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Graduate Certificate inSensory and Consumer Science

Program summary

Explore the science of consumer preference. Use the course work for this online graduate certificate program to learn how to obtain market data through research and translate that data into desirable product features.

Application deadline

Apply by April 15 to start May 13

Credits and costs

12 Credits$1,017 per credit

Online Graduate Certificate in Sensory and Consumer Science

In an age where consumer choices change by the minute and market competition continues to increase for food and consumer products, companies need effective ways to meet consumer expectations and position their products for long-term success. Companies rely heavily on professionals who have the skills and knowledge needed to understand consumer preferences and link them to important product features as part of the product development process. 

The 12-credit Graduate Certificate in Sensory and Consumer Science can help prepare you to effectively obtain, analyze, and describe product and consumer insight; provide clear recommendations on optimizing the quality of products; and increase the market success of those products. By combining the study of sensory and consumer science and statistical content foundations, this online program can provide you with the skill set that employers value when hiring consumer research positions.

Your Online Sensory and Consumer Science Course Work at Penn State

As a student enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Sensory and Consumer Science, you’ll have the opportunity to learn from academic and industry experts who truly understand what is needed to succeed in the field of sensory and consumer science. The key concepts in your course work will include:

  • fundamentals of sensory practice
  • psychophysical and biological principles of human behavior, and how that behavior guides and informs sensory and consumer testing
  • the interaction of sensory and consumer science with marketing, consumer understanding, product development, and business
  • applied statistics and data analysis as used in sensory and consumer science

Who Should Apply to Penn State’s Sensory and Consumer Science Certificate Program?

Whether you already have a master’s degree and are looking for additional training in this field, or you are just starting your graduate education, this certificate is an excellent credential to help you formalize your skills and knowledge in sensory and consumer science.

As part of a challenging but rewarding curriculum, your online courses give you the flexibility and convenience to study around your own schedule without sacrificing quality. You can skip the commute and prepare for more rewarding career opportunities without leaving the comfort of your home.


The Graduate Certificate in Sensory and Consumer Science is a 12-credit online program offering a formal education to sensory and consumer professionals as well as those who wish to enter the field. Most courses within the sensory and consumer science program are also available as individual courses for those looking to fulfill continuing professional development requirements. Read the instructions for how to register for Penn State World Campus courses to learn how you can enroll in any of the upcoming courses on an individual basis.

Required Courses (12 credits)

  • 3

    The field of sensory and consumer science is primarily focused on responses of consumers to food products and non-food, fast-moving consumer goods (e.g., shampoo). These responses may be sensory/perceptual (i.e., how sweet, how bitter, how smooth) or affective (i.e., liking / preference), with the assumption that the former generally drives the latter. The course also addresses contemporary research on pedagogy that indicates applied statistics are best taught in context to the field in which students will apply the statistical concepts. Here, students will gain practice applying introductory statistical topics (t-tests, Analysis of Variance, etc) to sensory and consumer data collected from human participants.

    • Prerequisite

      one undergraduate course in statistics

  • 3

    The main objective of this course is to allow each student to develop the data analysis skills needed for analyzing and interpreting sensory and consumer data. Additionally, students will develop an understanding for experimental designs and statistical analyses to plan, analyze, and interpret data collected from sensory studies. Hands-on experiences in analyzing sensory data will be provided through homework assignments and discussions of appropriate literature where indicated.

    • Prerequisite

      STAT 500

  • 3

    This course aims to allow each student to develop and apply the fundamental dimensions and value of consumer insights to product development objectives; implement key qualitative, quantitative, and hybrid approaches for consumer insights; recognize, identify, and apply key consumer biases; and examine trade-offs in research and consumer behavior. Real-world practical examples and assignments will be utilized extensively in the form of discussion forums, quizzes, literature critiques, and a final project.

  • 3

    Descriptive statistics, hypothesis testing, power, estimation, confidence intervals, regression, one- and two-way ANOVA, chi-square tests, diagnostics.

    • Prerequisite

      one undergraduate course in statistics

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Paying for Your Certificate

Students pursuing a certificate are considered "nondegree," a status that is not eligible for federal student aid, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan program. A private alternative loan may be an option to consider.

Additionally, Penn State offers many ways to pay for your education, including an installment plan and third-party payments. Penn State World Campus also offers an Employer Reimbursement and Tuition Deferment Plan. Learn more about the options for paying for your education.

Students pursuing a degree and meeting all other eligibility requirements may qualify for financial aid.

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

How to Apply

Deadlines and Important Dates

Your certificate application, including all transcripts, must be received by the following deadlines to be considered complete.

  • Summer DeadlineApply by April 15 to start May 13
  • Fall DeadlineApply by July 15 to start August 26
  • Spring DeadlineApply by November 15 to start January 13

Admissions Help

If you have questions about the admissions process, contact our admissions counselors.

Admission Requirements 

For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

Most applicants will have an undergraduate degree in food science, nutrition, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, engineering, biopsychology, or other scientific discipline. Applicants who hold a bachelor's degree in a non-science area (e.g., marketing, consumer behavior) are also welcome to apply, provided they have completed 15 credits of science and quantitative course work before applying. For questions regarding this prerequisite, please email the sensory and consumer science program team at [email protected].

What You Need

Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. You will need to upload the following as part of your application:

Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed — Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

GPA and Test Scores — Postsecondary (undergraduate), junior/senior (last two years) GPA is required. There is no minimum grade point average required, but prior experiences should demonstrate academic readiness to complete graduate-level work in quantitative courses.

Recent GRE scores (last five years) are required for most applicants, but GRE waivers are available for applicants with one or more of following:

  1. four or more years of professional/industrial work experience in a related industry
  2. an advanced degree (M.S., M.A., Ph.D., MBA) in a related area
  3. other prior experience that demonstrates an ability to complete graduate-level course work, including quantitative ability and advanced analytical reasoning skills

English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

Start Your Application

You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

Begin the Graduate School application

  • Choose "Certificate Admission" as the enrollment type
  • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus

Checking Your Status

You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form.

Technical Requirements 

Review the technical requirements for this degree program.

Ready to Learn More?

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by April 15 to start May 13. How to Apply 

Start or Advance Your Career

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You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

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From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

Contact Us

For general questions about Penn State World Campus or how to apply, contact:

World Campus Admissions Counselors
Phone: 814-863-5386
Email: [email protected]

For questions regarding the sensory and consumer science curriculum or your application status, contact:

Helene Hopfer, Ph.D.
Phone: 814-863-5572
Email: [email protected]


  • John E. Hayes, Ph.D.

    • Degree
      Postdoc, Alcohol/Behavioral Genetics, Brown University
    • Degree
      Ph.D., Nutrition, University of Connecticut
    • Degree
      Graduate Certificate, Quantitative Research Methods (Psychology), University of Connecticut
    • Degree
      M.S., Food Science (Sensory Science), Cornell University
    • Degree
      B.S., Food Science, Cornell University

    Dr. John E. Hayes studies food choice in a biobehavioral framework by integrating traditional sensory science methods with behavioral genetics to understand biological factors that may cause individuals to like and consume some foods but not others. Dr. Hayes is also interested in using sensory science methods to increase the user acceptability of various drug delivery systems. He teaches courses in fundamentals of sensory science and ingestive behavior.

  • Helene Hopfer, Ph.D.

    • Degree
      Postdoc, Wine Sensory Science & Flavor Chemistry, UC Davis
    • Degree
      Ph.D., Chemistry, Graz University of Technology
    • Degree
      M.S., Polymer Science & Engineering, University of Leoben
    • Degree
      B.S., Polymer Science & Engineering, University of Leoben

    Dr. Helene Hopfer's work focuses on the human-food interface. She studies how food composition and structure affect human perception and food choice and combines sensory and consumer science with analytical chemistry, instrumental analysis, and multivariate statistics to elucidate the impact of production, processing, storage, and presentation on perception. Dr. Hopfer is also interested in improving flavor of plant products by linking sensory science to the breeding process more effectively. She teaches courses in data analysis (Sensometrics) and chemical methods of food analysis.

  • Sarah V. Kirkmeyer, Ph.D.

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Food Science, Rutgers University
    • Degree
      MBA, Marketing and Finance, Miami University
    • Degree
      M.S., Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University
    • Degree
      B.S., Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University

    Dr. Sarah V. Kirkmeyer’s focus is on consumer insights and sensory evaluation for new product innovation, leveraging qualitative, quantitative, and hybrid consumer research; sensory methods including descriptive, discrimination, and affective research; and advanced analytics. She combines her educational background with years of experience in industry with global consumer product companies, the flavor and fragrance industry, and market research across a variety of food and non-food categories. Dr. Kirkmeyer is the Senior Manager of User Research at Kroger and is conducting consumer perception research at Penn State together with teaching FDSC 516 Consumer Insights.

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by April 15 to start May 13. How to Apply