Human Development and Family Studies, Ph.D.


The Doctor of Philosophy program in Human Development and Family Studies focuses on the intersection of human development, family processes, and socio-cultural context.  A defining focus of our program is an emphasis on understanding development and family relationships in socio-cultural context and the application of strength-based approaches to the study of diverse children and families.

Students complete foundational coursework in human development, family studies, race, class, and culture, research methods, and theories of HDFS. 

Students have considerable flexibility in tailoring their program with a variety of specialization courses including:

  • Adolescence
  • African American Families
  • Applied Longitudinal Analysis
  • Child Development in Cultural Context
  • Children, Poverty, and Public Policy
  • Cognitive Development in Young Children
  • Contemporary Research in Early Childhood Education
  • Families and Health
  • Immigrant Families
  • Measurement Analyses and Methods in HDFS
  • Risk & Resilience in Children and Families
  • Social Justice Research with Diverse Families
  • Work & Family

Program Distinctions

  • The HDFS Ph.D. program at UNCG is ranked #4 nationally and #1 in the Southeast by Family Science Review.
  • The program is ranked #10 nationally and #1 in NC for HDFS departments by The HDFS Report.
  • The HDFS Ph.D. program at UNCG is the only doctoral program in Human Development and Family Studies in the UNC system and the state of North Carolina.

The Student Experience

  • Graduate students and faculty are invested in a collaborative and rigorous learning community.
  • Graduate students use cutting edge, strengths-based research methods and analyses to study the  intersection of human development, family processes, and socio-cultural context.
  • Through an individualized mentoring approach, graduate students train with experienced and supportive faculty to conduct research related to students’ area of specialization and career goals.
  • Students gain experience in college-level instruction through individualized teaching practicums with HDFS faculty known for exemplary teaching.
  • The Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies requires 78-84 credit hours for students entering with a bachelor’s degree or 45-51 credit hours for students entering with a master’s degree. Entering doctoral students who have completed a master’s degree at another institution or department must fulfill (or have comparable substitutions for) all of the requirements of the HDFS M.S. degree program. These requirements must be fulfilled in addition to completing the 45-51 credits required for the Ph.D.

After Graduation

HDFS Ph.D. graduates have a 100% job placement record and have entered a variety of professions and positions, including: 

  • University Professor in fields such as:
    • HDFS
    • developmental psychology
    • early childhood education
    • African American studies
    • counseling
    • human service studies
    • health sciences
    • nursing
    • psychology
    • social work
  • Postdoctoral Fellow studying a wide range of topics
  • Senior Research Scientist
  • Research Project Manager
  • Policy Analyst
  • Program Officer for federal agencies and grant-making foundations
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer
  • Evaluation Specialist or Director
  • Non-profit Administrator

Learn more about our alumni.

Apply to Program

Applications are accepted once a year and due no later than December 15th. In addition to materials required by the Graduate School, applicants must submit the following:

  • 1 – 3 page professional statement explaining:
    • Reasons for pursuing graduate study in HDFS
    • Previous experience and training in HDFS or related fields
    • Professional goals
    • Primary areas of research interest 
    • Faculty members with whom they are most interested in working
  • An academic writing sample (e.g. senior year paper, literature review paper, honor’s thesis, master’s thesis, or a manuscript published or accepted/submitted for publication).

Doctoral Minor

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Program Details

Degree Type: Doctoral

College/School: School of Health and Human Sciences

Program Type: Majors & Concentrations

Class Type: In Person

Contact Us

Heather M. Helms, Ph.D.
Graduate Program Director
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
165 D Stone Building

Michael Kerley