Best Online Master’s in Human and Family Development Programs

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Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleMaster'sin Human & Family Development2017
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Jobs in human and family development are projected to see above-average growth rates through 2024, ranging from 8-22%, depending on the profession. Graduates with this degree can work as counselors, administrators, and social workers in settings that include hospitals, agencies, schools, government, and private practice.

Whether you are interested in working with youth, families, or communities, an online master’s degree in human and family development can help you achieve your goals. Many of the jobs in the profession require a master’s degree. A number of degrees are available entirely online, allowing you to continue to work or participate in fieldwork while completing a program. Most degrees can be earned in less than three years.


Each online master’s in human and family development has different application requirements, but many do not require previous work experience. It’s common for students to complete a statement of professional goals or statement of purpose, where you outline how you plan to use a human and family development degree in a new career.


There are many different programs in the field of human and family development, with specific topics such as family and community sciences, youth development, and human and family services administration. After narrowing down your focus, you should check to see if classes are synchronous or asynchronous and determine the best fit for your schedule. Students should also consider what online student support services a school offers, tuition, and length of time required to complete the degree.


Many of the best online human and family development master’s degrees are completely online, allowing students to continue to work while completing the program. It’s common for schools to offer part-time or full-time enrollment opportunities, which gives students the flexibility to increase or decrease the number of courses they are taking as their schedule permits.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
1 North Carolina State University at Raleigh 88.48 37% Raleigh, NC

North Carolina State offers more than 90 online and distance education programs, including an online human development and family studies graduate program. The MS in family life and youth development requires students to earn 36 credits. Students can specialize in developmental area such as youth or family development, or choose to focus on development across the lifespan. The online program includes asynchronous and synchronous courses that are scheduled in the evenings. Online students must be present for synchronous courses at specified times. The virtual classroom is delivered electronically through live seminar streaming and video-conferencing. Students in the program gain theoretical and practical knowledge that prepares them for a variety of careers in areas such as community agencies, schools, social service organizations, and correctional facilities. Courses include complex family issues and environmental influences on the family. Applicants must provide GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

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2 University of Nebraska-Lincoln 65.99 29% Lincoln, NE

Nebraska-Lincoln has been a leader in higher education for almost 150 years. The university offers a variety of online degree programs including a master’s degree in human development and family studies online. The growing field of human development offers rewarding careers that focus on the interaction between family systems and environmental influences. The online MS in human and family services administration from Nebraska equips students with the skills necessary to develop, implement, and evaluate programs. The administrative component emphasizes knowledge in human resources, management, and public policies. The program is 36 credits and consists of family studies and public administration courses. Public administration courses are part of the university’s public administration degree at the Omaha location and are taught online by Omaha faculty. Online courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system, and students engage in a variety of instructional methods including asynchronous web-based assignments and synchronous components such as videoconferencing.

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3 University of Missouri-Columbia 61.65 29% Columbia, MO

Missouri-Columbia, often referred to as Mizzou, is one the nation’s most prestigious public research universities and offers a variety of programs including 89 innovative online degree programs. The online master’s in human development and family studies from Mizzou is 36 credits and the estimated tuition of the program is $19,620. The MA in human development and family studies with an emphasis in family and community services provides students with a strong theoretical foundation in the areas of family and ecological systems. Courses emphasize the interactional behaviors and relationships among groups of people and environments across the lifespan. Students learn how to be effective leaders and gain skills in program design and implementation. Courses include family resource management and family crises intervention. Students are required to complete two course electives, which allows them to gain knowledge in specialized areas such as youth culture and working with military families.

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4 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 54.99 38% Fargo, ND

North Dakota State, located in Fargo, is a land-grant research institution that offers an exceptional academic experience on-campus and online. As a leader among online human development and family studies graduate programs, NDSU’s online MS in human development and family science prepares students to work with youth in a variety of settings such as schools, juvenile justice programs, and nonprofit organizations. The degree takes a positive approach to working with youth, and graduates of the program play important roles in the lives of children and adolescents. Students learn how to effectively apply theoretical knowledge and evidence-based research practices that promote healthy development. Courses include contemporary youth issues and youth in cultural contexts. Students can choose to complete a five-credit practicum or a six credit-hour thesis. The online program is 36 credits, and full-time students can complete their degree in two-years.

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5 Kansas State University 53.57 16% Manhattan, KS

Kansas State is a research institution that specializes in providing an education rooted in the promotion of diverse perspectives, creativity, and global upward mobility. The school’s global campus utilizes innovative technology to reach distance learners around the world. The online human development and family studies degree provides students with a foundation in family and community services, program implementation and management, and family dynamics. The program emphasizes human development across the lifespan, and students learn to incorporate the needs of families at various life stages in the design and evaluation of community programs. The master’s degree in family and community services is 36 credits, and online courses are taught by faculty from several land-grant universities across the nation. This unique approach to online learning creates learning opportunities, and students are exposed to a variety of diverse perspectives from leading educators in the field.

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6 Texas Woman's University 49.98 53% Denton, TX

Texas Woman’s, located in Denton, strives to empower women through education and is the largest women’s university in America. The university offers one of the best online human development and family studies graduate programs in the nation. The fully online family studies master’s degree prepares students for careers in family service settings such as community centers, schools, and social service agencies. The program is 34-35 credits depending on the degree route students choose, and students must successfully pass an exit exam prior to graduation. Students complete nine credits in specialized courses and six credits in research, including statistics for research in family sciences and research methods. Texas Woman’s provides a variety of supportive services for online students, and the university’s strategies for success helps prepare students for the rigors of online learning. Online courses are delivered through Blackboard and Canvas learning management systems.

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7 University of Southern Mississippi 49.24 32% Hattiesburg, MS

Southern Mississippi was founded in Hattiesburg in 1910 as a teacher training college. For more than 100 years, the university has provided quality education. The university offers numerous online graduate degrees including a master’s degree in human development and family studies online. The 37 hour program is designed for professionals with an interest in working with families to promote healthy development through education and community engagement. The MS in child and family studies is delivered fully online, and coursework is completed asynchronously through discussion forums and written assignments. Some courses include synchronous components, which requires online student participation in live videoconferencing at specified times. The online curriculum is reading and writing intensive and emphasizes a systemic approach to understanding family dynamics. Courses include parenting across the lifespan, family advocacy, and program evaluation and assessment. Graduates are prepared for careers as early childhood educators, child life specialists, family program administrators, and more.

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8 Texas Tech University 48.57 36% Lubbock, TX

Texas Tech is located in Lubbock. The university’s Worldwide eLearning program includes more than 60 online academic programs, and students have the opportunity to pursue career goals remotely through Blackboard. The online human development and family studies degree available through Texas Tech is part of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance, a collaborative online learning program that incorporates courses from several universities to create one convenient and affordable degree. The MS in human development and family studies with an emphasis on gerontology is available fully online, and coursework focuses on adult development and aging from a family systems perspective. A variety of electives are offered that are designed to reflect student’s interests and professional specialty areas, such as spirituality and aging, gender and aging, and gerontechnology. The curriculum focuses on human development theories, family theories, research methods, and statistics.

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9 Concordia University-Saint Paul 43.65 35% Saint Paul, MN

Concordia is a liberal arts university affiliated with the Lutheran Church, and its quality academic programs approach learning through the lens of Christian compassion and service. The online master’s in human development and family studies offered by Concordia University is part of the college’s distance learning program. The MA in family science is 36 credits and can be completed entirely online. Online courses are offered consecutively and take seven-weeks to complete. The degree emphasizes preventive approaches to human development within the context of family systems. Courses include systemic dynamics and family decision making. Students enrolled in the program have the opportunity to become Certified Family Life Educators and must choose to pursue the certified-track upon completion of their second course. Concordia stipulates minimum technology requirements for online learning, including a computer, webcam, and microphone. The university supplies students with Microsoft Office.

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10 Missouri State University-Springfield 39.74 25% Springfield, MO

Missouri State provides an education with an emphasis in public affairs. The university offers a variety of degrees that can be completed entirely online, including a master’s degree in human development and family studies online. Students enrolled in the program choose a third of their courses and can complete the degree in three semesters. The customizable MS degree in early childhood and family development is a 32 credit program and prepares students for careers in a variety of settings, including schools and community and social agencies. Classes include family advocacy, family literacy, educational role of play, and more. Courses are delivered through Blackboard. Student resources include Blackboard support, career resources, and an admissions checklist. Students are encouraged to complete the university’s online learning readiness survey to determine if online learning is a good fit for them.

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Online master’s in human and family development programs vary by school, which allows you to pick a program that fits your interests and professional goals. Each program has distinct learning outcomes, and curriculum will change based on those outcomes. Some programs emphasize certain specializations, such as youth or family, and all have different course requirements.


Some programs may require more credits or core courses than others. However, there are some courses in the field of human and family development that can be found in numerous programs, such as those listed below.

  • Family Relationships and Dynamics: Theories, research, and subjects that affect families are the focus in this course. Other topics include human development or issues that share a common theme. The course is often the foundation for the entire program, and some curriculums include special topics.
  • Administration and Program Management: This course prepares students to work in management and administration for youth and family-focused organizations. The course introduces students to budgeting or finance administration in public and nonprofit organizations. Theories of leadership and ethics may also be included.
  • Aging in Families: These courses examine aging in the social context, the experience of aging as reported by older persons, and the aging network, which includes the systems of care that are in place. Many courses delve into the impact of aging on family and society, with focus on research and policy.
  • Capstone/Practicum: A capstone is when a student integrates what they have learned in their courses with a focused project. A practicum is a faculty-supervised field experience that may include working with children, families, or consumers; a certain number of hours are usually required.


Online master’s in human and family development programs usually require about 36 credits, which can often be earned in two to three years. A variety of factors affect the length of an online degree, including course load, which can vary based on a student’s enrollment status. Other influences on program length include course availability, a student’s term of enrollment, and hours required to complete a practicum or field component. Some programs offer accelerated options for students who wish to complete a program more quickly.

Most programs allow students to complete the degree at an individual pace, meaning the student determines how many credits to take each term based on their own schedules. Some programs operate through a cohort model, where students begin the program together and complete courses synchronously.


  • Marriage and Family Therapist License: All states regulate marriage and family therapists, so students interested in this field should plan to become licensed. Licensure requirements include a master’s degree and a period of supervised clinical practice. Requirements vary by state, although many states have modeled their requirements based on the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy recommendations.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): Social work licensing requirements vary by state; a license is generally not required to practice under the supervision of a licensed social worker. An LCSW provides professional opportunities and makes job candidates more appealing. States use various designations, which may include Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW).
  • Counselor Certification: Counselor certification can include state licensure or national certification. A state license means you have permission from that state to practice counseling, and licensure can be a one or two-tiered system. State licenses vary. A National Certified Counselor credential, or NCC, is issued by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

A school’s accreditation is important for many reasons. It can affect federal financial aid, the ability to pursue a terminal degree, and transfer credits. Accreditation means that an outside agency has evaluated a university and has determined that it meets certain standards. There is regional, national, and programmatic accreditation, with regional being the highest form of accreditation. There are only seven regional accrediting agencies that are recognized by the Department of Education (DOE), so requirements for accreditation are fairly standardized. Regionally accredited colleges provide the best chance for students to transfer credits or to have their degree recognized when applying to future academic programs. National accreditation generally applies to trade, career, or faith-based colleges that do not have universal standards and need to have their own individual guidelines, so they have their own accreditors.

Students considering online degrees should still look for regional or national accreditation and should check to make sure the human and family development degree leads to licensure in their state and in their profession of interest.

Regional, national, and programmatic accrediting agencies receive their ability to accredit from either the DOE or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The DOE is the most important, because without accreditation from a DOE-approved agency, a college cannot offer federal aid to students, and credits may not transfer to other universities. CHEA evaluation is not required, but many accrediting agencies still want the recognition because it is well respected. Without oversight from the DOE and the CHEA, anyone could declare themselves to be an accreditor, and colleges could start accrediting themselves. Prospective students can find a list of accredited schools on the DOE’s website.


Online master’s in human and family development graduates can pursue a variety of careers in social work, counseling, therapy, and religious work. Community and social service occupations are projected to grow 10% from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than average, with many of the counselor and therapist occupations requiring a master’s degree. Graduates have the option to work with children, families, and the elderly in many settings. Below, is a list of careers that graduates are prepared for.

  • Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: Professionals in this job help people to manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders or issues within relationships. They help patients develop strategies that will improve their lives. These counselors and therapists are generally required to have a master’s degree and licensure.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Rehabilitation can apply to helping people with physical, mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities. These counselors help people to live independently and work in community rehabilitation centers, senior citizen centers, and youth organizations. A master’s degree is usually required, and licensing varies based on the position.
  • School and Career Counselors: School counselors help students develop academic and social skills to succeed in school. Career counselors assist people with making career decisions. School counselors are employed in public or private schools and career counselors work in the government, colleges, or in private practice.
  • Social Worker: Clinical social workers are required to have a master’s degree and two years of experience in a supervised setting, as well as licensure in their state. Social workers help people cope with a variety of problems and can work in clinics, schools, agencies, hospitals, or in private practice.
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors: Counselors in this field advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or eating disorders. They provide treatment and support to help patients modify problem behaviors. The field is projected to grow by 22% because these services are increasingly covered by insurance policies.
Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists $44,170 19%
Rehabilitation Counselors $34,670 9%
School and Career Counselors $54,560 8%
Social Workers $46,890 12%
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $41,070 22%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


While there are a variety of occupations available to graduates who have earned one of the best online human and family development master’s degrees, one of the most popular is child, family, and school social worker. Annual mean wages can vary based on where the social worker is employed, as seen in the following table with figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Child, Family, and School Social Worker Salaries by Industry

Industry Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Individual and Family Services 4.29% $41,500
State Government (OES Designation) 2.87% $46,970
Local Government (OES Designation) 0.97% $54,210
Elementary and Secondary Schools 0.46% $62,170
Outpatient Care Centers 1.21% $40,990
Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services 5.77% $37,840
Social Advocacy Organizations 2.04% $41,490


Online master’s in human and family development professions usually have a related professional organization that provides networking and continued-learning opportunities. Many organizations are involved in advocacy, licensure, and professional development and promote useful discussions among members such as licensure portability and new applications of counseling methods.

Students interested in human development master’s degrees should investigate affiliated scholarship opportunities, as there are some that are specific to graduate students in the field. Colleges and universities often have scholarships, grants, and fellowships available to accepted students. While many of these resources are merit-based, some also require students to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A FAFSA is needed if a student hopes to receive any federal aid, and it’s a good idea to submit it as early as possible so the college can advise you on your eligibility.


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