Master’s in Human Services vs. Master’s in Social Work: What Are the Differences?

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Those looking for a career path that involves advocating for others should consider working in social work or human services. Working in either field can mean making a difference for individuals who may need assistance or are struggling to cope with difficult circumstances. Pursuing a career in either field will require honing the essential skills and knowledge through the right academic training.

Specifically, pursuing a master’s degree can help individuals advance their careers and take advantage of new opportunities. However, finding the right degree can be difficult for those who want to work directly in industries that promote social justice. The challenge comes in identifying the right fit between two primary options in the sector: a master’s in human services vs. a master’s in social work.

Social Work and Human Services

Those considering online degrees in social work and human services may want to know what the two degrees have in common. Often, the programs cover similar material. A U.S. News & World Report article describes a master’s in human services degree as such:

  • It enables students to use interdisciplinary skills to better understand how social structures impact the lives of individuals.
  • It cultivates the skills of empathy that are required to help people in need.
  • It provides a curriculum that is balanced between theory and practice.
  • It enables students to pursue work in a diverse range of fields where population groups need assistance accessing key social services.
  • It requires students to have a bachelor’s degree, but in almost any subject.
  • It is heavily constructed around preparing students for leadership roles and direct work with client populations.

These attributes also apply to most Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. Therefore, a master’s in social work may be an attractive alternative to a master’s in human services. An MSW can prepare graduates to take on management positions, lead community advocacy, and serve in many other prominent roles across the sector.

Differences Between Human Services and Social Work

While there is considerable overlap between the two degrees, prospective students should also note the differences between human services and social work.
A social worker seated at a table speaking to colleagues.

A master’s in human services focuses heavily on in-class coursework. Students don’t have to complete any form of practicum in most programs. This is the major distinguishing point between the master’s in human services and the one in social work.

The human services degree also does not require clinical work. This is why a master’s in social work can be much more valuable than a master’s in human services — the practical work in an MSW program under the guidance of experienced professionals can help develop hands-on clinical skills that can’t be learned in a classroom.

The Benefits of an Online Social Work Degree

When looking at a master’s in human services vs. a master’s in social work, a clear differentiator is in the possibility of licensure. Obtaining a clinical social work license requires an MSW degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. A human services degree is not sufficient for licensure.

The vast majority of counseling and clinical social work positions require licensure, and states are increasingly demanding that any professionals working in human services be licensed. MSW programs can prepare students for licensure in a few key ways:

  • Clinical coursework that offers insights into how to handle the more sophisticated tasks social workers handle, including counseling
  • Practical requirements that allow students to gain experience in clinical work under the supervision of trained professionals
  • Advanced leadership studies that aim to prepare students for some of the most demanding management roles in the sector

An MSW degree is increasingly useful for securing lucrative positions in the human services sector, including social work and counseling. What’s more, job opportunities in such settings are developing quickly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of jobs in the social work field will grow 12% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average.

Job growth projections vary according to type of social work. The BLS predicts 13% job growth for health care social workers, 15% for mental health and substance abuse social workers, and 12% for child, family, and school social workers. These more specialized areas of practice often require certifications as they involve clinical work and other specialized responsibilities.

Along with the specialized areas mentioned above, the BLS also names a general “other” categorization of social workers. The job growth for this category is projected to be 8%, which is about the same as the average for all occupations.

These statistics point to the rapidly rising demand for the clinical, specialized skills developed in an MSW program and a potential diminishing demand for generalized human services capabilities.

Pursuing an Online MSW

Individuals considering a master’s in human services vs. a master’s in social work should know that an MSW is an ideal starting point for a career in social work. The online master of social work at Regis College offers a flexible, accredited program that allows working professionals to develop new skills in a convenient, accessible way. The program offers 100% online coursework and two tracks to choose from — Traditional and Advanced Standing.

With courses such as Clinical Practice: Policies & Administration, Social Welfare Policy, and Social Work Practice with Individuals, Regis College’s MSW program can help prepare students for licensure and success in the social work field. Find out more about the MSW program today.


Recommended Readings

What You Can Learn About Social Work Supervision and Administration in an MSW Program

MPH vs. MSW: Which Career Is Right for Me?

Is Getting an MSW Worth It?



The Balance Careers, “What Does a Social Worker Do?”

National Association of Social Workers

National Organization for Human Services, What Is Human Services?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers

U.S. News & World Report, “What You Need to Know About Becoming a Human Services Major”