When you’re evaluating potential human services graduate programs, one thing to pay close attention to is the list of learning outcomes that the program promises. Learning outcomes are the knowledge and skills you can expect to have after you graduate and include “hard” skills — the specific theories and skills related to your field of study — and “soft skills,” such as critical thinking, analysis and effective communication.
While each masters in human services program differs in its specifics, you can expect to see certain themes among each program’s learning outcomes. These are the skills that nearly every program offers to one degree or another and are what you should expect to have when you earn your degree.
Mastery of Knowledge in Designated Areas
Within any discipline, there are basic theories and knowledge sets that anyone who holds a degree in the subject is expected to know. Depending on which area of human services you study, these might include: sociological or psychological theories, ethics, leadership, management and communication. You’ll demonstrate your knowledge of this information through the work you complete for your classes and the grades you receive.
Effective Communication Skills
Even if you are earning a master of public health online, you’ll be expected to demonstrate that you can effectively communicate with a variety of audiences. Your written communication will be evaluated through your papers and other assignments, while your oral skills may be evaluated through discussions and presentations. Since many human services and health-related degree programs require completion of a practical component, you may have to demonstrate your ability to communicate with clients or patients, as well as supervisors and colleagues. Expect to be observed and undergo evaluations in which your interactions are monitored and assessed.
While learning the fundamentals of human services is a key outcome of any educational program, the ability to critically analyze situations and develop effective solutions is also important. It’s not enough to know the facts; you need to be able to use them effectively. While most graduate-level courses include a critical thinking component, you might also develop this outcome through courses in critical thinking, leadership or decision-making, which help you learn how to apply the knowledge you gain through courses in other areas to real-life situations.
Many students enroll in human services or public health programs because they want to help solve others’ problems — whether they work with individuals in crisis or on a more global scale to prevent disease. A master’s-level program will provide the knowledge and skills necessary to tackle and effectively solve these problems. Through courses that include problem-solving elements, internships and other experiences, students should graduate with the confidence that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to address society’s problems.
An Understanding of Ethics and Professional Responsibility
The field of human services comes with a stringent code of professional responsibility and ethics, and anyone who enters the field must have a solid understanding of those principles — a notion that is an important learning outcome of any program. Expect to graduate with the knowledge of how you are to behave and interact with your clients and other providers, an understanding of your professional responsibilities and your role in protecting the integrity of the practice. You might meet these objectives through course work devoted to the study of ethics or through ethical discussions interwoven throughout your other course work.
These are just some of the learning outcomes you can expect in a graduate-level human services program. As you compare programs and embark on the journey toward a master’s degree, take time to develop your own set of learning outcomes. Compare your own “wish list” of outcomes to those offered by the program; ideally, your program of study should fulfill most, if not all, of your personal objectives and desired outcomes to ensure you get the most out of your studies and build the career you want.
Shannon DeRosa holds a master’s of human services and provides counseling services to families in crisis. She serves on the advisory board of her alma mater, helping to evaluate the effectiveness and safeguard the success of the graduate human services program.