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The HDFS major is excellent preparation for graduate school in social work, psychology, human development, gerontology, and other fields. Combined with other specialized course work, the HDFS major also may help to prepare graduates to enter business, dental, law, or medical school. The HDFS degree is especially helpful for specializations such as family law, pediatrics, geriatrics, family practice, behavioral medicine, and psychiatry. One graduate who pursued these paths is now a faculty member at Stanford University, another is a physician at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, and a third is a practicing lawyer in Atlanta.

If you are thinking of attending graduate school, you will want to talk to do some initial research into program possibilities. You will likely wish to pursue the Life Span Developmental Science option. See the HDFS Degrees and Options page for more information on this option. Most graduate admissions deadlines are in the winter. If you wish to begin graduate school the year after completing your undergraduate education, you will need to decide on programs in the fall semester of your senior year. However, some practitioner programs offering masters' degrees in social work or counseling have deadlines in late spring. Pay close attention to the deadlines for the programs to which you decide to apply!

Graduate Admissions Steps

  • Consider what kind of work you would like to be able to pursue after completing graduate school. Discuss your interests with your academic and faculty advisors.
  • Explore websites of the professional associations affiliated with your desired career. See what professional qualifications and what kinds of degrees professionals in your career hold. Search the sites for student pages, which generally provide advice on careers and graduate school programs. Student sites for popular careers for HDFS students include:
  • The American Psychological Association publishes an excellent guide to graduate admissions in psychology programs. The advice in the book is also relevant for students interested in other practitioner or research careers in the social sciences: Getting In: A Step-by-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School in Psychology
  • The Peterson's Guide
  • U.S. News & World Report
  • Masters Degree Online provides tons of information about obtaining a masters degree. The directory features over 90,000 program listings and allows you to determine which program features are most important to you so you can identify the program that best matches your personal interests and career goals. Search results can be filtered by institution size, geographic area, tuition cost, and school type.
  • Accredited Online College Degree Programs. This site provides a comprehensive and informative resource that sorts out schools with accredited degree programs. It can be specifically filtered according to the degree level and the subjects/programs of your choice. If you type the name of your school in the 'Search for a school' box, it will appear that it's included in the list of Schools offering Accredited degree programs.
  • Online Ph.D. Programs in Psychology. This site features comprehensive and informative resource that systematically sorts out the available online Ph.D. programs in psychology available today in the U.S.
  • Pay close attention to the average and minimum grade point averages (G.P.A.s) and test scores for each program, if stated. Most graduate programs require at least a 3.0 undergraduate G.P.A. Students whose scores are average for the program stand a fair chance of admission, whereas students whose scores are at the minimum need to have other strengths which may up for their scores, such as publications or experience.
  • Know which standardized tests are required for admission into your chosen programs, if any. Generally, you will need to take these tests in the fall before you plan to attend graduate school in order for your scores to be available by admissions deadlines. Many standardized tests are now computer-based, which means more flexibility in scheduling testing dates. Explore the sites of the appropriate test developers for more information on testing dates.
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Most social science, science, and liberal arts programs require that students take the GRE. Students can schedule the GRE on their website. Registered test takers can download free test preparation materials at the GRE site. Additional test preparation materials are available for a fee. Also, explore, a free test preparation site with tutorials, advice, vocabulary builders, and more. Some social science programs and most psychology programs require that prospective students take the Psychology Subject test of the GRE. More information on subject tests can be found at
  • Miller Analogies Test (MAT). The MAT may be required for some graduate programs and used in place of GRE scores for other programs. Practice tests are available on this site for a fee.
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT). The LSAT is required for admission to law schools approved by the American Bar Association. Practice tests are available on this site for a fee. Most law schools require that the LSAT be taken the December before admissions and require that students register on the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). The LSDAS compiles information about prospective law students, including transcripts and letters of recommendation, and sends reports on each student to the law schools to which the student applies. Students interested in law school should explore the Law School Resources site and the Law School Preparation at Penn State site provided by the Division of Undergraduate Studies.
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The MCAT is a required test for admission to almost all medical schools. Practice tests are available on this site for a fee. Students interested in graduate medical study should explore the Health Professions Advising site for Eberly College of Science students.
  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). The GMAT is required for admission into many business programs. Registered test takers can download free test preparation materials at the GMAT site. Additional test preparation materials are available for a fee.
  • Get to know two or more faculty members well by volunteering to help on research projects (See the Research and Teaching Experiences page for more information on how to get involved in research), enrolling in several of their courses, and exhibiting high degrees of interest in working with the faculty members. Good letters of recommendation from faculty are crucial for entrance into most graduate programs.
  • Many students finance their graduate work by applying for teaching and research assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships. Discuss your interests and goals with your academic and/or faculty adviser to explore what kinds of graduate funding are generally available in your interest area.

Enrollment as a student member in professional organizations is highly encouraged for students wishing to pursue graduate study. For more information on intervention or prevention research, please consult the Prevention Research Center's extensive links page.

The links provided below may assist you in exploring other career paths in graduate or professional study: