Online Degrees In Gerontology

Gerontology is the study of the aging process – how people change physically, emotionally and socially as they age; how the aging process changes society; and how to apply this knowledge to policies and programs. A quick glance through the Gerontological Society of America’s (GSA’s) website shows how diverse the issues faced by older people actually are – from physical problems to loneliness. Online gerontology degrees can be applied to work in a variety of fields, including biology, sociology, public policy, economics and the humanities. Regardless of specialty, an aging population should create plenty of job opportunities for those with degrees in gerontology.

The College Board recommends that individuals seeking a career working with the elderly should care deeply about their needs and enjoy spending time with them. Online gerontology degree programs can help you go beyond a deep empathy for the elderly and gain the knowledge and skills necessary to help them lead more fulfilling lives.

Both fields deal with aging and individuals working in them may have a considerable overlap in places of employment. However, the main difference lies in the qualifications necessary to work in the fields. Individuals working as geriatricians need to be fully qualified physicians. Gerontology, on the other hand, is a multi-disciplinary field and includes the physical, mental, and social aspects and implications of aging. Hence, gerontologists play a supportive or educational role, helping older people through their problems and may often work alongside geriatricians.

The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.

Gerontology is a relatively new and growing field, so students have the opportunity to innovate and grow with their career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), rapid job growth is expected in fields related to gerontology including social workers, counselors, and community service managers among others. Additionally, healthcare occupations are also projected to grow at a fast pace mainly due to an aging population.

Although the BLS doesn’t collect information specifically for those in gerontology careers, the table below shows some of the occupations related to the field along with their projected job growth, employment outlook and associated wages for the decade leading up to 2028.

Depending on their interests and other educational achievements, individuals may also be able to consider non-traditional career paths in fields like advertising and law with a focus on older populations.

Careers
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Healthcare Social Workers174,890$56,75017%
Home Health and Personal Care Aides3,161,500$25,28036.4%
Social Workers, All Other58,410$61,2305.6%
Social and Community Service Managers156,460$67,15013%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

The BLS reports that social and community service managers may choose to work with social and human service organizations that focus on particular demographics like older adults. Their duties may include developing and overseeing programs that focus on a broad range of issues faced by the elderly. They may also be required to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs and suggest ways to improve them. Apart from supervising their staff, including social workers, social and community services managers work hands-on with their clients as and when needed.

The aging of the baby boom generation could fuel more than a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 1.9 million in 2030 from 1.2 million in 2017.

The following steps outline one path to becoming a social and community service manager.

  1. Volunteer at a senior living facility or a community organization that serves older people while still in high school to see how you like it.
  2. Take biology and psychology in high school if you can.
  3. Conduct research on the online gerontology degree programs available.
  4. Check what specializations they offer and who they are accredited by.
  5. Enroll in the program.
  6. Get an internship while still in school to gain work experience.
  7. Obtain any necessary certifications and licensures once you have graduated.
  8. Enroll in an online gerontology master’s degree if you wish to continue with your education.
  9. Interview for and find an entry-level job in the field.
  10. Gain work experience and work your way up the career ladder to becoming a social and community service manager.

Online gerontology programs are available at degree levels from associate to postdoctoral. Students may be able to major in gerontology or choose the subject as a concentration with a major in another field. Associate degree programs in gerontology may allow individuals to pursue entry-level jobs. However, the BLS states that most social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree while a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. A doctoral degree may suit those interested in pursuing an academic life.

Demand for elder care will also be driven by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could more than double by 2050 to 13.8 million, from 5.8 million today.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

A gerontology associate degree online can help students gain an overview of the subject and understand the issues people face as they age. As a cross-disciplinary degree program, students may explore the biological, sociological, and psychological impacts of ageing.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics are usually introductory in nature covering the different aspects of gerontology. Some courses you may take include:

  • Biology of aging
  • Introduction to gerontology
  • Introduction to sociology
  • Professional issues in gerontology
  • Psychology of aging

Possible electives: Home care; aging in a multicultural society; probate administration/estate planning

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in gerontology?

Graduates of online associate gerontology degree programs may be qualified to work in entry-level roles in a number of care settings including hospitals, home health communities, retirement homes and other organizations involved in caring for the aged. Some job titles may include:

  • Home health aide
  • Nurse aide/nursing assistant
  • Practical nurse
  • Social service worker

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Online gerontology bachelor’s degree programs can help students learn to develop effective strategies for working with older individuals. Students may also explore how the ageing process affects individuals in more depth than those earning a gerontology associate degree online including aspects like wellness and disease, long-term care, and policies that have an impact on the elderly.

Typical duration: Four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics may range from the legal, ethical, and financial factors that impact ageing influence to the biological and cognitive aspects of ageing. Some examples of courses include:

  • Aging and health
  • Culture and aging
  • Death and dying
  • Programs, services, and policies
  • The business of aging

Students may have to complete a capstone project as a part of their online gerontology degree program.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a bachelor’s in gerontology?

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in gerontology may qualify for entry or mid-level roles in areas like program management, housing and facilities management, and services development in a number of settings like nursing homes, senior centers, and community mental health agencies. Potential job titles include:

  • Adult day care worker
  • Community outreach worker
  • Geriatric case manager
  • Geriatric mental health worker
  • Home health administrator
  • Social service liaison

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online gerontology master’s degree programs can provide individuals with the knowledge they need to take the lead in providing care and support to the older population. They may advance their research skills and learn how to apply them practically toward the development of programs and policies that have a positive impact on the elderly.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in gerontology, social work, healthcare or related fields; some programs may also need work experience in the field

Typical coursework: Topics may include research methodologies and advanced strategies to address the challenges faced by older adults and their families. Some courses you may take include:

  • Aging and the family
  • Counseling older adults
  • Gerontology research methods and program evaluation
  • Managing aging services
  • Public policy and aging

Students may also need to complete a master’s thesis or capstone project to satisfy the requirements of their online gerontology degree program.

Possible electives: Physical change and aging; mental health and aging; dying patient and the family

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in gerontology?

Professionals with a master’s degree may be able to opt to work directly with the aging population or work on behalf of this population by researching or educating others about aging issues. They may work with them directly by developing programs, providing counseling or even offering financial planning and investment advising services. They may also take on advocacy or educational roles. Some examples of job titles include:

  • Medical and health services manager
  • Mental health counselor
  • Nursing home administrator
  • Social and community service manager
  • Social worker

Online graduate certificates in gerontology may allow working professionals to add a gerontology specialization to their existing credentials, positioning them to take advantage of new career opportunities in the field. They may also allow those with a bachelor’s degree in the field gain some graduate education without having to commit to the time and expense necessary for a master’s degree. Certificate programs may act as an introduction to the field of gerontology or focus on specific aspects of the field depending on their target audience.

Typical duration: One year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in gerontology, social work, healthcare or related fields; some programs may also need work experience in the field

Typical coursework: Topics may vary depending on the focus of the program. Some courses you may take include:

  • Counseling older adults and their families
  • Ethics and aging
  • Life span developmental sociology
  • Physiology of development and aging

Possible electives: Clinical aspects of dementia care; mental health and mental illness in late-life; human performance, nutrition and aging.

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

As online gerontology degrees at the doctoral level typically focus on research, students can learn about the different research methodologies used in the field and how to apply them practically. Students may also focus on advanced topics in an area of their interest.

Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in gerontology, sociology, psychology, human services, or a related field; some programs may require GRE or MAT test scores

Typical coursework: Curricula may vary depending on your area of interest. However, most students also take courses on research strategies and statistics along with core topics. Some examples of doctoral-level courses include:

  • Advanced program evaluation
  • Changing health behavior
  • Contemporary gerontology
  • Foundations of teaching and learning in gerontology
  • Management and leadership development in human and social services

Dissertation: Students usually spend the major part of their degree program conducting in-depth research in an area of their interest in order to write their doctoral dissertation. The dissertation then has to pass the academic approval of a committee of academic experts.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in gerontology?

Graduates of online doctoral degrees in gerontology may choose to work in research and academia or qualify for high-level roles in healthcare and long-term care institutions, community, human service and religious organizations, and even federal, state, and local government agencies. Some examples of job titles are:

  • Capacity assessor
  • Elder program developer
  • Housing placement advisor
  • Manager for elderly and elder mediation
  • Policy advisor
  • University professor

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process that institutions undergo to demonstrate their educational offerings meet or exceed a standard level of quality. Accrediting bodies, which are private organizations that may have a regional or national scope, evaluate schools to determine whether certain objectives and criteria for learning in certain subjects are met.

Additionally, attending an accredited school can be an important criterion for receiving federal financial aid and for obtaining professional licensures and certifications. The Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council (AGEC) programmatically accredits online gerontology degree programs.

Specializations in Gerontology

Specializations in gerontology may be offered right from the bachelor’s degree level. They can help you focus your education, and therefore your career, in a specific area of the field that interests you. It is important to note that not all schools offer specializations so it can be a good idea to research the school you are interested in thoroughly before enrolling. Some specializations you may choose from include:

  • Aging services management
  • Gerontological counseling
  • Healthcare informatics systems
  • Long term care administration

Licensures and Certifications in Gerontology

Licensure requirements can vary depending on your job profile and where you work. For example, the BLS reports that clinical social workers need licenses in all states and nonclinical social workers need to be licensed in most states.

Professional certifications are usually not mandatory. However, they can help demonstrate your proficiency in a particular area of gerontology and serve to reassure your clients of your expertise. The Aging Life Care Association® (ALCA) recognizes the following certifying bodies:

Other certifications you may hold include:

Employment Statistics

Social and Community Service Managers

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services
  • Grantmaking and Giving Services
  • Social Advocacy Organizations
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Massachusetts
  • Texas
  • Ohio
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Greeley, CO
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Columbia, SC
  • Winchester, VA-WV
  • Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA

Home Health Aides

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Home Healthcare Services
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities
  • Individual and Family Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Ohio
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Sacramento — Roseville — Arden-Arcade, CA
  • Sioux City, IA-NE-SD
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Attending college can be expensive. Thankfully there are plenty of scholarships and financial aid programs to help ease the financial burden for eligible students of online gerontology degree programs. It can be a wise idea to apply to as many such schemes as possible as competition for many can be tough. We’ve listed some programs below to help you get started in your search:

Other resources for those aspiring to work in the field of gerontology:

Sources

  • BA in Human Services: Gerontology, Southern New Hampshire University, https://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-human-services/gerontology, accessed January 2020
  • Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology, Ashford University, https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/health-care/bachelor-of-arts-gerontology, accessed January 2020
  • Career: Medical and Public Health Social Workers, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/communityand-social-services-medical-public-health-social-workers, accessed January 2020
  • Certification Bodies, Aging Life Care Association, https://www.aginglifecare.org/ALCA/About_ALCA/who_we_are/ALCA/About_Us/About.aspx, accessed January 2020
  • Definition of Gerontology, Institute of Gerontology, University of Georgia, http://iog.publichealth.uga.edu/what-is-gerontology/, accessed January 2020
  • Differences Between Geriatrician and Gerontologist, Chron.com, https://work.chron.com/differences-between-geriatrician-gerontologist-10110/, accessed January 2020
  • Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States, Population Reference Bureau, July 2019, https://www.prb.org/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet/
  • Gerontology and Aging Services Bachelor’s Degree, University of Maryland Global Campus, https://www.umgc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/gerontology-major.cfm, accessed January 2020
  • Gerontology Ph.D. (Dual-Major), North Dakota State University, https://workspaces.ndsu.edu/hse/academics/graduate_studies/doctoral_programs/human_development_phd/gerontology_phd_dual_major/, accessed January 2020
  • Gerontology, Associate of Arts Degree, Coastline College, https://www.coastline.edu/programs/gerontology.php, accessed January 2020
  • Gerontology, HACC, https://www.hacc.edu/ProgramsandCourses/Programs/HealthCareers/Gerontology.cfm, accessed January 2020
  • Gerontology: Online master’s degree, Mizzou Online, https://online.missouri.edu/degreeprograms/human-environmental-sciences/gerontology/masters/index.aspx, accessed January 2020
  • Gerontology: PhD in Human and Social Service, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/online-doctoral-programs/phd-in-human-and-social-services/curriculum/track-i/gerontology, accessed January 2020
  • Graduate Certificate in Gerontology, University of Pittsburgh, https://teaching.pitt.edu/pitt-online/programs/degrees-and-certificates/ucsur/graduate-certificate-in-gerontology/, accessed January 2020
  • Graduate Certificate in Gerontology, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, https://online.usc.edu/programs/gerontology-graduate-certificate/, accessed January 2020
  • Healthcare Occupations, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm, accessed January 2020
  • Major: Gerontology, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/multi-interdisciplinary-studies-gerontology, accessed January 2020
  • Master of Arts in Gerontology, National University, https://www.nu.edu/ourprograms/collegeoflettersandsciences/psychology/programs/masters-of-arts-in-gerontology/, accessed January 2020
  • Online Ph.D. in Gerontology, Concordia University – Chicago, https://gero.cuchicago.edu/online-phd-gerontology/, accessed January 2020
  • Social and Community Service Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm, accessed January 2020
  • Social and Human Service Assistants, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants.htm, accessed January 2020
  • Social Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm, accessed January 2020
  • What is Gerontology: The Study of Aging, Southern New Hampshire University, October 2017, https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2017/10/what-is-gerontology
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