Gerontologist

It is a fact that the United States is getting older: the number of people over the age of 65 is set to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. As a result, more than one in five people in the US will be over the age of 65, which will significantly increase the demand for medical care and social services for the elderly.

Gerontologist is an all-encompassing term for a healthcare provider who works with aging clients. This can include social workers, occupational therapists, social service aids, nurses, and more. They have received specialized training and education in the biological, sociological, and psychological aspects of aging. Many gerontologists work as part of the senior care ecosystem in long-term care facilities.

Starting a career in gerontology begins with a bachelor’s degree in gerontology, aging studies, or a related field. Coursework in these programs can include ethics, the biological aging process, statistics, psychology, death and dying, and public health. Students who wish to pursue additional studies can earn a master’s or PhD in gerontology or aging studies. An advanced degree can lead to a professional career such as a social worker, occupational therapist, researcher, or educator.

While gerontology and geriatrics are often used interchangeably, generally speaking, geriatrics refers to the medical care of the elderly by physicians, while gerontology is for allied health professionals and wrap-around services. Services that gerontologists can offer include in-home assistance, mental health therapy, research on the aging process, assistance accessing social services, long-term care administration, and coordination with other healthcare providers.

If working with aging clients sounds like an ideal career, continue reading to learn more.

Gerontologist Specializations & Degree Types

Students who want to pursue a career in gerontology have a lot of options when it comes to specializations and degree types. The level of education necessary to work in this field depends on what career aspirations a student has. An entry-level career as a social and human services assistant working with elder populations only requires a bachelor’s degree.

Typical majors include aging studies or gerontology, although degrees in psychology, nursing, sociology, and counseling can also provide the necessary education. Many programs offer minors in gerontology as well.

Those aspiring for a more professional gerontology role will need to complete additional education. Aspiring gerontologists who want to be social workers, counselors, or occupational therapists will need to complete a master’s degree or higher, as this is required for licensing in all 50 states.

Additionally, students who want to work in gerontology research or education will also need to complete graduate-level education, with a PhD being the most commonly earned degree.

Admissions Requirements for Gerontologist Programs

Admission requirements for gerontology programs will vary based on the type of degree. For a bachelor’s degree, the requirements usually include:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • SAT or ACT exam scores
  • A minimum GPA
  • An entrance essay
  • A completed application
  • An application fee

Graduate degree programs requirements typically include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in aging science, gerontology, or related field
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose
  • A current resume
  • A completed application
  • An application fee

Gerontologist Program Accreditation

It is essential to ensure that a degree program is accredited prior to enrolling. Accreditation assures students, employers, and licensing entities that the program meets a high standard of quality in faculty, facilities, and curriculum. At a minimum, schools and universities should have regional accreditation from one of the six accrediting agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

Gerontology programs can seek additional programmatic recognition from the Association of Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). While this is not an accreditation but rather a recognition standard, it can be an indicator of a high-quality gerontology program. The programs that have passed a voluntary review receive a “Program of Merit” designation, which acts as a stamp of excellence.

On-Campus Gerontologist Degree Programs

San Diego State University – School of Social Work

The bachelor’s of arts in gerontology at San Diego State University School of Social Work is an interdisciplinary degree that combines behavioral, social, and biological sciences. Graduates of this program will be able to describe the aging process, have strong cultural competency and awareness, understand social services available to aging populations, and comprehend the ethics of working with older adults. With this degree, students will be prepared to work in senior centers, social services, long-term healthcare facilities, government agencies, and non-profits.

Most students complete this degree in four years. The major requires students to complete 36 credits of core coursework. These classes include biology of aging, methods of social work research, disability and society, and more. There are also three credit hours of a required practicum experience students must complete.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $19,390 per year

Ithaca College – School of Humanities and Sciences

The Department of Gerontology at Ithaca College School of Humanities and Sciences offers both a bachelor’s of science and a bachelor’s of arts in aging studies. Both degrees can be completed in roughly four years of full-time study. Students must complete an aging studies core along with aging-related electives, ethics courses, and communication classes. In addition to the aging studies related coursework, students must complete liberal arts or science classes based on their chosen type of degree.

Should students want to gain a general understanding of aging but are completing a different major, this department also offers a minor in aging studies. To earn a minor, students must complete only seven classes. Both the major and the minor require students to complete a three-credit gerontology fieldwork course to gain hands-on experience in this field.

  • Location: Ithaca, NY
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $575 per credit

Sacramento State – College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies

Students can complete their gerontology studies at Sacramento State College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies as either a major or minor as part of a bachelor’s of science degree or as a graduate certificate.

At the core of this program is a foundation in critical thinking to explore the issues elders face along with what interventions may be recommended. There is also a strong emphasis on learning to identify generalizations or concepts on aging and how to challenge or change them.

In order to ensure graduates are ready for continuing education or to find entry-level work, this program requires students to complete a practicum and a research elective. There is a joint focus on healthy elderly populations as well as those that may be chronically ill. The strong community partnership this program has allows students to work with both populations as well as their families.

  • Location: Sacramento, CA
  • Duration: Four years for the bachelors
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Association of Gerontology in Higher Education
  • Tuition: $19,248 per year

University of South Florida – College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

With everything from a bachelor’s to a doctorate, students can complete any level of education in aging studies at the University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

At the undergraduate level, students can complete a bachelor’s of science in aging science or long-term care administration. For graduate students, there is a certificate in either gerontology or clinical aging science, a master’s of arts in gerontology, a master’s of science in applied aging science, or a PhD in aging studies. The comprehensive number of degrees in this program allows students at all levels to learn the latest research and methods, some of which have even emerged from this department.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Tuition: $17,324 per year for undergraduate, $15,864 for graduate

University of Northern Iowa – College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

The only four-year degree in gerontology in Iowa is offered at the University of Northern Iowa College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. This degree is part of the Iowa Consortium for Aging Programs, which aims to strengthen gerontology education and training in the state.

Required coursework for this program includes the psychology of aging, families and aging, issues in family policy, social gerontology, developmental psychology, issues in human growth and development, intro to public health, and perspectives on death and dying.

This bachelor of arts degree can be completed with a concentration in either social science or long-term care administration. The social sciences track prepares graduates to work in social services directly with clients, while the long-term care administration track meets the state’s requirements for licensure as a long-term care facility administrator.

  • Location: Cedar Falls, IA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission.
  • Tuition: $18,480 per year

Online or Hybrid Gerontologist Degree Program

University of Southern California – Leonard Davis School of Gerontology

The Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California has been working to shape the research, care, and future of aging. This school features one of the most comprehensive educational programs in gerontology with 11 different completely online master’s programs. These master’s include everything from dietetics to foodservice, senior living hospitality, long-term care administration, and healthspan and longevity. There is also a general gerontology master’s of arts or science as well. In addition, students looking for a short course can complete the four-class certificate in gerontology.

Admission requirements vary by master’s program but generally include a statement of intent, a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, already have a bachelor’s degree, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Supplemental documents or essays may be required.

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Duration: 12 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Tuition: $2,035 per credit

University of Nebraska, Omaha – College of Public Affairs and Community Service

What is unique at the University of Nebraska Omaha College of Public Affairs and Community Service Department of Gerontolgy is that all of their degree programs, graduate and undergraduate, can be complete online.

Degrees offered include a master’s of arts in gerontology (thesis or non-thesis), a bachelor’s of science in gerontology with a concentration in administration, or a bachelor’s of multidisciplinary studies with a concentration in gerontology. Students also complete a certificate in gerontology at either the undergraduate or graduate level or a graduate certificate in gerontology with a concentration in interior design.

  • Location: Omaha, NE
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC))
  • Tuition: $452 per credit for bachelor’s, $457 per credit for master’s

University of Maryland Global Campus

The online bachelor’s of science in gerontology and aging service at the University of Maryland Global Campus can be completed without ever having to set foot on campus. This 120-credit four-year degree trains students to access, interpret and apply the most current research on aging. Aging is analyzed from a biological, psychological, and social viewpoint, giving students a comprehensive understanding of this process.

To help students gain hands-on experience in this field, all students must complete a workplace learning in gerontology course. Concurrently with this course, students will also complete an internship or work project in gerontology. Past projects have included a health education campaign, case studies on aging services, and a personal analysis of the aging process.

  • Location: Largo, MD
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $499 per credit

Southern New Hampshire University

Students who want to work in the human services side of gerontology can complete an online bachelor’s of arts in human services with a concentration in gerontology at the Southern New Hampshire University. This concentration is designed to prepare graduates to help care for the needs of the aging population in our country.

During this program, students will learn techniques on how to enhance the programs for the elderly and how to improve care. Topics covered in required courses include wellness and disease, long-term care, policies affecting the elderly, and biological, psychosocial, and cognitive aspects of aging.

The professors in this program have real-world experience work in human services and gerontology. The online nature of this program allows students to complete their studies at their own pace. While there are 120 credits required to earn this degree, students can transfer in up to 90 credits.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $320 per credit

Iowa State University – College of Human Sciences Online and Distance Learning

Iowa State University College of Human Sciences Online and Distance Learning offers an online master’s of family and consumer sciences with a gerontology concentration. Completing this program will prepare graduates to either work directly with aging clients or to work in research and education in this field. This program is targeted at working professionals or those looking for a career change. Classes can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis.

Courses start in January, August, or throughout the summer, and admissions are on a rolling basis allowing students the flexibility to choose when they begin their studies. In total, students must complete 36 credits to earn this degree in classes such as perspectives in gerontology, adult development, nutrition and physical activity in aging, economics, public policy and aging, environments and aging, and aging in the family.

  • Location: Ames, IA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $1427 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Gerontologist?

The time it takes to become a gerontologist depends on the level of education pursued. Many professionals enter this field with only a bachelor’s degree, so it takes only four years post-high school.

However, if aspiring gerontologists pursue a master’s or PhD, then it can take anywhere from five to ten years post-high school to enter this profession.

How To Become a Gerontologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Education is a necessary step to become a gerontologist, and it starts with completing high school or earning a GED. A diploma or GED demonstrates a minimum level of education and is required for most bachelor’s degree programs. Students aspiring to work in gerontology should focus on science, math, psychology, and English classes.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

There are several options for a bachelor’s degree that can lead to a career in gerontology. These can include social work, gerontology, psychology, counseling, nursing, and more. The type of degree earned depends on the particular field a student wants to pursue.

Step 3: Complete Additional Education (Optional, Timelines Vary)

Some careers in gerontology require additional education, such as social work, counseling, or occupational therapy. These programs can take anywhere from two to seven years, depending on the level of education completed.

Step 4: Obtain Certification or State Licensing, if Required (Timelines Vary)

Certification and licensing for gerontologists depends on their specific profession. Many gerontologists don’t need licensing or certification. However, gerontologists working in a professional field such as counseling, social work, occupational therapy, nursing, or the like will need certification and licensing. See additional details in the certification and licensure section below.

What Do Gerontologists Do?

Gerontologists can work in a number of fields, including social services, medicine, occupational therapy, and more. The day-to-day duties can vary depending on the specific role held. Outside of job-specific tasks, in general, the roles of a gerontologist include:

  • Working one on one with aging clients to assess their needs
  • Helping aging clients to access social service, make appointments, or with everyday tasks
  • Conducting research to better improve care for aging populations
  • Advocating for adequate government and social services for elderly clients
  • Coordinate with other healthcare providers and service provides to ensure clients receive the care they need

Gerontologist Certifications & Licensure

Since the field of gerontology encompasses so many different professions, there isn’t one overarching certification for this career. Those working as social and human services assistants don’t have a certification exam or board for working in gerontology. A certificate or bachelor’s degree in aging studies or gerontology can be sufficient to start in this field.

Professionals in other fields such as nursing or social work can earn additional certification to show they have specialized experience in gerontology. The certifications and issuing agencies are:

State licensing requirements also vary based on the specific occupation a gerontologist holds. Social workers, nurses, and occupational therapists must be licensed by their respective state licensing boards. Gerontologists who work as long-term care facility administrators must be licensed in all 50 states as well.

How Much Do Gerontologists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), gerontologists can fall under multiple occupational categories depending on their education and role.

Some may be classified under social and human services assistants. The 392,300 social and human services assistants in the US earn $35,830 per year on average. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $22,430
  • 25th percentile: $26,960
  • 50th percentile (median): $33,750
  • 75th percentile: $42,050
  • 90th percentile: $52,420

Other gerontologists with roles in higher leadership may be classified as medical and health services managers. The BLS (May 2020) reported that there were 402,540 of these professionals across the country, earning an average annual salary of $118,800. The percentiles for this profession are:

  • 10th percentile: $59,980
  • 25th percentile: $78,820
  • 50th percentile (median): $104,280
  • 75th percentile: $139,650
  • 90th percentile: $195,630

Gerontologists Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a gerontologist.

Become a Social Worker

Social workers provide mental health services to adults, kids, families, and individuals. In addition to therapy, they also are the ultimate problem solvers and help clients access services to meet housing, healthcare, nutrition, safety, or transportation needs.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Become a Health Educator

Health educators work for government agencies, non-profits, schools, hospitals, and businesses to teach the general public how to make healthy choices. The education can be centered around a specific campaign or awareness issue such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month or the Great American Smokeout, or it can be a singular issue specific to a community or population.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)

Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists work with clients to address musculoskeletal, neurological, or mobility issues. The end goal is to help clients move around and live as independently as possible. Clients can include people with acute injuries, chronic conditions, birth defects, or age-related issues.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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