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Careers in Community & Human Services: Introduction

“I want to help people….but how?”

Many students come to Empire State College with the goal of beginning or advancing in a career that helps people.  But helping people can mean different things depending on your interests, skills, and resources.  Do you want to be a counselor or therapist?  A caseworker?  An advocate?  What do these different terms mean?  Your mentor can assist you in understanding your many options but, as an ESC student, you are expected to play an active role in assessing your own goals and strengths and researching what specific educational and career paths are right for you.  The resources presented here are designed to help you do that.           

Where do I start? 

First, you will begin with a few questions to help you assess your interests and goals.

  1. Do you want to work directly with people in need on a regular (perhaps daily) basis?
  2. Do you have a preference for working with people individually, in groups, or in communities?
  3. Are there particular populations of people that you are most interested in helping?  For example, children, people with disabilities, older adults, people in the criminal justice system?
  4. Do you have an interest in developing or changing the policies that impact people’s lives? 
  5. Are you interested in managing an agency or organization (i.e. supervising staff, budgeting, grant writing, making agency policy decisions)?
  6. Do you plan to get an Associates degree or a Bachelors degree at ESC?
  7. Are you willing and able to continue your education to obtain a Masters degree or Doctorate?

While new students may not yet have the knowledge or experience to answer all of these questions, thinking about these issues will help you choose the best career path for you.

The resources listed in this section will provide you with more information about the various careers in the helping field.  A good place to start is with the booklet created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics entitled, Helping Those in Need: Human Service WorkersThis document provides an excellent overview of the various career opportunities within the helping field as well as information about the job and salary outlook for human service workers. Another good starting place is this article from the Washington Post: Careers in the Health and Helping Professions 

What jobs are available?

That is often a hard question for your mentor to answer for you because opportunities vary widely with location, experience, and education.  The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) offers extensive resources for employment research, including projections for job growth in particular fields.  Another important part of your research is to conduct job searches in your local area.  You might begin with your local newspaper or online news site.  Websites like www.socialservice.com, www.indeed.com, and www.careerbuilder.com allow you to customize a search by location, key word, etc.  You may also want to look on the websites of your local Civil Service departments, as state and county government often employ human service workers.

What about graduate school?

As described in the section “I want to be a counselor,” many human service jobs require advanced degrees, work experience, and state licensure.  If you are interested in a particular career that requires graduate education (a Master’s or Doctoral degree), research graduate programs that will prepare you for the particular career.  Pay specific attention to admissions requirements, length of program/number of credits, field work/internship requirements, and cost.  If a specific school or program is of interest to you, feel free to contact the program’s admissions professionals for more information.  Staff are often available for phone or in-person meetings to discuss the program or they may direct you to group information sessions.