Study Behavioral Science: PhD, Master's Degree & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or Ph.D. in behavioral science? Find out about master's and Ph.D. requirements, online options and behavioral science degrees and programs.
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Behavioral Science PhD and Master's: Degrees at a Glance

Behavioral science encompasses a number of scientific disciplines in which human actions, reactions and conduct are studied. Depending upon your career goal, you'll need to earn a master's or doctoral degree. There are many occupations within the field, some of which include researcher, professor, psychologist and family therapist. The field is commonly interdisciplinary with programs such as psychology found in behavioral science departments.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment in this field should increase anywhere from 22%-37%, depending upon the occupation. The table below compares information about the master's and doctoral degree in behavioral science. Some of the occupations, such as a mental health counselor, may require additional education or supervised work experience before you'll be licensed and ready to work on your own. Additionally, you'll need to earn a behavioral science degree with a concentration in the area of interest consistent with your career goal.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working in various careers in the behavioral science field in the public or private sector Required for clinical, counseling and research psychologist positions as well as behavioral science research and teaching positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual wage) - Mental health counselor ($41,000)*
- Marriage and family therapist ($48,000)*
- Industrial-organizational psychologist ($77,000)*
- Social worker ($59,000)*
- Sociologist ($73,000)*
- Psychology professor, including those who do research as well as teach ($69,000)*
- Research sociologist (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 4-6 years full-time beyond the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - About 6-8 core courses, including research, methodology and theory
- Practicum
- Master's thesis/project
-Thesis defense
- Professional development core courses
- Written and oral comprehensive exams
- Teaching requirement
- Dissertation with dissertation defense
Prerequisites - Undergraduate degree in social science or a related field
- Minimum grade-point average requirements, which vary by school (typically 2.7 or higher)
- Bachelor's degree
- Some programs require a master's degree
- Graduate Record Examination taken within the last five years
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014 data)


Master of Science in Behavioral Science

A Master of Science in Behavioral Science degree program typically requires a number of core courses. Although students who complete this degree are prepared to go straight into the workforce in areas such as human resources, it's expected that many students will continue their studies in a doctoral degree program or even apply to medical school. On the other hand, you may choose a course track that is geared toward a terminal degree, such as industrial-organizational psychology or mental health counseling. In the case of the mental health counseling track, you'd be working toward specific requirements that would enable you to pass a state licensing exam required for counselors. Although the terminal master's degree takes less time than a doctoral to complete, depending upon the career you choose, you may still need as many as 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This degree may be used as a stepping stone toward further education leading to positions in research, medicine or teaching or as a terminal degree for specific jobs in the behavioral science field
  • You may choose a course track best suited to your individual career goals
  • Successful completion of the program ensures that you may seek licensure for some careers, such as mental health counseling
  • You may use your knowledge gained through research to help solve socially important issues
  • If you're unable to attend full-time, you may typically take up to six years to complete the program

Cons

  • If you're interested in becoming a mental health counselor, it may take an additional 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work before you're eligible to work on your own*
  • Marriage and family therapists also require an additional two years of experience working under a supervisor
  • Most mental health workers require yearly continuing education
  • Working in the mental health professions can be stressful

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in a behavioral science master's program will revolve around research methodology, theory and behavior analysis. The core courses are designed to develop your ability in regard to critical analysis, as well as give you an understanding of the theories and methods utilized in the behavioral sciences and competently apply this basic knowledge within the field.

Examples of some of the courses you're likely to take for the master's degree are:

  • Ethical Principles in Counseling, Assessment & Research
  • Introduction to Statistics in the Behavioral Sciences
  • Human Development
  • Advanced Psychology of Personality
  • Psychopathology

Additionally, to earn your degree, most programs will require you to pass a comprehensive exam that covers the entire spectrum of core courses. You'll also be expected to write and defend a master's thesis.

Online Info

Online programs for a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Behavioral Science are nonexistent. However, you may find programs that offer online courses that will count toward your degree. The majority of applied behavioral science master's programs require practicums or internships to be completed in an actual work environment. Consequently, it's hard for a program to be fully online.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Getting ahead with your degree will be dependent upon the career you choose. For instance, as a mental health counselor, you'll work with medical software, electronic medical records (EMR) and test interpretation software. Courses in EMR and medical software could prove to be advantageous. An industrial-organizational psychologist needs to understand analytical or scientific software as well as document management software, so courses specific to these software programs would be beneficial.


Behavioral Science Ph.D.

Upon entering a Ph.D. program in behavioral science, you'll typically be assigned an advisor to help you in your first year, after which you'll then be able to select a professor to help guide you through the rest of your graduate career. This professor will closely direct you in all of your graduate school endeavors, such as research, teaching and practicum experiences. You'll be expected to develop an individualized plan of study that's organized around the behavioral science program requirements.

Additionally, you'll be expected to seek out opportunities in specific research areas, which will vary depending upon the school and program you're enrolled in. Some examples could be research methodology, health promotion or neuropsychology. Those who earn a Ph.D. in Behavioral Science typically work as clinical or research psychologists, researchers or professors. A doctoral education is a lengthy undertaking, typically requiring a full-time commitment of at least six years beyond the bachelor's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Psychologists are expected to see 12% employment growth from 2012-2022*
  • Clinical, counseling and school psychologists had a high median annual wage of $68,000 in 2011*
  • Many psychologists choose to be self-employed and are able to set their own schedules
  • Help people make desired behavioral changes in their lives
  • Psychology professors have a high median annual wage of $69,000 (including those who do research as well as teach)*

Cons

  • A doctoral education is lengthy, typically ranging from 6-8 years beyond the bachelor's degree
  • Psychologists working in hospitals or healthcare facilities may have to work weekends, evenings and holidays
  • Most states require licensing or certification for practicing psychologists
  • There is keen competition in gaining admittance to graduate behavioral science programs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Because the Ph.D. program is designed to cover the master's program first, the above-mentioned master's program courses and requirements are required for those who haven't yet earned the master's. Beyond the master's requirements, core classes in the behavioral science Ph.D. program include approximately three focus areas of study: research methodology, psychological science content and professional applications. Whereas the master's degree courses tend to cover broad topics, doctoral courses are more specific based on your personalized Ph.D. program. Additionally, you'll be expected to take written and oral comprehensive examinations, select a dissertation topic and conduct research specifically related to the dissertation. Most Ph.D. programs also require students to participate in some teaching. The last step in the Ph.D. is defending the dissertation in front of an examining committee.

Online Info

A Ph.D. in Behavioral Science is not offered in an online format. A doctoral degree in behavioral science typically requires hands-on research, field experience and teaching experience, making it difficult to offer in an online format.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Clinical psychologists need a good understanding of medical software as well as analytical or scientific software. Additionally, some psychologists work with tools, such as biofeedback equipment. Thus, courses to gain a basic understanding of the tools and technology used would be good idea for those desiring a career in psychology.


Degree Alternatives for the Behavioral Science Field

There are many different degrees within the field of behavioral science. You'll need to pick the degree most closely suited to your personal career goals. If mental health counseling or marriage and family therapy interest you, a master's degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy is a requirement. Furthermore, you'll be required to have supervised clinical experience and a license. Continuing education classes will be necessary on an annual basis.

Social workers are divided into two categories: clinical and direct service. Clinical social workers help diagnose as well as treat mental and emotional issues, while direct-service social workers help people cope with their lives and problems on a day-to-day basis. While a bachelor's degree in social work may be sufficient for entry-level positions, clinical social workers require a master's degree in social work (MSW), two years or 3,000 hours of supervised experience and a license.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
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      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
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  • Denver, CO

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  • Houston, TX

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  • New York, NY

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  • Pittsburgh, PA

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  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Cognition and Instruction
  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

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  • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • PhD in Psychology - General Psychology

What is your highest level of education?

University of Colorado Denver

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Columbia University in the City of New York

Carnegie Mellon University