Skip to main content
Explore Health and Human Development
“State College scores 98 out of a possible 100 on being an LGBTQ friendly place to live and work”
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation 2018 Municipal Equality Index
What is the difference between HDFS and a degree in developmental psychology?

Although there are distinctions 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, making them highly competitive in academic job markets, as well as careers in program evaluation, policy-oriented research, consulting firms, or state or federal agencies. 

What do alumni do with their degrees?

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.

How long does it take to complete the Ph.D.?

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.

Do you offer a Master's Degree?

We do not offer a terminal master's program.  We only admit students intent on pursuing a doctoral degree, but require that they complete a master's along the way, unless they already have one from another institution or program.

What funding is available?

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.

How many students do you 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.

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.

Do you have a minimum cutoff for 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.

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.

How are advisors 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. 

How are assistantships assigned?

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.

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.   Despite the bucolic rural setting, Penn State's centralized location makes it highly culturally and politically significant.  Equidistant between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Penn State is a regular destination for major concert tours, touring Broadway shows, and political campaigns.  In the past ten years Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Bernie Sanders, have all come to State College during presidential campaigns. 

If you haven't lived in a small town before the one thing to know is that it is really easy!  Big city hassles like traffic, parking shortages, and crime, are not problems here.  The cost of living is low, making it possible for graduate students to live alone if they would like to.  It is easy to live within walking distance of the University, and many students find they don't need a car to commute.  The town is peppered with coffee shops ranging from independent and unique cafes to the multiply located Starbucks.   Major shopping staples like Trader Joes, Target, Best Buy, and an Amazon delivery depot make it easy to get everything you need without a hassle.

Still worried about small-town life?  Within about a 3 hour drive you can get to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore or New York City.  If you don't want to make the drive, there are frequent bus routes on private companies offering comfortable clean buses and free wifi, making it easy to get away for a weekend.  State College also has an airport (University Park Airport, code SCE) with frequent routes to Philadelphia, Washington DC, Detroit, and Chicago.  Start your trip at a small airport with easy parking, short security lines, and very friendly staff. 

What resources are available for diverse students?

As a major research university, Penn State's students and faculty are drawn from all over the globe.  Penn State takes seriously the need to ensure an equitable, welcoming, and inclusive environment for everyone.  Penn State's Office of Student Affairs has several multicultural and diversity-oriented resources to provide education and awareness, as well as establishing communities.  

Penn State's Office of Global Programs also works to provide support for international students with navigating visa and travel regulations, social support and community building, transitioning to State College, and resources to enhance language skills.