Closeup, cropped photo of red and white, felt lanterns in the Dorothy O'Brien Innovation Lab.

AcademicsUndergraduate Majors

Human Development & Family Studies, BS

Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) combines coursework, outreach, and the latest research to examine lifespan development and to strengthen the quality of everyday life and human well-being.

While earning a Bachelor of Science degree, students learn about human development in the classroom as well as through service-learning, volunteer, and internship opportunities. Students are exposed to knowledgeable researchers who are passionate about preparing them for meaningful careers within a field that is growing as fast as the world’s population.

Coursework & Careers

In HDFS, you’ll study development across the entire lifespan, particularly in the context of family life from child and adolescent development, early childhood education, and child and family intervention to adult development, aging, and relationships. Faculty and advisors will work closely with you to understand your interests and help develop your personal program, including valuable internship opportunities.

With growing issues such as the nation’s aging population, social pressures on young adults, and the rapidly changing profile of the American family, employment in HDFS fields is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. (Bureau of Labor Statistics). An HDFS education fully equips graduates to fill exciting positions sought after by agencies, foundations and service programs across a wide variety of fields, including psychology, education, business, health, research, social work, and counseling.

HDFS provides an excellent foundation for graduate and professional study, including pre-med and pre-health, and an interdisciplinary approach to development across the lifespan leading to the Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy degree. The major also co-sponsors the graduate Minor and Certificate in Prevention Science. 

Program features:

  • HDFS students have access to learning and research opportunities beyond the classroom, including the on site Child Development Lab, a home for real-world teaching, problem solving, and research with children and their families
  • Certified Family Life Education (CFLE) approved program since 1998, a national credential that empowers families to develop knowledge and skills that enhance well-being and strengthen interpersonal relationships through an educational, preventive, and strengths-based approach
  • Infant Mental Health (IMH) Endorsement® curriculum, an internationally recognized credential for professionals who work with infants, toddlers and their families

HDFS curriculum is designed to incorporate six learning outcomes:

  1. Lifespan Development: Knowledge of lifespan human development (intellectual and social/emotional development) including both normative development and individual differences, as it occurs in its real-world contexts.
  2. Family and cultural variation: Knowledge of family and community diversity.
  3. Internal Family Processes: Knowledge of internal family processes, including parenting and parent-child relations, couples and family relationships across generations, and family health and well being.
  4. External Family Processes: Ability to evaluate how children, adults, and families affect and are affected by policies, media, or other social institutions.
  5. Applied Practice: Knowledge about the effective and ethical practice of assessment, prevention, intervention or outreach for individuals and families.
  6. Research: Ability to understand, evaluate, and ethically conduct social science research.

Two outstanding HDFS students highlighted by UW–Madison

Connor Raboine smiling with trees and water in the background

HDFS major Connor Raboine advocates for food justice with energy and creativity on campus, including co-founding the UW Food Justice Collective.

Read Connor's story

Nashalee Rodriguez, smiling, standing in front of wooden doors at the Madison capitol building

Nashalee Rodriguez, an HDFS student and spoken word artist, applies what she learns in the classroom to promote community awareness around mental health.

Read Nashalee's story

Median Salaries (U.S. Department of Labor)

$86280 Occupational Therapist/additional education required

$51340 Marriage and Family Therapists/additional education required

$63490 Human Resource Analyst/Corporate Recruiter