Graduate Program FAQ

Choosing whether or not to apply

1. Why would one choose a Ph.D. in HDFS over one in a traditional discipline, like Developmental Psychology?

Our program draws from multiple disciplines to give students the skills and perspectives needed to understand and to tackle complex social problems. Multidisciplinary research is the wave of the future, and our students are well equipped to thrive in such research environments. No matter what their substantive interest, Penn State's HDFS students have the advantage of strong methodological training. Some take their training and go the “academic route,” combining teaching and research at a college or university. Others take a more applied route and move into program evaluation or policy-oriented research, sometimes in university settings but often in community programs, consulting firms, think tanks, or state and federal agencies. Our program has developed an excellent reputation which is a plus when our students go on the job market.

2. What are some of your recent graduates doing now?

See the postgraduate placement listing for employment information or the alumni news page for other news.

3. How long does it take to complete the doctoral program in HDFS?

For students who enter the program without a masters degree, we estimate that it will take about five years. For students who come in with a masters degree, it may take four to five years, depending on the nature of that previous degree and whether it included exposure to empirical research.

4. Do you offer a master's program?

We currently do not offer a terminal master's program, and we do not accept students who are interested in master's training only. We admit students who are interested in pursuing doctoral work, but we ask that they complete a master's along the way, unless they already have one from another institution or program.

5. What are the funding opportunities?

We are currently able to provide funding for all graduate students who are making timely and satisfactory progress. Funding typically includes a half-time assistantship, full tuition, and medical benefits. The assistantship requires that the student contribute twenty hours per week to the department's research and/or teaching activities. Each year several incoming students received graduate fellowships from Penn State's Graduate School. In addition, some of our advanced students also receive funding through traineeships, assistantships, or fellowships. funded by college research centers.

6. How many students do you typically admit?

The ideal incoming class size for us is fifteen to eighteen. We have had recent entering classes as small as ten and as large as twenty-one.

The Application Process

1. What is the Admissions Committee looking for?

The two most important requirements are (1) evidence of academic aptitude, including strong communication and quantitative skills; and (2) a good "substantive fit" between the applicant's interests and those of our faculty. We are interested in admitting students whose interests cut across the activities or work of several faculty members. HDFS has a strong collaborative culture and although students will be placed with a primary faculty advisor, it is not uncommon for students to work closely with more than one faculty member during their graduate training, or to change primary advisors as their research interests evolve.

2. Do you have a cut-off for Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores?

Although GRE scores are seriously considered in our assessment of a candidate’s aptitude, no one is turned down on the basis of GRE scores alone. We understand that the GRE has weaknesses and we know first hand that it is not a perfect predictor of academic success. We use the GRE as one index of whether the applicant is likely to be successful with our curriculum requirements and expectations. If you are concerned about low scores, make sure there is evidence elsewhere in your application that shows us what you are capable of. For instance, low quantitative scores are easier to overlook if your transcripts demonstrate that you have taken advanced statistical courses and done well, or if letter writers can attest to your aptitude.

3. Can I visit the program?

We encourage prospective students to visit the program after they have been admitted. Students can come any time, but we especially encourage them to come to our Annual Admissions Weekend, usually held in mid to late February. The weekend provides an organized way to hear about the program, meet the faculty and current graduate students, and see the campus and surrounding areas. The department will cover some of your travel costs, put you up in a local hotel, and provide meals while you are here. If you can't visit, we encourage you to call and e-mail faculty members you are interested in working with, request reprints of their recent articles, and communicate with some of our current graduate students. Call (814-863-8000) or e-mail ( Christa Kreps, the coordinator of the graduate program, and she will help you plan a trip or get in touch with faculty and graduate students.


1. How do advisers get assigned?

The Professor-in-Charge of the HDFS graduate program will assign each incoming student to a temporary adviser, based on the match between the student's and faculty member's interests. Students then choose an adviser during their first year.

2. How do assistantship assignments get made?

The Professor-in-Charge (PIC) of the HDFS graduate program will assign each incoming student to a research and/or teaching assistantship. The PIC tries to find assignments that are a good fit for the student based on the student's application materials and any subsequent correspondence. Faculty members may also request specific students to work with them. Continuing students are sent a form each semester that asks them about their assistantship preferences for the next semester. Faculty members are sent forms asking them what research and teaching assistantships they will have available and who they want to work with. The PIC and the Coordinator of the Graduate Program then make the assignments based on matches between student and faculty requests as well as departmental needs.

3. What is it like to live in State College?

State College is a medium-sized college town in the Nittany Valley of Central Pennsylvania. The surrounding area includes rolling farmlands, hills, state parks, and forests. We are about a 3 hour drive to the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Campus offers all the amenities of a large, Big Ten University: great sports events, excellent pools and work-out facilities for student use, a varied schedule of music, drama, and art offerings, religious organizations and services, and activities such as the Outing Club which organizes a variety of activities such as hiking and canoeing trips. Penn State even has its own renowned Creamery where you can buy ice cream made right here.

Downtown State College includes restaurants, bars, and coffee houses, as well as clothing stores and specialty shops that are unique to the area. Just outside of town you will find a large Barnes and Noble bookstore and the Nittany Valley Mall that includes several department stores and numerous specialty stores. A short drive from State College takes you to several excellent restaurants: The Hummingbird Room in rural Spring Mills and the Gamble Mill in nearby Bellefonte.

Prospective graduate students with families should know that the State College Area School District is one of the top-rated school districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For younger children, there are a variety of good child-care facilities and nursery schools in the area including two on campus that are administered by Penn State (HDFS Children's Programs.) There are numerous local opportunities for children to participate in community-organized team sports, as well as music, drama, art and dance lessons.

State College local newspaper—The Centre Daily Times

Guide to Graduate Student Living in State College