The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population aged 65 and over to grow to 83.7 million by 2050. As our society ages, human service and healthcare professionals with specialized gerontological training will enjoy expanding employment opportunities in many settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing facilities, and social service agencies. From 2016 to 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 18% increase in the demand for social and community service managers and a 16% increase for social and human service assistants
An online bachelor’s degree in gerontology often appeals to professionals in healthcare and those who care for an aging family member. The flexibility of an online degree attracts students who work full time or whose personal responsibilities restrict their ability to attend campus-based programs. Use this guide to find answers to your questions about online programs, graduation requirements, financial aid, and career and salary potential for gerontology careers.
A bachelor’s degree in gerontology equips graduates for many careers assisting older adults to maintain their health, independence, and productivity. Degree holders find employment across the helping professions, as healthcare administrators, social service managers and support staff, health educators, and occupational therapists. The BLS projects significant job growth in these kinds of positions over the next decade.
Although a degree in any discipline does not guarantee employment or a higher salary, earning a gerontology bachelor’s degree online provides a strong foundation to enter and advance in a variety of specialized occupations. This chart illustrates salary and job growth trends for several gerontology-related careers.
Working under the supervision of social workers, psychologists, or other community and social service directors, social and human service assistants identify healthcare benefits and services for their clients. They may also provide support for family caretakers. When assisting elderly clients, these workers help them live independently or arrange for them to transition into residential care facilities.
These administrators direct and coordinate medical and health services in hospitals, nursing homes, clinical departments, and group medical practices. They recruit, train, and supervise staff; oversee the maintenance and security of patient records; and ensure that the facility remains compliant with state and federal laws and healthcare regulations. In many states, managers working with elderly patients in nursing homes must apply for licensing.
Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients with illnesses and disabilities develop skills to manage daily activities. Working under the supervision of occupational therapists, these assistants and aides implement treatment plans, such as teaching patients how to exercise and use special equipment. They record patients’ progress, fill out insurance forms, and comply with regulations and medical directives about treatment plans.
These professionals work in healthcare clinics, agencies, hospitals, and private practice, helping clients address life challenges. A gerontological social worker connects elderly clients with resources to help maintain their independence, and they coordinate care for those who need specialized services. They also work with clients and family caretakers to anticipate and address client needs.
These healthcare professionals develop and implement strategies to improve the well-being of individuals and communities. They also educate people about managing existing health conditions and teach individuals and groups about behaviors that promote wellness and how to find healthcare services and information. Community workers gather information on the healthcare needs of communities, conduct outreach programs with specific populations, and advocate for population needs.
While the BLS estimates much higher-than-average job growth for social and human service assistants, other variables impact salary and career prospects, including geographical location, type of employer, and skill levels. California and states on the Eastern seaboard, especially New York and New Jersey, report the highest employment levels. Workers in California, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut enjoy the highest average salaries. Individual and family services, local and state government, and residential healthcare facilities employ the majority of these workers.
Most undergraduate gerontology programs offer a multidisciplinary curriculum, drawing from the fields of medicine, biology, social sciences, and cultural studies. Students should check school websites or contact schools directly to inquire about their program focuses. While no standard gerontology curriculum exists, students enrolled in a gerontology bachelor’s degree online or in a traditional brick-and-mortar program can expect to take courses that address lifespan development; healthcare and public policy; and social, legal, and cultural issues in aging.
Using a multidisciplinary approach, students examine basic theoretical perspectives and research findings to understand social issues unique to aging populations. Topics covered include demographic trends, cultural and global differences, healthcare, social and public policy, retirement, death, and bereavement.
Coursework covers the physical, social, and emotional aspects of developmental changes over the course of the human lifespan in early, middle, and later adulthood. Students also examine how culture and community shape developmental processes.
This course examines demographic shifts, health differentials, life expectancy, and attitudes and social perceptions about aging held by different ethnic and racial groups. The course also addresses cultural competency for gerontology professionals.
Students explore how agencies, entitlement programs, and the healthcare industry serve the aging population. The course emphasizes the social, political, and economic forces that influence the delivery of long-term care for older adults.
Students in this course gain an understanding of elder abuse and neglect, including the signs and symptoms; reporting requirements; and how practitioners can work with Adult Protective Services and other legal, medical, and community agencies.
Choosing the best online bachelor’s degree in gerontology requires research. Tuition costs, online delivery formats, and requirements vary widely by program. Accreditation status affects eligibility for federal financial assistance. It may also impact your ability to transfer credits and how potential employers perceive your degree. This section provides answers to commonly asked questions about gerontology and online learning.
A gerontology degree, online or on campus, usually comprises 120 credits. Most students finish in four years of full-time study, although some schools offer accelerated degrees that students can complete sooner. Students with work or personal responsibilities may take longer to graduate, completing just one or two courses each semester. Several factors, like internships and fieldwork requirements, can prolong the time to completion.
Some programs offer concentrations that allow students to specialize in subfields within the gerontology major. Concentrations allow students to explore personal interests and related studies to their career plans. Potential concentrations for a gerontology degree include community health and social services for the aging, law, public policy and healthcare advocacy, and long-term care and nursing home administration.
Several bachelor’s degrees in gerontology offer completely online, asynchronous formats that allow students to complete coursework at their convenience. Other programs feature synchronous schedules where classes meet in real-time at a specific day and hour, bringing together classmates and instructors in virtual classrooms. Some schools offer hybrid degrees that require some on-campus courses in addition to online courses.
Regionally and nationally accredited schools have been evaluated by independent agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to validate their quality and standards. In addition to regional and national accreditation, a small number of high-performing programs within accredited institutions seek specialized accreditation. The Accreditation for Gerontology Education Council awards the only programmatic accreditation for gerontology programs.
A student who completes a gerontology degree online earns the same diploma as a graduate from a campus-based program. Distance learning and traditional campus programs apply the same rigorous standards to coursework and feature the same graduation requirements. Instructors use the same grading rubrics, assignments, and examinations for both formats.
While many students use federal or private loans to pay for their online bachelor’s degree in gerontology, you should also research other sources of assistance, especially opportunities for "free money." Grants and scholarships, unlike loans, do not require repayment. Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine your eligibility for federal assistance. This chart provides examples of privately funded, need-based and merit-based scholarships for majors in gerontology and related fields.
Applicants for this $3,500 annual scholarship must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program related to medical practice management, including public health, business administration, and healthcare administration. Applicants must submit a letter outlining career goals, a resume, and three letters of recommendation.
A Place for Mom, an assisted living referral service, offers five scholarships annually worth $1,000. The Senior Care Innovation Scholarship goes to students majoring in gerontology, nursing, medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy, sociology, or social work. Eligible candidates must be U.S. or Canadian citizens, excluding the province of Quebec, and enrolled at an accredited postsecondary institution. They must document volunteer work with seniors and submit a 500-900-word essay describing an innovation to improve seniors’ quality of life.
Underrepresented groups may apply for this scholarship for undergraduate studies in biological, medical, social, or behavioral science research. The award pays up to $20,000 per year in tuition, fees, and living expenses, and is renewable for up to four years. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and enrolled full time at an accredited U.S. institution. They must have a GPA of 3.3 or higher, or rank in the top 5% of their class, and demonstrate exceptional financial need.
Eligibility for the Aging Matters Scholarship includes undergraduate students currently caring for an aging family member, working with the elderly community, or planning to pursue a career serving the aging population. Applicants must be entering their first year of school or currently enrolled at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university. Applicants must submit a personal statement demonstrating how "Aging Matters" to them. Recipients may use the $1,500 award for tuition, books, board, or other expenses.
This award funds undergraduate students seeking to advance Alzheimer’s research or improve the quality of care for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Applicants must submit an autobiography discussing the impact that Alzheimer’s disease has had in the lives of their family members, and explaining how their educational and career goals will advance the understanding, care, or relief of Alzheimer’s. Recipients of the $5,000 scholarship must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are entering or already enrolled in a four-year college or university.