What’s the Difference Between Human Services and Social Work?

At first glance, the terms “human services” and “social work” appear to mean almost the same thing. Both fields involve working to help others and performing services that help solve social problems. However, the particulars of work in human services and social work introduce distinctions that help explain their differences as well. We matched up the human services vs. social work fields to illustrate these differences and help you decide which degree is right for you.

Both Fields of Study at a Glance

Human services is a broadly defined field that encompasses the aim of meeting human needs. It is an interdisciplinary field of study that strives to prevent and address problems as well improve the overall quality of life for clients. Someone who works in the human services industry will work to assist individuals and communities in their everyday lives. Employment for human service professionals is experiencing rapid growth, and many opportunities are available in the job market for those with a human services degree.

Social work is concerned with the effort to empower and enable people. Social justice is a main priority of the social work field, and those who study it are often working with those directly affected by disenfranchisement and other complex social problems. As in human services, employment opportunities for social work are diverse and in demand.


Though the two fields share many similarities, human services and social work ultimately work in different ways to address the needs of those they serve. A human services professional focuses on broader work within a community, meaning that they work in community-based settings and usually coordinate services. Social workers, on the other hand, work directly with clients to implement social programs. They can also serve as counselors and make necessary services available to their clients.

Administrative vs. Direct Roles

Many positions in human services are in a managerial capacity. You might find yourself working as an administrator in an advocacy organization; these human services organizations often work to support underserved communities. As a professional or paraprofessional in the human services field, you will help individuals and communities gain access to basic needs, such as food and shelter, and will do so by working in an administrative role.

Someone with a degree in social work usually takes a different approach to meeting their clients’ needs. In social work, you focus more on individuals than on entire communities. This means that you will often work directly with your clients to help them gain access to services within a community that address their specific problems, such as abuse or addiction.

Course of study

You will need to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree to practice in the field of social work. This degree track combines clinical experience with classwork in a variety of specific areas, such as:

  • Advocacy
  • Community organizing
  • Families
  • Children
  • Mental health
  • Public policy

Work in the human services field does not require a master’s degree; an associate degree often qualifies you to work as a human services professional. Brescia University’s online associate degree in human services trains students in the following areas of study:

  • Crisis counseling and intervention
  • Theory
  • Case management
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Biology

Depending on your career goals, degree programs in either social work or human services could be right for you. Students must consider the difference we’ve discussed to make the decision that is best for their interests and situation.

Social Services at Brescia

There are many intersections between the fields of human services and social work—both will enable you to get involved in helping others. Most importantly, human services and social work meet the needs of underserved people and communities. The fields of study for either of these degrees will provide you with the means to work toward social change, albeit in different ways.

Whether you decide to pursue a degree in social work or human services, Brescia University has the programs you are looking for. At Brescia, we work hard to provide you with an excellent education and put you on the path to your desired career. With our bachelor’s degree program in social work and associate degree in human services, we will prepare you for a career in your chosen area of the social services field.