Gerontology — M.S.

Program director
Kimberly Freeman

Gerontology is the multidisciplinary-multidimensional study of aging and the aging processes. It combines the study of physical, mental, social, and spiritual changes that affect individuals as they age. Emphasis is placed on the knowledge and skills required for competent practice, with considerable attention given to understanding the social, cultural, and economic factors that affect services for this population.

The study of older adults has become increasingly important with the aging of the general population. In the next twenty years, the older adult population is projected to double—resulting in a wide spectrum of needs facing this population, which necessitates competently educated professionals.


The mission of the Gerontology Program is to provide graduate-level education for future and current professionals who are dedicated to enhancing the lives of older adults through advanced, evidenced-based interventions at the micro, macro, and mezzo levels of practice.

Program objectives

  • Students will demonstrate the ability to integrate human behavior and developmental theories of aging, incorporating a bio-psycho-social-spiritual orientation to geriatric practice.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to use research in evaluating the effectiveness of practice and programs in achieving intended outcomes for older adults.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to integrate into practice an understanding of the life experiences and unique needs of older adults belonging to specific racial, ethnic, socioeconomic groups; of men and women; and of those with different sexual orientations.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of professional ethics to assist older adults who have diverse cultural, spiritual, and ethnic values and beliefs.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to complete a comprehensive assessment of bio-psycho-social-spiritual factors that affect older adults' well-being.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of the policies that shape and regulate the continuum of care and services available to older adults.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of the importance of current issues in gerontology and the importance of the relationship of gerontology to other disciplines and professions, such as social work, psychology, medicine, nursing, and public health.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to utilize and integrate a strengths-based perspective, acknowledging the unique and special gifts and talents present in the older adult population.

General overview

The 48-unit program begins with 22 units of core course work required for all students. Courses during the first year of study are divided into four professional areas: social science theory, religion and ethics, clinical practice, and research methods. During the final year of study, students complete a clinical services concentration along with specialized selectives.

In addition to the above, students are given either a thesis or a nonthesis (professional practicum) option.

  1. Thesis: Students who choose the thesis option complete 6 research-related units and 5 units of selectives.
  2. Nonthesis: Students choosing the internship option complete a practical orientation, 540 hours of integrated practicum and seminar, and 11 units of didactic selectives.

Concentration description

Clinical services: Students in the clinical services concentration develop knowledge and skills in locating and providing resources, services, and opportunities for older adults and their families; as well as acquiring knowledge that supports enhancing the problem-solving and coping skills of older adults and their caregivers. Students gain an appreciation for the social support factors and community systems that create opportunities or exacerbate problems in daily living. Further, students develop an understanding of the issues that impact the creation of effective systems of care and responsive social policies.

Liberal arts preparation

The gerontology curriculum is built on a liberal arts perspective. Individual applicants whose undergraduate degree does not reflect this perspective may be asked to enroll in additional courses, which must be completed before advancement to candidacy (prior to beginning the advanced curriculum).

Unit values represent the quarter system of measurement. Content from multiple courses may be used to meet most requirements.

In addition to Loma Linda University admission requirements, this program follows the admission requirements of the School of Behavioral Health, as follows:

  1. The applicant must demonstrate satisfactory performance on a critical essay examination (CEE) administered by the Department of Social Work and Social Ecology under the guidance of the School of Behavioral Health. For admission with regular status, satisfactory performance for the CEE is defined as a minimum pass rate of 75 percent.
  2. Applicants must meet the minimum academic and professional compatibility criteria established by the program. These criteria include:
    • A cumulative undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or above (on a 4.0 scale). Applicants with lower grade point averages will be considered if the last 45-quarter credits (30 semester units) of non-field practica coursework shows significant improvement or if they have additional attributes that demonstrate preparedness and an appropriate fit for graduate education in the area of Gerontology. Work and volunteer experiences must be verified by employer/supervisor statements on official agency stationery. Further consideration will also be given to individuals who provide evidence of additional graduate coursework, certifications, and/or training that illustrate preliminary preparation for a career in Gerontology. Students who are admitted to the Gerontology Program with a cumulative G.P.A. below 3.0 may be required to participate in individualized academic assessment and a targeted learning assistance program.
    • Demonstration, through the application and interview processes, of compatibility with professional standards set by the program including the ability to develop and nurture interpersonal relationships, communication skills, self-awareness, professional comportment, critical thinking skills, fit with the mission and values of Loma Linda University and the Department of Social Work and Social Ecology, and the capacity to successfully complete the Master of Science in Gerontology curriculum.
  3. Submission of  three letters of recommendation (one from an academic source and one from a work supervisor preferred).

The 48-unit curriculum for the Master of Science degree in gerontology provides the mix of academic, experiential, and research activities essential for M.S. degree students.

Students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 (or a letter grade of B on a 4.0 scale) in order to progress successfully though the program and complete the degree. In addition students must meet the knowledge, skills, and professional performance competencies outlined by the program.

All course grades should meet the minimum B (3.0) standard, which by university policy indicates satisfactory performance. Courses in which a student earns a grade below a B (3.0) may need to be repeated (or may not apply to the degree) if competency in the subject area is related to practice performance with clients, and a grade less than a 3.0 represents marginal or unsatisfactory practice performance.

Social science theory
GERO 615Economics and Management Issues of Older Adult Services4
GERO 617Bio-psycho-social-spiritual Theories of Aging4
Clinical practice
GERO 515Diversity and Aging3
SOWK 682Legal and Ethical Aspects in Health and Mental Health Services3
Religion, philosophy, and ethics
RELE 524Bioethics and Society 3
or RELR 568 Care of the Dying and Bereaved
Social research methods
SOWK 548Research Methods5
Clinical Services Concentration
GERO 654ATherapeutic Interventions with Older Adults I3
GERO 654BTherapeutic Interventions with Older Adults II3
Select 9 units from the following9
Drug Addiction and Therapy
Child, Partner, and Elder Abuse
Co-occurring Processes and Interventions
Recovery in Behavioral Health
Degree completion options11
Nonthesis option:
Selectives (11 units)
Directed Study/Special Project
Behavioral Health Policies and Systems
Advanced Policy Analysis
Advanced Policy Projects
Professional Practicum 1
Professional Practicum and Seminar
Professional Practicum and Seminar
Professional Practicum and Seminar
Field Orientation
Thesis option:
Selective (5 units from selectives listed above)
Applied Research (4 units)
Thesis (2 units)
Total Units48

Professional practicum and seminar units are not calculated into total didactic units required for the degree.

Normal time to complete the program

2 years (7 academic quarters ) based on full-time enrollment; part time permitted


GERO 515. Diversity and Aging. 3 Units.

Assists students in understanding the complexity of variables related to the aging process. Examines ethnicity, gender, social class, and culture within the context of the physical, mental, social, political, and financial effects of aging.

GERO 599. Directed Study/Special Project. 1-4 Units.

Limited to matriculating master's degree in gerontology students who wish to pursue independent investigations in criminal justice practice or policy under the direction of a department faculty member.

GERO 615. Economics and Management Issues of Older Adult Services. 4 Units.

Acquaints students with economic and management issues and their impact on social policies that direct older adult services. Uses descriptions of economic and management issues to analyze system impact on social policies related to the older adult population. Students learn how to meet the challenges inherent in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment and develop skills and competencies for meeting future challenges and bridging the gap between theory and practice.

GERO 617. Bio-psycho-social-spiritual Theories of Aging. 4 Units.

An interdisciplinary team-taught learning experience that provides an integrative understanding of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual aspects and theories of aging, and the impact of these on older adults and their families.

GERO 654A. Therapeutic Interventions with Older Adults I. 3 Units.

Provides an intensive examination of clinical issues related to social work practice with older adults and their families. Students gain increased understanding of the developmental tasks of later life; and the needs, strengths, and diversity of empowered and active older adults. Prepares students to examine and implement evidenced-based interventions at the clinical level with an understanding of how organizational and community-level factors can influence interventions and outcomes. Gives attention to issues related to culturally competent practice and the interplay of race, ethnicity, and culture.

GERO 654B. Therapeutic Interventions with Older Adults II. 3 Units.

Provides students with knowledge and skills related to working with frail and vulnerable older adults. Reviews mental disorders as they are uniquely characterized in late adulthood, emphasizing assessment. Addresses loss and institutionalization, adjustment problems related to illness, cultural variations related to illness, advanced directives, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep disorders, and barriers to quality care.

GERO 697. Research. 2-4 Units.

Supports students choosing to complete the thesis option. Provides research matriculation in the collection and analysis of data for the thesis. Students required to register for two quarters, or a total of 4 units.

GERO 698. Thesis. 2 Units.

The culminating portion of the student's independent research, under the direction of the research advisor. Students register for class during the quarter in which they defend their research and submit their final document to the department and to the School of Behavioral Health.

GERO 757A. Professional Practicum and Seminar. 3 Units.

Students complete 3 units of professional practicum during each quarter. Each 3 units require 160 hours of practicum and 20 hours of seminar.

GERO 757B. Professional Practicum and Seminar. 3 Units.

Students complete 3 units of professional practicum during each quarter. Each 3 units require 160 hours of practicum and 20 hours of seminar.

GERO 757C. Professional Practicum and Seminar. 3 Units.

Experiential learning in gerontology settings. Students placed at practicum sites that serve geriatric clients. Students must satisfactorily complete 160 practicum hours and 20 hours of concurrent seminar.

GERO 787. Advanced Professional Practicum and Seminar. 4 Units.

Experiential learning in advanced gerontology practice. Students must satisfactorily complete 200 practicum hours and 20 hours of concurrent seminar.