A bachelor's degree in human development and family studies explores human growth from birth through old age. By analyzing these topics, you'll gain an understanding of the psychosocial, emotional, and cognitive processes across the human lifespan, along with insight into the complex interplay of societal and cultural expectations within the family. Whether in the context of classroom teaching, healthcare delivery, social work, or other forms of community service, rigorous training allows professionals to provide the most effective assistance to individuals and families who need it.

What are the best human and family development programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC
2 California State University, East Bay Hayward, CA
3 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
4 University of Wisconsin Stout Menomonie, WI
5 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
6 Southern Wesleyan University Central, SC
7 New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM
8 Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA
9 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA
10 Utah State University Logan, UT

There's never been a better time to enter this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 10% increase in social and community services management positions through 2024, a boost in part due to an aging Baby Boomer population (with age comes a need for more services). This boom is also in part due to a demand for social services connected with a growing substance addiction problem in the United States. This guide details what you can expect from a bachelor's degree program in human development and family studies, including a breakdown of study concentrations and curricula. It culminates in a discussion of program graduate career options.

Choosing a Program

The study of human and family development is multidisciplinary, involving the social, biological, and behavioral sciences. A typical online degree in human and family development curriculum begins with a small set of core courses that build a foundation for service to children, adolescents, adults, and families. Through these courses, you can expect to learn about the developmental processes of individuals and families, human sexuality, interpersonal behavior, and parenthood across the human lifespan. Core program classes also focus on career-specific skills such as research-based inquiry, program planning and evaluation, professional communications, and human services administration.

In many online degree in human and family development programs, learners customize their studies through a specialty concentration. In this case, the bulk of your upper-division coursework will be within your concentration and concentrations may be organized to focus on specific age groups, such as elder care or early childhood. Concentrations may also be geared toward specific services, such as counseling or social work. Alternatively, an institution may design its available concentrations to mesh with a professional degree in law or medicine. The best online bachelor's in family development programs take full advantage of a university's resources, offering numerous specialty paths to a degree.

Degree plan customization doesn't always end with a concentration. Often, online bachelor's in human development programs include a field component that aligns with your concentration. Typical placements include schools, social services agencies, retirement facilities, hospitals, or behavioral health facilities. Some programs offer a thesis option in lieu of a practicum, which could be ideal for the student planning to pursue a professional graduate degree. Some programs lead to teaching licensure and some do not. In turn, it's wise to choose accordingly if you plan to teach. Finally, some programs further prepare you for the workforce by embedding professional certifications within their curriculum.


Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Greensboro, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

UNCG's bachelor's in human development and family studies program requires synchronous and asynchronous coursework. Participants choose one of two online tracks: early care and education or birth through kindergarten teacher licensure. The latter track qualifies graduates to apply for an initial North Carolina teaching license; 45 states accept this license.

Online degree-seekers can take advantage of Handshake job search software, resume guides, and career coaches. Specialized resources for alumni include online access to noncredit courses that teach in-demand skills.

UNCG accepts the Common Application, and prospective first-year students can submit high school transcripts or GED scores. Out-of-state degree-seekers pay 2-4 times the in-state tuition rate. Online learners may qualify for federal grant or private scholarship opportunities.


California State University, East Bay

Hayward, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Cal State East Bay's online bachelor's in human development program serves as a degree completion pathway. This online program features three concentrations: adult development and gerontology, early childhood development, and women's development. Also, students can enhance their educational experience by earning a certificate in early childhood development.

Online learners can review interviewing best practices and take one or more career assessments. These and other valuable resources help approximately 70% of alumni find a job within one year of graduation.

Prospective students apply through Cal State Apply, and application materials include undergraduate transcripts. Out-of-state degree-seekers pay approximately double the in-state tuition rate. Learners can apply for institutional financial aid by submitting the Pioneer Scholarships Application before January 31.


Oregon State University

Corvallis, OR Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

OSU's bachelor's in human development and family sciences program is available online. The 180-quarter-credit curriculum features coursework that covers topics like families in poverty, family studies, and human sexuality. Students can modify the program by completing a minor in another field. Additionally, this program holds accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health.

The school's career center features multiple online tools, including Handshake, Focus 2 Career, and GoinGlobal — an online job board with overseas opportunities. Students can also access an extensive virtual resource library.

OSU admits new learners at four points throughout the year and accepts applications from students who possess a high school diploma or a GED certificate. The university does not charge out-of-state tuition rates to online degree-seekers. Students interested in institutional scholarships should apply before the February 1 deadline.


University of Wisconsin Stout

Menomonie, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

UW-Stout's online bachelor's in human development and family studies requires 56 credits of core courses, including lifespan sexuality, family policy, and abnormal psychology. Degree-seekers can also complete all general education courses entirely online. Additionally, the curriculum provides students with the flexibility to select a minor or concentration.

Nearly 100% of recent human and family development alumni have found a job or started another academic program. UW-Stout achieves this impressive statistic by providing one-on-one advising appointments, a job-shadowing program, and professional development workshops.

UW-Stout accepts the Common Application. First-year applicants also submit standardized test scores. Most out-of-state students pay double the in-state tuition rate, and approximately 80% of undergraduates receive some form of financial aid.


The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

Prospective learners who work at a Head Start agency can increase their career and salary potential by enrolling in UA's bachelor of science in human environmental sciences, human development, and family studies for child development practitioners program. Degree-seekers can complete the program's 120-credit curriculum entirely online. Additionally, the program features an optional early child development concentration.

In addition to Interview Stream and Candid Career software, the school's career center offers online degree-seekers micro-internships, which are 5-40-hour experiences that take place remotely. These and additional resources have helped 90% of alumni attain a fulfilling career or enter a graduate program.

UA accepts applications throughout the year and does not charge online learners out-of-state tuition rates. Transfer credit should reflect a minimum 2.0 undergraduate GPA. Online degree-seekers may qualify for federal and/or state financial aid.


Southern Wesleyan University

Central, SC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

SWU's online bachelor's degree in early childhood and family studies is delivered from a Christian perspective and features an asynchronous curriculum. Courses last seven weeks, and graduates can pursue work as public school teachers, Head Start coordinators, and librarians.

Almost 90% of SWU undergraduate alumni experience a positive career outcome. Current students can start their job hunt by taking advantage of a job board, self-assessments, and career advice videos.

High school graduates and transfer students must possess a minimum 2.0 GPA. Prospective students with GED scores can also apply. As a private university, SWU charges the same per-credit tuition rate to all learners. Additionally, degree-seekers who work for a corporate partner receive an automatic 10% tuition discount.


New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, NM Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 47%

NMSU's bachelor's in family and child science program helps students hone communication, conflict resolution, and child guidance skills. Outside of class, degree-seekers can complete professional development courses through the National Council on Family Relations.

Career services professionals connect students and alumni with job-hunting resources, including Handshake, LinkedIn, and Career Beam. Learners can also access an in-depth guide on how to engage with potential employers through an online profile.

NMSU uses a GPA cutoff for high school graduates and transfer students. Individuals who have a GED certificate can also apply. Out-of-state learners pay approximately three times more in tuition than in-district residents. Active-duty service members receive an automatic 40% tuition discount.


Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 29%

Penn State's World Campus offers many online degrees, including a bachelor's in human development and family studies. This program features coursework in areas like family development, helping relationships, and resolving human development problems. Graduation requirements include a one-semester internship in a human services setting, and students use this experience to write an extended research paper. Virtual career services include counseling sessions, mock interviews, and online career fairs.

High school graduates and individuals with a GED certificate can apply. Although out-of-state learners do not pay a higher tuition rate, some courses cost more per-credit than others. Financial aid resources for online degree-seekers include federal grant and loan programs.


Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Natchitoches, LA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 45%

Degree-seekers who want to work with children should consider enrolling in NSU's bachelor's in child and family studies program, which offers two concentration options. The child development and family relations concentration emphasizes adolescent development, families and consumers, and child nutrition. Participants may also opt for a consumer services concentration. Students can further personalize the program by completing a minor.

NSU's career center provides students and alumni with numerous services, including mock interviews, resume reviews, and career advisors. Other resources include a guide that prepares readers for graduate school admission success.

Prospective first-year students should submit high school transcripts or GED scores. Other application materials include standardized test scores and FAFSA results. Out-of-state learners do not pay a higher tuition rate, and active-duty service members receive an automatic 50% tuition discount.


Utah State University

Logan, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

USU's online bachelor's degree in family life studies offers two concentrations: family relations and human development. In class, degree-seekers study research methods, human sexuality, and family finance. Additionally, the program features multiple capstone options.

Online learners can network with peers and potential employers by joining one of five clubs that relate to human and family development. Students can also speak with an advisor, take a career assessment, and use Handshake software to explore the latest job postings.

The human and family development program accepts first-year and transfer students. Transfer credit must have been earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. All online learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate, and institutional scholarships require a separate application.

What Else Can I Expect from an Online Bachelor's in Human and Family Development Program?

Every family development degree online program is different. Depending on its access to cross-disciplinary departments, one program may offer only a few specializations while another program may offer up to a dozen. Still others may offer certain concentrations exclusively online while administering an amount of concentrations solely on campus. Below we've broken down course content for five popular concentrations and the careers for which they prepare graduates.


Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Early childhood Focuses on cognitive and language growth in infants and toddlers, exploring the external factors that can impact development, such nutrition, safety, or creative expression. Program administration best practices and special needs in the young student are also explored. May require a practicum. Teaching or assistant teaching in preschool classrooms, special education teaching, or curriculum development
Pre-health professions Emphasizes the social, emotional, and mental development factors that drive patient behavior. Schools often organize these courses around the patient population or age group the student intends to serve, and explores the group's unique perspectives. Nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, speech and language pathology, medical practice, or dentistry
Disabilities Examines the daily lives of disabled Americans, exploring the ways policy affects their lives. Learners study disabilities in the context of the individual, the family, and the communities they affect. Special education teaching, advocacy, policy analysis, public administration, public policy, social work, clinical psychology, disability law
Public policy and law Explores the historic and current legal landscape behind existing public policies. This concentration covers the Constitution, social politics, gender studies, poverty, and the sociology of law. Human rights advocacy, public administration, policy analysis, volunteer management, crisis services, social services, law practice
Aging Emphasizes the social, psychological, and biological elements of adult development and aging. Students explore the nutritional, creative, and social needs of the aging adult, and topics such as appropriate physical activity. May require a practicum. Elder law, public administration, social services, housing placement, social work, healthcare facility administration, program planning


Most schools require learners to study the building blocks of human and family development prior to beginning courses in any specialty area. Below, we've listed some examples of these fundamental courses:

  • Life-span development: Sometimes spanning two terms, this course explores physical, social, cognitive, and emotional growth from birth through senescence. Discussion focuses on an individual's place within the family at each phase of life, and corresponding cultural and societal factors and elements. The course also covers contemporary issues and social policy.
  • Marriage and family relationships: In this course, students analyze topics such as courtship, close relationships, marriage, and family systems within the context of internal and external factors that influence them, such as cultural norms, societal expectations, and individual personalities. The course also addresses the changing role of family from a long-term perspective.
  • Intervention and problem-solving: Students enrolled in this course examine historical and contemporary approaches to formal and informal intervention. This class focuses on the role of the professional and effective strategies for resolution with individuals and within families.
  • Administration of human services programs: This course focuses on the fundamentals of program content, strategy, and strategic planning in community-oriented public services programs. Additionally, the course emphasizes best practices in program development and administration.
  • Statistics in family and consumer studies: Students enrolled in this course analyze and examine data relevant to the human family development sector. The course places emphasis on means, standard deviations, T-tests, chi-square, ANOVA, regression analysis, and correlations.


At the baccalaureate level, an online degree in human and family development program requires that a student completes an average of 120 credits to graduate. Full-time students generally complete the program in four years, whether online or in traditional classrooms. However, depending on your circumstances, part-time study may be advantageous, allowing you to take more time to finish your program. Most universities do place a time limit on part-time study, generally somewhere from seven to 10 years. It's worth noting that schools often require that students adhere to full-time attendance (defined as a course load of at least 12 credits per term) to be eligible for financial aid.

Distance learning can be an ideal choice for both the traditional or nontraditional student. Allowing for full-time or part-time study, online bachelor's in human development programs offer scheduling flexibility that you won't find on campus. Accelerated online degree programs exist in some academic disciplines, but human and family development isn't one of them. Be sure to weigh potential programs carefully. After all, higher education is a significant time investment. If you've already attended some college at an accredited school, you may be able to transfer some (or even all) of the credits you've earned into your current program and, in turn, shorten the time it takes to earn your family development degree online.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Human and Family Development Programs

When any academic program is accredited, its curriculum and admissions process has been vetted by a neutral accreditation agency. This process ensures that a standard of academic rigor and fairness can be reasonably expected from an accredited institution. Schools may earn accreditation on the national, regional, or program level (or even all three).

The three varieties differ. National accrediting bodies focus on a type of education, such as technical or vocational. If you're mulling an online degree in human and family development, consider searching for schools that have earned national accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council Accrediting Commission. Regional accreditation bodies focus on academic rigor. In turn, regional accreditation carries more weight than national accreditation, particularly when it comes to graduate school admissions.

Program-specific accreditation, the third variety, is especially useful for evaluating the academic offerings in certain fields. Human and family development encompasses many fields. As a result, accreditations across industries can indicate that a program has been vetted against high standards. A few accreditations you might encounter in the best online degree in human and family development programs include:

  • The Council on Education for Public Health
  • The Council for Professional Recognition Early Childhood Education Training
  • National Council on Family Relations
  • American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children
  • Commission on the Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education
  • National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education

Though the federal government does not involve itself at the accreditation level, the U.S. Department of Education does provide oversight of the accreditation process. It also maintains a database of accredited schools. Similarly, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an independent association of accredited degree-granting institutions and offers a database of accredited schools.

Employment Outlook for Bachelor's in Human and Family Development Graduates


Completing a four-year degree nearly always pays off in higher earnings and greater career mobility. While completing a human and family development bachelor's program, graduates prepare for roles that correspond to their specialty. In many cases, these graduates hold a competitive advantage over peers who lack a four-year degree. The table below illustrates education's boon to students who specialize in early childhood development.

Job Title Degree Required Median Annual Salary
Preschool teacher Associate $28,790
Preschool or childcare director Bachelor's $45,790

Source: BLS


Though figures vary based on geographic location and specialty area, graduates of online bachelor's in human development programs can expect decent starting salaries after graduation. As with any job, more work experience leads to higher salaries. The following table lists average earnings in five common roles for which graduates are equipped.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Social Worker $43,984 $40,358 $46,565 $56,783
Community Service Manager $47,993 $42,378 $50,775 $62,201
Special Education Teacher $45,011 $40,851 $45,378 $57,900
Occupational Therapist $64,680 $61,698 $71,437 $77,674
Nursing Home Administrator $86,036 $77,012 $91,239 $98,293

Sources: BLS, Payscale


Beyond the options we've discussed so far, this degree program's versatility opens the door to many others career paths, including human resources, public relations, and professional development positions. The nonprofit sector is also a fine option, often employing fundraising and volunteer coordination staff. These programs serve as stepping stones to graduate study, leading to roles as attorneys, physicians, nurses, and therapists.

Wherever your education takes you, certain personality traits are essential in this field. Above all, you must be a caring person, sympathetic to the perspectives of the people you serve. You must be devoted to helping others, and possess a natural curiosity about individuals, families, and what makes them tick. Successful work with cross-functional teams calls for exceptional communication skills. Observation and assessments require strong attention to detail. Consider the following positions and how the aforementioned skills might apply:

Social Worker

Generally employed by government or nonprofit agencies, social worker identify problems that affect communities, families, or specific individuals. Working with cross-disciplinary resources, social workers work to solve programs or mitigate them as much as possible. Daily tasks might include arranging for a family to receive food stamps, referring a teen to counseling, or investigating a claim of child neglect.

Median Annual Salary $46,890

Projected Growth Rate 12%

Community Services Manager

Community services managers supervise and coordinate the administration of a social service agency or community service program. Depending on the employer's size, daily duties may center around a specific program or encompass an entire facility's programming. Duties include budgeting, strategic planning, staff development, program assessment and analysis, grant writing, and community outreach.

Median Annual Salary $64,680

Projected Growth Rate 10%

Special Education Teacher

Working mostly in public schools, these teachers work with children who are intellectually, emotionally, mentally, and/or physically challenged. Typical duties include adapting a mainstream curriculum to students with mild to moderate disability, IEP development and implementation, assessments, and serving as liaison between parents, social workers, psychologists, and therapists.

Median Annual Salary $57,910

Projected Growth Rate 6%

Occupational Therapist

Emphasizing skills necessary for the myriad activities of daily life, occupational therapists help their patients recover from illness or injury. Occupational therapists may also work with newly disabled patients to help them better adapt to a different way of living, and they develop strategies for tasks like preparing a meal and getting dressed. Occupational therapists educate families about a patient's needs and work with patients to develop exercise routines that build strength and flexibility while reducing pain.

Median Annual Salary $81,910

Projected Growth Rate 27%

Nursing Home Administrator

Nursing home administrators manage a program or department within a retirement facility in accordance with healthcare legislation and regulatory compliance rules. Scope of responsibility can include building and grounds, admissions, finances, and patient care. Typical tasks include staff recruitment, program development, budgeting, and staff scheduling. Supervising nursing staff, nursing home administrators rarely care for patients directly.

Median Annual Salary $96,540

Projected Growth Rate 17%


Students and working professionals alike benefit from membership in industry-specific professional organizations. These organizations offer networking opportunities that often pay off as you build your career and by hosting conferences, holding educational seminars, and hiring guest speakers to discuss relevant issues, they provide a means to stay up-to-date in your field. If your specialty area requires continuing education credits, many professional associations offer CE options to members. Larger organizations frequently publish journals, newsletters or other materials that can also help you stay current. Because the human development and family studies umbrella covers so many disciplines, it's impossible to list all pertinent organizations here, but through due diligence and research, you'll find the associations most applicable to your career goals.

Among the most well-known of these associations are:

Financing Your Online Bachelor's in Human and Family Development Program

Undergraduate students at any accredited university may apply for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Student aid providers use the FAFSA to calculate federal and state need-based awards such as grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans. High achievers may also qualify for merit scholarships or fellowships offered by a school or a department. Likewise, financial aid organizations and school departments make a wealth of scholarships available to students who meet their eligibility standards. It's important to note that even if you don't think you qualify for federal financial aid, you must complete the FAFSA to be considered for any other type of monetary award, in part because most schools use FAFSA data to manage students' financial aid packages.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


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