Online M.S. in HDFS: Youth Development

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Online Master's Degree in Youth Development

Youth development is an emerging professional field. It has a positive orientation, meaning its focus is on promoting the positive development of youth, and it is an applied field, with professionals who put developmental research and theory into practice in structuring and implementing programs and services for adolescents.  Examples of youth programs include after-school and summer childcare programs; organized sports; youth enrichment programs offered through local parks districts, libraries, museums, zoos; 4-H programs; as well as faith-based youth programming. According to, "Effective afterschool programs can improve classroom behavior, school attendance, and academic aspirations and reduce the likelihood that a student will drop out." 

If you currently work in youth programming, or would like to someday, this online M.S. in HDFS: Youth Development option will equip you with the knowledge of best practices in providing programs for youth. In some cases, K-12 educators may benefit by honing their skills in using data to develop high-quality programs for youth.

Information Session Video

Learn more about the online youth development master's and graduate certificate programs.

Program Description

The online Master of Science in Human Development and Family Science: Youth Development option is a collaborative, inter-institutional program offered by Innovative Digital Education Alliance (IDEA), a consortium of colleges who offer online degrees. The youth development master's program requires 36 credits, including a practicum experience. A master's paper or thesis is optional. Students can complete the program in two to three years.

We also offer the following online graduate certificates in youth development whose credits are designed to seamlessly transfer into the full master's program. View our online Youth Development Graduate Certificate and online Youth Program Management and Evaluation Graduate Certificate.

Sample Plan of Study

Below is a sample plan of study. This will give you an idea of the type of courses you will take. Once you are admitted, be sure to visit with your advisor to create your actual plan of study. 

Foundations of Youth Development must be taken in the first semester. 

Course titles may vary from what is listed on the GP IDEA website. These are the course titles and numbers used for registration at NDSU.

Required Core Courses:
Elective Courses (select 2 courses):

Total Credits: 36

* Upon approval of topic by advisor. Can be taken more than once with different topics. 

Hear from Trisha Miller, former student in the online M.S. in HDFS: Youth Development program at NDSU.

Careers and Outlook


Well-developed and data-driven learning opportunities for youth, outside of the school environment, are important for developing their interests, skills, and passions. According to, "The demand for afterschool programs is strong, with nearly 10.2 million children and youth who participate in afterschool programs annually,1 across 10 million in summer camps and 6 million in 4-H programs, alone.2

Zippia states that "between 2018 and 2028, the career is expected to grow 11% and produce 81,200 job opportunities across the U.S.", which indicates the need for professionals in youth programming. Furthermore, only 11 percent of individuals employed in youth development have earned a master's degree. Earning a master's degree in youth development positions you to become a leader in this growing field.


An online master's degree in youth development prepares students for careers in organizations such as 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, non-profits, faith-based groups, community recreation, juvenile justice facilities, middle and high-school programs, extension services, and military youth programs.

Graduate Faculty

A list of graduate faculty for the M.S. in Human Development and Family Science: Youth Development as well as their current research interests is available on the NDSU catalog page. In addition to faculty information, you can find more information about the program in the catalog.

Tuition and Fees

The tuition and fee structure for this program is set by the GP IDEA consortium. Classes you take are charged at the same tuition rate regardless of which university is your home university. Books and supplies are not included in the tuition and fees. Please note that courses offered through GP IDEA are not eligible for NDSU tuition waivers.

Admission Requirements

To apply for this degree program, click the link below to start the application process. The application fee is $35.

The deadline to apply is one month before the beginning of the semester you choose to begin. Semester start dates can be found on NDSU One Stop's Dates and Dealines page.

The application process includes completing the following:

  • Online application and fees
  • Statement of purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts
  • Test scores

Contact Information

NDSU Department of Human Development and Family Science  |  Youth Development Program
Phone: (701) 231-8269

NDSU GP IDEA Coordinator

NDSU Graduate School
Phone: (701) 231-5945

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the youth development master’s program?
A student can earn the youth development master’s degree in two years as a full-time student taking nine credits a semester, with no summer classes. Students can take three, six, or nine credits a semester. Students who also take summer classes may be able to finish one semester early. 

Are students required to come to campus during the program?
No, the program is completely online.

Is a practicum or thesis required for this program?
Students enrolled in the master’s program typically take three credits of practicum. For students interested in further education or research, another option is to do a master’s thesis (6 credits) or a master’s paper (3 credits).

Which university will I receive my degree from?
If you apply and are admitted to NDSU, you will receive a degree from NDSU even though some of your courses will be taught by professors from other institutions.

What is the difference between earning a graduate certificate and earning a master’s degree in youth development?
A certificate is a way of showing that you have completed a coherent set of courses within a certain field. Both the Youth Development and the Youth Program Management and Evaluation certificates cover a subset of courses that are in the master’s program. If you are interested in the certificate program and decide to continue on to the master’s program, the courses you take for the certificate program will apply to the master's program.

Can I transfer previous graduate coursework into this program?
You can transfer up to nine credits into the youth development master’s program if they are relevant to the program. The syllabus of those courses will need to be provided to the Department of Human Development and Family Science graduate program in order to determine if the coursework is relevant.

I am employed full time and have a family. How many credits would you recommend I take each semester?
For students with family and employment obligations we recommend taking three credits (the Foundations course) the first semester. Then students are able to see how it works with their schedule and can determine how many courses they are able to take each semester.

Can I take some youth development classes without being admitted to the program?
You can be admitted to the graduate school as a non-degree student and take youth development classes without being in the program. Class sizes are very limited and students who are in the program are able to register first. The instructor needs to agree to allow non-degree students into their class. If you want to register as a non-degree student you have to contact Non-degree students cannot be registered until a couple weeks before the semester in order to allow students in the program to register.

Will this program prepare me for a Ph.D. program?
If students are interested in a Ph.D. program we recommend our Ph.D. program in developmental science. Students can go directly into the Ph.D. program without getting their master’s degree first. If students are already in the master’s program but interested in the Ph.D. program we suggest they do a thesis instead of a practicum.

Is the program accredited?
There is no accreditation in the youth development field. Online degrees and classes offered through NDSU Distance and Continuing Education are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and are approved through the academic departments and colleges at NDSU.

Why go into the youth development field?
There is an increasing demand for employees of youth-serving organizations to obtain graduate degrees, certificates, and/or licensure. Students completing the master’s degree program in youth development will be qualified to work with various youth-serving organizations, such as: 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, non-profit organizations, faith-based groups, community recreation, correctional facilities, and Cooperative Extension. A master’s degree in youth development will benefit elementary, middle, and high school educators; extension educators; and military youth specialists.

Is there a required degree to be admitted into the program?
There is not a required undergraduate degree to be admitted. Some experience as an undergraduate with social science courses (e.g. psychology, sociology) would be helpful.

What is the application process for the youth development program?
To be admitted to the program applicants must meet the Graduate School admission and application requirements.

What do I do after I am admitted to the program?
Students admitted by NDSU into the program will be contacted via email by the NDSU GP IDEA coordinator. Students will need work with their advisor to identify the classes they should register for and then register for those classes as soon as possible since class sizes are limited.

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