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10 Best Degrees for Helping Others
What to study for a life of service and care

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A growing number of people feel a calling to help others. As a result, human services careers are some of the fastest-growing professions in the economy. They offer a direct path to helping people in local communities where physical and mental healthcare services aren’t always available. Public service jobs, such as teaching and nursing, form the bedrock of every community. They typically require at least a bachelor’s degree and offer good pay, job security and employment benefits.

1. Social Work

Social work is a hands-on profession in the broader field of human services. Social workers apply their knowledge of sociology, healthcare and counseling to the task of assisting people in local communities. All social work degrees include a field placement component to introduce social workers to the challenges of community contact.

Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Social Work

With a bachelor’s degree in social work, you can begin working with children, families and seniors in the field, offering mental health counseling and other vital services. A bachelor’s degree will prepare you for some of the challenges of working with people who need help taking care of their children or finding employment. You’ll be qualified to offer aging services and at-home assistance for seniors.

To become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you’ll need a master’s degree and state certification, which requires hands-on experience in the field. As an LCSW, you’ll be qualified to offer psychological counseling and clinical services to people dealing with grief, trauma and addiction. A master’s degree will also prepare you for an administrative career in political or social justice organizing.

Doctorate of Social Work

If you’d rather help people with your ideas than your personal interaction, a Doctorate of Social Work may be a better choice. With a DSW, you’ll be qualified to conduct research and contribute to public policy. A Ph.D. will enable you to become a university professor or hold a high-level position in government or industry. You don’t need a master’s degree in social work to enter a Ph.D. program. With just a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field, such as human services, you’ll be qualified to enroll in a doctoral program, which may take four to six years to complete.

Field Placement

Working in the field is a challenging requirement of every social work degree. In the field, you’ll interact with people who may be in severe states of distress or agitation. Social work requires a patient, caring and resilient personality, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.

2. Nursing

Most job openings in the healthcare profession are for nurses. From practical nursing to hospital administration, the occupations available for nurses are vital to the healthcare industry and society overall. Most nurses begin their careers as licensed practical nurses, moving up to become registered nurses by earning associate or bachelor’s degrees while working in hospitals or clinics. Nurses may work long, irregular hours, caring for people with serious illnesses and chronic conditions.

Licensed Practical Nurse

An LPN designation requires a diploma from an accredited nursing school, which can take 12 months to complete. LPN programs include lab work, clinical experience and classroom study, and they culminate in a National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses certification, a requirement for professional practice. LPNs play a supporting role in hospitals and clinics, providing daily care for patients and assistance for doctors and registered nurses.

Registered Nurse

With an associate degree in nursing, you can become an R.N. with a focus on pediatrics, neonatal care, acute care or another of many possible specializations. Becoming an R.N. can take one to two years, depending on your prior experience and education. Many schools offer a one-year R.N. bridge program for students who already have an LPN designation.

Bachelor’s and Graduate Degrees

With a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in nursing, you can take on more responsibility and earn a higher salary. A bachelor’s degree will open new career doors in nursing, and many hospitals and clinics now require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for entry-level employment. With a BSN, you’ll still have an R.N. designation, but you’ll be qualified for positions of greater responsibility, such as recruiting, informatics or forensics. The median salary for registered nurses, including those with bachelor’s degrees, is around $75,000 per year.

With a Master of Science in Nursing, you can become a nurse practitioner, nurse educator or nursing administrator. A family nurse practitioner offers a high level of care to patients of all ages, often overseeing all the members of a hospital unit’s nursing staff. To become an FNP, you must complete an accredited MSN-FNP program, including a residency and state licensing exam. An MSN program typically takes two to three years to complete.

3. Public Health

Public health is a healthcare profession that aims to create the conditions for good health in the overall population. It combines various disciplines from epidemiology to healthcare planning to ensure that communities have the resources they need to prevent disease outbreaks and provide care for the sick. Public health workers usually don’t provide individual care, instead focusing on expediting care for whole communities.

Community Health

Community health workers serve communities by teaching people about personal health and hygiene. Their service is a vital component in the public health field as it helps to reduce preventable diseases before they become widespread and costly to treat. Like social workers, community health workers typically work in their own communities, reaching out to people from a position of trust and familiarity.

Epidemiology

Epidemiologists respond to public health disasters, such as environmental exposures and infectious diseases, tracing an outbreak’s cause and implementing a solution. They may work in government agencies, hospitals, laboratories or universities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a major employer of epidemiologists, deploying them to the scenes of public health disasters to restore calm and recommend strategies for action.

Environmental Health

Environmental health scientists analyze natural and built environments to eliminate public health risks and promote good health for the population. Environmental risks to public health can include water contamination, air pollution or rocky hillside debris. Like most fields in public health, environmental health requires at least a master’s degree but doesn’t include any residency or licensing requirements.

4. Restoration Ecology

With a degree in restoration ecology, you can help to reverse the damage human activity has caused in nature and mitigate the effects of climate change. Restoration ecologists work to restore the plant and animal biodiversity throughout degraded ecosystems. Their work is related to conservation biology, but it puts the focus on healing damaged habitats instead of conserving healthy ones. Restoration ecology is a relatively new science, becoming an active branch of conservation biology in the late 1980s.

Conservation

Ecologists and biologists work together to heal and preserve the delicate balance of natural ecosystems. Ecosystem degradation can lead to soil erosion, drought and forest fires, making natural areas unfit to support life. Through conservation, ecologists protect the plant and animal species indigenous to a natural habitat. As a restoration ecology student, you’ll be able to choose a conservation focus for your degree, specializing in the preservation of biological species.

Revegetation

Revegetation is another possible focus of a restoration ecology degree. Through revegetation, ecologists restore degraded forests and remove invasive species from local habitats. Ecologists sometimes use the neologism “rewilding” to refer to the natural reforestation of a degraded region. Ecosystems evolve a delicate balance over millions of years, and by restoring habitats to their natural balance, ecologists can simply allow nature to take over once again.

Wildlife Biology and Ecology

Through deforestation, industrial agriculture, mining and fossil fuel extraction, human activity disturbs the cycles of nature, causing widespread extinction and, ultimately, climate disruption. When a species goes extinct, its absence threatens an entire food chain, which can include humans. Wildlife biology and ecology is a degree concentration for restoration ecology students. It deals with the analysis of ecosystems through data gathering, statistical research, botany and veterinary medicine.

5. Psychology

Psychology is a broad field that includes psychotherapy, counseling, research and psychiatry. A psychology degree offers one of the most direct ways to help people deal with their trauma and repressed negative emotions. To become a clinical psychologist, you’ll need a doctoral degree, but a bachelor’s or master’s degree will enable you to provide counseling and therapy for people in need of help. Many psychologists work in human services occupations such as community counseling and social work.

Clinical Psychology

With a Doctorate of Psychology, you’ll be qualified to provide counseling to patients seeking help with issues ranging from addiction to severe phobias. A Psy.D. program will prepare you to work directly with clinical patients while a Ph.D. program will open the way to a career of academic research. Whether you choose the counseling or research track, you’ll help people understand the nature of their suffering and find ways to deal with it.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists work with children who show signs of developmental delay. They study how human beings mature from children to adults, finding the causes of developmental delays and lifelong disabilities. Through therapy and research, developmental psychologists help children and their families cope with developmental challenges, recommending lifestyle changes, educational accommodations and therapeutic assistance.

Addiction Counseling

Millions of people struggle with addiction, often lacking the means to seek counseling. Addiction counselors may work in a clinical setting or in the field as social workers. This profession requires at least a master’s degree and, in many states, a residency and licensing examination. Addiction counselors may have private practices as clinical psychologists or work as staff members in hospitals, clinics or halfway houses.

6. Divinity

Divinity is the quintessential path to helping others. However, in recent years, it’s become more of an alternative to secular disciplines such as psychology and social work. Divinity students may study to become pastors, theologians or counselors, and most modern divinity schools place their teachings within the broader context of comparative religion and secularism. With a divinity degree, you can offer counseling and support to people seeking help within a religious context.

Master of Divinity

If you want to be a pastor or missionary, a Master of Divinity degree will give you the necessary foundation in biblical studies and Christian theology. Although divinity schools offer a broad education in Christian divinity, the M.Div. isn’t the only choice for seminary graduate students. It’s the best choice for students interested in chaplaincy, priesthood or biblical translation.

Master of Ministry

The Master of Ministry degree is ideal for students interested in teaching, writing or conducting research. It combines a deep study of the liberal arts with Christian theology and ecclesiastical research. Using their knowledge of Christian teachings, M.Min. graduates can help others find meaning in their lives and make sense of their hardships.

Pastoral Counseling

Pastoral counseling is a type of psychological therapy that takes place in a Christian setting, such as a church or chapel. Divinity schools offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pastoral counseling, training students to counsel their patients through marriage problems, obsessive behavior and grief. These counselors may have private practices or offer community services for the public good.

7. Criminal Justice

With a criminal justice degree, you’ll be able to help people facing legal struggles and other personal difficulties. Studying criminal justice will give you a bigger-picture view of society and teach you to look for population-level solutions to perennial problems such as crime, youth homelessness and drug addiction.

Crime Prevention Specialist

Crime prevention specialists work with law enforcement agencies and community outreach organizations. They help city and state governments work toward eliminating the conditions that give rise to crime. This degree concentration covers sociological topics ranging from poverty and inequality to employment and welfare policy.

Youth Counselor

A good way for criminal justice majors to help people in their communities is by becoming youth counselors. With a focus on youth counseling, a criminal justice degree can be a stepping stone to a career in social work and social justice. Youth counselors work in schools, clinics, juvenile detention centers and halfway houses.

Criminologist

Criminology is the study of criminal behavior and psychology. Criminal justice majors can study criminology to help law enforcement agencies investigate crime and apprehend criminals. Criminologists serve in a supportive, analytical capacity throughout criminal investigations and legal cases.

8. Education

An education degree will prepare you for a career as a teacher, administrator or researcher. While a degree in education isn’t a requirement for teaching, a graduate degree in education is required for school administrators and academic researchers. Educators create learning curricula and school policy for primary, secondary and tertiary grade levels. They can become school principals, vice principals or counselors, helping students access the resources they need for a quality education.

Administrator

The role of a school administrator is to create policies that foster a productive learning environment. Each administrator has his or her own perspective about how to help students learn, and an education degree can help build that perspective. Administration jobs typically require at least a master’s degree. In graduate school, education majors can choose the degree concentration that best matches their interests. Options include language, science, leadership and curriculum policy, among other subjects.

School Counselor

A degree concentration in counseling will enable you to help students work toward achieving their academic goals. School counselors offer basic emotional counseling to students, referring them to professional therapists when necessary. All educators, including counselors, are unified in their mission to help students succeed in school. A master’s degree in education offers the training in ethics, standards and advocacy necessary to realize that goal.

Educational Nonprofit Worker

Another option for educators is working for a nonprofit. With an education degree, you can join an educational advocacy organization to help change policy at the federal, state and local levels. Educational nonprofits seek to make high-quality education accessible to all students regardless of socioeconomic status. An education degree is ideal for nonprofit work, and the pay is substantially higher for an employee with a graduate degree than for one with only a bachelor’s degree.

9. Emergency Management

Emergency managers help local communities plan for and respond to emergencies and disasters. They work with the resources available in local communities to help mitigate emergencies and recover from them quickly. Since the available resources may not be the same for every community, emergency managers must be creative and flexible in their planning. A degree in emergency management can lead to a career on the front lines of disaster response and recovery.

Mental Health Counselor

During an emergency, mental health counselors offer support for people who may have lost their homes or become separated from family members. With a concentration in counseling, an emergency management degree offers an opportunity to help people process the grief and loss associated with a disaster. Mental health counselors respond to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires and terrorist attacks, working with people who may be in shock or temporarily displaced.

Community Health Worker

Community healthcare is a component of emergency mitigation and planning. A community healthcare degree concentration offers training in emergency preparation and community outreach. As a community health worker, you’ll interact with people in local communities, offering guidance for sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and physical fitness in preparation for emergencies and disasters.

Sustainability Specialist

A sustainability specialist helps state and local governments avoid disasters by using their resources in a safe and sustainable manner. A degree concentration in sustainability trains emergency managers to plan for disasters and reduce their probability. Sustainability is a core component in many fields, and an education in sustainability is transferable to a wide range of helping careers, including environmental engineering, ecological conservation and energy technology.

10. Occupational Therapy

With an occupational therapy degree, you’ll be qualified to help people manage their activities for optimal productivity and wellness. Occupational therapists coach their clients on organizing their daily lives for stress management and maintaining good mental health. Although the word “occupational” is in their job title, these therapists help their clients with every facet of daily life whether at home, school or work.

Gerontology

A degree concentration in gerontology will enable you to work with seniors in need of therapy for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s syndrome to diabetes. Occupational therapists may work in hospitals or clinics or travel to their clients’ homes. They must have a great deal of patience and compassion to care for patients with debilitating conditions such as brain damage and other catastrophic injuries.

Pediatrics

Pediatric occupational therapists help children learn to live with disabilities such as Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Although children usually don’t have jobs, occupational therapists help their pediatric clients learn to go to school, make friends and play with other children. A degree concentration in pediatrics is part of a master’s or doctoral program that may require a residency and licensing certification in some states.

Mental Healthcare

People with mental health conditions often need occupational therapy to help them live normal lives. While all occupational therapy degrees include training in mental healthcare, many graduate programs place a special emphasis on treating clients with mental health conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. With a mental healthcare degree concentration, an occupational therapist can work in a clinical setting or treat patients in a private practice.

Human services careers are deeply rewarding on many levels. They offer fulfillment beyond the standard considerations of status and salary. For people who want to make the world a better place by helping individuals and communities, public service occupations are ideal. They provide competitive wages and security for life’s challenges as well as the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

Get our emails in your inbox, and you’ll get acceptance letters in your mailbox

Get our emails in your inbox, and you’ll get acceptance letters in your mailbox

Find Your Degree

Find Your Degree