The field of behavioral science is broad, encompassing everything from psychology and sociology to counseling, behavior analysis and social work. What workers in this field have in common – aside from a desire to improve the lives and circumstances of others – is a focus on the thinking and behavior of individuals, families or groups. College majors in specific areas of the behavioral sciences, including psychology and social work, have long been common, but many colleges now offer a behavioral science major that equips students with a breadth of knowledge in this field and prepares them for a diverse set of future career opportunities.
Take College Prep Courses – Especially in Science, Math and Social Sciences
Behavioral science majors take courses in a wide range of studies. Naturally, coursework in the social and behavioral sciences play an important role in education in a behavioral science program. Aspiring behavioral science students can prepare for their college-level studies in psychology, sociology and counseling by taking introductory sociology and advanced placement (AP) psychology classes during high school.
It is also important for high school students to take classes in math and the life and physical sciences. While all college students can benefit from understanding statistical analysis techniques and the scientific method, these courses are particularly beneficial for students who choose a behavioral science program that emphasizes behavioral health skills or research skills. In some undergraduate behavioral science programs, students learn the codes and diagnostic criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). They may study behavioral health research technology and information technology.
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Behavioral science students often take classes in research and data analysis, as well. These courses, which are particularly important if you plan to work in psychological research, will be easier for students who developed a strong science and math background during high school.
College preparatory courses in English, literature and communication are also valuable in this field, especially if you want to become a counselor, therapist, counseling psychologist or social worker. Listening and speaking skills are crucial in these hands-on roles.
Figure Out What You Want to Do With Your Behavioral Science Education
The versatility of a degree in behavioral sciences is part of the appeal of this major. Broader than a degree in psychology, sociology or social work, this program won’t limit your options when it comes to choosing a niche to focus your career in, a work environment or a field of graduate study. However, that also means that you should begin thinking about your options early on – before you even finish your high school degree – so that you can choose the right elective courses and internship experiences to qualify you for the career you want.
A behavioral science degree might qualify you for a social work career like caseworker or mental health assistant, or for an entry-level psychological research role like research assistant or research coordinator. For counseling and clinical roles, you will most likely need a master’s degree. Studying behavioral science at the undergraduate level prepares you for a wealth of graduate opportunities, including programs in marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling and social work. Earning your master’s degree can lead to a role as a licensed therapist or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). If you choose to become a psychologist, then a doctoral degree is most likely in your future. In addition to the traditional, research-focused Ph.D. in Psychology, there is also the professional or clinical Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.
Psychologists, sociologists, social workers and counselors work in many different specializations and environment. The earlier you determine what area of specialization most interests you, the sooner you can begin building expertise in that field by choosing pertinent elective courses and finding an internship relevant to your future career plans. If you want to work in substance abuse counseling, for example, then it is a good idea to devote your time spent gaining internship experience to working with this population, as opposed to working with a different client or patient population.
One way to begin narrowing down what role you would like to hold in the behavioral sciences is by gaining hands-on experience. Shadowing a psychologist or social worker or volunteering in a mental health clinic can help you determine your professional interests.