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Explore Health and Human Development

Students earning a Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies receive world renowned training as scientific researchers.

Types of careers our doctoral program graduates pursue

  • Professor at research university
  • Professor at teaching-focused institutions
  • Research scientist
  • Researcher/policy specialist in state or federal government
  • Program evaluation specialist for public or private institutions
  • Data specialist for private companies

Students have opportunities to customize coursework and degree options tailored toward specific career pathways, pursue internship opportunities, and gain practical experiences through research and teaching opportunities, that make our graduates highly competitive in their professional pursuits.

Examples of alumni career placements

Academic positions in Universities around the world in departments such as:

  • Human Development and Family Studies
  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Human and Community Development
  • Biobehavioral Health
  • Nutrition Science and Policy
  • Public Health
  • Behavioral and Community Health
  • Mental Health Law and Policy

Positions in government agencies, policy institutes, and think tanks such as:

  • International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Childtrends
  • Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
  • Administration for Children and Families/Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation
  • Mathematica Policy Research
  • Research Triangle Inc.
  • Center for Disease Control
  • Institute of Educational Sciences
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Research Evaluation and Program Officer)
  • Center on the Family
  • San Mateo County Human Services Agency (Evaluation and Planning Specialist)
  • National Institute of Health (Health Science Policy Analyst)

Armed with an advanced degree in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), you will leverage your Penn State education and a vast network of like-minded professionals to find a fulfilling career aimed at helping individuals and families in your own and other cultures within the context of their families, workplace, schools, community, and society at large.

The demand for HDFS graduates is strong because the HDFS major provides students with a valuable foundation for understanding important social trends such as:

  • The population of older people is growing, and the number of trained persons who can provide help and assistance to them falls far short of the need.

  • Dual-earner and single parent families have become the norm, resulting in the need for more high-quality daycare.

  • Social problems, such as child abuse and drug and alcohol problems, affect many individuals and families.

  • Young adults face many social and economic pressures that can lead to problems in work and relationships.

As a result, there is a seemingly endless array of positions in healthcare settings, academia, research, management and/or policymaking in which your skills and knowledge will be put to great use, including:

Social work, counseling, and psychology: HDFS provides solid preparation for professional level work in these fields, especially in relation to child, spouse and elder abuse, substance use, and divorce issues.

Teaching and education: HDFS students work in upper management for childcare centers, youth services, and adult education organizations; they teach at the collegiate level; and hold high-level positions for programs like America Reads or Teach for America.

Advocacy and non-profit work: Local and national organizations have people who combine their knowledge of healthy human development and intervention with good administrative and management skills to work at non-profit organizations focused on solving social problems. These jobs involve less direct service and more program coordination and planning, developing public information materials, and advocating for social change.

Business careers: HDFS students leverage their refined skills in communicating, listening, understanding group processes and dynamics, and working with others to pursue high-level careers in human resources, public relations, training, and development.

Health careers: After earning their advanced degree in HDFS, many individuals pursue careers in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or child life services. Be sure to plan your degree program carefully to ensure you are taking appropriate science and health courses that will prepare you to complete your degree and achieve certification in these fields.

Research: Penn State is a world-class research institution, and as a result, professors and graduate students in the HDFS department are engaged in a number of high-profile research initiatives. You can leverage that valuable experience to begin a career in research after earning your advanced degree.

Career Services

It is never too early in your academic experience to explore all of the career services available to you, and Penn State Career Services is an excellent place to start. You can meet with a drop-in counselor any time between 8:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m. weekdays in the Bank of America Career Services Center to discuss your concerns or to schedule an appointment with a career counselor.

For Students: Recruiting Calendar — Take advantage of a variety of recruiting events offered right here on campus.

For Recruiters: Our Students — Learn how to hire Penn State graduates for a wide variety of positions.