Learn About Careers in Human Development and Family Sciences

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May 19, 2022

Every company, business and organization has a human element, and where there is a human element, there is a need for human services.

Whether you are an introvert who prefers working with data and research or are an extrovert with good listening skills, empathy and an ability to set healthy boundaries, there are many human services careers to consider. The Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences (HDFS) program at the University of Arkansas ONLINE offers a foundation for students who want to move onto a human services career path or to later pursue graduate studies.


What Are Human Services and Human Sciences?

Although related, the terms "human sciences" and "human services" have differences. Human sciences encompasses the study of individuals and families and how their social, cultural and physical environments impact their health and well-being. Human services refers more directly to support and services provided to help individuals and families lead better lives and meet their basic needs. If you are providing human services, you are working within the field of human development and family sciences.


Why Are Human Sciences Important?

Human sciences has its roots in human ecology, which is very health- and survival-focused around general human needs such as: access to healthy environments; how we care for children in an optimal way; and how we, as humans, support each other.

"Human sciences relate to all aspects of our lives – careers, leisure time, family issues and more – the entire gamut of living that no one can do well unless they have all of their needs met. The University of Arkansas ONLINE program includes courses that address topics related to child, adolescent and adult development, family and community relationships, and navigating life challenges such as poverty, violence and illness. We"re considered a "discovery major" for many, meaning that, while youth might not graduate from high school planning to major in human development and family sciences, once they take one of our classes, they realize this is what they really want to do."

Amanda Terrell, assistant professor of human development and family sciences

In middle school, students are often introduced to needs such as nutrition, food preparation, home care, and more through "home economics" classes, but they don"t necessarily make the career connection.

"Students associate HDFS with what they took in the prior four years, which is most commonly called FACS, family and consumer sciences, where they learned about nutrition and sex ed," says Terrell. "They don"t make the leap to HDFS as a field of study or a career."

Some students "discover" the field when they take one of the general education courses offered in the HDFS program. These include Family Relations, Lifespan Development, Rural Families and Communities and, the newest offering, Introduction to Cultural Competence. Students taking any of these classes often discover they have a passion for human sciences. Human development and family sciences is also popular with students transferring from other universities and community colleges and those who are working and going to school.


How to Narrow Your Focus in HDFS

For students who know they want to work in the realm of human services, the challenge can be choosing a career path because there are so many options. Terrell says, "We encourage students to take their class assignments and activities seriously and do something in the area they are interested in so they can find out if they really are interested."

Amanda Terrell, second from left, assistant professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Arkansas, is pictured with graduates of the program, Sarah Brown, Meaghan Tipton and Ashley Berghoff at the Southeastern Council on Family Relations conference.

Student projects have ranged from working with youth and families in the foster care system, to sexual assault, to youth technology use and health.

Terrell describes two courses as "helicopter rides over the field" for students to take if they have any interest at all in working with children, teenagers or adults in any capacity.

Lifespan Development (HDFS 1403) offers a birth to late-life perspective on the physical, cognitive and psychosocial development of humans.

Family Relations (HDFS 2413) examines the lifespan of relationships starting with friendships, romantic relationship formation, relationship dissolution, and the many challenges families face that impact their relationships and well-being.

"We start off talking about friendships, we get into singlehood, dating, courtship, cohabitation and marriage," Terrell says. "Then we get into when relationships struggle. We talk about divorce. We talk about the effect of poverty on relationships. We talk about violence and maltreatment and the impact of being in the military and being in war. So, it"s like thinking of it as birth to grave for relationships, but it"s also how we can support families during some of those challenges to help them weather those storms without dissolving those relationships."

Family Relations and Lifespan Development are important courses, whatever a student"s major.

"If there"s anything I can advocate, it"s for anyone to take one of those classes to enhance whatever their degree is and to enhance their quality of life," Terrell says. "Whether they decide they want to major in HDFS or just want to develop themselves, these courses fit nicely in most programs as an elective, or even as a general education social science."


What Can I Do with an HDFS Degree?

The early classes in the undergraduate degree are designed to help students find the career area they want to work in.

"It starts out pretty broad and then gets narrower, and ideally ends with their internship where they actually go work in their field of choice," says Terrell. "Again, that can be doing human services work, or it can be doing research or something like that."

For those who enjoy the "people" aspect of the field, there are options for community work beyond providing direct services.

"I have done a lot of community programming with teenagers because that"s my area, but what I love more is supporting people who do that work as their primary career," Terrell says.

She enjoys working with others in the state to help them find the curriculum that meets their needs, helps them implement it in an effective way, and then evaluates the program"s efficacy.

"So, I"m still engaging in community programming, but I"m doing it in a way that"s more behind the scenes," Terrell says. "And there are lots of roles for that type of involvement."

There are numerous opportunities for people who enjoy data analysis, data collection, grant writing or program development within the human services field. Opportunities exist within a wide range of organizations doing developmental or wellness assessments, educating individuals and families, working with data, or sharing findings with key stakeholders.

The human development and family sciences degree is also good preparation for post-graduate study in several fields.

"For instance, a major or minor in human development and family sciences is actually a great foundation for law school," Terrell says, "since there is a growing emphasis on divorce mediation, collaborative divorces and a host of other topics within family law. A lot of people with a political science degree who then attend law school might find themselves doing post-doctoral study to get that family and youth development piece so they can practice effectively."

HDFS graduates can also work in community education and school systems. Depending on their individual state, they may need an alternative teaching certificate, but there are pathways to teach Family Consumer Sciences at middle and high school levels.

The National Council on Family Relations offers many resources and opportunities for those who study and pursue careers in family and human sciences.

One resource is an infographic that shows the diverse fields graduates can work in, including front-line intake in social service jobs, human services, alcohol and drug treatment, government and faith-based work, early childhood education, youth corrections, hospice care, and business services such as employee assistance. Humans and human challenges exist in all fields – there"s almost always a role that someone with an HDFS degree can fulfill in any type of organization where senior leadership needs help understanding end-user engagement and how to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in their services.


Certified Family Life Educator

Graduates of the University of Arkansas ONLINE human development and family sciences program are prepared to pursue certification as a certified family life educator (CFLE) through the National Council on Family Relations. The designation as a CFLE represents expertise in human development, family relationships and teaching small groups.

HDFS bachelor"s degree graduates receive content knowledge that helps prepare them to take the exam with the National Council on Family Relations to become provisional CFLEs. After passing the exam, provisional CFLEs acquire work experience and continuing education that leads to full certification. CFLEs often work in primary prevention to educate people before problems arise or secondary prevention where, for instance, they might work with families who are at heightened risk for problematic behaviors and poorer outcomes.

It"s common for CFLEs to also work in partnership with other licensed professionals, such as mental health providers.

For many positions, there may be post-graduation training that goes along with a degree in human development and family sciences. For instance, a graduate who goes to work for the Department of Health and Human Services might find that the agency has its own additional certifications, depending on their role.

Like most undergraduate programs, the HDFS program is not a licensure program, but graduates are prepared to enter a master"s or doctoral clinical program such as Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT).

"Our program builds on family systems," Terrell says. "Where psychology and psychiatry might focus more on individuals, MFTs focus on the dynamics of the whole family – even if the whole family isn"t sitting in front of them."

Students enrolled in the HDFS bachelor"s degree program learn to see problems systemically – seeing the issue for what it is and identifying conditions that contributed to it.

Students get a lot of exposure to faculty research and other researchers working in the field. They also get a lot of practice engaging in research on their own – identifying research that is relevant to their interest and applying it in different ways.

Terrell says, "we"ve built in skill development and applied experiences through pre-internships, internships and service-learning, but I"d say the most important thing you won"t necessarily see on paper are the professional soft skills students learn throughout their program of study."

Through classwork and internships, students learn to be good active listeners and to resolve conflicts, especially important when working within groups in diverse fields.


Challenges in the Human Services Career Field

Every career path has its own challenges.

"As far as challenges unique to this field," Terrell says, "it really depends on the area of practice you choose. If you go more into front line services, working in child abuse and prevention or child protective services, crisis centers and things like that – the biggest challenge is the toll it can take on you."

Learning to set healthy boundaries where you preserve time for self-care, recharging, and focusing on yourself is critical for longevity in this aspect of social and human services work.

Starting salaries in the human services field are becoming less of a challenge.

"The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) median starting salary for broadly defined health education, specialist, community health workers and social service workers was $36K-48K per year in 2020," notes Terrell. "Undergrads a decade ago were looking at more like $24K to start."

Rising salaries support Terrell"s belief that more and more people are viewing careers in health, human services and advocacy as critical needs, that the jobs are vital and the need for them are increasing.

"The careers are getting professionalized, and the growth potential is huge," she says.


On-Campus or Online Bachelor"s Degree – The Quality is the Same

The quality of the Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences is the same whether students meet face-to-face or virtually. The online program is, for the most part, 100% asynchronous.

Terrell says, "There may be some courses that have opportunities for live meetings, but they are usually flexible. If you can"t attend live, you are asked to participate in the chat thread, or something like that. If there is a required live component to any course, the dates and times will be available in the class"s enrollment information."

Online students receive the same type of advising as on-campus students. The first year or two, students will have a staff advisor and then they transition to a faculty advisor.

Most of Terrell"s advisees are fully online students who never go to campus, yet still meet with her several times a year. There are specific advisory appointment times in March and October, and students can contact their advisor any time of the school year with questions.

"I use Zoom for our appointments, and I"d say it"s no different than when a student comes in and sits in my chair – which I think is important."

The University of Arkansas" online courses are not simply in-person classes moved online. Terrell feels that distinction is important.

"Sure, students can complete online courses, but do they feel like a Razorback?," Terrell says. "It"s important to know they get the same exact quality of advising and connection with faculty, advisors and other students as students who are on campus get."

Class size plays an important role in maintaining engagement for students in the online program.

"We try to keep online courses around 20 to 50 students because we want to help students feel connected," Terrell says. "Teaching online courses requires more interaction than in person; we don"t want them to feel like they are just floating in space, we want them to connect with other students and their program. Smaller courses are important for that."


HDFS Graduates Develop a Lifelong Bond with the Field

Terrell says, "Our HDFS graduates find they have a bond with their studies, with the faculty and with the field and they continue engaging with our national organizations. Many go on to teach for us as adjuncts, even when they are working in their professional fields because they are so committed to helping prepare the next generation of leaders. There"s a lot of commitment to the field even after they finish their degree."

At the professional level, people are becoming more and more familiar with what HDFS is, and the workplace is valuing graduates for their lifespan development expertise, knowledge of how family systems and systems in general work, and the important professional soft skills that they develop.

Visit the program page on our website to learn more about the online Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Arkansas ONLINE.

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Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences

Do you like working with people? This bachelor’s degree program will prepare you for human services careers that assist individuals and families of all ages, from infants to seniors. You will gain knowledge and skills that you can use to help others cope with crises or help them plan better lives.

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