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Courses of Interest for Social Work, Counseling, and Psychology Careers

If you are interested in social work, counseling, and psychology careers, you can combine developmental courses with courses on building helping skills, understanding biological bases of behavior, and developing programs and policies. We have identified many courses that you can take to explore these careers and develop relevant skills. We have clustered them according to where they fit into your degree audit to help you with planning.

Relevant General education classes

* Be sure to check the supporting courses list for Gen Eds that may be particularly relevant to HDFS students. Just remember, you can count these courses as either a Gen Ed or a supporting course, but they do not double count.

Your Social & Behavioral Science classes can be particularly helpful as you explore careers. Be sure to consider the 3-6-9 option (gen-eds).

Examples of relevant GS courses include, but are not limited to:

AEE 201 (GS)
Interpersonal Skills for Tomorrow's Leaders (3) Study of concepts of self identity, values and interpersonal relations as related to professional and personal life.

AYFCE 211 (CAS 222, CIVCM 211) (GS;US;IL)
Foundations: Civic and Community Engagement (3) Conceptual foundations of public scholarship and orientation to contemporary themes and issues in civic and community engagement.

CRIMJ 013 (SOC 013) (GS)
Juvenile Delinquency (3) Juvenile conduct, causes of delinquency, current methods of treatment; organization and function of agencies concerned with delinquency.

EDPSY 010 (GS)
Individual Differences and Education (3) Relationships between learner differences and physical, cognitive, language, social, and cultural development; emphasis on ethnicity, gender, special needs; schooling implications.

GEOG 130 (GS)
Environment, Power, and Justice (3) This course explores contemporary themes in human-environment relations through the lens of political ecology.

OLEAD 100 (GS)
Introduction to Leadership (3) This course introduces key leadership concepts and practices based on current theory and research. It is designed to help students to discover the knowledge and skills that are characteristic of effective leaders.

PL SC 177 (GS)
Politics and Government in Washington DC (1-3) The course centers on a Spring Break trip to Washington DC, with students meeting on campus before and after the trip.

Cross-Cultural Psychology (3) This course examines how ethnic and cultural background influences patterns of human thought and behavior.

SOC 005 (GS)
Social Problems (3) Current social problems such as economic, racial, and gender inequalities; social deviance and crime; population, environmental, energy, and health problems.

Introduction to Women's and Gender Studies (3) Interdisciplinary consideration of the scholarly theories and research pertaining to women's experiences and women's status in contemporary American society.

Examples of relevant GN (Natural Science) courses:

ANTH 218 (GN)
Genes, Evolution and Behavior (4) This course explores how genes influence our traits and how our traits evolve, with special emphasis on behavior.

BI SC 003 (GN)
Environmental Science (3) Kinds of environments; past and present uses and abuses of natural resources; disposal of human wastes; prospects for the future.

E R M 210 (GN)
Environmental Factors and Their Effect on Your Food Supply (3) An exploration of how urban environmental problems influence our ability to obtain food and natural resources.

R SOC 134 (AGECO 134) (GN)
Sustainable Agriculture Science and Policy (3) The science, socio-economics, and politics of managing food and fiber production systems. Sustainability implications of current practices and future options.

SC 200 (GN)
Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy (3) A science appreciation course, aimed at making non-scientists more informed consumers of science.

Relevant HDFS electives

Many of the HDFS courses are relevant to this career path. Some of the required courses are particularly important including HDFS 301, HDFS 311, HDFS 411, and HDFS 414. Many other courses are very relevant to these fields:

Knowledge of development:

HD FS 229 - Infant and Child Development

HD FS 239 - Adolescent Development

HD FS 249 (GS) Adult Development and Aging

HD FS 330 - Observation or Experience with Preschool Children

HD FS 428 Infant Development

HD FS 429 - Advanced Child Development

HD FS 432 - Developmental Problems in Childhood and Adolescence

HD FS 433 Developmental Transition to Adulthood

HD FS 445 (PSYCH 416) Development Throughout Adulthood

HD FS 497E - Risk and Resilience over the Life Span

Developing counseling skills:

HD FS 216 Personal and Interpersonal Skills

HD FS 412 Adult-Child Relationships

Special topics courses that may be relevant, based on your career goals:

HD FS 218 Foundations of Marriage

HD FS 250 (US) (WMNST 250) Sexual Identity over the Life Span

HD FS 405 (US) Gender and Social Development

HD FS 416 (US) (SOC 411) Racial and Ethnic Diversity and the American Family

HD FS 431 (SOC 431) Family Disorganization: Stress Points in the Contemporary Family

HD FS 440 (SOC 440) Family Policy

HD FS 446 Programs and Services in Gerontology

HD FS 452 Child Maltreatment Prevention, Intervention, and Legal Issues (3)

HD FS 453 Family Participation and Involvement in Child Services

HD FS 477 Analysis of Family Problems

Supporting courses for students interested in social work, counseling, and psychology

Your supporting courses can focus on developing important counseling skills or they can help you learn about populations and social problems that interest you. Do not just randomly pick classes from these lists. Sit down and think carefully about what your goals are and what you need to learn, and then select courses that fit your interests. For instance, students interested in therapies for special needs children should take courses on child development, while students interested in being social workers for elderly populations should take courses in gerontology. Consult with academic advisers for help as well.

There are many supporting courses for students interested in social work, counseling, and psychology. Use the supporting courses list (supporting-courses). Pay particular attention to courses in:

  • AAAS: courses focus on racial/ethnic diversity issues.
  • CAS: courses develop essential communication skills.
  • CNED: courses focus on counselor education.
  • CRIM: courses focus on many relevant topics including delinquency, victimization, domestic violence.
  • LER: has courses on work-life issues, staff training, and diversity.
  • PSYCH: courses cover a range of important topics including psychopathology, gender, personality, intervention, and clinical psychology.
  • RHS: courses focus on counseling, rehabilitation and other highly relevant topics.
  • SOC: courses help students understand important social contexts including race, inequality, gender, and social policy.
  • WMST: courses highlight issues around sex, gender, family roles, social roles, and more.

**Keep in mind you may take either HDFS courses or courses in other fields to fill in your supporting courses. It is your choice.

Optional Minors

As you think about courses to take, you may want to consider adding a minor. Relevant minors include Gerontology, Psychology, Sexuality & Gender Studies, Sociology, and Women’s Studies.

Courses with Hands-on Components

Some courses have very hands-on components to them. These courses often fit into students’ HDFS electives or HDFS supporting courses. These are just some of the opportunities for hands-on experiences through course work. Keep your eyes open for other hands-on opportunities – sometimes new courses are added that may be perfect for your needs.

HDFS preschool observation and experience sequence: This may be useful for students interested in doing social work, counseling or therapy with young children

HD FS 330 - Observation or Experience with Preschool Children: This course focuses on the development of preschool children and includes time spent each week in a preschool classroom observing and interacting with children.

HD FS 430 - Experience in Preschool Groups: This course provides guided experience working with and developing activities for preschool age children.

Psychology school-age classroom experience sequence: This may be particularly useful for students interested in working with school age children

PSYCH 477 – Mental Health Practicum with Children - Overview of interventions for children at risk for mental health disorders; emphasis on intervention strategies, program evaluation, and applied skills.

PSYCH 495K – Practicum with Hi-Risk Youth and Children - Overview of interventions for children at risk for mental health disorders; emphasis on intervention strategies, program evaluation, and applied skills. Continuation of PSYCH 477 held in the fall semester.

Peer Education: This may be useful for students interested in working with college student age populations or with lesbian, gay, transgendered or bisexual populations

B BH 251 Straight Talks I: Advanced Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity Peer Education


World in Conversation: This may be particularly useful to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the role of race and gender in our society and ourselves.

SOC 119 Race and Ethnic Relations Historical patterns and current status of racial and ethnic groups; inequality, competition, and conflict; social movements; government policy. This is a highly interactive course


There are also opportunities to become a facilitator for the World in Conversation project, helping other students talk about diversity. (

Become a teaching assistant

Undergraduates with high grades in particular courses are sometimes asked to be undergraduate teaching assistants. If you are interested in being an undergraduate teaching assistant, e-mail the instructor of a large class in which you received a very good grade to see if there are any opportunities in upcoming semesters.

Students enroll for 3 credits of HDFS 497 after they have been accepted as a TA for a specific instructor. More information on becoming a teaching assistant can be found at this website.

Become a research assistant

Research projects relevant to students interested in social work, counseling, and psychology abound on campus. Projects focused on understanding family relationships, improving family functioning, studying biological bases of development, and supporting at-risk military families and youth can all provide valuable insight into the research process and in-depth knowledge about a social problem or intervention.

Penn State is a world-class research institution. Some of the studies that you learn about in your classes are being done right here, and you can be part of them. Working on a research project is also a great way to get to know a professor and get a strong reference for graduate school, even if you don’t plan to go to graduate school for research.

Available research projects change all the time. To learn more about how to get involved in research, go to this website. Students enroll for 1 – 3 credits of HDFS 496 after they have been accepted as an RA for a specific research project.