masters in behavioural science usa

Last Updated on December 15, 2022

Penn’s Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences (MBDS) is informed by contemporary theories and research methods from diverse fields, including behavioral economics, decision sciences, network analysis, and public policy. Our program equips students with theoretical and practical tools to address a variety of real-life problems, putting you ahead of the curve in a growing field of study.

Our interdisciplinary degree prepares you to understand how individuals and groups make decisions, and how to affect those decisions. Our world-renowned faculty and researchers are also leading practitioners in their fields. With their expertise, you are guided to apply what you learn to real-life problems in areas such as social and public policy, law, education, business, economics, and medicine.

Housed in the School of Arts and Sciences, the MBDS program is rooted in the social sciences—the skills we teach help you make a positive, sustainable impact in your area of interest.

For international students, the MBDS program is coded as 30.1701 – Behavioral Sciences, which is STEM eligible. International students should consult with International Student and Scholar Services regarding any implications of completing a STEM eligible master’s program.

Master of Behavioral & Decision Sciences

Impact decisions and behaviors in a variety of fields

Hear from the MDBS Founding Director, Cristina Bicchieri, about how this unique theoretical and applied master’s degree provides the understanding and tools students need to enact behavioral change in individuals and in organizations.

Fast facts


48%Percentage of international students in the 2018 cohort, representing 9 countries


46%Percentage of students matriculating directly from the workforce


16Number of undergraduate majors represented in our inaugural class

75%Percentage of students enrolled full time

Internship and research opportunities for Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences students

Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences students are part of a vibrant intellectual community, with access to a wide range of academic resources, research collaborations across the University, and relationships with leading practitioners.

Learn about program resources and partners >

Meet the faculty

Learn from the University of Pennsylvania’s most celebrated scholars, such as Cristina Bicchieri and other leading minds from the fields of psychology and behavioral economics. Cristina is the Founding Director of the MBDS program and the S. J. Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics. She is also the Director of the Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics, a newly formed research center at Penn that aims to support positive behaviors on a global scale.

See faculty bios >

Courses and curriculum

MBDS students take a set of core classes to get grounding in behavioral science, social norms and informal institutions, behavioral public policy, judgments and decisions, and quantitative analysis. Elective concentrations include: public health, psychology/neuroscience, education policy, social and public policy, economics/neuroeconomics, sociology/networks, and computational systems. The final capstone research project for the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences is an independent study experience.

See courses and electives >

Psychology is vital for professionals who want to help people experiencing mental abnormalities.

If you have affinity for helping others or a desire to uncover research other professionals can apply in the field, you should consider earning a master’s in behavioral psychology. Psychology positions are projected to grow by 14% through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS).

Positions that require an education in behavioral psychology are available to professionals with a bachelor’s degree; however, earning a master’s degree opens up leadership roles, provides a competitive advantage, and increases earning potential. A master’s in behavioral psychology is a great stepping stone toward a promising career in psychology.

Should I Get a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology?

Students intrigued by examining cognitive processes, human behavior, emotions, perception, and sensory abilities may want to consider a master’s in behavioral psychology. Emerging professionals strive to uncover innovative techniques and methods that redirect destructive behaviors into positive behavior.

At the graduate level, students apply psychological theories, approaches, principles, and methods to real world scenarios. The majority of coursework delves into research, human development, abnormal and social psychology, and personality. Students also develop a specialized skill set to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities in an ethical way. Skills acquired through a behavioral psychology master’s program prepare students to perform task analyses, behavior assessments, pass associated certification tests, and qualify for Ph.D. programs.

Master’s degrees in behavioral psychology are offered both online or in a traditional classroom setting. While online courses offer flexibility, on-campus programs may be more appealing to students who have recently completed their bachelor’s degree. On-campus environments allow students to work directly with professors, tutors, advisers, and classmates. Classroom environments also ensure that students allocate a set amount of hours per week to learning content through lectures, assignment deadlines, and exams. Additionally, students have access to faculty and emerging professionals studying the same content. Many programs also post local job and internship openings and leverage their resources to help students secure employment.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral psychology majors learn basic psychological and scientific principles, develop elite critical thinking skills, and apply decisions based on data. This specialty area also gives students additional skill sets related to behavior analysis, abnormal psychology, and cognition that are helpful for dealing with atypical behavior. Because psychology is a vast field, students who earn a master’s in behavioral psychology can qualify for multiple careers that are in high demand.COLLAPSE ALLMarriage and Family Therapist

Therapists working with couples and families strive to help their clients overcome issues within relationships of all sorts by encouraging them to discuss their emotions or difficulties. Professionals often apply a goal-oriented therapeutic approach to assist clients in achieving a positive and healthy state of mind.

Median Annual Salary: $48,790

Projected Growth Rate: 23%PsychologistProbation Officers and Correctional Treatment SpecialistsSubstance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder CounselorsRehabilitation Counselors

How to Choose a Master’s Program in Behavioral Psychology

Selecting a master’s program in behavioral psychology is no small endeavor. Prior to making this decision, students should examine what kind of commitment they can feasibly make to a program. A master’s in behavioral psychology can often be completed in two to three years full-time in a traditional classroom setting. Most universities also offer a summer semester that students can use to graduate earlier; however, financial aid does not always cover summer courses. Students who need financial assistance should communicate with a financial adviser prior to enrollment.

Universities may also accept students who enroll part time, as students in master’s programs often work and cannot commit to attending college full time. Students should keep in mind that part-time enrollment can double the length of a program.

Many online programs are also available for students pursuing a master’s in behavioral psychology. Online programs are often taught in asynchronous and self-paced formats, which is perfect for working professionals. Both formats allow students to complete coursework on their own time.

Major coursework typically includes psychopathology, social psychology, applied concepts, ethical and professionals issues in addiction counseling, advanced intervention, science and human behavior, diversity in clinical practice, and affective psychology. Most programs also require students to complete a thesis or capstone course. Students should anticipate conducting rigorous empirical research and evaluations. While most programs cover the same content, the title of their courses may differ. Students should review course content to ensure they’re receiving education that qualifies them for their desired job role, future Ph.D. or Psy.D. program, or licensure.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Behavioral Psychology

Accreditation is the process universities undergo to validate the quality of their programs. Regional accreditation applies to the school as a whole, whereas programmatic accreditation applies to a singular program.

Receiving an accredited degree assures employers that their candidate’s education has equipped them with critical skills needed to perform their job. Accreditation agencies are composed of peer review boards who set standards. Members are often faculty from accredited schools.

Where behavioral psychology is concerned, graduate students should look for a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA is the most prominent organization in the United States dedicated to psychology education. Behavioral psychology majors who want to work with children and adolescents might consider programs accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists.

Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Program Admissions

While graduate school applicants are familiar with the admissions process from their undergraduate experience, there are a few significant differences. Many schools are more selective about graduate candidates and admit less students per academic semester. Graduate admissions also offer multiple admissions deadlines, so students don’t have to start in the fall with undergraduate students.

Applicants should provide a copy of their undergraduate transcript, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and their Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. The GRE is a standardized exam that measures how likely a student is to excel in a graduate program. Unlike online programs, some schools may require a face-to-face interview. Students should consider their goals for the program as well as bring a copy of their resume to an interview.

Below, are a few of the prerequisites and admission materials required for students applying for a master’s in behavioral psychology.


  • Bachelor’s Degree: Schools often ask for an official transcript proving a student completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Most schools charge a small fee for retrieving an official transcript.
  • Professional Experience: Requirements for experience vary by program. Competitive schools may want students to have experience applying theories and methods in real world situations.
  • Minimum GPA: Nearly every reputable psychology graduate program requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 for its applicants, though some graduate programs have more rigorous standards.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Schools look for students who meet their standards because it helps ensure they can succeed in the program and helps to maintain their own statistical goals. The application process also illuminates the academic history of candidates.
  • Transcripts: Transcripts indicate how well a student has performed in each class. Schools usually require students to submit official copies.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Students are typically required to have three letters of recommendation from teachers or professionals who can elaborate on the student’s skills and work ethic.
  • Test Scores: At the graduate level, schools are primarily concerned with the GRE because it speaks to a students’ ability to do well in a graduate level program.
  • Application Fee: All schools require an application fee of around $60. Eligible students can apply for a fee waiver if they demonstrate financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master’s Program in Behavioral Psychology?

Master’s programs in behavioral psychology often include foundational psychological concepts and skills needed for management positions, but schools offer different elective and specialization courses. Despite discretionary course combinations, students can anticipate completing any of the programs below in a behavioral psychology master’s program.

School PsychologySchool psychology students use principles of applied behavior analysis, educational psychology, and developmental psychology to create intervention plans for children and adolescents who struggle with behavioral health issues. Professionals collaborate with parents and teachers to promote school safety and prevent crises through intervention.School psychologist
Biopsychology or Behavioral NeuroscienceBehavioral neuroscience examines biological influences on human behavior. This speciality also focuses on how biological systems such as the nervous system interact with behavior. Statistics and neurobiology are important subcategories of this path as well.Learning and education scientist, comparative psychologist, behavioral neuroscientist
Addiction PsychologyPsychologists who focus on addiction examine research and theories to generate treatment plans for people who struggle with addiction. Addiction psychologists also tend to focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamics to diagnose and treat patients.Psychologist, addictions and mental health therapist
Counseling PsychologyThis specialty utilizes psychological concepts to assess everyday struggles such as stress or negative coping mechanisms. Counseling psychology does not include clients who suffer from mental health disorders.Family and marriage counselor, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor, rehabilitation counselors
Social PsychologySocial psychologists study how people are affected behaviorally when they interact with others. While this particular concentration draws on aspects of sociology, it primarily examines human behavior in varying environments.Research psychologist, political strategist, social worker

Courses in a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Program

No two master’s programs in behavior psychology are identical. Some schools may offer the same content, but use different course titles, while other programs require additional coursework influenced by their department missions or goals. Potential coursework is listed below.COLLAPSE ALLScience and Human Behavior

An advanced course for students interested in social and behavioral epidemiology, social and human behavior coursework emphasizes philosophical factors of behavior analysis. Students explore conceptual themes to create a foundation for understanding research that focuses on health and behavior in different contexts.Behavioral ModificationCognitive-Behavioral TherapyAdvanced InterventionBehavioral Analysis

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology?

On average, students can earn a master’s in behavioral psychology in just over two years; however, there are factors that impact graduation timelines. Students who attend school part time should anticipate doubling the length of their program. But if students decide to take additional classes on top of their full class load, they could graduate earlier.

Most schools base program length on fall and spring semesters, but several schools also offer a summer semester for entrepreneurial students wanting to accelerate their program. Financial aid may not cover courses taken over a summer semester. Students can apply for scholarships or see if they qualify for loans.

Additionally, some students who do not mind digital learning environments enroll into online programs, which are often accelerated. Many of those programs follow eight-week semesters and do not take summer breaks.

How Much Is a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology?

Earning a master’s in behavioral psychology costs between $9,000 and $20,000 per year, depending on the type of university students choose. To identify an accurate average, students need to identify what their personal requirements are for an ideal graduate experience. For instance, students who want to go away for school must factor in out-of-state tuition, which significantly increases the overall program cost. Similarly, students who plan to stay on campus have to consider room and board costs.

Private school tuition commonly costs more than public universities, especially for out-of-state students, and often has stricter admission standards. Popular public schools can also be competitive, which allows the school to charge more for tuition. Some graduate programs do not distinguish between in-state and out-of-state students when charging tuition and charge the same flat rate to both groups.

Other factors that can impact program costs include minors and specializations students are interested in. Students who want to acquire additional skills that aren’t included in the standard program must work with their counselor to develop a graduation pathway, which often pushes back graduation dates if students do not increase their class load each semester.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Prepares For

After earning a master’s in behavioral psychology, students can pursue a certification related to their career goals. Below are a few certifications available to graduates:COLLAPSE ALLAlcohol and Drug Counselor

This international exam assesses students’ knowledge about alcohol and drug counseling across the world. Professionals who are ADC certified serve as experts in prevention, coexisting disorders, recovery, and substance use treatment.Licensed Behavioral Health PractitionerCertified Co-Occurring Disorders ProfessionalBoard Certified Behavior AnalystVeterans Behavioral Health Certificate

Resources for Graduate Behavioral Psychology Students

Trauma Information Pages

This database focuses on emotional trauma, PTSD, and dissociation. Students can find current articles and research about these topics.


This international honor society for psychology majors offers membership to students that includes financial support, research opportunities, and networking opportunities.

Online Dictionary of Mental Health

This database is a useful research tool for mental health majors and practitioners alike.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA strives to advance behavioral health and reduce the overall impact of mental illness and substance abuse.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

This organization strives to uncover what drives addiction and highlight the consequences of drug use. Students have access to clinical research, publications, education materials, and relevant events for professionals focused on drug abuse.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

A department in the National Institute of Health, NIAAA provides students access to current research, publications, and multimedia.

Professional Organizations in Behavioral Psychology

Professional organizations are extremely valuable to students who recently earned a master’s in behavioral psychology, providing members with vast communities of peers who are enthusiastic about their work and believe in collaboration. Seasoned professionals often serve as mentors to newer professionals in the field. Additionally, many professional organizations offer continuing education coursework and regularly post job opportunities.

International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development

The ISSBD provides professionals with access to the latest research on development across the human lifespan. Members have access to grants, career support, and networking opportunities.

Association for Behavioral Analysis International

Since 1974, this organization has offered membership for professionals interested in the science, application, philosophy, and education of behavior analysis.

National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists

This organization strives to help CBT professionals develop their skills. Members receive monthly newsletters, discounts on insurance, and access to national conferences and certification programs.

American Psychological Association

The APA is a leading organization in psychology. Members receive professional development opportunities, insurance coverage, and access to a variety of publications and databases.

Association for Psychological Science

Dedicated to research, teaching, and applied psychological science, APS members can access magazines and journals in the psychology field. APS also offers multiple networking opportunities and awards for esteemed professionals.

National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers

Professionals who are clinically certified can join the NAPPP, an organization that promotes quality psychological practice.

About the author

Study on Scholarship Today -- Check your eligibility for up to 100% scholarship.

Leave a Comment