $12,210 $49,200
# 4 #4 $8,970 $39,500
# 5 #5 $13,350 $40,800
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering Human Services Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 SUNY Empire State College

  • Annual Tuition: $10,943
  • Median Salary: $65,700
  • Locations: Saratoga Springs (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

SUNY Empire State College offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Community and Human Services with six different concentrations: children and family services, criminal justice services, disability services, health and human services, and substance abuse services. Students can focus on a single area or create an interdisciplinary concentration that combines different perspectives exploring a theme or topic. A total of 124 credits are required to complete the degree, including 45 credits of upper-division courses and 24 credits in the concentration. Graduates of the program can enter into community-service professions, pursue graduate study, manage social service organizations, teach, or pursue government work.

Online learning at SUNY includes traditional books and textbooks, eTextbooks, audio and video materials, online discussion forums, etc. No on-campus classes are required, but students can choose to attend orientation at the school’s Saratoga location. Online student resources include bookstore services, career services, student services teams, a student information center, library services, and student clubs.

Applicants for an undergraduate degree at SUNY must provide official transcripts and an essay. Transfer credits may be awarded for demonstrated knowledge and prior experience.

#2 Central Michigan University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,454
  • Median Salary: $52,900
  • Locations: Mount Pleasant (MI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Central Michigan University (CSU) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Community Development with a concentration in community services. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of the public sector and learn skills in effective communication, leadership, research, fiscal management, policymaking, strategic planning, and more. The degree requires a total of 120 credits in general education requirements, core courses, concentration classes, and electives.

Online classes are mostly asynchronous; however some may require attendance at a live lecture. Students complete weekly assignments and participate in discussion boards. An "online student ally" is available to provide additional guidance to students who are new to the online learning format. Distance learners at CMU have access to many student services, including academic advising, career development, the university bookstore, counseling, scholarships, financial aid, student activities, a veteran’s center, and more.

First-year students are encouraged to have four years of high school classes in English, math, biology, the physical sciences, history, and the social sciences in addition to two years of foreign language courses. Applicants must have a high school diploma with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 or a GED. Prospective students should submit an online applications, high school transcripts, and SAT/ACT scores.

#3 Old Dominion University

  • Annual Tuition: $12,210
  • Median Salary: $49,200
  • Locations: Norfolk (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Old Dominion University (ODU) offers an online Bachelor of Science in Human Services. The degree is offered as a full program or completion program and is designed to prepare graduates for entry-level positions in various community service agencies. Students gain an in-depth understanding of the ethical, legal, and multicultural issues related to the responsibilities of the human services professional. The curriculum focuses on the characteristics of human growth and development, theories and skills related to human services, and topics related to grant writing and fundraising. A total of 120 credit hours are required, and at least 30 must be completed at ODU. A 12-credit supervised internship is required in the last semester; students with previous work experience may substitute a portfolio.

Some online courses at ODU are delivered live through web conferencing, and others are asynchronous. Assignments and exams may take place at specific times. Most live online classes are streamed from classrooms on the main campus, and remote students can participate in class discussions. Online coursework is delivered via the Blackboard online learning management system. Online students at ODU have access to assistance with testing, writing, reading, research, and technical support, and they can use the student success center and receive help with career development.

Applicants to ODU must submit SAT/ACT scores and high school transcripts. They may also submit a resume, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Students who have relevant prior work experience or military training may be awarded credit to apply toward their degree.

#4 University of Maine at Augusta

  • Annual Tuition: $8,970
  • Median Salary: $39,500
  • Locations: Augusta (ME)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

The University of Maine at Augusta offers an online Bachelor of Science in Mental Health and Human Services. Students can select one of the following concentrations, adult mental health rehabilitation, addiction counseling, or child and family services. An internship is required, giving students practical, out-of-classroom experience in a supervised setting. The program is available both on-campus and online, and students can study part-time or full time. Graduation requires 121 credit hours, a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA in the major, and 30 credits of residency courses.

An online Post-Baccalaureate of Science in Mental Health and Human Services is available for students with a bachelor's degree in a different discipline. The 39-credit program includes 30 credits of residency courses. Online learners have access to academic and career advising, business and personal finance management, scholarship and financial aid information, tutoring, one-on-one consultation, and veteran's services.

Applicants who have not completed 60 credits of college-level coursework must submit a high school diploma or GED with a minimum GPA of 2.75. Transfer students must submit official transcripts from previously attended colleges/universities. New students are required to participate in an orientation, either on-campus or online.

#5 Lesley University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,350
  • Median Salary: $40,800
  • Locations: Cambridge (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Lesley University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Human Services. The program can be completed on a part- or full-time basis and focuses on human growth, lifespan development, and human service systems. Students take courses in ethics, sociology of the family, micro and macro assessment, case management, race, class, and gender. Two internships are required to gain practical, hands-on experience in the field. The university also offers an online Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies degree completion program with a concentration available in human services.

The bachelor degrees can be completed in two years for students 60 transfer credits from an accredited institution; Up to 90 credits can be transferred to meet the 120-credit requirement. Distance learners at LU have access to academic support, advising services, library services, tutoring, and coaching for adult learners.

All first-year students applying to Lesley University must submit an official copy of their high school transcript, GED (or HiSet), and SAT/ACT scores. At least one teacher recommendation and one counselor recommendation is required. Transfer students should submit official transcripts from previously completed college-level courses.

Online Human Services Degree Overview & Career Information

Undergraduate certificate and associate degrees in human services can prepare graduates for administrative roles and assistant clinical work in areas like social work or alcohol and substance abuse counseling. While coursework varies by degree, common classes in these programs include counseling theory and techniques, interviewing, legal and ethical issues, psychopathology, and multicultural issues.

Online bachelor’s degree programs in areas such as social work, counseling, and family and marriage therapy prepare students to work on cases for clients or patients, usually under the direction of a professional with graduate-level credentials or a state license. Other degrees in public administration areas such as emergency management and homeland security cover topics like management, finance, and human resources, as they apply to public service organizations.

An online master’s degree in human services can prepare students to conduct clinical work with patients to help them overcome life challenges or find the public services they need. Students learn about topics like human behavior, case management, and the structure of the welfare system. Master’s programs in public administration usually cover topics like human services management, non-profit management, or public policy and administration.

Students can earn online doctoral degrees in human services specifically or in closely related fields like psychology, public health, marriage and family therapy or social work. These programs can prepare graduates to diagnose and treat individuals with mental illnesses, conduct research or teach at the college level, or work in executive roles at public service institutions.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Human Services

The bachelor’s degree in human services prepares graduates to work in direct contact with clients or in administrative positions in service-oriented organizations. These programs contain a core of humanities and science courses, as well as the human services theory and skills-based classes.

Program Requirements

Applicants to an online bachelor's degree program will need a high school diploma or GED. They will need to submit transcripts from high school and from any previous college-level coursework. Some schools will also require SAT or ACT scores. Online bachelor's degrees in human services take about four years to complete. Students can expect to take roughly 120 semester credit hours of coursework.


The online human services bachelor’s curriculum provides a well-rounded introduction to the skills of the helping professions. Students learn the skills for effecting change at the individual, group, and community level. Core classes explore interpersonal communication, human services methods, and assisting in diverse communities. Other courses focus on the skills of counseling, client interviewing, and intervention. Many programs also train students in the administrative aspects of human services organizations, such as fundraising and program development.

Many human services bachelor’s programs include the opportunity to specialize in a particular aspect of the helping professions, such as child and family services, substance abuse, emergency management, or health and human services management. Most programs require an internship or practicum in a local human services agency.

Individuals with an online human service bachelor’s degree can go on to become social workers, case managers, substance abuse counselors, career counselors, and human services specialists in non-profits, public agencies, and the private sector. Besides direct-contact positions, the bachelor’s degree can also lead to work as a general administrator, program director, or supervisor in a human services agency after some years of professional experience.

Accreditation for Online Human Services Degrees

Accreditation is an evaluation process that schools and individual degree programs may choose to participate in to demonstrate to the public that they meet established standards of excellence. Programmatic accreditation is granted by trade-specific accrediting bodies, and institutional accreditation is granted by regional or national accrediting bodies. Students who choose to enroll in an accredited degree program can feel confident that they are receiving a high-quality education that will be worth their time and monetary investment. Attending an accredited program will benefit students who plan to apply for federal financial aid or transfer credits to another school, as accreditation is a requirement for both of these things.

Certification and licensing requirements for many careers in the human services field often include a degree from an accredited program. The Council on Social Work Education is an important accrediting body for social work programs, and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits counseling-related degree programs. In areas such as public administration, programmatic accreditation may not be required, but it can be useful for pinpointing quality programs. Specialized accreditation for programs is awarded by agencies such as the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA).

While the US Department of Education does not perform any accreditation services of its own, it does formally recognize several independent accrediting agencies. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is another reliable authority that offers a list of recognized agencies and accredited schools and programs. For more information about accreditation, please visit OnlineU's accreditation hub.

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Certifications for Human Services Professionals

Because human service professionals contribute to the well-being and safety of clients who are often in a vulnerable state, some positions require certification or licensure. It's always best to verify any legal requirements necessary for your profession in your particular state, but clinical social work and counseling are two human service careers that do typically require certification or a license.

While nonclinical or direct-contact social workers aren't usually required to have a license, all US states require that clinical social workers obtain registration or licensure of some sort. Clinical social workers typically need a two-year Master of Social Work degree from an accredited institution and at least two years of supervised work experience before they can be eligible to take the licensing exam. Once they have a license, social workers must complete continuing education hours to keep their skills and their certification current. Please visit our Complete Guide to an Online Social Work Degree for further details about certification and licensure for social workers.

Another common career path for human services graduates is professional counseling. All US states require counselors who provide direct patient care to obtain some sort of certification or license to practice. Licensed counselors must usually complete a two-year master's degree program, two years of supervised clinical experience, and an exam. They must also complete continuing education hours to maintain their license. Optional professional certification provides counselors with additional credentials in general counseling or in a counseling specialization such as school counseling, mental health counseling, addictions counseling, or rehabilitation counseling. Please visit our Complete Guide to Online Counseling Degrees for more information about certification and licensing requirements for counselors.

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Online Public Administration Degrees

Online degree programs in public administration equip students with the skills and expertise that allow them to effectively tackle issues associated with economic development, social justice, and sustainability. If you have a keen interest in the diverse issues that inform the public agenda and are committed to upholding social justice, working in public administration will give you many opportunities to make a difference. Numerous career opportunities are available for public administration graduates in government, non-profit organizations, and in the private sector. Graduates can take up leadership and management roles at various levels in advocacy, consultancy, project implementation, research, or policy making.

Bachelor’s programs focus on administrative management, community dynamics, disaster recovery, fiscal budgeting, government structure, politics, and public policy. The coursework gives students sharp insights into social issues and teaches them how to effect change through government systems. Most bachelor’s programs require students to complete a capstone course.

Master’s programs can enhance students' leadership potential and provide them with a unique set of analytical and management tools that can be applied across a broad range of sectors. Core areas in master’s programs include governmental fiscal decision making, human resources in public and non-profit sectors, management information systems, organizational behavior, public organization and management, and research methods. Programs also offer students the opportunity to specialize in areas such as criminal justice, emergency management, government administration, healthcare management and policy, and policy analysis. A capstone project is a typical requirement of master’s programs.

Doctoral programs are ideal for those looking to engage in sophisticated research. These programs allow students to develop their understanding of the foundations of public administration and other key areas in the field, such as methodology, organizational theory, program and policy evaluation, public sector financial analysis, and strategic management. Programs offer students the opportunity to specialize in a specific area and complete a dissertation project. Graduates can find leadership positions in consultancy firms or think tanks, or take up teaching positions in universities.

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Online Public Safety Management Degrees

Public safety management degree programs help students develop the skill set necessary for a broad range of careers, such as law enforcement, community organizing, homeland security, disaster preparedness, and crime prevention social work. Graduates will have an understanding of what it takes to keep the public safe, the improvements that can be made, and the measures that are taken every day to maintain public safety. Those who are seeking careers in public safety management must have a strong interest in helping people and an understanding of how communities (and even nations) are organized. An interest in politics is also beneficial for students of public safety management.

The degree level a person chooses in public safety management will have a significant impact on what career choices they have after graduating. An associate degree is best for those careers that don't technically require a college education, but where a college education may prove valuable. For example, a police officer with an associate degree in public safety management may qualify for promotions to sheriff or squad leader. Some may become instructors or trainers within the police force. Other careers for these graduates include head of security and corrections officer.

A bachelor's degree provides similar opportunities, but those who earn bachelor's degrees in public safety management may also qualify for careers with the government. As undergraduates, students will study police science, fire science, homeland security, terrorism, criminal justice, and criminology. Programs may have specialization options or certain emphases.

Public safety management graduates with a master's or doctoral degree hold top jobs with large-scale police forces -- particularly those in major cities -- or with government agencies like the National Guard or National Security Council. Those who want to lead police departments, work for the CIA, or become top military professionals are most likely to benefit from graduate degree programs. Public safety management graduate students often complete theses or dissertations based on their own experiences in the field and their own research. After earning a doctorate in public safety management, some graduates may choose to become professors rather than agency directors.

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Career Paths for Human Service Graduates

Employment opportunities for individuals in the human services industry are varied. There are many determining factors, such as education, level of experience, and scope of practice. However, all positions have one aspect in common: they each focus on enhancing life conditions for others. Your career may involve working with children and families, elderly people, former prison inmates, homeless people, immigrants, individuals suffering from mental illnesses or other disabilities, persons with addictions, or veterans.

Some of the career specializations available for human services professionals include addictions counselor, case work aide, clinical social work aide, family services assistant, human services worker, or social work assistant. Below, we've highlighted three common professional roles in the human services field:

Life Skills Counselor

Also known as life skills coaches, these individuals advise children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly on how to improve their lifestyle. They mostly work with underprivileged groups in a wide array of circumstances and settings. They provide a host of educational classes, help build self-esteem, support anger management, and assist clients in developing goals for their future. They also closely monitor the growth of their clients and make assessments that help determine their personal needs. Life skills counselors are likely to find employment in community centers and schools, or some of them have their own private practices. Most employers require professionals in this arena to have a master’s degree in human services or another career-related field. Certification is not necessary, but it confirms an individual’s competency level.

Group Home Manager

Workers in this sector oversee the daily operations of group homes, facilities that provide 24-hour care to juvenile delinquents, disabled citizens or ex-convicts. They are involved in planning budget expenses, initiating programs and services, and coordinating schedules. They also are responsible for hiring, training, and terminating group home staff. Group home managers typically need a bachelor’s degree in human services or another career-related field.

Gerontology Aide

Entry-level positions in this field are open to high school graduates, as most employers are willing to offer on-the-job training. Individuals care for elderly citizens who are not able to be self-reliant. They bathe, feed, and administer medication to their clients. They also provide physical therapy and oversee social activities. Nursing homes, adult day cares and hospitals are the most common sites for gerontology aides. They may be required to have a driver’s license and undergo a background check. Certification and degree programs are essential to career advancement.


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