The best bachelor’s degrees in gerontology equip you with the skills needed to help those transitioning into old age.
Ask most people what gerontology is and you’ll likely be met with a number of blank expressions. But this field of study is critical not only for our country, but for everyone — including you — at some stage in life. Often called ‘aging studies’, gerontology examines all aspects of aging, from sociological to psychological phenomenon.
A recent U.S. census showed that 15% of our population is aged 65 or older, just shy of 50 million people. As the baby boomer generation ages, this number will grow higher still in the next half-decade. We need people who are there to care for them and provide support for an aging population — that’s you.
What is a gerontology degree?
Gerontology is often misconstrued as a field of study that leads into nursing, but the opportunities are broader than that. As a gerontology student, you’ll learn about the impact of aging not only on the individual, but on society as a whole. You’ll study how society must adapt to cater for the needs of a population that’s getting older.
As a prospective student, you have the option of a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc), or Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies (BMS). The course chosen will dictate not only the topics studied, but also the course entry requirements. Regardless of your choice, you’ll study services for the elderly, public policies, adult development, and the principles of gerontology.
Various programs require specific, specialized test scores for the GRE/GMAT, as well as a minimum GPA requirement. Typically, for gerontology you’ll need a GPA of 3.0 or higher to apply. What’s more, many colleges and universities ask for letters of recommendation, with some asking that prerequisite courses be completed.
Careers for gerontology majors
Typically, a career in gerontology will fall under a very wide umbrella that encompasses numerous social work-related professions. The most common entry-level positions in gerontology include health educators, social services assistants, and adult enrichment coaches. And while the role will largely determine the salary available, the highest level of education attained will also factor in.
More specialized careers include occupational therapists, mental health therapists, and grief care, all of which can be targeted through specialized study. Most supervisory and management positions will require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum, with masters and doctorates available.
Beyond a bachelor’s degree, there are options for further study in the field of gerontology. Graduates can undertake these masters or doctorates to gain deeper subject knowledge and move into higher, more authoritative public health roles. Gaining a masters also puts students or professionals in a better position to move up the salary ladder in their career.
Gerontology salary potential
The average Gerontologist salary in the USA stands at approximately $55,000, though this is for experienced professionals. Entry-level roles, particularly those within social care sectors, start at around $30,000, with scope for progression. While caregivers typically earn fairly low salaries, occupational therapists, for example, earn significantly more than the US national average.
Your chosen field can largely affect the earnings growth potential throughout your career, so you should choose specialisms wisely. Entry-level salaries for a social worker are around $40,000 and only rise to around $45,000 after 20 years’ practice. However, an occupational therapist may start at $66,000 and rise to around $82,000 after a similar period of experience.
With significant experience or a doctorate, the salaries available can breach $100,000 in the field of gerontology. Registered nurses and nurse case managers might earn up to $90,000, for example. The most significant salaries are available for those in senior public health management and directorship roles.
What are the best gerontology degrees?
We know that you have educational goals that you’re itching to pursue, but you may not know where to start. The editors of CollegeRank utilize a unique ranking methodology based on the following three aspects:
40% Potential Salary After Graduation: Average mid-career salary of school alumni
30% Institutional Accreditation: Regional and National Accreditation for the 2019-2020 school year
30% Overall Degree Affordability: Average cost of undergraduate and graduate tuition per school
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San Diego State University is the third-oldest university in the California State University system. The Carnegie Foundation categorizes the school as a “Doctoral University: Highest Research Activity.” It has produced the second-greatest number of Fullbright Scholars in California and generates nearly $2.5 billion annually for the local economy.
San Diego State offers a Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology. The major requires students to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, which includes Biology of Aging, Aging Network, and Images of Aging in Contemporary Science. Eight of the courses in the major are required and comprise the program’s first 24 hours. The remaining eight hours are devoted to electives.
The core curriculum includes a required field education practicum, which takes place at the School of Social Work field site. Students in the practicum learn how to integrate classroom theory with practical skills in professional competence and identity. Students practice real-life practice situations and skills-building while being supervised by qualified social workers.
The field practicum has helped the program to build community partnerships that facilitate a diverse series of field placements. Students may be placed in settings such as psychiatric practices, child welfare agencies, hospitals, family service agencies, hospices, senior care settings, and schools. Students apply to the major after they complete 60 transferable semester units with a minimum GPA of 2.0.
California State University, Sacramento is located only a few miles from the State Capitol building. More than 4,000 students from California community colleges transfer to CSUS each year. In addition to its main campus in Sacramento, there is also a distance campus in Singapore, which is home to the school’s International MBA program.
Cal State Sacramento offers a bachelor’s degree in gerontology that requires 51 credit hours of coursework. Courses are divided among core classes, research electives, multi-disciplinary classes, and electives. Elective options include Aging and Health, Sports and Aging, and Family Stress and Coping. The final courses in the program are a gerontology practicum and a gerontology capstone practicum.
CSU Sacramento’s gerontology program is home to a chapter of Sigma Phi Omega, the only national honors and professional society in gerontology. The organization is designed to promote scholarship, professionalism, friendship, and service to the elderly. To date, 13 of the program’s students have been initiated into the organization.
Miami University, Oxford is located is referred to by many as “Miami of Ohio.” Its main campus is in Oxford, OH, but there are also regional campuses in Hamilton, Middletown, and West Chester, OH. Miami is known as the “Mother of Fraternities,” as five Greek social organizations started there, including Beta Theta Pi and Sigma Chi.
Miami University’s Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology program requires 33-34 semester hours. Students take 21 hours of multidisciplinary core courses before choosing an area of concentration track. The track options for the program are Applied Research, Aspiring Health Professions, and Policies and Programs. Each track has three required courses that students take for their final 12-13 hours.
Sample courses from each track include: Gerontology Research Capstone Internship, for the Applied Research track; Aging & Health, for the Aspiring Health Professions track; and Policies & Programs in an Aging Society, for the Policies and Programs track. Some of the concentration courses are shared between the tracks.
The University of South Florida is located in Tampa, FL. It is one of three “preeminent” public universities in the state and had an enrollment of more than 50,000 for the 2018-2019 academic year. The school has a number of school spirit representatives, including mascot Rocky the Bull and the school’s marching band, the Herd of Thunder.
USF’s School of Aging Studies has two undergraduate programs related to gerontology. Students can choose to pursue either a Bachelor of Science in Aging Sciences or a Bachelor of Science in Long-Term Care Administration. Students may also complete a minor in Aging Sciences, which requires 15 credit hours of coursework.
The Bachelor of Science in Aging Science is a 36-credit hour program that includes six required core courses, such as Physical Changes and Aging; Death and Dying; and Health, Ethnicity, and Aging. Students then complete 15 credit hours of electives, which gives students specialized expertise in subjects such as mental health and assisted living.
The Bachelor of Science in Long-Term Care Administration is a specialist degree intended to prepare students for national and state licensure exams as a Post-Acute & Long-Term Care Administrator (skilled nursing home). Students in the program complete a 650-hour internship with a qualified preceptor.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha was founded in 1908 by community members from the local Presbyterian Theological Seminary. While this gave the school an initially Christian basis for its programs, the school eventually became a secular, and then public, alternative to a number of directly religious schools in the area.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha has a Bachelor of Science in Gerontology program. The program uses a multidisciplinary approach that focuses on the physical, psychological, and social aspects of aging. The major core courses include 24 credit hours in topics such as Psychology of Adult Development & Aging.
Students may also choose to pursue a concentration in one of the following areas: Administration, Healthy Aging, or Pre-Health. In addition to the concentration/elective courses, students complete nine hours of electives, six hours of statistics and research methods coursework, and a 3-credit hour practicum.
Missouri State University, Springfield was originally known as the Fourth District Normal School and educated future teachers in the state of Missouri. In addition to its Springfield campus, MSU operates a fruit research station in Mountain Grove, MO and participates in a Department of Defense and Strategic Studies program located in Fairfax, VA.
MSU Springfield has a Bachelor of Science in Gerontology (Comprehensive) program. Once students have completed their general education requirements, they pursue required courses in statistics, research methods, communication skills, health-related subjects, electives, and a supervised practicum.
Core courses include Social Forces and Aging, Directed Readings in Gerontology, Community Resources for Older Adults, and Policies and Older Adults. Students may also take psychology electives, such as Psychology of Humor, Analysis of Interpersonal Behavior, and Naturalistic Methods in Social Psychology.
The Public Affairs Capstone Experience that ends the program includes one credit hour for every 45 clock hours of supervised experience. Students complete this requirement at a residential or community placement center that serves the elderly. Students also take a seminar in gerontology along with the capstone, which gives them weekly meetings where they can discuss their experiences in their internships.
Youngstown State University grew from a local law school founded by members of the Youngstown, OH YMCA. It became a public university in 1967 and now has more than 12,600 students. The school mascot is Pete the Penguin, and its athletic teams compete under the team name the Penguins.
Youngstown State is home to a Bachelor of Arts in Gerontology program. The major requirements include 16 courses, of which 33-34 credit hours come from core courses. Students also choose one policy/social services elective and three additional electives. The core course requirement includes a capstone in gerontology course, in which students complete a major research project.
Some of the elective course offerings include Health Care Policy, Grant Writing, Exercise and Aging for Health Professions, and Adult Development. Students may also complete an internship as a part of their core requirements, which can account for 3-15 credit hours of major coursework (though it does not replace any required courses).
#8. SUNY Oneonta
SUNY Oneonta is part of the State University of New York school system. It is a liberal arts college originally founded as a teachers’ college, but which now offers more than 60 undergraduate and graduate programs. Oneonta is home to community development centers, including the Center for Economic and Community Development and the Center for Social Responsibility and Community.
SUNY Oneonta’s bachelor’s program in gerontology bills itself as a highly personal experience for students who wish to pursue a career working with the elderly. The major includes 39-42 credit hours of coursework, which are mostly based in sociology. Students also take courses in psychology, anthropology, and human ecology.
Sociology courses include Introductory Sociology, Research Methodology, and Social Policy. Core requirements make up 18 of the 42 credit hours of the program. There are six hours of required psychology courses and an additional 18 hours of elective courses.
The elective requirement is split between nine hours each of sociology electives and interdisciplinary electives. Sociology elective options include Families and Aging, Field Experiences in Sociology, and Sociology of Death and Dying. Multidisciplinary electives cover Housing, Adulthood in Families, and Lifespan Development. There are also electives in Women’s Health and Lifespan Development.
#9. Ithaca College
Ithaca College was founded as a music conservatory in 1892. The original schoolhouse, known as Boardman House, eventually became the Ithaca College Museum of Art and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ithaca operates a number of satellite campuses and programs in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, and London.
Ithaca College is home to an aging studies program, which students can pursue to earn either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree. In addition to its curriculum, the program offers experiential learning opportunities, including field placements, internships, and service-learning projects.
Students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience at Longview, a residential facility for older adults near the campus. Ithaca’s Gerontology Institute also runs a workshop series throughout the year, as well as a distinguished speakers series. In addition, the institute sponsors research, facilities projects, and professional training sessions.
Both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science versions of the program require 56 credit hours of coursework, with credits split between 28-40 hours of integrative core courses and 24-36 hours of electives. The main difference between the programs is the quantitative vs. qualitative focus of the students’ coursework or research.
As its name suggests, Bowling Green State University is located in Bowling Green, OH. BGSU offers its 23,000 students more than 200 undergraduate academic programs through eight schools and colleges. In 2018, Business Insider ranked it the most affordable college in Ohio.
BGSU’s Bachelor of Science in Gerontology program is offered through the school’s College of Health and Human Services. The program provides a basic background in general studies, but is also designed to be flexible enough for students to choose courses that will best prepare them for their particular careers of interest in the field of aging.
The degree requires a total of 51-52 credit hours of coursework, which includes Social Policy & Programs, Interview & Observation, and Diversity in the Experience of Aging. Once students have completed their coursework, they complete either a 400- or 1000-hour field placement with an agency or an institution serving older adults. The program also offers a Long-Term Care Administration specialization.
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