As America’s overall population ages in the coming years, there will be an increasing demand for workers who have received specialized training in the field of gerontology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics believes that demand for workers with this type of knowledge and experience will increase far faster than demand in other areas. Accordingly, it makes sense for prospective students to learn more about this field of study and its career opportunities.
At its most basic, gerontology is the study of aging. In both online and traditional gerontology degree programs, an interdisciplinary approach is used as students are introduced to the social, psychological and biological alterations that humans experience as they age. Students will learn how society is impacted as a whole by an aging population and will also explore how life changes for aging individuals. Included in the program is a look at how policies and programs are implemented to assist the elderly population.
Online Gerontology Degrees
In the online environment, gerontology students may earn everything from a certificate to a Master of Science. The most common program offered results in a Bachelor of Science in Gerontology that requires the student to complete a number of general education requirements in addition to the coursework required for the major. A bachelor degree is typically sufficient to gain entry level employment and, in some instances, may even open the door to some mid-level opportunities. Some online degree programs require practical, hands on training in addition to more conventional coursework. These practical experiences can typically be arranged through a local employer that provides services to the elderly.
Typical Classes for Online Gerontology Degree Programs
Initial coursework for a gerontology degree usually includes study in the fields of psychology and sociology. Course titles like Adult Development and Sociological Aspects of Adulthood are common. Classes such as these typically provide an overview of gerontology while also exploring the myths and stereotypes that frequently accompany aging. Students may also explore how aging affects the individual and the people around them as well as how media and culture are changed by an aging population.
As the student progresses in their online studies, the coursework becomes more specific with classes exploring the cognitive functioning of the elderly, the physical changes experienced by older people and social policies that affect the elderly. Ethical aspects and legal questions may also be undertaken in conjunction with an introduction to research methods. Finally, many online degree programs require the completion of a research project or a hands on internship with a local employer.
Careers for Gerontology Majors
Most graduates go on to become social workers who specialize in assisting older people and their loved ones. Such a social worker might teach classes to caregivers, provide advice on housing options or coordinate health services in the home. Other people with gerontology degrees become a home health aide or nursing aide. In this role, the primary duty is providing personal care and assistance to individuals who need help with eating, personal hygiene and other care issues. Still other graduates go on to become a social scientist who conducts research on the behavior of the elderly. Research results may inform future public policy.
Credentials for Gerontologists
Professionals who want to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a tangible manner can become credentialed through the National Association for Professional Gerontologists. The credentialing process validates the academic achievements of the student and ensures potential employers as well as clients that the individual possesses valuable, specialized knowledge. The association provides opportunities for continuing education and networking with other professionals.