Human Development and Family Studies

Human Development and Family Studies

Human Development and Family Studies is rooted in many social science disciplines. The Human Development and Family Studies program at Penn State was among the first of its kind in the nation, and continues to be one of the most respected.

Human development is best understood by looking at the whole person, rather than from the narrow perspective of a single discipline. The HDFS program focuses on the role and importance of family and family systems. Family systems thinking recognizes the interrelationship between family members and their environment. Students learn to understand that individuals are not limited to a single family environment, but often coexist among a variety of multi-dimensional, multi-layered family settings. Students are taught how societal problems such as substance abuse, domestic violence, financial struggles, delinquency and child abuse can be more effectively addressed from a perspective that considers the individual and family as interrelated and part of a larger system. Knowledge about healthy family functioning can be applied to prevent or minimize many of these problems.

Curriculum Overview

Penn State Brandywine offers two options within the degree program:


This option focuses on the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge about development and family functioning across the life span for the purposes of enhancing personal and family development.

This option focuses on the understanding of contemporary methodological approaches to the acquisition of scientific knowledge about individual development over the life span and about family development.

As a student in Human Development and Family Studies you will:

  • Understand how individuals develop and change from birth to old age.
  • Understand how families and communities influence individual development.
  • Learn how to apply this knowledge to develop, implement and evaluate interventions designed to improve the lives of individuals and families.

Internships and Research

Human Development and Family Studies students have many
 opportunities to integrate classroom learning with hands-on experience, such as service learning and problem-based projects. Most students complete a full-time internship, in which they gain valuable experience in the type of career they want to pursue after completing their degree. Common internship sites include:

  • high school guidance counseling offices
  • behavioral health intervention services
  • Head Start programs
  • county office on aging
  • human resources departments
  • hospital social work departments
  • college admissions offices
  • hospice facilities

Students who desire to become more than a sophisticated consumer of social/behavioral science and are interested in a career 
that will include research, can work with faculty on a range of
 exciting research projects. Previous project topics include:

  • Toddlers’ word learning strategies
  • Numerical understanding in middle school
  • Parent perceptions of toys
  • Identity and gender differences in adolescents
  • Intimate partner violence

Our undergraduate researchers have presented their work on campus and at regional and international conferences. Many alumni now find themselves in Master’s and Ph.D. programs around the country.

Complementary Minors and Certificates

Students often opt to strengthen their marketability by augmenting their major with a minor or a concentration in a different program area. This can add value to any undergraduate degree because employers desire employees who are well-rounded. HDFS students might augment their degree by minoring or pursuing a concentration in:

  • Business
  • Civic and Community Engagement
  • Communication Arts and Sciences
  • English
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Psychology
  • Women’s Studies

(Additional minors and certificate program are also available.)

Undergraduates should work with their adviser to develop a course plan to meet their individual interests and professional goals.

Graduation and Beyond

This major is a multidisciplinary program that examines the development of individuals and families across the life span. It enables students to prepare for professional, managerial or scientific roles in the following domains:

  • Business, consumer and family resource services
  • Community-based social services
  • Education
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Family intervention
  • Crisis intervention
  • Early childhood education
  • Government and public policy
  • Healthcare and family wellness
  • International education and development
  • Research
  • Writing and communications

Through coursework and undergraduate internships or research projects, students develop skills relevant to career objectives, such as:

  • Case manager
  • Human resources
  • Social worker
  • Youth development worker
  • Employee assistance
  • Community educator
  • Academic advising
  • Sexual violence advocate

The HDFS program also prepares students for graduate studies in the areas of child life, counseling, couple and family therapy, education, family studies, gerontology, higher education, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, public health and social work.

To read more about potential careers for HDFS majors, please see the infographic from the National Council on Family Relations.