Preparing students for careers as university faculty, full-time researchers, federal, state and local administrators and human service providers who will shape the lives of children, families, and relationships both nationally and internationally.

Human Development and Family Science is the scientific study of human growth and development across the lifespan in diverse social and cultural settings. The Ph.D. program in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) is a 72-credit degree program that provides students with an in-depth understanding of the familial, societal, and cultural factors that shape human development and family relationships. A primary focus is on scientific inquiry and research methodology employed in the field of Human Development and Family Science and in related disciplines such as education, psychology, social sciences, and women’s studies. The program trains professionals for careers in academia, research, education, health, advocacy and non-profits among others.

Courses and training emphasize multicultural perspectives in child and family relationships, diverse research methodologies, and scholarship. In addition, doctoral students have the opportunity to obtain university teaching instruction and experience through participation in Syracuse University’s Future Professorate Program.

Why this degree makes a difference in society today…tomorrow…

Research professionals in the field of Human Development and Family Science employ their knowledge and training to conduct scientific research that promotes healthy development at every stage of the lifespan. Ph.D. graduates conduct studies on a wide range of subjects. Some examples include – factors influencing academic success in childhood and adolescence, intimate partner violence in teen dating relationships, coping with changes that occur in the later stages of life, social and cultural factors that influence developmental outcomes across the lifespan.

Sample Courses

Courses and training emphasize multicultural perspectives in child and family relationships, diverse research methodologies and scholarship. All Ph.D. students must complete the core course and elective course requirements. Courses and training emphasize multicultural perspectives in child and family relationships and the use of diverse research methodologies. Elective coursework may be selected from the HDFS course catalog. Courses may also be selected from other University departments such as anthropology, psychology, education, sociology, gerontology, social science, nutrition, special education, or women’s studies. In addition, doctoral students have the opportunity to obtain university teaching instruction through participation in Syracuse University’s Future Professorate Program.

  • Statistics
  • Research Methods
  • Child Development Theory and Application
  • Family Development Theory and Application
  • Child and Family in Cross-Cultural Perspectives
  • Seminar on Child and Family Issues
View all course requirements and electives

What Our Students Are Saying

Our Facilities

The Department of Human Development and Family Science is located on the first floor of the Falk Complex. The Complex includes both MacNaughton and White Halls, is located on the western portion of the Syracuse University campus. The renovated complex includes a centralized Falk Admissions center that offers prospective students the chance to see Falk College in action on a daily basis, and an expanded Student Services space conducive to providing programming that helps students be successful. In addition to administrative and academic program offices and classrooms, the Falk Complex also offers students dedicated study/collaborative space, computer labs and comforts like a café and student lounge.

The Bernice M. Wright (BMW) Child Development Laboratory School is located on Syracuse University’s South Campus, Falk College celebrated the grand reopening of the Bernice M. Wright Child Development Lab School on November 30, 2012, showcasing its recently renovated and expanded facilities. Bernice M. Wright embraces inclusion, celebrating cultural and developmental diversity and recognizing the similarities and differences that make the world an exciting place. Through collaboration with community-based service providers, the school enrolls children with varying developmental abilities, adding greatly to the overall classroom experience. The site serves as a teacher training facility and supports research in child development and early childhood education.

Study Abroad

Syracuse University students have access to one of the nation’s best-ranked study abroad programs in the nation. Human Development and Family Science students have opportunities to study in one of SU’s many centers around the world, including Santiago, Chile, and Strasbourg, France. Get more information about studying abroad.


Graduates of the Ph.D. program are well-suited for careers in academia, research, education, health, advocacy and non-profits among others. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “the number of employed college-level professors in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects is projected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than average in comparison to other fields. The median annual wage for college level professors was $78,470 in May 2018.”

Human development is a broad discipline that prepares students for a variety of lucrative and exciting career options.

Career options vary and can include:

  • Assistant Professor, Human Development
  • Director, Health and Human Services
  • Director, Mental Health Program
  • Director, Early Childhood Education Center
  • Senior Research Analyst
  • Program Director
  • Scientific Advisor

Requirements & Outcomes

Course Requirements

Substantive, Research Methodology, and Theory Requirements (15 credits)

HFS 621 – Statistical Concepts I (3 credits)
HFS 631 – Research Methods for Human Development and Family Science I (3 credits)
HFS 637 – Theories, Interpretations, and Applications in Child Development (3 credits)
HFS 648 – Family Theories: Interpretation and Application (3 credits)
HFS 667 – Child & Family in Cross Cultural Perspective (3 credits)

Elective Course Requirements (45 credits)

At least 45 credits of elective coursework must be selected from HDFS graduate courses or courses from related programs. Students must consult with their faculty advisor prior to selecting elective courses.

Comprehensive Examination

After completing required coursework (minimum of 57 of the 60 required course-based credits), and prior to working on their dissertation, doctoral students are expected to successfully complete their comprehensive examinations. These examinations are intended to advance learning by requiring students to integrate substantive knowledge within the broad field of Human Development and Family Science. For their comprehensive examination, students are expected write a scientific paper in which they synthesize, critically analyze, and evaluate the literature on a research topic. Comprehensive examinations are scheduled twice each year (see graduate manual for additional details).

Formal acceptance as a Ph.D. candidate is contingent upon successful completion of the written comprehensive examination.

Ph.D. Dissertation (12 credits)

For their dissertations, students are expected to undertake an original research project that makes a significant contribution to the field of human development and family science. Prior to beginning work on their dissertations, students are expected to present their dissertation proposals to a dissertation committee. After approval of their dissertation proposals, students can begin work on their proposed research projects. Upon completion of the dissertation, an oral defense is scheduled (see graduate manual for additional information). The dissertation must meet the requirements specified by the department and the Graduate School.

Distribution of Credits

Core Requirements 15
Electives 45
Dissertation 12
Total 72

Satisfactory Progress

To maintain good standing, all HDFS graduate students are required to:

  • Earn a B or better in all required courses.
  • Maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, including courses taken outside the department (e.g., anthropology, education, psychology, sociology, etc.).

Student Learning Outcomes

  1. Analyze and evaluate theory and empirical research on children and families
  2. Explain human development and changes in individuals and families across the lifespan
  3. Explain and apply the roles of development and change in different cultural communities and contexts
  4. Apply knowledge about issues of child and family development in practice

Financial Support

Falk College offer a limited number of graduate assistantships and tuition scholarships. Graduate teaching or research assistantships for the academic year are awarded on a competitive basis based on applications received by February 1. Additional information regarding graduate financial aid can be found at Syracuse University’s Graduate Student Aid page.

Graduate teaching assistants are required to assist with undergraduate instruction and sometimes with graduate instruction. Teaching assistants at the Bernice M. Wright Child Development Laboratory School are expected to work closely with preschool teachers at the laboratory school on various aspects of classroom instruction. Recipients of graduate assistantships receive a stipend in addition to tuition credits. Research assistantships may also be available from sponsoring faculty. Research assistants are required to assist faculty with research. Students receiving tuition scholarships only receive tuition credits and no stipend.

Getting Admitted

Students seeking admission to the Department of Human Development and Family Science must meet the general admissions requirements of the Graduate School. Although no single factor determines entry to the program, competitive applicants typically have a minimum of: 1) GPA of 3.00 or higher (undergraduate and/or graduate work); 2) GRE scores of 144 Quantitative, 153 Verbal (please note, the GRE exam must be taken within the last five years). For international students whose primary language is not English, TOEFL scores of 577 (paper test) or 100 for the internet based (IBT) test are desirable.

Part-time Study

The Ph.D. degree may be completed through full- or part-time study. Students must enroll in a minimum of nine credit hours for full-time status. Students enrolled in six credit hours or fewer are considered part-time. Students who are interested in an accelerated degree, may complete the required coursework and project during a single academic year (including summers).

Transfer credits

Subject to departmental approval, a maximum of up to 30 credits of master’s level coursework (in Human Development and Family Science or related disciplines at Syracuse University or other universities) may be applied to the Ph.D. program. Courses in substantive areas of study within Human Development and Family Science or related disciplines are eligible to be considered. The final decision about the number of credits that can be transferred into the Ph.D. program is made by the graduate faculty. Student must have earned a B or better grade on courses that they would like to transfer. Students transferring courses from another institution must file a program of study prior to completing 12 credits at Syracuse University.

Are you a current Syracuse University graduate student interested in an HDFS degree?

For additional admissions information, visit the course catalog or contact the Office of Admissions at or 315.443.5555.

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