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Behavioral Science and Behavioral Health Undergraduate Degrees

Behavioral science programs teach students about the biological and social foundations of human behavior. They represent an interdisciplinary option: The major draws from psychology and sociology and often from several other fields as well. Such programs provide a broad base that many students find desirable at the undergraduate level -- after all, there will be time to specialize in graduate school! A person can study behavioral sciences en route to training as a mental health clinician, administrator, or behavioral scientist.

Behavioral health is a less common major. It generally emphasizes baccalaureate level counseling skills and addictions or mental health interventions. Some behavioral health programs draw heavily from the counseling discipline.

Either major can be a bridge between entry-level human services and professional practice.

Either major can represent a midpoint along a continuum. Independent mental health practice requires a graduate degree while entry level human service positions are available to individuals with certificates or associate's degrees. Some behavioral science programs are offered as degree completion programs for students who already have an associate’s degree or the equivalent. Some programs, meanwhile, are touted as undergraduate preparation for counseling and related fields. They can be a bridge between entry-level human services and professional practice.

Choosing a Behavioral Science Program

There are different types of behavioral science degree. Applied behavioral science and behavioral health degree programs focus on skills needed for counseling, human services, and other people-oriented professions. Criminal studies is included in some applied behavioral science programs while addiction studies is a common behavioral health concentration.

Concentrations may prepare students for specific careers at the bachelor’s level. A person who focuses on early intervention may provide services for children with autism. A concentration in addiction studies may lead to certification as an addiction counselor.

Programs termed ‘social and behavioral science’ often place less emphasis on direct services. Drawing from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, they provide a liberal arts background and develop critical thinking skills. Some have more application to future careers in urban planning than to one-on-one psychotherapy. Even so, they may provide more than the minimum prerequisites for fields like counseling and marriage and family therapy. Graduate MFT programs often require nine to twelve semester hours of related coursework and sometimes specify particular courses like human development or psychology; these are very common behavioral science offerings.

Students may want to consider the strength of the departments that the major draws from...Is the psychology department well established at the college or university?

There is no standard programmatic accreditation for bachelor's degrees in behavioral science, and no standard body of content. Students may consider the strength of the departments that the major draws from -- for example, the strength of the psychology department.

Requirements and Options

Behavioral science programs typically include several psychology courses among the requirements; social psychology and abnormal psychology are typical fare. Other typical courses include lifespan development, societal problems, and group interaction.

There may be a direct service internship and/or a capstone project. Some programs require coursework in statistics and research methodology. These courses can provide a foundation for students planning to continue their studies at the graduate level; they are worth considering even when not mandated.

Academic-minded students may have the opportunity to join, Pi Gamma Mu, the honor society for students in the social sciences.

Far more fundamental to success is institutional accreditation. A student planning on doing clinical studies at the master’s level should look for a program with regional accreditation.

Undergraduate Opportunities

Universities cite a wide range of positions held by their behavioral science graduates: everything from case worker to human resource professional.

Some states certify or license direct service workers below the master’s level; an example would be the "behavioral health case manager" certification offered in Oklahoma. Behavioral science and behavioral health degrees frequently meet the requirements for such certifications, but it’s a good idea to do some state-level research before selecting a program.

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