What is a Human Factors Degree?

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human-factorsAre you considering earning a human factors degree?  It’s important to be well-informed about the program’s field of interest.  This will ensure you’re making a good career move.

What is human factors psychology?  Human factors is a specialized branch of psychology.  It is focused on applying psychological principles to building work environments that boost employee productivity while curbing occupational safety hazards. What does a human factors psychologist do?  Human factors psychologists use their expertise to explore ways people interact with products to develop product designs that:

  • improve usability
  • enhance performance
  • prevent errors

Thanks to the growing need for human factors psychologists, human factors degrees are becoming more popular. In this article, we’ll explore what human factors programs look like and who should pursue them.

Types of Human Factors Degrees

Dozens of graduate schools across the United States now offer master’s and doctoral degree programs with a concentration in human factors. In most cases, these programs will lead to:

  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Engineering (ME)
  • Master of Applied Science (MAS)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

It’s also becoming increasingly popular for larger universities to offer bachelor’s programs related to human factors including applied psychology and engineering psychology.  A human factors engineering degree program is a popular option for students who want to work in the design and construction of equipment and systems that protect the health and safety of workers.

Some programs combine human factors and ergonomics.  Human factors focuses more on psychology and ergonomics is the physical aspects of the item or environment.  Combining both provides students with a holistic view of the field.

It is possible to earn a human factors degree online.  Online programs give students greater flexibility than a traditional campus-based program.  Online programs may be delivered in an asynchronous or synchronous format (or a mix of both).  Synchronous programs are similar to traditional programs in the sense that students have set log in times to participate in online lectures or class.  Asynchronous courses have no set meeting times, allowing students to complete their coursework around other obligations.

These degrees share the common goal of building the essential psychological background and technical skills for improving overall system performance and optimizing human well-being. A high-quality human factors program will be distinguishable by their accreditation through Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES).

Typical Human Factors Curriculum

Human factors degrees at the undergraduate level may blend ergonomics coursework with general education requirements.  Graduate programs typically focus exclusively on increasing understanding of human factors psychology. Top human factors psychology graduate schools offer courses in areas like:

  • engineering
  • product design
  • human-computer interaction
  • human anatomy
  • ergonomics
  • human psychology
  • graphic design
  • biomechanics
  • cognition
  • virtual reality
  • statistics
  • organizational psychology
  • occupational safety

Accredited human factors masters programs will also include a thesis paper or capstone project.  These culminating experiences provide hands-on experience in conducting research that studies the functional relationships between humans and machines.

Careers Available with a Human Factors Psychology Degree

Qualified professionals can find human factors jobs in virtually every industry.  There is a need to understand what human traits will impact the design of products and the effectiveness of a workplace environment.

Many human factors psychologists find employment in academia at university campuses to teach students and publish their own research. Another large group work within government agencies, including the USDOT and the NSA.

Graduates with human factors degrees also can enter the private sector to take on roles in the research, design, and design validation of different industries. Many human factors graduates enter successful professions in industries like:

  • aerospace engineering
  • automotive manufacturing
  • computer science
  • construction
  • healthcare
  • mining
  • security
  • telecommunications


Overall, human factors degrees are focused on training students with the capacity to design, conduct, and apply research on human system interfaces to a variety of professional settings. Within the program, you’ll learn which efforts are needed to improve the operability, usability, comfort, safety, and maintainability of certain products to reduce the potential for harmful injury. After earning an accredited human factors degree, you will have the specialized knowledge necessary for conducting scientific research relevant to our everyday lives

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