What is a Behavioral Science Degree?

Behavioral science analyzes the impact of our actions and interactions on ourselves, our relationships, and our society at large. The field incorporates a mix of natural sciences and social sciences. It is based on physiology – the regular functions of human beings; psychology – how our mind’s functions influence our behaviors and decisions; sociology – the development, structure, and functioning of human society; and anthropology – the evolution of human societies and cultures.

Degree programs in behavioral science teach students to apply the fundamentals of each of these sciences in order to understand human habits, actions, and intentions. They prepare graduates to work as behavioral scientists in human behavior research or as hands-on practitioners trained to address individual and social problems.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Science – Four Year Duration
The behavioral science undergraduate program provides students with the foundational knowledge and skills needed to enter the human services and related fields, or to continue their studies at the graduate level. The curriculum spans psychology, sociology, and anthropology and looks at human relationships, human diversity, and ethics.

Programs may include an internship component. It is not uncommon for schools to require that students complete some general education classes in areas like English composition, communication, mathematics, and economics before declaring a behavioral science major.

Here are some sample courses from a behavioral science bachelor’s program:

  • Foundations for Professional Success in Behavioral Science – communication, problem solving, collaboration, and citizenship as they relate to professional careers in behavioral science
  • Introduction to Human Services – exploration of the development of professional skills in the interaction with social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other human services practitioners; client and community needs; assessment and treatment tools
  • Research and Data Analysis – learning how to recognize, analyze, and use different types of research in human services environments; understanding basic descriptive statistics and standardized scores in measurement; evaluating ethical research
  • Diversity in Human Services – examination of c- tural, social, religious, and economic factors impacting minority populations; the importance of these factors in the client / counselor relationship; ethical and practical approaches to counseling diverse groups; advocacy and justice
  • Social Deviance and Psychopathological Perspectives – evidence-based concepts of both normal and disordered mental states; the causes, development, manifestation, and potential treatment of mental disorders in infants, children, adolescents, and adults
  • Counseling Skills for Human Services Professionals – interviewing and helping skills used in individual and group counseling
  • Counseling Theories – introduction to traditional counseling theories including psychodynamic, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral approaches; specialized counseling theories and techniques to address ethnic identity issues, family conflicts, and recovery from substance abuse
  • Applied Human Growth and Development – the nature and needs of persons at all developmental levels and in multicultural contexts; theories of learning and personality development; developmental crisis, trauma-causing events, addictions, mental or behavioral disorders, disability, and other factors that influence human behavior; the connections between human anatomy and physiology and human behavior and decision making
  • Treatment Strategies and Ethical Considerations – analysis of strategies in the areas of clinical assessment, empathy, parenting, depression, anxiety, phobias, and pain management
  • Behavioral Science Capstone – completion and presentation of a behavioral science portfolio

Master’s Degree in Behavioral Science – Two to Three Year Duration
At the master’s level, behavioral science students develop theoretical, methodological, and quantitative foundations in the field. They learn how to create and analyze computational models of how individuals and groups make decisions and behavioral choices, and how to use this information to understand how behavior can spread or dissolve. Master’s programs in behavioral science typically consist of required core courses and courses within an elective concentration. The final requirement of these programs is often a capstone research project involving fieldwork and/or an internship, versus a traditional thesis.

Here is an example of a master’s program in behavioral science:

Core Courses

  • Behavioral Science: Theory and Application of Experimental Methods
  • Social Norms and Informal Institutions: When they benefit society at large and when they do not
  • Behavioral Public Policy
  • Judgments and Decisions
  • Statistical Reasoning for Behavioral Science

Elective Concentrations

  • Public Health
  • Psychology / Neuroscience
  • Education Policy
  • Social and Public Policy
  • Economics / Neuroeconomics (the combination of economics, neuroscience, and psychology used to determine how individuals make decisions)
  • Sociology / Networks
  • Computational Systems

Doctoral Degree in Behavioral Science – Four to Six Year Duration
The behavioral science doctoral program is commonly composed of three dimensions: a core curriculum that focus on problem-oriented, interdisciplinary approaches to theory and method, elective courses that provide a foundation for dissertation research, and dissertation research and writing. For possible areas from which to select a dissertation topic, please refer to the elective concentrations listed in the master’s degree section above.

Graduates of doctoral programs in behavioral science typically go on to academic, government, or professional careers involving independent research and publication-quality writing.

Degrees Similar to Behavioral Science

Child Psychology
Degree programs in child psychology prepare students to work in one or more of the three main concentrations in the field.

Adolescent psychology is focused on issues relevant to children and youth between the ages of 12 and 18. These issues include behavioral problems, learning disabilities, depression, and eating disorders.

Developmental child psychology is concerned with the emotional and cognitive developments that impact children as they age. Among these developments are language, formation of identity, and understanding of morality.

Abnormal Child Psychology focuses on the treatment of children and adolescents dealing with atypical issues like physical abuse, trauma, personality disorders, and sociopathy.

Criminology is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society. Degree programs in the discipline include coursework in: criminal law, psychology of crime, statistical and computer applications in criminal justice, and research methods in criminal justice.

Early Childhood Education (ECE)
A degree in early childhood education provides students with ECE fundamentals and helps them develop leadership and advocacy abilities, as well as the administrative skills required to work in the field. Typical coursework in degree and certificate programs focuses on child growth and development, behavior guidance, supporting children and families, children with exceptionalities, and effective curriculum planning.

Family and Consumer Science
Family and consumer science education programs teach students how to help people make informed decisions about their wellbeing and relationships. Topics included in the curriculum include human development, family studies, food science and human nutrition, health and wellness, personal finance, and design and merchandising.

Human Development
Degree programs in this human development explore physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development through each stage of human life – prenatal, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood, late adulthood, and death and dying.

The physical domain is concerned with growth and changes in the body and brain, the senses, motor skills, and health and wellness. Cognitive human development comprises learning, attention, memory, language, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. Psychosocial development involves emotions, personality, and social relationships. Students learn how these three domains of human development influence and impact every aspect of our lives – from self-respect and self-esteem to how we interact with family, peers, and society at large.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.

Substance Abuse Counseling
Degree programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students to counsel people suffering with alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, and other behavioral problems. The curriculum covers topics such as coping mechanisms and treatment plans.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Awareness of and sensitivity to diversity and human differences
  • Better understanding of one’s self and of others
  • Deeper understanding of what is normal and what is not
  • Greater appreciation of development throughout life
  • Personal development tools

In addition to these behavioral science competencies, which help people in every aspect of their lives, graduates of the field also learn:

  • Research and Research Design Skills:
    Defining issues and designing research questions and surveys are fundamental processes of behavioral science study. These skills are also valued by companies and organizations that need studies designed to find answers to the challenges they face.
  • Analytics and Organizational Skills:
    Behavioral scientists must manage large databases and maintain client confidentiality and data anonymity.
  • Communication:
    Students who successfully complete a behavioral science degree program learn how to break down subjects and conversations into digestible, understandable pieces – an ability that is valued in virtually all professional and social circles.

What Can You Do with a Behavioral Science Degree?

An understanding of human behavior and decision making can, of course, be very useful in many careers. Graduates of behavioral science work in:

  • Business – Advertising, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service
  • Counseling – Family, Marriage, Youth, Elderly, Grief, Substance Abuse
  • Education
  • Family and Consumer Science
  • Healthcare Services and Administration
  • Human Resources
  • Human Services – Social Work, Crisis Intervention
  • Law Enforcement / Criminal Justice
  • Non-Profit Organizations
  • Politics
  • Public Health
  • Urban Planning

Possible roles include those listed below. Some of these positions may require further education or additional training.


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