Human behavior is one of those rare constants across all human systems, and learning how to understand and interpret the way people behave in various situations can give you a singularly valuable set of skills. By earning a behavioral science degree, or even just by taking a few behavioral science courses, you set yourself up to hit the job market with knowledge and skills that employers in nearly every industry can use.
What's more, the study of behavioral science can be learned in the virtual classroom almost as easily as it can in a brick-and-mortar environment, which can be a great help for students whose circumstances make it difficult to take the traditional route. Take a look at how many campus-based and online behavioral science degrees are offered at institutions in each region of the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics:
|Region||No. of schools offering behavioral science degrees||No. of schools with online behavioral science degree programs|
|Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI)||18||6|
|Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO)||8||3|
|Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK)||19||7|
|Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD)||11||2|
|Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV)||17||8|
|Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI)||13||5|
|Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.)||11||4|
|New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME)||5||1|
|Total (all 50 states)||102||36|
Entry-level behavioral science degrees
Even though candidates for employment in academia often have an advanced education, a bachelor's or associate degree in applied behavioral science is often enough for jobs in both the public and private sectors. Take a look at these brief explanations of what students typically encounter in each type of program:
- Associate degrees - At the associate level, students are introduced to the general concepts that form the foundation of higher scholarship and theory in the discipline. Introductory behavioral science courses at two-year colleges include such subjects as sociology, psychology, human development, deviant behavior, social issues, abnormal psychology and more. Some schools may also encourage students to choose from a list of behavioral science concentrations such as family studies, criminology, pre-physical therapy (pre-PT), research methods or counseling.
- Bachelor's degrees - Behavioral science degrees at the bachelor's level often consist of a combination curriculum that blends psychology and sociology and may allow students to focus their studies on a practical specialization that prepares them to enter a specific career field after graduation. University-level behavioral science degrees cover a wider range of fundamental ideas of the discipline, often up to and including their application in real-world settings like organizational management and the delivery of human services.
- Non-degree study - One-off behavioral science courses, such as those that teach the psychology of group dynamics or sociological approaches to coping with diversity, may be available at schools in your area and can give you some widely applicable personal and professional skills. Certificate and diploma programs in behavioral science are fairly rare, but may be found.
Social science is one of the academic disciplines that can be taught in the virtual classroom with limited difficulty, provided the student is capable of maintaining the initiative necessary to complete the courses in good standing. Online study of theoretical or applied behavioral science can allow you to continue your education without unduly disrupting your life and work routine.
Advanced-degree behavioral science programs
At advanced levels, study of theoretical as well as applied behavioral science tends to narrow down a bit, with many courses falling more solidly on one side or the other of the sociology-psychology divide, but some more generalized degrees do exist. Here's a quick overview of behavioral science degrees at the master's and doctoral level:
- Master's degree programs - A master's degree in behavioral science is often grouped into a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program with a concentration in the behavioral and social sciences. Some institutions may offer a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) program in behavioral sciences as well, designed to give advanced students the requisite knowledge and skills for a broad spectrum of possible careers or post-graduate study paths.
- Doctorate programs - Behavioral science degrees at the highest level are categorized similarly to master's degrees in the field, which is to say that several programs take a community health approach to the study of behavioral science while a few come at it from a more broadly academic point of view and may include sections on economic behavior, epistemology and the theory of knowledge. Whichever direction your program takes, you can expect to be intensively trained on research methods and statistical analysis before proposing, composing and defending your dissertation.
- Graduate certificates - Graduate certificates in behavioral science are more common than their undergraduate counterparts, and the balance between health-oriented and generalized behavior analysis is skewed a bit less toward the health side than it is in full degree plans at the graduate level. If you're hoping to become a certified behavior analyst, look for a graduate certificate course that's recognized by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. (BACB).
It's been mentioned that going to class online can be a great way to continue your education despite obstacles in scheduling or financial availability, and that's no less true for students in graduate programs. In fact, taking online graduate courses at your own pace may allow you to stretch out the overall program length and spend more time and energy on each course in the curriculum.
Q&A with experts
Why would you encourage someone to consider a behavioral science degree?
Right now, this is one of the most active and growing fields of applied psychology and neuroscience. Part of this boom is spurred by advances in assessment techniques, but much of the boom is due to increased corporate and cultural interest driven by the modern analytics and optimisation movement. Successful practitioners can easily command over 6 figures today.
What are the most common educational paths for students hoping to use behavioral science concepts on the job? Are there particular degrees that provide the most effective preparation?
The typical journey involves an undergraduate degree in science psychology. Usually cognitive psychology. Alternative paths usually involve biopsychology (behavioural neuroscience) and most practitioners have an advanced degree. Successful practitioners usually also have experience with lab research and understand good experimental design.
What surprised you most about the professional value of behavioral science once you got into the working world?
How remarkably universal the applications are. Every company in the world that hires people has a pain point that can be solved or alleviated using behavioural science. Entire governments even have "nudge" units now.
What level of education is typically necessary to get started in a behavioral science career?
Graduate study. A terminal degree in the industry is master's level for many careers. However, a doctoral degree is necessary in academic careers.
What's some advice you might have for a student who's thinking about working toward a career in behavioral science?
Take the research and math courses in your discipline. Even an MBA that offers a thesis component is well worth it…..especially if you decide to go on for your doctoral coursework.
Types of behavioral science careers
Career potential for behavioral science graduates is strongest in the business and academic sectors, although knowledge of human behavior can be valuable just about anywhere you choose to apply it. With a hat tip to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for the data, take a look at this table of careers where behavioral science skills often come into play:
Common misconceptions about behavioral science degrees
Unless you've already got some behavioral science training yourself, solid information about degrees in the field may be something of a mystery. Check out these common misconceptions about campus-based and online behavioral science degrees and make sure you're not getting ready to start your own educational journey with bad information:
Misconception: Studying behavioral science is only for research scholars and advertising agency analysts.
- Fact: A fair portion of behavioral science degree jobs come from the academic and business sectors, especially for candidates who also have a marketing degree, but those are by no means the only places that you can use your skills. Health care facilities may have greater need for employees with nursing degrees or physical therapy training, for example, but your understanding of human behavior can help develop policies and practices that help the team work better together.
Misconception: It's easier to earn an online degree in behavioral science than get one on campus.
- Fact: This one is perhaps the most common, and one of the most dangerous to potential students. Earning your degree in the virtual classroom can allow you to attend courses on your own schedule, and it can in some cases be less expensive than attending brick-and-mortar school, but it does come with an extra measure of difficulty in motivating yourself to review the material and finish the work week after week.
Misconception: Employers don't respect behavioral science degrees earned online.
- Fact: There once was a time when candidates with online degrees inspired little confidence in the hiring process, but that gap has definitely closed with time. Thanks in part to the popularity of online study for computer programming degrees, Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees, early childhood education degrees and others, employers across the career market are beginning to understand that the learning outcomes of your degree matter more than its method of course delivery.
How can I enroll in an online behavioral science degree program?
If you're thinking about earning a behavioral science degree for yourself, finding out more can be as simple as getting in touch with the school of your choice and discussing your plans with an admissions counselor. Take a look at the schools in our listings below and get in touch to learn what it takes to enroll.
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