Human Development and Family Studies Degrees
Human development and family studies degrees are interdisciplinary programs, designed for those who want to pursue careers in human or family services and/ or pursue additional training at the graduate level. Students learn about individual and social development; programs may cover physical development issues, but typically emphasize cognitive, emotional, and social development.
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People often equate ‘human development’ with the child and adolescent years, but it’s about growth and development throughout the lifespan. While some programs are termed ‘child development and family studies’, others give students the opportunity to focus on the needs of older adults.
Human development and family studies undergraduate degrees can lead to careers in youth programs and services, financial planning services, and elder care services. Employers may be governmental or private; some individuals are employed by religious organizations.
Human Development and Family Studies Curriculum
Typical offerings include age-related development courses (child development, adult development, gerontology) as well as coursework in family diversity, and families in stress or transition. There may be coursework in research and/or career-related writing (for example, writing program proposals).
Students are often invited to choose electives related to career interests. A wide range of concentrations are possible: gender studies, psychology, grieving and loss. Some schools allow students to carve out their own concentration. A search will yield some unique offerings: for example, therapeutic use of adventure and equine-assisted mental health.
There is often a practicum or internship experience of at least 120 hours; these experiences not uncommonly become jobs after graduation. Placements can include youth courts, behavioral health centers, domestic abuse services, school-based family resource centers, and adult day centers.
Online schools are often able to provide supervision at a distance. However, some have a capstone project in lieu of a traditional internship.
Choosing a Human Development and Family Studies Program: Accreditation
School-level accreditation is imperative. Program-level accreditation is less important, but, depending on your career goals, you may want to look for programs that are accredited by the National Council on Family Relations or the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences.
AAFCS-accredited programs provide interdisciplinary human development and family studies training or focus on niche areas like personal family finance education.
NCFR-accredited programs prepare you as a family educator; teaching parenting skills would be one of many options. While NCFR-approved programs can lead directly to a certification in family education, conducting workshops and classes isn’t your only career option as a graduate — you can also work in other human and family service roles.
Admission to the Human Development and Family Studies Major
Admission is not highly selective, but there may be requirements beyond those needed for general college admission. Students are often required to go through a background check before admission to the major — this assures that they will be able to complete the internship.
There are some courses that you can opt for in high school that to give yourself a foundation. The College Board recommends that in addition to the standard fare, a student take courses in economics and health. AP psychology is a good choice.
Graduate School and Beyond
A family studies and human development major is appropriate for those who plan to continue their studies at the graduate level. You will have more options if your school has regional accreditation. The major should provide more than the minimum or expected foundation for a graduate program in marriage and family therapy. It will provide most, if not all, prerequisites. Your graduate program may require a course that’s not in the basic program, for example, statistics; your advisor can suggest appropriate electives.
If you are planning on going straight to graduate school and/or plan to study at the doctoral level, you may opt for a more research-heavy family science major. If you want to work for a few years first, or want to keep your options open, this could be your best option.
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