Skip to main content
Faculty/Staff Resources
What is Health and Human Development?

Diverse fields of study that share one
common goal: enriching the lives of others.

Search search
Mobile Search:
A mother helps her children with their lessons as she homeschool them during the pandemic. Both children of elementary school age are coloring in and seated at the kitchen island.

In the undergraduate program in HDFS, you will study individuals and families in your own and other cultures and learn how the family, the workplace, schools, the community, and the larger culture affect and are affected by the individual.

Along with high-quality advising support and a solid background on the development of individuals and families, you will study problems such as child, spouse and elder abuse, substance use, and divorce.


You will learn skills for helping individuals, families, or groups through prevention programs and other intervention techniques. In addition to examining specific problems, you will learn how human service agencies and professionals deal with these problems.

Careers can vary, but generally, they fall into one of these categories below. Some jobs can be pursued with an HDFS bachelor’s degree but others will require additional education, training or certification.

Social Work, Counseling, and Psychology icon-olus-circle

If you are interested in exploring careers in social work, counseling, and psychology, many careers are available in these lines of work. HDFS provides good preparation for entry level helping positions and for the graduate degree programs required for professional level work in these fields. Working in these fields during the summer or school year may help you decide if you want to pursue this kind of career.

Some of the more popular careers include:

  • Social worker
  • Children, youth and family services worker
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • School psychologist
Early Childhood Education icon-olus-circle

If you are interested in careers that involve teaching and education, there are a number of options. HDFS students work in childcare centers, youth service organizations, and adult education. They can work for America Reads or enter programs like Teach for America or pursue graduate degrees in special education.

Some of the more popular careers in teaching and education include:

  • Youth workers
  • Adult literacy and GED teachers
  • Health educators
  • Daycare or preschool
  • Students interested in teacher certification should look at the College of Education. As you explore, learn about our dual-degree program in HDFS and Pre-K-4 Education. You can combine your love of HDFS with a degree in education and work toward certification.
Advocacy and Non-Profit Work icon-olus-circle

As an HDFS student interested in careers that involve advocacy and non-profit work, you have a lot of options. 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 and human resources icon-olus-circle

Businesses need individuals with strong people skills. HDFS students receive training in communicating, listening, understanding group processes and dynamics, and working with others. These skills are essential to business. HDFS students can pursue careers in human resources, public relations, training, and development. Students interested in these fields are strongly encouraged to combine their HDFS knowledge with training in labor and employment relations, business administration, communications, or management, and to gain hands-on experience working in these fields to build their skills and knowledge.

Health icon-olus-circle

If you are interested in exploring health-related careers, you can combine your interest in helping people with medical training or providing support in a medical setting. HDFS students who become interested in health-related careers can continue on to receive training in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or child life. Students interested in health careers should connect early with Pre-Health Advising, as health fields typically require  numerous pre-requisites in the natural sciences. Most of these fields require significant graduate training, as well.

Some of the more popular careers include:

  • Occupational therapist
  • Child life specialist
  • Health educator

Students interested in health careers may also want to explore other majors in the college such as Biobehavioral Health and Health Policy Administration.

Research icon-olus-circle

Students with strong quantitative skills may want to consider a career in research. Penn State is a world-class research institution, and professors in the HDFS department are engaged in a number of research topics. There are many good jobs in research. It is often possible to get an entry-level position providing support to a research project straight out of college, particularly if you have worked on a research project as an undergraduate and if you have taken some statistics courses. Professional level jobs in these fields require significant graduate training, typically a Ph.D.

Some of the more popular careers include:

  • Survey researcher
  • Political scientist
  • Psychologist
  • Sociologist
  • College professor

Pursuing graduate studies

Many HDFS students go on to pursue graduate degrees. When combining HDFS with necessary pre-requisites for various graduate programs, our majors have pursued graduate studies in:

  • Counseling (e.g., school counseling, counseling psychology)
  • Social work
  • Health professions (e.g., nursing, occupational therapy, child life)
  • Psychology and human development and family studies
  • Elementary and secondary education
  • Law and human resources