What Can I Expect From an Online Master’s in Gerontology?

An online master’s in gerontology will be very similar to an on-campus degree program. You can expect to find experienced professors teaching courses with content the same as you would receive if you attended classes at a college or university. An online program offers a higher level of flexibility, however, so it is a good choice if you are balancing your school work with other personal or professional commitments. Every online program has strengths and weaknesses, so it makes sense to research the program that best fits your career aspirations.

Available concentrations

You can refine your program by adopting a concentration that allows you to explore an area that interests you. Below are some typical concentrations you will likely find in gerontology programs.

  • Public health: This concentration prepares students to address the needs of the growing population of older adults at the local, state, and national levels. With a concentration in public health, you might work as a public policymaker, health educator, emergency responder, occupational health worker, social worker, social and health services assistant, or home health aide.
  • Biology: If you wish to explore the biological behaviors of aging adults and the human aging process, a concentration in biology may be a good fit for you. Individuals with this focus may work as social and health services assistants or home health aides.
  • Psychology: A psychology concentration centers on the mental changes that individuals experience as they grow older. Expect to find work as a case manager, social services coordinator, intensive in-home counselor, memory care coordinator, or social services director.
  • Social work: Focusing on social work will give you skills to work as a geriatric case manager, social worker, geriatric support service manager, or memory care director.
  • Occupational therapy: If you are interested in helping older adults improve their daily life skills to attain a higher quality of life, this concentration may be right for you. With a background in occupational therapy, you may find a role as a clinic director, rehabilitation manager, or occupational therapy aide.
  • Medical and health technology: This graduate-level concentration combines business, technology, and health care. With a degree in gerontology and a focus on medical and health technology, you may be equipped for positions such as health services manager, health informatics consultant, nursing informatics specialist, or chief medical information officer.

Common degree curriculum

The type of coursework you’ll receive while pursuing an online master’s degree in gerontology varies depending on your concentration and the college or university you decide to attend. There are a few standard core classes that are relevant to the degree. When choosing courses, it’s important to consider how the class is delivered. Some universities require students to complete labs and intensives on campus, while others allow all coursework online.

Some of the core classes you might encounter include:

  • Biology of Aging: Focuses on the aging process by revealing similarities in how humans age compared with other species.
  • Geriatric and Age-Related Illnesses: Learn about the different illnesses, diseases, and disorders affecting the elderly population.
  • Theories on Aging: Exposes students to different theories regarding aging and how to provide patient care.
  • Health Aging: Explores the effect lifestyle changes have on aging adults.
  • Population-Based Research on Aging: Students assess population-based research methods for various diseases that affect the elderly population.

Certification and license preparation

The licensure requirements for gerontologists can vary depending on the specific job, location, and the nature of their practice. Gerontologists may work in various settings, including healthcare, social services, and research.

In many cases, gerontologists may not be required to obtain a specific license to practice. However, if they provide clinical services, such as counseling or therapy, they may need to be licensed in the relevant discipline, for example, psychology and social work, depending on the regulations in their jurisdiction.

It’s important to note that licensing requirements vary by country, state, and even region. Individuals interested in pursuing a career in gerontology should check the specific licensing requirements in the area where they plan to practice. Professional organizations in gerontology may also provide guidance on relevant certifications or credentials that can enhance a gerontologist’s qualifications.

Program accreditation

Many career positions for those with an online master’s in gerontology are in health care, and most employers look for individuals who have graduated from an accredited college or university. Accreditation ensures the degree program meets the strictest educational standards. This accreditation may vary depending on the concentration. Some colleges may receive accreditation from the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE), while others may obtain it from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

Program completion timeframe

Students completing the online master’s degree in gerontology usually take approximately two years to complete 36 semester hours when taking a full-time course load. Some choose to continue working full-time while taking classes part-time, which can increase the time it takes to finish the degree to as much as five years. Cohort classes, in which students must start and end their degree with the same group of students, may take longer to complete than individually paced programs. With cohort programs, new classes only begin once or twice per year. Individually paced classes are offered at least once a semester, and you can take as many or as few classes each semester as you desire to finish the degree on your schedule.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Gerontology Graduates

Because the job market is competitive, an online master’s degree in gerontology can give you the professional edge needed to qualify for a wide range of professional positions. Graduates of a master’s in gerontology will likely find a robust job market and promising employment outlook. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, positions as social workers are expected to grow at a rate of seven percent over the coming decade, which is faster than the job market as a whole.

Salaries for those with an online master’s in gerontology depend on whether you work in a private or public setting and your years of experience. That said, a master’s degree can boost your salary by as much as 30 percent across all occupations. An online master’s in gerontology opens doors for various occupations. While most stay in health care and work directly with elderly individuals, there are available positions in government and private healthcare facilities.

Because most jobs in gerontology require advanced degrees, positions with a bachelor’s degree or less pay considerably less. Below are some entry-level position salaries, which fall significantly lower than occupations with professional credentials.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate
Mental Health Associate Mental health associates or counselors advise seniors suffering from various illnesses, including cognitive decline. $49,910 per year 18%
Geriatric Case Manager Geriatric case managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities for those living in memory care or assisted living facilities. Case managers may also work in hospital and group medical practices. $104,830 per year 28%
Social Worker Social workers in gerontology-based careers help older adults solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. They may also help diagnose and suggest a treatment plan for mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. $55,350 per year 7%

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations provide a wealth of benefits for their members. Individuals who join professional organizations have access to networking opportunities and stay current regarding technological advancements and news about the industry. Here is a list of some of the top gerontological organizations.

  • National Association for Professional Gerontologists: Considered the leading organization for gerontology personnel in the United States, the group validates its members’ credentials and provides networking and professional development.
  • Gerontological Society of America: The Gerontological Society of America has over 5,500 members. It is one of the largest and oldest organizations devoted to those working in gerontology careers. It provides services for professionals, including a long-running peer-reviewed journal.
  • American Society on Aging: The goal of the American Society on Aging is to enhance the knowledge of those who want to improve the quality of life for aging Americans. The group has more than 5,000 members, which include students, administrators, educators, policymakers and business owners.
  • American Geriatrics Society: Founded by a small group of doctors in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society focuses on the health and treatment of senior citizens.
  • National Council on Aging: The National Council on Aging is one of the largest gerontology organizations dedicated to helping those aged 60 and older.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Gerontology

An online master’s in gerontology degree is typically more affordable than an on-campus degree program. However, despite the lower cost, most students still need assistance when paying for their education. The first step in receiving aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which gives you a list of all available scholarships, loans, grants, and other types of aid the federal government provides. There are also scholarships available through public and private resources. Consider some of the following resources when seeking help to pay for your degree.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

Although it can be confusing to figure out the finances for your gerontology degree, several resources are available to help you make sense of it all. You may also find information online about possible grants and loans and support in filling out and understanding the FAFSA.

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