Human Development & Family Science

Human Development and Family Science

The School of Human Sciences offers both master's and doctoral degrees in Human Development & Family Science. Application deadline to be considered for an assistantship: May 15. Deadline for all other applications: July 1.

Make a Difference

HDFS is an interdisciplinary lifespan approach to the study of children, youth, and families. It encompasses specialty areas in infant and child studies, youth studies, family studies, family resource management, and gerontology. Graduates will make a difference in the lives of children, youth, and their families. They will become future leaders who will develop, manage, and evaluate early childhood, youth development, family support, and community-based programs. They will advance research and policy in areas related to young children, youth, and families.

What do our graduates think of the program?

"My experience in this program was nothing less than outstanding! I had the opportunity to work with professors who placed real value on student success while maintaining the utmost integrity. My education at MSU has helped me advance in my work in the early childhood education field. Thank you to the HDFS graduate program for giving me an outstanding educational opportunity. Hail State!"

"I wanted a graduate degree program that would help equip me to strengthen families and communities. I found that and more in the HDFS program at Mississippi State."

"The master's program provided me a more in-depth look at the different issues as well as solutions in order to care for children and families. I was also able to learn what areas really interest me the most, which has empowered me to know how I want to serve children and families."

"The HDFS master's program truly helped define who I am as a scholar, teacher, and leader. The department is like a family, and I experienced incredible support from all faculty and staff. I'm so thankful for the experience I had in the program and how it enables me to serve others."

"I was not confident to pursue a master's degree since I had completed my undergraduate degree four years earlier in another discipline. The faculty provided the confidence and preparation to take my GRE, pursue a research topic that interested me, and successfully complete my thesis. I appreciate the variety of research areas I was exposed to, thought-provoking discussions that helped me see issues from a variety of viewpoints, and opportunities to apply the theories and concepts learned. I am proud to be an HDFS alumna."

Admission Requirements

An individual must have a valid admission status in the Office of Graduate Studies to secure enrollment. Admission to graduate study is limited to the pursuit of requirements for the degree and the field of study as specified in the student's application and statement of purpose.

Qualified applicants for the HDFS graduate program are expected to have interests and goals that are consistent with the department's faculty expertise and interests, as well as course offerings. Admission decisions are based on a holistic consideration of the applicant's credentials.

Admission to the master of science program does not automatically mean that a student will enter the doctoral program; a student completing the master's degree must reapply through the Office of the Graduate School for consideration for admission to the doctoral program.

For international, non-native speakers of English, a TOEFL score indicative of ability to successfully complete graduate work is required. See English Language Test Score Requirements in the MSU Graduate School bulletin for more information.

Master's Admission Requirements

  • meet all MSU Graduate School requirements for admission;
  • have earned a baccalaureate degree in HDFS or a related field with a 3.0 grade point average;
  • submit three letters of recommendation, with at least two of the letters coming from individuals familiar with the applicant's academic work;
  • submit a sole-authored writing sample;
  • submit a personal statement (500-1,000 words) describing the applicant's purpose for undertaking graduate study, professional plans, career goals, and detailed research interests.

Doctoral Admission Requirements

  • meet all MSU Graduate School requirements for admission'
  • have earned a baccalaureate degree in HDFS or a related field;
  • have completed a minimum of 30 hours of master's level course work in HDFS or a related field;
  • have completed the following courses or their equivalents: AIS 8803 Research methods; HS 8823 Advanced Theories of Human Development and Family Relations; 3 hours graduate-level statistics; and HS 8813 Seminar in HDFS; contingent acceptance may be granted for students to complete required courses within one calendar year;
  • have earned a grade point average of 3.0 on all previous graduate coursework;
  • submit three letters of recommendation, with at least two of the letters coming from individuals familiar with the applicant's academic work;
  • submit a sole-authored writing sample;
  • submit a personal statement (500-1,000 words) describing the applicant's purpose for undertaking graduate study, professional plans, career goals, and detailed research interests;
  • complete an interview with members of the HDFS graduate faculty.

Instructions for Writing Sample

Applicants to both the master's and doctoral program are asked to submit a sole-authored writing sample in English so that the admissions committee may assess the candidate's ability as a writer, potential success in the doctoral program, and ability to do research and present it in written form. The minimum length of the writing sample is 5 pages, but the sample should not exceed 25 pages. The writing sample should be presented in APA style (title page, headers, references, etc.). Examples of possible writing samples include, but are not limited to, papers from past courses, journal articles, or some written work product, such as a manual or technical report.


The master's degree in HDFS requires 31 hours of course work and has a thesis and a non-thesis option. The Ph.D. in HDFS requires 60 hours of coursework including a dissertation. A specialization will require 9 hours of coursework completed in one of the areas at the master's level and 15 hours of coursework completed in one of the areas at the doctoral level.
Download the M.S. Curriculum - Non-Thesis Track.
Download the M.S. Curriculum - Thesis Track.
Download the Ph.D. Curriculum.

Financing Your Graduate Education

Although the School of Human Sciences does have a limited number of assistantship opportunities, students are responsible for making their own arrangements for financing their graduate studies. For information about financial aid options and/or to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), visit


A professional with a M.S. degree in Human Development and Family Science is prepared for a career as a family life educator; extension agent; and positions of leadership in child, adolescent, and adult services, family social services, public policy, child care and early childhood education, and gerontology. A Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Science can lead to careers in research, college, or university teaching, to leadership positions in public or private institutions, or to a variety of governmental positions.

Faculty Areas of Expertise and Interest

  • Benjamin Burke, Ph.D. - Family development, well-being, and resilience; leisure activities; technology; couple communication and romantic relationship satisfaction; contextual influences (e.g., military families); family therapy and intervention/prevention programs.

  • Louise E. Davis, Ph.D. - Infant, toddler, and child development, early care and education, education and professional development of early care and education providers and administrators, family-home child care, early literacy, positive parenting practices

  • Lori Elmore-Staton, Ph.D. - Child development, childhood trauma, psychophysiology, sleep health, poverty, emotion regulation, parenting, family functioning

  • Alisha Hardman, Ph.D., CFLE - Family life education, program planning and evaluation, trauma-informed approaches to working with children and families, family relationships (i.e. co-parenting, couple), families in transition (i.e. foster parents, divorcing parents), positive youth development

  • Chelsea Pansé-Barone, Ph.D. - Early childhood intervention/early childhood special education, teacher education, IEP/IFSP family-professional partnerships, IEP/IFSP team collaboration

  • Julie Parker, Ph.D., CCLS - Professional development and pre-service training in child development, early intervention and inclusion for young children with disabilities, and childhood obesity and wellness programming

  • Donna Peterson, Ph.D. - Dating violence, grandparent-grandchild relationships, positive youth development, program evaluation, organizational capacity and change

  • Tommy Phillips, Ph.D. - Adolescent/youth development, adolescent well-being, extracurricular activities, identity development, farm families (emerging interest), media violence and aggression, young adult romantic relationships, adult attachment, religion and well-being, family routines, coping with stress and adversity

  • Mary Nelson Robertson, Ph.D. - Family wellbeing; rural and farm families; rural health; nutrition and food security; mental health; farm stress; health and human services disparities; community, environment, and health; opioid misuse prevention; substance use

Want to know more?

Lori Elmore-Staton |