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Explore Health and Human Development

Thinking about Applying

1. What is the difference between HDFS and Developmental Psychology?

Although there are distinction between HDFS and Psychology departments, there is extensive overlap in the type of research being conducted.  Indeed most of our faculty hold Ph.D.s in Psychology, and we have strong collaborative ties to the Psychology Department here at Penn State.  Earning a Ph.D. in HDFS is generally considered equivalent to a degree in Psychology, and a large number of our graduates go on to hold faculty positions in Psychology Departments.  You should select the graduate program that will provide you the best opportunity to pursue the research questions of interest to you. 

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. The HDFS program at Penn State has an excellent reputation- and graduates are in high demand on the job market.

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

We are very proud of the success of our graduate alumni.  Given the intensive research training students received, alumni are well suited to pursue academic research careers.  However, we also have graduates pursuing careers in policy, program evaluation, statistical consulting, software development, and other industry settings.  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 do not offer a terminal master's program.  We only admit students intent on pursuing a doctoral degree, 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 is typically in the form of an assistantship, which includes (a) a stipend for living expenses, (b) full tuition coverage, and (c) a subsidy for health insurance coverage.  Assistantships require the student to 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.

The Application Process

1. How many students do you typically admit?

The admissions committee will begin reviewing applications in December and continue through the month of January.  The number of students who will be offered admissions varies from year to year based on the number of continuing graduate students and funding resources.  We are typically aiming for an incoming class of approximately 10 - 15 students.  We routinely extend offers of admission to approximately 20 students, with the understanding that not everyone will accept the offer to study here.  We do not have a waiting list and do not extend additional offers of admission as students decline.  As such, the size of an incoming cohort will vary from year to year.  We have had recent entering classes as small as 8 and as large as 21.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Can I visit the program?

Admissions decisions will be made by the end of January, and all students offered admissions are encouraged to visit the program during our Admissions Weekend, typically the 3rd weekend in February.  The Department will provide support for travel and lodging expenses.  This weekend provides an organized way to hear about the program, meet the faculty and current graduate students, and see the campus and surrounding areas.


1. How do advisers get assigned?

Applicants are encouraged to specify 2-3 faculty members with whom they would be interested in working.  During the Admissions Weekend, prospective students will be given the opportunity to meet with the individual faculty members to discuss research and training opportunities.  Advisor assignments are made based on the input of the student and faculty members. 

2. How do assistantship assignments get made?

Applicants who are eligible for fellowships will be nominated by the Department at the time of the admissions decision.  Fellowship awards are typically communicated to the Department by the end of February.  Students who will not be funded through a fellowship, or on a research assistantship provided by their academic advisor, will be given a teaching assistantship (TA) assignment by the department.  In the first year of graduate study students are assigned a 1/4 TAship (10 hours per week) and a 1/4 RAship.  This assignment provides full financial support but ensures that all 1st year students are given protected time to become involved in their research labs.  After the first year, students in need of departmental support will be assigned a 1/2 TAship (20 hours/week).  Assignments are made by departmental staff taking into account student requests, program needs, and students' availability.

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.

State College local newspaper—The Centre Daily Times

Guide to Graduate Student Living in State College