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Explore Health and Human Development

HDFS Students in the Schreyer Honors College

Are you wondering how you can make a difference in the lives of individuals and families? Are you eager to help solve big problems in human development and family studies? Why are some children, youth and families resilient in the face of adversity, while others develop problems? How are individuals affected by their genetics, families, friends, workplaces, communities and society? What are the best ways to help families overcome problems in their lives? How can communities and families create positive opportunities for children and youth? Schreyer Honors College scholars majoring in HDFS have exciting opportunities to study these and other topics through advanced coursework, independent research, and hands-on experiences.

By joining the Schreyer Honors College, you will be empowered to make the best of your college years. The HDFS department is consistently recognized nation-wide for excellence in research. Graduating from the Schreyer Honors College with a degree in HDFS will open doors to graduate school and career opportunities because you will have opportunities to show your academic skills, creativity, determination, and innovation. If you are planning to pursue graduate study, we strongly encourage you to consider the Schreyer Honors College.

The HDFS department offers a unique set of courses and experiences for Schreyer Honors College students. You will participate in honors seminars that are small, discussion-based classes with 6-12 students. You will be able to design a program of study that matches your interests and helps you reach your career goals. You will be able to register early for courses in any department or college, and you will receive individualized advising. All students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty member, and we help our Schreyer Scholars take advantage of internships, research experiences, study abroad, and many other exciting opportunities available at a world-class research university like Penn State.

Additional benefits from the Schreyer Honors College include financial and academic support for international travel and research, social and professional events for honors students, and opportunities for leadership and community service. Interested students are encouraged to learn more about the Schreyer Honors College.

Below you will find information about the opportunities and requirements for applying to the Schreyer Honors College through the gateway mechanism and for students interested in receiving honors in HDFS, but before we provide all of the details, here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions by HDFS students about whether the Schreyer Honors College is right for them

Can I still do an internship? YES! We are strongly encouraging honors students majoring in HDFS to get real world experience through volunteering in the community, acting as teaching assistants, working in research labs, and doing internships. Most honors students have more than one real-world experience during their time in the Honors College.

Is the Honors College just for students who want to go into research? NO! The Honors College will give you a terrific head-start on a career in any number of fields, including direct service. The main benefits of the Honors College are help thinking about your career path and how to achieve your goals, access to many opportunities to gain in depth knowledge, advanced skills, and practical experience, closer contact with the faculty through small classes, a thesis, and individualized advising. You can design a plan for how you want to achieve your goals whatever they are and participating in the Honors College will provide you with extra tools and opportunities to get there.

Can I study abroad and still be in the Honors College? YES! The Schreyer Honors College strongly encourages study abroad, and so do we. We have set up the honors curriculum so that you can study abroad and still be well-prepared for your thesis.

Will I still graduate on time? I see a lot of extra requirements. YES! The requirements you see below are not in addition to the typical requirements, they replace some of the typical requirements. In fact, because of the flexibility the Honors College provides and the fact that many honors students have AP credits and occasionally take more than 15 credits per semester, some honors students realize they can graduate a semester early.

Can I do this? I’m scared about writing a thesis. YES! Most of us are scared to do something new and a thesis is a big (but rewarding) challenge. We will help you identify your interests early on in the program and will help you identify a thesis supervisor. You will take small classes in research methods and developmental theory to help you build a strong foundation of knowledge before you start your thesis. And the rewards of completing a thesis are large. The skills and knowledge that you develop during the thesis process – critical thinking skills, analytic skills, strong writing skills, experience working with a thesis supervisor, experience breaking a large task into manageable pieces - will help you in whatever career you choose.

Admission to the Schreyer Honors College

High school students interested in HDFS and the Schreyer Honors College can declare HDFS as their intended major on their Penn State Undergraduate Admissions application. Prospective students and first-year college students who enter the Schreyer Honors College with a declared HDFS major, or an interest in exploring HDFS as a possible major, are strongly encouraged to make an appointment with the HDFS honors advisor to discuss the HDFS program and its match with your academic and professional interests. She can also help you develop an academic plan to fit your goals for college and beyond.

Current Penn State students can be admitted to the Schreyer Honors College at the end of their freshman or sophomore year through the Gateway Admissions Process. Students with a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher may be eligible. We strongly encourage interested students with eligible GPAs to discuss the gateway option with the HDFS honors advisor. For more information on eligibility and admissions, see the Schreyer Honors College web page.

The honors advisor for HDFS is Dr. Lesley Ross,

Not more work, a different kind of work

You may be concerned that the Honors College will be more work, compared with the usual plan of study. But honors courses are not more work, they are just a different kind of work. Instead of multiple choice tests, you will have structured writing assignments and in-class discussions. You will read different material, with more opportunities to write and receive feedback. Your classes will be filled with other honors students: active thinkers, dedicated students, and involved leaders. Grades in honors courses are similar to grades that Scholars would earn in their regular courses. Most importantly, honors experiences are designed to prepare you for graduate school and professional careers. Strong letters of reference from professors who have worked with you and know you well will support your applications to graduate school and your job applications.

The Curriculum for Schreyer Scholars majoring in HDFS

Most Schreyer Honors College students majoring in HDFS are in the Life Span Developmental Science track of the major. Instead of completing a full semester internship, they do smaller internships during their junior and senior years while also completing a senior thesis. Therefore the requirements you see below fit easily into a 4-year plan of study.

The HDFS department offers four dedicated honors courses, HDFS 129H; HDFS 497H; HDFS 310M, and HDFS 300H. In addition, honors seminars on special topics of particular interest to faculty and students are offered periodically. You also may consider using an “honors option” to create an honors experience within a regular course offering (with permission from the instructor). You will also conduct an individually focused thesis research project in partnership with a faculty member.

Recommended Course

If you enter the Schreyer Honors College as a first-year student with a declared HDFS major, or with an interest in exploring HDFS as a possible major, you are strongly encouraged to take HDFS 129H during the Fall semester of your first or second year. HDFS 129H is a small seminar that provides a broad overview of major concepts, theories and research findings in human development and family studies. You will learn about development across the entire lifespan – from birth to death.

Required Courses

Note that these courses are not taken in addition to your regular degree requirements, they are taken in place of your regular requirements. Joining the Honors College does not add an extra semester; in fact, sometimes when students join the Honors College they realize they can graduate a semester early.

HDFS 497H is a one credit professional development course that HDFS students take in their first semester in the Honors College, whether they are freshmen, sophomores, or juniors. This course is designed to help you identify the skills and credentials necessary for particular careers, develop a resume and identify strategies to increase skills and experiences including internships, work experience, study abroad, and graduate school; and learn about the dynamics of today’s career paths and job markets. Students will also identify a thesis advisor during this course.

HDFS 310M is an advanced methods and writing intensive course taken in Fall of junior year. The seminar is offered every fall semester. It builds on the foundational information about scientific methods you learn in the required course, HDFS 312W. In the 310M seminar, you will enrich your understanding of research design, selecting appropriate measures, considering methods of analysis, using statistical software, analyzing data, and interpreting the meaning of results. This seminar includes a research project designed and carried out by seminar members working as a team. The course is intended to prepare you to carry out your Honors thesis.

HDFS 300H is an Honors seminar on core concepts and major research findings in the field of human development and is taken during the spring of your junior year. In this course you will read specially chosen articles and books about key issues such as change over the course of development, risk and resilience, variations in family life, and successful models of intervention for individuals and families. Throughout the course you will be invited to share your perspectives in class discussions and written critiques on research and policy issues, while learning the views of others. You will also learn to be a competent consumer of research, by integrating theory with empirical findings to understand what research to date can – and cannot – tell us about specific topics. To do this, you will write a paper that reviews the literature in an area of your choosing so that you are well prepared to identify a research question and begin your thesis the following year.

During your senior year you will register for 3 credits of HDFS 494H (faculty-supervised thesis research) in the fall and 3 credits in the spring. In this course you will meet independently and work closely with your faculty thesis advisor to produce your honors thesis.

The Honors Thesis in HDFS

The culmination of your honors experience is writing your honors thesis. The thesis is your opportunity to demonstrate your scholarship and mastery of a topic and to make a contribution to the field of human development and family studies. It is also a chance to challenge yourself to learn more about a topic that you care deeply about. Although your thesis project will be supervised by a selected faculty advisor, the project is yours to conduct with substantial independence.

There are two kinds of honors theses in HDFS, an empirical study and a scholarly review. It is your decision which type of thesis is most useful for your goals. If you are interested in gaining research experience by conducting an empirical study, you may find that your interests fit with existing research projects of HDFS faculty members. Alternatively, you may initiate your own research project. For an empirical project, you will develop a research question, design a way to test that question, perhaps collect your own data, analyze those data (quantitatively or qualitatively) and interpret and communicate your results in writing. An empirical thesis is typically 40 pages in length, or longer.

A scholarly review involves reviewing the theoretical and empirical literature on a specific topic in the area of human development and family studies. Your thesis advisor will support your review process by helping you clarify your ideas and by directing you to the most important reports in the literature related to your interests. Your review will analyze, interpret and critique the literature in this area. You also might make recommendations about how to advance knowledge related to your topic. A scholarly review is usually 60 or more pages in length.

You may use an HDFS internship experience or another applied experience as the basis for a scholarly review. For example, you might have a special interest in how youth adjust after they leave the foster care system. You could do an internship in a foster care agency and for your thesis, review the literature about the best programs for foster care youth.

In your junior year, you will begin to define an area of interest for your senior thesis, and choose a thesis advisor. By discussing your interests with possible thesis advisors, and perhaps by working on independent study projects with them, you may mutually agree on a project which provides the best fit for your honors thesis project. Your thesis advisor must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member. Your thesis advisor will meet with you on a regular basis to guide the thesis process.

Honors theses are available on-line through the Schreyer Honors College. You may review theses written by prior scholars, which will give you a good sense of the range of topics and styles of honors theses. Graduating honors students report that completing the thesis is one of the most gratifying parts of the Honors College, along with the intellectual stimulation of peers and close relationships with faculty.

Students in Other Majors Writing an Honors Thesis in HDFS

Sometimes Schreyer Honors College students from other departments want to write their thesis with an HDFS faculty member. Students in this situation should contact their own department honors advisor and the HDFS honors advisor as early as possible. There are several options available, but any students in this situation should contact both honors advisors for more detailed information.

Work with an HDFS faculty member but get your honors in your major department: Some faculty in HDFS have joint appointments in other departments such as psychology or nutrition. These faculty may be able to supervise your thesis and you can still get honors in your own department. Other times an HDFS faculty member and a faculty member in your own department can co-supervise your thesis, allowing you to still get honors in your own department. But these arrangements must be carefully worked out between both departments early, before you submit your thesis proposal.

Get your honors in HDFS: To get your honors in HDFS, students must complete 310M and 300H, our required course sequence. These classes are designed to prepare you for your thesis and ensure that you have a substantive background in HDFS. Students may take 300H in the spring of their junior year and 310M during the fall of their senior year to meet this requirement. Note each course is only offered once a year.

Titles of Recent Honors Theses

  • Gender Role Development of Emerging Adults from Different Ethnic Groups (empirical study)
  • Communication Openness in Parent-Adult Offspring Relationships (empirical study)
  • Infant Massage Therapy (scholarly review)
  • An Analysis of the Pennsylvania Foster Care System (scholarly review)
  • Seeking Safety for Battered Immigrant Women in the United States (scholarly review)
  • Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia: The Effects of Physical Activity at Adult Day Care Service Centers (empirical study)
  • Correlates of HPV Vaccination Among a Female College Student Sample (empirical study)

Requirements of the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College expects that honors students will maintain a 3.33 semester and cumulative GPA, and that honors students will take 14 credits in honors courses in the last two years of study. You can earn honors credit by:

  1. taking specifically designated honors courses, including the required 6 credits of HDFS 494H (Thesis research) in the senior year.
  2. adding a component to an already existing course to earn honors credit, through agreement with the professor and a brief course project proposal to your honors advisor.

HDFS Honors Courses

  • HDFS 129H - Introduction to Human Development and Family Studies
  • HDFS 297H - Special Topics in Human Development and Family Studies
  • HDFS 300H - Seminar: Concepts and Issues in Human Development and Family Studies
  • HDFS 310M - Seminar: Research Methods
  • HDFS 494H - Thesis Research

Typical semester plan of study for Honors College students in HDFS

Freshman Year (for those entering as Freshman)

  • 9 credits of honors courses. These can be in any department or can be met by taking a 400 level course. 3 of these credits should be HDFS 129H.

Junior Year:

  • 6 credits of honors courses to prepare for thesis: 310M in fall, 300H in spring
  • Selection of thesis advisor (fall) and completion of thesis proposal report (spring)

Senior Year:

  • 6 credits of honors thesis independent study with thesis advisor (494H both semesters)
  • Completion and submission of thesis to Schreyer Honors College (spring)


To learn more about opportunities to join the Schreyer Honors College or about completing your honors in HDFS, contact Dr. Lesley Ross.

You may also contact The Schreyer Honors College, Atherton Hall (814) 863-2635. Their website is: