Does bringing a smile on someone’s face make your day? If you’re looking to make a difference in people’s lives through your career then consider human services and social work as your career options. These options not only offer diverse opportunities but are also known to be extremely rewarding. You will be able to impact people and communities and help improve lives through counseling, education, health, and other services.

Both human services and social work share plenty of common ground but they do have some differences that are important to note. In this guide, we will reflect upon those differences so that you can make an informed choice about your career preference. We’ll discuss both degrees together with their curriculum and the jobs they have to offer, along with some tips for choosing between them.

Here’s a quick way to think about the difference between the two – Human services can be seen as a broader field that impacts communities at a larger scale. Social work is a subset of human services and it is way more specific and specialized, mostly dealing with individuals and smaller groups. 

The main goal of human services is reaching out to people in need and providing them with care. Human service workers provide a variety of different services aimed at improving the lives of their clients. The definition of human services cannot be pinned down due to its dynamic role. The scope of human services expands to match the diverse needs and issues faced by the client base.

Human services professionals can work in various settings, including social service agencies, non-profit organizations, government agencies, schools, healthcare facilities, and more. They may serve diverse populations, such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities, and individuals experiencing poverty or homelessness.

Types of Human Service Organizations

There are many different types of human services organizations, some aim at focusing on a particular problem among a specific demographic and others take a more general approach. 

Here are some types of human services organizations:

  1. Housing and shelter organizations: Shelter for all! Housing organizations help clients find shelter according to their needs. They also include shelters for homeless people, housing for senior citizens, and women’s shelters. These services are often provided free of charge and are designed to help those in need.
  1. Employment organizations: Through these organizations, unemployed individuals can obtain much-needed employment. These organizations also collaborate with employers, provide career counseling, and address specific challenges faced by diverse populations.
  1. Youth development organizations: Organizers in this field plan and implement social programs for the benefit of the community. These programs and activities help youth acquire social skills and develop their personality. 
  1. Legal and victim support organizations: Victims of crime, substance abuse, and similar cases can find support and help through these organizations. Rehabilitation services for convicted criminals are also offered by these organizations.  As part of their mission, they also educate the general public about crime and how to prevent it.

This list is not exhaustive and there are certainly many more organizations like the above that work in a niche or take a more multi-purpose approach. The role of a human service worker depends on the kind of organization they join and the cause they wish to support. 

Social work promotes social change, development, and empowerment of people and communities. It essentially improves the quality of people’s lives by helping them overcome their challenges. 

Social workers help individuals, families, and groups work with the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives such as illness, unemployment, or addictions. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat patients with mental, behavioral, or emotional struggles. Some social workers may also work at a broader level and seek to bring change in the policies for social welfare.

Social workers who hold licenses to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues offer individual, group, family, and couples counseling. They collaborate with clients to create strategies for behavior change or handling challenging situations. Additionally, they can recommend clients to other support resources or mental health experts. Clinical social workers can specialize in various areas of practice. The median annual wage for social workers was $55,350 in May 2022.

Types Of Social Work Organizations:

A wide variety of causes are supported in the field of social work. The following are some common types of social workers:

  1. Child and family social workers: Professionals in this field work with problematic or financially weak families and help them secure the resources they need. These social workers assist families in accessing services like affordable housing,  food stamps, and other government benefits. They intervene when children are at risk of neglect or abuse and may also facilitate adoptions, locate foster families, or work on family reunification.
  1. Substance Abuse Counselors: Counselors in this field work in various settings, including rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, and community organizations. They specialize in helping individuals overcome substance addiction and develop strategies for recovery.
  1. Hospice Social Workers: Hospice social workers provide emotional support and guidance to individuals and families facing terminal illnesses. They assist in end-of-life planning, connect patients to necessary resources, and offer comfort during difficult times.
  1. Geriatric Social Workers: Geriatric social workers focus on the unique needs of older adults. They work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior centers, helping seniors access healthcare, housing, and social services while addressing issues like elder abuse and isolation.
human services vs social work

As similar as they may sound, there are a few notable differences between human services and social work. Here is a chart to help you quickly understand the aspects in which these fields differ. 

Aspect Human Services Social Work 
Scope Human services is a broad field with a wider scope. The professionals who work in human services are likely to join different organizations that support different causes and seek to help communities at a larger level. 

Human services professionals may also hold leadership or administration positions and may not work directly with the people they serve. 
Social work is a subset of human services and has a relatively smaller scope. Social workers work directly with clients in need, providing them with necessary resources. Some careers in social work tend to be very specialized and so require a license to practice.
Education The educational qualifications you need to work in human services may vary depending on the role you wish to pursue. You can enter human services with a bachelor’s in human services or a related field. 

Most human services professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree while some of them go on to pursue a master’s for further specialization. Human services professionals can benefit from degrees in sociology, psychology, criminal justice, emergency management, or related degrees. 
Social work professionals also benefit from a relevant degree in social work, sociology, or psychology. Many careers in social work require a license to practice because of their specialized nature. 

Clinical social workers are expected to hold a master’s degree and a license as well. Depending on the role you seek, your educational requirements may vary. 
Job options Jobs in human services can include roles where you will be able to directly work with people and impact their lives or in organizations at an administrative level to impact communities at a larger scale.  A few examples could include Child Welfare Worker, Counselor or Therapist, Community Outreach Worker, and Program Manager.Social work includes specialized roles that are mostly one-on-one but you can also work at a community level.  You can pursue roles such as licensed clinical social workers, child welfare social workers, school social workers, and medical or healthcare social workers, working in diverse settings like hospitals, schools, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

In summary, human services is a broader field encompassing various professions aimed at helping individuals and communities, while social work is a specific profession within human services that involves a more defined scope, training, and licensure requirements, with a strong emphasis on clinical practice, advocacy, and social justice.

What is a Human Services Degree?

A degree in human services typically covers a range of topics related to helping individuals and communities meet their basic needs and improve their overall quality of life. Graduates are prepared for careers in various settings, including nonprofit organizations, government agencies, healthcare, education, and social services.


Coursework in a human services degree program typically includes foundational courses in human behavior, counseling techniques, and ethics. Students also study topics such as case management, social welfare policy, and cultural competence. Electives and specialized courses may be available in areas like substance abuse counseling or family systems. Practical experience through internships or fieldwork is often a key component, providing students with real-world skills in helping individuals and communities address various social and emotional challenges.

Job options for Human Service Graduates 

  • Case manager:  Professionals in this field help clients access services they need for their well-being they meet with clients to understand their needs and based on that they recommend services. Case managers assist people with diverse needs. Their client base includes but is not limited to abuse victims, homeless individuals, and those suffering from mental health issues. Case managers work in various settings, including healthcare, social services agencies, mental health centers, child welfare agencies, rehabilitation services, nonprofits, and so on. 
  • Probation officer: Probation officers work with people placed on probation or parole. The officers monitor their compliance with court-ordered conditions and provide support and guidance to help them reintegrate into society while reducing the risk of reoffending. Probation officers work in various settings, some of these include, Probation officers work in various settings, some of these include correctional facilities, courtrooms, community-based offices, and sometimes in the field while making home visits to clients.
  • Community health workers:  Community health workers play a crucial role in promoting wellness by supporting individuals in adopting healthier lifestyles. They actively implement programs and serve as advocates for those who may face challenges in accessing healthcare resources and social services. Community health workers can be found working in a variety of settings, including community-based organizations, healthcare facilities, public health agencies, schools, home healthcare, social services agencies, and workplaces, where they provide health education and support to individuals and communities.
  • Child welfare workers: As the name suggests, child welfare workers are primarily concerned with the welfare of children. They make sure that no child is in an abusive or dangerous space. Child welfare workers work together with families to provide resources, counseling, and support aimed at preserving and enhancing the well-being of children. They also facilitate foster care or adoption when necessary to ensure the safety and stability of at-risk children. Child welfare workers typically work in a range of settings, including government agencies, social services organizations, and non-profit institutions, where they engage with families, conduct investigations, and interact with children both in their homes and within the judicial system, such as courtrooms.

What is a Social Work Degree?

A social work degree program includes coursework in subjects like human behavior, social policies, counseling, and ethics. Social work degrees prepare students to address social and emotional challenges, advocate for vulnerable populations, and promote social justice.


A social work degree curriculum typically covers subjects such as human behavior, social welfare policies, counseling skills, ethics, and cultural competence. Bachelor’s programs in social work provide foundational knowledge, while master’s programs offer advanced training, including clinical practice and policy analysis. Doctoral programs focus on research, teaching, or leadership roles in the field. Field placements or internships are an integral part of social work education at all levels, providing hands-on experience in various settings. Specific courses and program details can vary by institution.

Job Options for Social Work Graduates 

  • Social service assistant : Social and human service assistants are professionals who offer client services in different fields, including psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. They provide support and assistance to individuals and communities in need, working alongside professionals in these areas to help address various social and emotional challenges.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Marriage and family therapists specialize in guiding individuals through the process of managing and resolving issues within their family and other personal relationships.
  • Rehabilitation counselors: Rehabilitation counselors support individuals with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities in achieving independent living.
  • School counselors:  School counselors provide academic, social, and emotional support to students. They help students with academic planning, career guidance, and personal issues to ensure their overall well-being and success in school.

Building a career in human services and social work requires you to be truly dedicated and passionate about helping people solve their problems. Both fields contribute significantly to society. There is a good amount of overlap between both fields and a career switch from one to another may be feasible. If you are keen on working in an organization at an administrative level and impacting a wider audience, then consider human services. Instead, if you are interested in reaching out to individuals or smaller groups then social work might be a better option. Ultimately, your choice should align with your personal goals and strengths. 

You’re on your way to an immensely rewarding career that will positively impact society as a whole. Whether you choose human services or social work, your dedication and passion for helping others will be a driving force in creating a better world. Remember that both fields offer unique opportunities to contribute, and your choice should align with your strengths and personal aspirations. Regardless of which path you pursue, your commitment to improving the lives of individuals and communities will be invaluable, and your journey promises to be a fulfilling one. 

Are human services the same as social work?

No, human services and social work are related fields, but they are not the same. While they share some similarities, such as a focus on helping individuals and communities, they have distinct differences.

Social work is a specific profession that involves providing counseling, therapy, advocacy, and support to address a wide range of social and emotional issues. Human services, on the other hand, is a broader field encompassing various professions and services aimed at meeting human needs and improving overall quality of life.

Human services professionals work in areas like child welfare, substance abuse counseling, vocational training, and more, while social workers have a specialized role in providing clinical and therapeutic services

Can you switch between a career in human services and social work?

While there is overlap between these fields, switching between them may require additional education or training, depending on the specific roles and responsibilities involved. For example, transitioning from human services to social work may necessitate obtaining a social work degree and licensure. However, some skills and knowledge acquired in one field may be transferable to the other.