What’s the difference between social work and human services?

Want to experience the ultimate job satisfaction by bringing about change that makes a real difference in someone’s life? A career in social work or human services opens endless opportunities to do just that.

But what’s the difference between social work and human services, and which career is best for you? Let’s take a look.

Social work vs human services – what’s the difference and which is right for you?

While both social work and human services are focused on improving the lives of others, there are some significant differences to consider when deciding on the right career and qualification for you. On one hand, both careers provide services and advocacy for individuals, families and communities. So you can expect to work across a broad range of fields of practice, including diverse ages (from child and family work to youth to healthy ageing), mental health, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and disability. You can also access some extra career opportunities depending on your qualification.

Want to start your career helping others in less time? A human services career could be right for you. When you choose a human services degree, depending on your previous studies and the credit you’re eligible to receive, you’ll study for just three years, complete 400 hours of supervised work integrated learning, and can specialise in a chosen field: mental health and addiction, child youth and family practice, disability, gerontology and healthy ageing, Australian First Nations communities and culture, and multicultural practice.

If time isn’t a deciding factor and you want to broaden your career potential, preparing for a social work career could be your best choice. If you choose a social work degree, depending on your previous studies and the credit you can receive, you’ll either study for four years (bachelor’s) or two years (master’s professional qualifying) and complete 1,000 hours of supervised work-integrated learning. At Charles Sturt, our social work degrees are generalist and accredited with the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW), which means you can gain employment with Centrelink and the New South Wales Department of Health and work towards being accredited with Medicare.

Important things to consider

It’s essential to think about the area of practice you’re most passionate about. Do you want to help a specific group, such as children or older people? Perhaps you’re happy to work broadly with people from diverse demographics? Careers in social work and human services offer opportunities to help people from all walks of life or narrow your career focus through studying electives and majors that align with your interests.

Next, take a look at your highest level of education. Have you done any tertiary education study before? Or is this something you’d like to get stuck into? Don’t worry if you haven’t studied in a while – we offer admission pathways and short Study Link preparation subjects to help you start studying strong!

For example, if you want to help children and their families and your highest level of education is your HSC or equivalent, you have two options: the Bachelor of Human Services, specialising in child and adolescent welfare, or the Bachelor of Social Work1.

Overall, it will depend on the state where you live and your preferred practice area as to which degree will offer access to particular employers. Check out job advertisements for positions that interest you in your state to see which qualifications may suit you best.

What’s the difference between social work and human services courses?

Wondering which Charles Sturt humanities course will suit your career goals and passions? For most career areas on our decision tree, you’ll find there’s a choice between two courses – social work or human services. Both allow you to work in the area you’re passionate about – but there are some key differences. Let’s unpack each course.

Bachelor of Human Services

  1. Our Bachelor of Human Services includes up to 400 hours of work placement and two intensive school programs.
  2. Subjects are studied entirely online, with the exception of compulsory in-person intensive schools and 400 hours of workplace learning.
  3. When you study human services, you’ll finish in three years and start your career – and ability to earn income – sooner.
  4. The course offers the opportunity to graduate with a specialisation and work across the community, including with child protection services.

Human services snapshot:

  • Three years of full-time study
  • Six years of part-time study
  • 400 hours of work placement
  • Two intensive school programs

Bachelor of Social Work

  1. The Bachelor of Social Work includes 1,000 hours of work placement and also four separate week-long intensive schools.
  2. Our social work degree can be studied on campus or online. It’s your choice!
  3. Studying our Bachelor of Social Work will take you an extra year with more workplace learning hours. However, you’ll increase your earning potential as this qualification is generally considered higher-ranking than a three-year humanities degree.
  4. Most Australian health providers, including hospitals and community health centres, prefer staff to have a Bachelor of Social Work. Notably, Centrelink only hires social work services staff who have this qualification. You’ll also be able to work in private practice, for instance, if you gain accreditation as a mental health social worker.

Social work snapshot:

  • Four years full-time study
  • Eight years part-time study
  • 1,000 hours of work placement
  • Four separate week-long intensive schools

Want to know more about social work? Find out everything you need to know about a social work career.

Social work and human services courses similarities

So, we’ve covered the key differences between social work and human services courses. Now for some similarities.

  • You can transfer between the two courses if you change your mind mid-course. So rest assured you’ll graduate with the degree that’s right for you.
  • You’ll be taught by experts with experience in their field. So you know you’ll have the latest knowledge and skills.

Remember, both of these courses can be shortened if you’ve previously studied at TAFE or a registered training provider.

Discover the right course for you

Still need help deciding which course is your perfect fit? Our free online taster course is the ideal way to find out which course best suits you and your interests. Over eight weeks, explore and discover what social work and human services are all about. Hear practitioners’ stories about working in the field. And study wherever and whenever suits you with flexible online learning. Sign up now.

Study social work or human services

Regardless of which qualification you choose, you’ve made a smart move by selecting a career area with a very strong future growth forecast. Follow your passion for helping others – learn more about taking the first step towards a rewarding social work or human services career.

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