Explore a Bachelor's Degree in Youth Development
If you want a degree that prepares you to mentor and motivate children and teens, or develop programming and coordinate professional services for youth, then you may want to consider an online degree in youth development. Many programs in youth development are designed to prepare students for careers in nonprofit or government youth and human services organizations, and offer youth development as a concentration in a broader human services or social work degree program. Other programs are designed to help students launch careers in youth recreation, while a few offered by religious colleges and universities are set up to train students for youth ministry. Either way, such programs are designed to produce youth workers who are capable of helping young people become healthy, productive leaders in their communities.
Most bachelor's degree programs in youth development are designed to be completed in four years, provided the program follows a traditional semester format and the student attends the program full-time. Some students may be able to complete the program more quickly if they have prior credits to transfer in to the program from academic work completed at other schools or dual credit work completed in high school. Program length varies from school to school.
The curriculum in a youth development degree program is arranged to provide ample instruction in promoting positive and healthy youth attitudes and behaviors, including strategies for reaching out to at-risk youth. Instruction is interdisciplinary, and encompasses aspects of sociology, health studies, human services, education, psychology, and recreation. Students also examine various special issues in youth development, including drug and alcohol education and sexuality education. Students may take the following major courses:
- Childhood and Adolescent Development. In this course, students learn how children and teens develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially from birth through young adulthood. Students look at the major theories in child development and their applications in working with youth.
- Design and Implementation of Youth Programs. This course introduces students to youth program development, including how to design programs that meet an organization's established goals, whether that be youth education and leadership training, youth fitness and recreation, or after-school activities. The course also entails implementation methods and evaluation strategies that measure the programs' effectiveness.
- Families in Society. In this course, students explore the structure and function of families in U.S. society, public perceptions of family, and the impact of family on society. Students examine recent research into changing definitions and contexts of family life. Special issues discussed might include divorce, the effect of poverty on families, and how children's behaviors, attitudes, and morals are shaped by their family unit.
Youth development majors are often required to participate in structured field work that accompanies their course work, and may even have an entire semester-long course devoted to an internship. These are valuable opportunities to learn hands-on skills in working with youth, and allow students to connect classroom theory with real-world practice. Field work and internships take place at approved youth development agencies, youth recreation organizations, or the youth services departments of agencies with a broader human services focus. Interns are supervised and evaluated on their performance for college credit.
Building a Career
Students with a degree in youth development may pursue a wide range of careers working with youth. A few nonprofit organizations that hire youth development workers include the YMCA, 4-H, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, and the Boys and Girls Club, although many other youth-focused nonprofits operate solely on a local level and do not have a national presence. A sampling of job titles found on online job boards included youth development professional, youth development program assistant/associate, program director, program aide, youth development specialist, and camp counselors.
Salaries for youth development workers are difficult to nail down because they work in such a wide variety of capacities and industries. Community and social services occupations, many of which entail working with youth, reported a median yearly salary of $39,880, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Recreation workers, many of whom plan and organize activities for youth, reported a median yearly salary of $22,260, the BLS noted. Average salaries for youth pastors were $32,852, according to online compensation site PayScale.com. Salaries vary based on how much experience you have, where you live, your level of responsibility, the size of the organization you work for, and other factors.