Best Online Master’s in Human and Family Development Programs

July 27, 2021

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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.

What are the best master's in human and family development programs? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
2 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
3 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
4 University of Missouri Columbia, MO
5 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK
6 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE
7 Kansas State University Manhattan, KS
8 Concordia University Wisconsin Mequon, WI
9 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX
10 Bryan College Dayton, TN

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Choosing a Program


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.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Human and Family Development Programs

Vanderbilt University View School Profile Nashville, TN

Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University offers an online master of education in human development counseling with a specialization in school counseling. This track provides foundations in the social and behavioral sciences, with an emphasis on child development.Though students complete most courses online, this program requires three internships and two on-campus sessions. The curriculum spans 48 credit hours and includes areas of studies in social and cultural diversity, human growth, and helping relationships. Full-time distance learners can complete the program in three years.Graduates of the school counseling track often obtain positions as school counselors at K-12 levels. Nearly all human development counseling graduates find employment within four months of graduation.

North Carolina State University View School Profile Raleigh, NC

North Carolina State University — based in Raleigh — offers an online master of science in youth, family, and community sciences. This program relies heavily on research and program evaluation, which may be especially appealing to students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree.This MS degree requires 36 credits and culminates in a thesis and a final oral examination. Classes can be completed entirely online, and instructors deliver coursework synchronously. Distance learners explore a variety of topics, such as theories in family science, human sexuality, and statistical methods for researchers.Graduates of this program often pursue careers working for government agencies, social service organizations, and schools. To apply, prospective students must submit a 500-800-word essay, a personal statement, and three letters of professional recommendations. GRE scores are not required.

Texas Tech University View School Profile Lubbock, TX

Designed for professionals who currently work in child and family services, the online master's degree in human development and family studies at Texas Tech University focuses on lifespan development and interpersonal relationships. Students enrolled in this program can choose between two concentrations: gerontology and youth development.Both concentrations require 36 credits and can be completed in 2-3 years. The youth development specialization consists of 28 core credits and an eight-credit practicum, thesis, or research project. The non-thesis gerontology concentration includes 24 core credits and 12 elective credits.Both curriculums feature topics like theories of human development, family theories, and research methods. Distance learners enjoy a variety of support services, including one-on-one mentoring, research facilities, and technology support.

University of Missouri View School Profile Columbia, MO

The University of Missouri — located in Columbia — offers an online master of arts in family and community services. Distance learners in this MA program gain practical knowledge and develop the skills needed to effectively lead and manage family and community programs.This curriculum spans 36 credits and explores topics such as resilience in families, interpersonal relationships, and administration and program management. Graduates often secure positions as social service managers, health educators, and family life educators.Distance learners at Mizzou pay the same per-credit tuition as in-state students. Courses are delivered entirely online and can be completed in 2-3 years. Prospective graduate students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college with a minimum 3.0 GPA over their last 60 credits of undergraduate coursework.

Oklahoma State University View School Profile Stillwater, OK

The online master of science in family and community services at Oklahoma State University focuses on the development and application of support services for families and communities. The core curriculum features topics such as lifespan development, interpersonal relationships, and dynamics of family interaction.

This 36-credit curriculum includes 30 core credits, three elective credits, and three creative component credits. OSU participates in the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance — courses in this program are led by experienced faculty who teach across several universities.OSU uses a rolling-admissions process and recommends applicants apply three months before the start of their target term. A bachelor's degree in human development or a related area is required for admission into this program.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln View School Profile Lincoln, NE

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln hosts an online master's in family and community services program. By earning this degree, students gain the leadership and management skills needed to effectively facilitate family and local community programs.The curriculum comprises 36 credits and covers topics like family dynamics, lifespan development, and principles of family and community service. This master's program prepares students for many careers, such as roles in child development centers, crisis centers, and family advocacy programs. Distance learners in this program have the same access to support services as on-campus students, including library and career resources. Each student is paired with an academic advisor who provides virtual assistance with scheduling and selecting courses.

Kansas State University View School Profile Manhattan, KS

Providing distance education for over 50 years, Kansas State University offers an online MS in family and community services. Online students at K-State pay the same tuition rate as on-campus learners, regardless of state residency. Designed for students interested in helping families by creating and implementing services at the community level, this program prepares learners for career opportunities in social service organizations. The curriculum consists of 36 credits and includes courses like family resource management, resilience in families, and parenting education. The university features an impressive placement rate, with nearly 95% of online students finding employment within months of graduation. Distance learners at K-State have access to the same academic and career resources as on-campus students.

Concordia University Wisconsin View School Profile Mequon, WI

Based in Mequon, Concordia University Wisconsin oversees a master of science in family life program that can be completed entirely online. This non-thesis program aims to develop students' counseling skills, preparing graduates to positively impact the lives of parents, teachers, and students.This MS degree requires 36 credits and 120 practicum hours. These practicum hours are included within the curriculum and focus on creating and evaluating family programs. Potential careers include life scientist, family therapist, and family social worker.Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited college with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective applicants must submit a one-page essay and two signed letters of recommendation. Students wishing to transfer in graduate credits obtained in the last seven years must contact the admissions department for a transfer evaluation.

Sam Houston State University View School Profile Huntsville, TX

Distance learners can pursue a fully online MS in family and consumer sciences from Sam Houston State University. Located in Huntsville, Texas, SHSU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.This program allows students to customize their curriculum by choosing a thesis or non-thesis track. The non-thesis track features 21 credits of core courses, while the thesis track requires 15 credits of core courses and six credits dedicated to thesis-related work. Both tracks also feature a statistics course and 12 credits in a specialization area.Students in this program obtain knowledge and skills to advance their competencies in dietetics, business, and education. Applicants must have completed at least 18 undergraduate credits in family and consumer sciences or related coursework to be considered.

Bryan College View School Profile Dayton, TN

Bryan College — based in Dayton, Tennessee — offers an MA in human services with a specialization in lifespan development. The 30-credit program includes core courses like group dynamics, family and community health, and multicultural awareness in human services.This curriculum trains students to analyze the mental and social health of individuals from all backgrounds. While completing this program, students learn to assist families and organizations, matching clients with important help and services.Graduates of this MA program often pursue careers as human services counselors, child and family advocates, and nonprofit directors. To graduate, students must pass all 10 of their classes, earn no more than two "C" grades, and have a minimum 3.0 GPA.

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

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.


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.


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

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.

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


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.

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.

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

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.


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.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

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