Master’s in Human and Family Development Program Guide

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Published on October 28, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for community and social service occupations is $43,840, which is above the national average of $37,690 for all occupations. The BLS projects jobs in this field to increase by 14% between 2016 and 2026, outpacing the national job growth rate of 7%. Immigration issues, increasing wage gaps, and substance abuse problems require qualified professionals to address these and other social problems.

The BLS projects jobs in this field to increase by 14% between 2016 and 2026, outpacing the national job growth rate of 7%.

Human and family services professionals work as social workers; community service administrators; and counselors in agencies, government, schools, hospitals, and private practice. Professionals in the human services field find their work highly satisfying. This guide outlines how to find a master's in human and family development program aligned with your goals and interests, as well as admissions requirements and potential career paths.

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Should I Get a Master's in Human and Family Development?

Earning a master's in child development and family studies equips students with skills and knowledge to support people with socioeconomic challenges. This field is ideal for people seeking to help others who possess the skills to improve societal systems. Organizations such as preschools, addiction recovery centers, and government agencies need professionals skilled in data analytics, program planning, personnel management, counseling, and communication.

Students fresh out of an undergraduate program may want to earn a master's degree in a traditional on-campus program. By studying on campus, students can participate in career fairs, build relationships with professors, and collaborate with other students. Professionals already engaged in the field might choose an online program so they can study while maintaining professional and personal responsibilities. Typically, online and on-campus students receive access to the same alumni network and corporate contacts through a school's career services office.

Master's programs in child development and family studies help learners understand the human lifespan, personhood and family across multiple contexts, and how to help children and families in crisis. Coursework in these programs includes theories in child and family studies, parenting across the lifespan, and individual and family life cycle development. Most degrees require a research course, a practicum, and a capstone project or thesis.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Human and Family Development?

A master's in child development and family studies is an interdisciplinary degree that students can design to suit their interests. Many students choose this degree because they want to serve marginalized groups, such as the LGBT community, single-parent families, and immigrants. Human and family development students learn therapeutic approaches that equip them to work in many settings. Graduates may choose careers in early childhood education, social work, senior citizen activism, or nonprofit management. Graduates with second language skills are especially well positioned for work in this field.

Preschool Director

Working with children between birth and five years old, preschool directors build a team of staff members, design educational plans, prepare budgets, and coordinate activities of the childcare center. These professionals must be able to communicate with parents and teachers, manage crises, and maintain facility regulations.

Median Annual Salary: $46,890*

Community Service Manager

Community service managers coordinate and manage social and community programs focused on issues such as homelessness, hunger, child abuse, and senior needs. They may work with community members to identify needs, oversee programs, analyze data, manage outreach activities, and secure program funding. Many community service manager positions require a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $64,100*

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

These counselors provide treatment and support to people suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, behavioral disorders, and mental illnesses. Counselors evaluate clients, develop treatment plans, and conduct community outreach efforts. They also maintain case files and refer clients for services. Counselors with master's degrees may provide more services than those with bachelor's degrees.

Median Annual Salary: $43,300*

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers work with probationers and parolees to assist with practical elements of rehabilitation. These professionals interview and evaluate their clients, determine effective treatment plans, test offenders for drugs, and maintain case files. A master's degree helps probation officers secure a management or leadership role in the field.

Median Annual Salary: $51,410*

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve problems of everyday living. They often work for state, local, or private organizations that provide mental health and behavioral services. Social workers identify needs and resources, respond to crises, and maintain case files. A master's degree helps social workers secure a job in the field.

Median Annual Salary: $47,980*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's Program in Human and Family Development

A master's degree is a significant investment of time and money. Learners devote hours of study to a program and many take out student loans to pay for it. Such an investment demands careful consideration. When reviewing prospective schools, students should ask questions such as: how long does it take to complete the program? Can I study part time if I need to? Do I have all the undergraduate prerequisites? Will this school accept my transfer credits?

It's also important to consider each school's curriculum: What concentrations are offered? Are internships and practicums part of the program? Is there a capstone requirement? Prospective learners should keep these questions in mind when researching master's programs in child development and family studies.

For most applicants, cost is an uppermost consideration. Students should evaluate their budgets against the total cost of a master's degree in child development at each school. Choosing an online program may reduce costs since digital learners do not need to commute to campus, pay for extra childcare, or outsource household duties. However, online students may need to pay an additional technology fee per class that on-campus students avoid.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Human and Family Development

Accreditation determines a degree's legitimacy, value, and utility. In the U.S., accreditation is a voluntary process schools undergo to demonstrate they meet quality standards. Accredited schools typically only accept credits from other accredited schools. Financial aid packages also rely on accreditation. There are two types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional. Regional associations award institutional accreditation to an entire university or college. Specialized bodies provide programmatic accreditation to specific programs within a school. Programmatic accreditation is not as critical to a degree's legitimacy as institutional accreditation.

A master's in child development and family studies may fall under a university's education, psychology, or religion department. Therefore, programmatic accreditation could come from such diverse sources as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the American Psychological Association, the National Council on Family Relations, or the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences.

Master's in Human and Family Development Program Admissions

Admissions requirements vary between institutions. Students should apply to at least three schools to increase their chances of admission. Since graduate school applications are time-consuming and expensive, few students apply to more than eight programs. Students should rank their top-choice schools using factors such as program length, reputation, and cost. When considering a master's in child development and family studies, students should also research which schools offer their preferred concentration.


Students need a bachelor's degree in any field to apply to a graduate program. Master's programs in human and family development do not usually require a specific undergraduate major. Applicants do not need to show professional experience to enroll in a master's in child development and family studies program. However, a background in working with children may be helpful. Minimum GPA requirements vary, but most graduate schools require a minimum GPA between 2.5 and 3.0. Some schools waive this requirement for a high GRE score.

Admission Materials

Applicants must submit an online application detailing their professional and educational background. Graduate schools typically require applicants to submit transcripts from all postsecondary work. Each school's policy and price for transcripts varies. Most schools request two to three letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors who can speak to the applicant's ability to succeed in a graduate program. Students should give recommenders at least three weeks to complete the letters. Sometimes master's in human and family development programs require applicants to submit a GRE score. The minimum acceptable score varies between programs. Most application fees fall between $50 and $85. Fees cover the cost of student admissions and enrollment. Some schools issue fee waivers for students with demonstrable financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Human and Family Development?

Some master's programs in child development and family studies offer concentrations. Concentrations vary by school but typically involve a developmental stage within the lifespan or a practical application of the degree, such as nonprofit management.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Human and Family Development

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction
Concentration Description Careers
Family and Youth Development Students in this concentration study childhood, adolescence, and early adult development. They examine biological, social, and psychological changes during these years. Courses include theories in family science, effective management of family resources, and applied concepts in parenting and family life education. Some programs require a statistics course. Youth development specialist, camp director, youth director
Nonprofit Management Learners in this concentration study strategic planning, accounting, community relations, and program management. Courses include philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, and program evaluation and information management. Many programs require students to complete a capstone project. Nonprofit CEO, fundraiser, program director
Gerontology Gerontology is the study of late adulthood. Gerontology draws from many disciplines, including law, social work, geography, and economics. Gerontologists may work with data, manage programs, or serve as counselors. Courses include theories of aging, biologies of aging, and clinical neuroscience of aging. Nursing home administrator, adult daycare director, geriatric social worker
Family and Community Services Students in this concentration study personal, family, and community interaction across the lifespan. They develop skills to design, implement, sustain, and manage family and community programs. Courses include resilience in families, lifespan development, and foundations and principles of family and community services. Family therapist, drug and alcohol counselor, student affairs administrator
Health and Well-being Emphasizing holistic health in nonclinical settings, this concentration prepares lifestyle coaches and health consultants to create corporate wellness programs, educate clients, and establish community health initiatives. Courses include assessment and integration of research, wellness coaching communication skills, and program planning for health educators. This concentration often includes a capstone project. Health coach, wellness consultant, lifestyle consultant

Courses in a Master's in Human and Family Development Program

Master's in human and family development curricula vary by school, but most include core courses in sociology, psychology, education, social science research, and communication. Below are examples of common courses in this degree.

Social Science Statistics

Students study how to perform social science research and apply findings to real-world settings. They also learn common statistical tests, data analysis techniques, and how to choose a statistical procedure. Students may critique the use of statistics in media.

Theoretical Issues in Child Development

Focusing on the theories of change that underpin child development, learners study perceptions and reactions in children and adolescents. Students observe and interpret play across childhood, and discuss issues of child guidance and socialization in the context of developmental theory.

Studies in Interpersonal Communication

Students study the cultural and cognitive influences of individual, group, and media communication. The course focuses on thought and self-expression through digital media, such as social platforms.

Human Growth and Development

This course examines contemporary thought and research on the lifespan. Students consider social, biological, intellectual, and emotional changes from birth to adulthood. They also explore the practical applications of these changes in family and career. Topics include psychological adjustments to aging, developmental theories, and concepts of death.

Marriage and Family Relationships

Students explore how families interact by reviewing gender role and relational expectations. The course examines how family forms across the lifespan as well as historical and contemporary perspectives on family. Students learn skills to strengthen marital and family relationships across cultures.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Human and Family Development?

Master's programs in child development and family studies usually take two years of full-time study to complete. Most programs require 32-37 credits. Students can lengthen or shorten time to completion depending on the degree format they choose. For instance, some schools allow students to take extra credits per semester to finish early. Students with work or family obligations may prefer part-time study, which lengthens the time to completion. In general, shortening a degree reduces costs while lengthening a program may increase expenses.

How Much Is a Master's in Human and Family Development?

Students in a master's in child development and family programs can expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 for their degree. Many factors determine a student's tuition, including the number of required credits, price per credit, and residency status. Tuition per credit hour ranges from around $315 to $550. In-state, public school students pay lower tuition than out-of-state students, and private school students typically pay the most.

When evaluating program cost, students should review factors beyond tuition. For instance, veterans and military personnel can take advantage of life-experience credits at some colleges. Other schools reduce student expenses through a generous transfer policy. Digital learners often save money by working while studying at home, although many schools charge these students a technology fee. On-campus students often pay for housing and service fees.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Human and Family Development Prepares For

Licensed Professional Counselor

As an LPC, mental health professionals can work with families, individuals, and groups to treat behavioral, mental, and social issues. Each state issues the LPC to qualifying applicants, and requirements vary from state to state. Typically, LPCs must hold a master's degree of at least 60 credits, including significant coursework in counseling.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Each state establishes its own policies, procedures, and governing boards to oversee the development and maintenance of the LCSW program. Most LCSW applicants hold an undergraduate or graduate degree in a discipline related to social work.

Child Development Associate

More than 420,000 early childhood educators hold the CDA, a recognized credential from the Council for Professional Recognition. Applicants must demonstrate competency in 13 functional standards, including safe environment, social development, and program management. Candidates for the credential complete a portfolio and undergo observation in the classroom.

Certified Health Education Specialist

The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing offers this license, which requires a bachelor's degree or higher in health education or 25 credits in a related field. Applicants must pass a 165-question exam on topics such as accessing healthcare data, assessing health education programs, and understanding influences on the learning process.

Marriage and Family Therapist License

Marriage and family therapists focus on solving relational problems within the family structure. They are subject to state licensure requirements, which vary between states but usually emerge from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy recommendations. Almost all states require marriage and family therapists to hold a qualifying master's degree to receive licensure.

Resources for Graduate Human and Family Development Students

Journal of Social Psychology

Founded in 1929, this publication releases research articles in fields of organizational and social psychology, such as consumer behavior, prosocial behavior, social cognition, and aggression. The editorial staff subject all articles to a double-blind peer review.

Journal of Social Work

A UK-based publication, the Journal of Social Work is a peer-reviewed journal containing articles on self-care for the social worker, international perspectives on social work, concepts of power, and implications of cultural media on social work.

Journal of Family Issues

Published 16 times per year, the Journal of Family issues examines research and application within the family sector. Its articles focus on gender studies, family violence, psychology, sociology, family studies, and social work.

Journal of Human Development and Capabilities

First published in 2000, this journal highlights innovative thinking in social justice, poverty eradication, human development, human rights, and capability expansion. It looks at economic development from many social science perspectives.

Journal of Marriage and Family

Published by the National Council on Family Relations, the Journal of Marriage and Family features new theories and original research in diverse fields, such as anthropology, sociology, and economics, and how they relate to family and relationship development.

Professional Organizations in Human and Family Development

Professional associations offer valuable resources to students and professionals. Many associations sponsor online education opportunities, such as webinars, articles, and discussion forums. Associations also host conferences and provide networking opportunities, job boards, and certifications to members. Many associations offer discounted memberships for students.

NAADAC: The Association for Addiction Professionals

NAADAC sponsors continuing education opportunities, certifications, conferences, and events. Members can take advantage of professional liability insurance, awards, and scholarships. NAADAC also maintains a career center.

National Association of Social Workers

NASW maintains a membership of 120,000 social workers, making it the largest association of its kind. It provides credentials and certificates, maintains a career center, and hosts an annual conference and awards ceremony.

National Council on Family Relations

NCFR publishes three scholarly journals; maintains online focus groups; and provides a digital resource library of articles, syllabi, and webinars. The organization hosts an annual conference and stands behind the CFLE, a family life education credential.

Society for Public Health Education

More than 4,000 health education professionals from more than 25 countries make up this association dedicated to health education and literacy. SOPHE publishes academic journals, offers career development trainings, and maintains an online job board.

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