Describing what behavioral science is is fairly easy. Conveying its significance in our lives and world? Not so much. Behavioral science students learn how to identify and understand the effects of our actions and interactions from a psychological or social point of view. Sociology, political science and public health all fall under the umbrella of behavioral science. Some professionals focus primarily on the neural-decision sciences, e.g. human motivation and performance or how learning shapes our brains. Other behavioral science professionals veer more toward the social sciences of behavior. Think: how people respond to changes in the stock market.
The potential of behavioral science cannot be overstated. In a column he wrote for The Huffington Post, Anthony Biglan, senior scientist at the Oregon Institute and author of “The Nurture Effect,” goes so far as to say behavioral science may be “the most important science” of all. According to Biglan, behavioral science professionals can treat and prevent major world problems — like crime, poverty, depression and abuse — ultimately enhancing human well being “far beyond the physical sciences.” Before professionals can do any of this, however, they need to be trained.
Behavioral science programs: Online and On-campus
Students can earn behavioral science degrees online or on campus, but it is important to choose the right program for you. Behavioral science students who want to work in scientific and clinical settings must earn doctorates to develop the knowledge and research-savvy the field demands. On the other hand, there are several career fields open to graduates with lower behavioral science degrees, like social work, marketing, health and wellness, and finance.
This guide provides a snapshot of all levels of behavioral science degrees along with notable campus and online programs.
Behavioral science certificates and non-degree awards
Behavioral science certificates and other awards have different goals, but most focus on new research and advanced topics to enhance one’s existing knowledge. For example, a practicing clinical psychologist who wants to better understand behavioral science might pursue a graduate certificate. The same psychologist could just as easily enroll in a behavioral science program that awards nothing but credit hours, however, particularly if he or she must meet continuing education standards for state licensing renewal. Because behavioral science professionals must typically earn graduate degrees, entry-level behavioral science certificates — like those offered at community colleges — are rare.
Notable behavioral science certificate programs
Graduate Certificate in Quantitative Methods for Behavioral Sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder
As with any other science, effective research is the cornerstone of behavioral science. The University of Colorado Boulder created the graduate certificate in quantitative methods for behavioral sciences to strengthen interdisciplinary links in various social and human sciences disciplines, especially with respect to quantitative research and statistical analysis. In other words, students learn how to harness the power of data to analyze information for patterns or other insights that could progress the field. Students must complete a two-semester sequence of foundational statistics courses plus at least four additional courses in areas of interest, like survey research, business, marketing, or organizational research.
- Department: Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
- Location: Boulder, CO
- Online learning: This is a campus-based program.
Associate behavioral science degrees
Associate degrees may not be essential for students who want to become behavioral scientists or psychologists, but they make good financial sense. Students who attend community colleges before transferring to four-year schools can save a lot of money on tuition and fees. In fact, many community colleges design associate programs specifically for college transfer. Experience is another important benefit of enrolling in associate programs as they allow students to explore psychology and the behavioral sciences before committing to lengthier, costlier programs. Finally, career-focused associate programs prepare students for direct workforce entry. They might become social science research associates, social worker case management aides, political aides or psychiatric technicians.
As noted above, lower-level behavioral science programs are difficult to come by, and this is certainly the case for associate degrees. Don’t worry if you cannot find one: An associate degree in psychology, sociology or the liberal arts is more than sufficient preparation for a bachelor’s program.
Notable associate behavioral science programs
AS in Social or Behavioral Science from Tidewater Community College
Tidewater Community College’s AS in Social Sciences degree is a transfer-geared program for students who intend to earn bachelor’s degrees in behavioral science, sociology, psychology or other related fields. According to TCC’s official website, it is its most popular program. Coursework includes a balance of general education and core social science classes, which are available on campus or 100 percent online. Successful students can take advantage of TCCs guaranteed transfer agreements with colleges like William & Mary, University of Virginia and James Madison University, among others.
- Department: Social Sciences
- Location: Chesapeake, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth, VA
- Online learning options: Students can complete the AS in Social Sciences online or on campus.
Bachelor’s degrees in behavioral science
For most students, a bachelor’s degree is the first critical stop on the pathway to behavioral science careers. You may be relieved to know four-year behavioral science programs are in heartier supply than certificate and associate programs, but students can advance their educations just as well with degrees in fields like social psychology, social work or psychology. Students who want to become counselors, licensed psychologists, behavioral science researchers or postsecondary professors must eventually advance to master’s and Ph.D. programs, but there are plenty of career opportunities for those who choose to enter the workforce instead. Examples include social workers, survey researchers, marketing managers, political aides and police detectives.
Though programs vary, baccalaureate-level behavioral science curricula teach students the theories and frameworks underlying human behavior, social behavior and psychology. They learn how to assess complex actions and problems while developing the research skills necessary to address them. Students can earn behavioral science degrees online, on-campus or through a hybrid of both.
Notable bachelor’s behavioral science programs
BA or BS in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Arizona State University
Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences offers two bachelor’s behavioral sciences degrees: a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences. According to ASU, the primary difference between the two degrees is that the BS program requires more math coursework. Students in both programs explore the psychological and social principles of human behavior in a variety of contexts while honing valuable research skills, all online and at their own pace.
- Department: School of Social and Behavioral Sciences
- Location: Tempe, AZ
- Online learning: This is an accelerated, self-paced and fully online program.
BA of Social and Behavioral Science from Seton Hall University
Seton Hall University’s BA in Social and Behavioral Sciences emphasizes the study of humanity “in all its diversity.”: Students learn to evaluate and understand behavior through the lens of various cultures and societal structures. Classes are small with an average student-to-faculty ratio of just 6:1. According to SHU, the social and behavioral sciences program prepares learners for either immediate employment, or additional studies in fields like law, education and medicine. Critical thinking and human relations skills are emphasized. Social and behavioral sciences students who are interested in occupational therapy or athletic training may want to check out the department’s accelerated dual-degree programs combining those disciplines.
- Department: Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work
- Location: South Orange, NJ
- Online learning: This is a campus-based program, though students may be able to complete some coursework online.
Master’s degrees in behavioral science
Behavioral scientists and researchers may need Ph.D.s, but graduates with master’s degrees still have plenty of career options. They could become educators or marriage and family therapists, for instance. Master’s degrees are also a popular entry-level credential for those who work in political and public health policy organizations. Because of the major’s interdisciplinary nature, graduate-level behavioral science degrees tend to be much more specialized than undergraduate programs and may focus on areas like business, policy or health. Students interested in clinical and research positions should look for behavioral science master’s programs that meet common Ph.D. admissions or state licensing requirements.
Master’s degrees in behavioral science traditionally require two years of full-time study. Coursework builds upon students’ core knowledge of behavioral and social theory and research before segueing to more advanced and specialized studies relevant to their intended career. Many schools require students to complete theses, internships and other capstone projects.
Notable master’s in behavioral science programs
Master’s in Behavioral and Social Health Sciences from Brown University
The Brown University School of Public Health’s Master’s in Behavioral and Social Health Science is an interdisciplinary program linking health care and behavioral analysis. According to Brown, the degree is ideal for students who want to analyze complex behaviors and social determinates as they apply to public health, poverty and social inequality. The BSHS program is considered a terminal degree program that prepares students for immediate employment in fields such as health program evaluation, managed care, program management and treatment intervention.
- Department: Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences
- Location: Providence, RH
- Online learning: This is a campus-based program.
Doctoral degrees in behavioral science
Anyone who wants to become a licensed therapist, clinical psychologist or researcher in the field of behavioral science must earn a doctorate. Doctoral degrees are naturally more advanced and even more specialized than master’s degrees. They are also lengthier: Ph.D.s in behavioral science usually require a minimum of four years of study. You should also expect a much heftier research emphasis at this level; required research fellowships and dissertations seem practically universal. Just as with previous degrees, behavioral science doctorates are frequently designed to reflect a particular specialty or field of interest. Health- and education-focused programs are common.
Notable doctoral programs in behavioral science
Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University’s Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Sciences prepares students to make meaningful scientific contributions to the field of public health as scientists, educators or program administrators. According to VCU, coursework brings together cultural, social, behavioral, biological and structural health factors and teaches students to design, conduct and interpret research that advances human health. Students get the opportunity to work with patients or and support faculty research projects.
- Department: Department of Health Behavior and Policy
- Location: Richmond, VA
- Online learning: This is a campus-based degree program.
Online degrees in behavioral science
A growing number of colleges and universities now offer online behavioral science degrees. These programs are ideal for students too busy or remote for regular campus-based courses. They push the boundaries of educational accessibility while providing prospective students with many new program options. Online degrees do call for a great deal of discipline and commitment, but they can be a sanity-saver for students who are organized and self-motivated enough to see them through. Students who study behavioral science online typically earn the exact same credential as their campus-based peers, so expect coursework to be just as rigorous and thorough. Programs that require hands-on and on-site work often allow students to satisfy practical requirements within their home communities.
Notable online behavioral science programs
BA in Social and Behavioral Science from the University of Southern Maine
The University of Southern Maine describes its online BA in Social and Behavioral Sciences as an interdisciplinary program that establishes the foundational knowledge needed to succeed in social services, mental health and public health careers. The program aims to strengthen students’ understanding of psychosocial factors that shape our lives and communities. USM’s social and behavioral science degree is flexible not only because students can complete it entirely online, but because they are also free to design their own area of emphasis, though they can still choose from predesigned specializations in counseling, public health, mental health and more.
- Department: Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences
- Location: Portland, ME
- Online learning: This is a fully-online degree program.
BA in Social Science at California State University Chico
Chico State’s online BA in Social Science is a broad program suitable for anyone interested in the social and behavioral sciences. Students seeking more targeted training may want to consider the University’s Specialization Studies option. According to the University, students can complete most coursework online through the University and the rest through a community college. Because many two-year schools now offer online courses and degrees, students may be able to complete the full program on the Web. Curriculum rotates on a two-year cycle.
- Department: Department of Social Science
- Location: Chico, CA
- Online learning: This program is available fully or partly online.
“Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians,” Association of American Medical Colleges, Accessed November 28, 2016, https://www.aamc.org/download/271020/data/behavioralandsocialsciencefoundationsforfuturephysician
“Behavioral Science Degree,” Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, The Education Resources Information Center, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, U.S. Department of Education, Accessed November 27, 2016, http://ericae.net/published/behavioral-science-degree.htm
“Behavioral Science May Prove to Be Our Most Important Science,” Anthony Biglan, The Huffington Post, Accessed November 28, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-biglan/perhaps-behavioral-science-may-prove-to-be-our-most-important-science_b_6764296.html
School and program pages, accessed November 27, 2016:
BA in Social Science (Multidisciplinary Studies Option,” California State University System, Chico State, http://rce.csuchico.edu/online/ba-social-science
Bachelor of Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Seton Hall University, https://www.shu.edu/sociology-anthropology-social-work/index.cfm
Graduate Certificate in Quantitative Methods for Behavioral Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder, http://www.colorado.edu/psych-neuro/graduate-programs/resources-current-graduate-students/graduate-certificate-quantitative-methods
Master’s in Behavioral and Social Health Sciences, Brown School of Public Health, Brown University, https://www.brown.edu/academics/public-health/behavioral-and-social-sciences/masters-behavioral-and-social-sciences-intervention
PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, http://hbp.vcu.edu/education/phd-behavioralhealth/
Social and Behavioral Sciences, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University, https://newcollege.asu.edu/social-and-behavioral-sciences-degree
Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Southern Maine, https://usm.maine.edu/sbs/ba-social-and-behavioral-sciences
Social Sciences, Associate of Science, Tidewater Community College, https://www.tcc.edu/academics/transfer-degrees/programs/social-sciences-degree