How to Get a PhD in Behavioral Science

Are you interested in how human actions affect relationships and decisions? Are you fascinated by how we communicate as a society? Are you eager to learn more about how we interact, and what that means for all aspects of our lives and communities? Earning your PhD in social science with a specialization in behavioral science gives you a platform to find the answers.

Looking Forward: An Overview of the PhD in Behavioral Science

Not long ago, a PhD in behavioral science meant moving into social work, public health, or academics. But a major shift has been happening in the world of behavioral science, and now many companies, organizations, and governmental agencies have realized how behavioral science can help them be more effective when dealing with customers, patients, and constituents.

Many current behavioral science graduate programs focus on a wide variety of career paths, including work in business, anthropology, ethics, and even law enforcement. A strong background in health communications, social work, sociology, psychology, anthropology, demography, and geography can serve you well in your pursuit of a PhD in behavioral science.

Earning your PhD in behavioral science is the first step toward answering the questions that have driven the human experience for thousands of years. Choosing the right online PhD program can make the difference in your educational experience and career opportunities, so understanding your options is very important.

Knowledge is power, and that’s where you should begin: by doing your homework.

How to Apply for PhD Programs in Behavioral Science

Your pursuit of a doctoral degree in behavioral science should begin with serious, in-depth inquiries. The search might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Take your research step by step, finding facts and making decisions along the way.

Start with looking at your options, then examine your priorities and narrow down the list. Finally, scrutinize your short list by weighing important criteria and comparing your options.

Step 1: What Are Your Doctorate Degree Options?

There are some factors of a PhD program in behavioral science that are absolutely required in order to make the most of your education. Consider these factors when making that initial list of PhD program options:

  • Accreditation. Read up on the benefits of accreditation when you begin researching PhD programs. For example, accreditation may benefit the value of your degree by evaluating the academic standards of a college or university. Accreditation may help you obtain financial aid, and some potential employers only recognize accredited degrees.
  • Your long-term goals. What do you intend to do with your degree? That answer helps you decide whether you should be looking for an academic track or a more professional one. Consider your life balance as well; family obligations and other responsibilities may suggest a PhD program with a flexible schedule.
  • Format. Will you choose a traditional classroom setting or take all your classes online? Online PhD programs often provide the flexibility to keep working in your current position while pursuing your degree. Some students choose a hybrid of traditional classroom time and an online graduate degree program.
  • Location. If you are pursing an online PhD in behavioral science, location might not matter to you. But if you are choosing to pursue a hybrid of classroom time and online instruction, the location of your chosen college is crucial. Some online PhD programs make this choice easier by offering satellite schools for those who prefer to learn in a traditional classroom.

How do you find this information? There are several resources available to you throughout your search for the perfect graduate in behavioral science program, including:

  • Internet research. The Internet holds a wealth of information about the schools on your list. Look at school Web sites, google the name of the graduate program, and use to gather even more information about the PhD programs that interest you.
  • The U.S. Department of Education. To check whether a PhD program is accredited, visit the U.S. Department of Education Web site. Search for a particular school among the list of all accredited post-secondary institutions and programs.
  • U.S. News & World Report. The annual rankings in U.S. News and World Report put the top graduate schools at your fingertips. Use the list as a tool to help you decide which PhD programs in behavioral science rise to the top.
  • Resource guides. offers The Insider’s College Guide for Working Adults to help you get through the research and application process. Some school Web sites may offer a guide to their curriculum, and you should snap that up, too.

Step 2: Narrow the PhD Playing Field

Now that you have a list of PhD programs that look promising, it’s time to narrow your search a bit further. Consider your priorities and what you intend to do with your career. Use that plan to weigh the merits of the PhD programs on your list. Compare the graduate programs to determine whether one meets more of your needs than another.

Consider Your Priorities

What will you do with your career? Where should your PhD in behavioral science take you? Deciding what kind of curriculum would best serve your goals can help you narrow down the field. Consider these tracks:

  • Academic. If you would like to work in research, teaching, or public policy, a more academic track may be your calling. Your career on the academic track could lead to serious research options and numerous teaching possibilities, in both the government and private sectors.
  • Professional. If you are taking a more hands-on approach in your career, choosing the professional track in graduate school prepares you for putting theory into practice.

How Will You Specialize?

You have many options for your career path when you earn your doctorate in behavioral science. Having a rock-solid plan for what you intend to do helps you eliminate schools that don’t offer certain classes or areas of specialization.

These are just a few of the career options available to you when you earn your PhD. Do you have a specific goal in mind? Consider studying to be a:

  • Social worker
  • Criminologist
  • Criminal profiler
  • University professor
  • Anthropologist
  • Public health specialists
  • Development psychologist
  • Market researcher
  • Economic analyst
  • Memetic specialist

Finding Further Information

By now, you should have done quite a bit of research, but much of it may have been on general points. It is time to go in-depth. The following resources can help:

  • Careful Internet research. Go back online, and this time, keep your mission focused. Find all the information you can about the specific PhD programs that interest you. Don’t forget to look at message boards, community blogs, and other first-hand accounts that may give you unique insights into the PhD program you are considering.
  • Admissions counselors. Talk to admissions counselors after you have done thorough Internet research. Have a list of questions and points to discuss. Now is the time to get clarification on any gray areas, so ask plenty of questions!
  • Professional organizations. There are numerous professional organizations available to you, depending upon your specialization in the behavioral science field. You can learn quite a bit about potential graduate programs through “the grapevine” at conferences and seminars.
  • Professional journals. Subscribe to the industry journals to read details about specific graduate programs, and to become more familiar with the movers and shakers in the behavioral science field. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and The Open Behavioral Science Journal are good places to begin.
  • Faculty and staff. Do you recognize any of the faculty from your research? Top-notch faculty who are accomplished in the field of behavioral science are an asset to your educational experience.

Step 3: Make Your Short List Even Shorter

Now, you should have a list of only the top graduate programs that meet your educational needs and ultimate career goals. Choosing which schools you apply to is the next, very important step. Consider these factors to help you compare PhD programs and make a final decision:

  • Reputation. Pay attention to graduate school rankings, mentions in professional journals, and word of mouth. If the school has been around long enough to build up a reputation, you’ll hear about it.
  • Financial aid. What are your options when it comes to finances? Does your chosen PhD program offer grants, loans, scholarships, and the like? Now is a good time to consider how much financial aid you may need, and to determine whether you can handle the expense.
  • Satisfaction rate. How many students have graduated from the PhD program? How did they fare in the job market? Did they go through a career placement program? How happy were they with their education?
  • History of the program. How long has the PhD program been in place? Does the school boast strong relationships with industry professionals?
  • Resources available. Does your chosen PhD program offer libraries, research facilities, study aids, and other resources? Does the online behavioral science program have up-to-date software, extensive databases, virtual libraries, and an easy way to get in touch with teachers and fellow students?

Resources for that Final Decision

It is time to get serious about choosing the final, very short list of potential PhD programs. Go further with your research by employing these resources:

  • Explore the school. Can you visit the school? Perhaps you could sit in on a class or speak to the graduate students about their experiences. If you are pursuing an online PhD program, could you set up a video or phone conference with a few members of faculty and staff?
  • Talk to counselors. Ask serious questions of the admissions counselors, especially questions about financial aid and career placement.
  • Research even further. Reach out to colleagues, former teachers, and industry professionals with your final short list. Ask them for leads on new and interesting places you could search to find out more.
  • Submit a request for information through, and take advantage of the offerings on the site, including Educational Resources and general funding information for graduate programs.

Now that you know which PhD programs might be best for your career goals, it’s time to look at the application process. Remember to plan early and pay attention to deadlines. The best PhD programs usually offer steep competition, so stay ahead of the game by having everything you need, including:

  • All prerequisites. Have you taken all the required courses? Do you have the required degree? If you are lacking in only a few courses, consider taking them online to save time and money.
  • Qualifying exams. The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is usually required for admittance into any PhD program. Depending upon your specialization, other tests might be required before you can enter the PhD in behavioral science program.
  • Letters of recommendation. Most graduate programs require letters of recommendation from former teachers, colleagues, employers, and the like. Ask for these early, so the writers have plenty of time to complete them for you before the deadline.
  • Professional experience. Many PhD programs look fondly upon an applicant who can show extensive professional work in their field of study. If you have this kind of experience, play it up! If not, look for ways that you can beef up your professional resume.
  • Transcripts and resume. The most basic of requirements, the transcript from your previous school and a resume of past and current professional work, are often overlooked until the application deadline has almost arrived. Brush up your resume and request your transcripts with plenty of time to spare.

Making a Difference with a PhD in Behavioral Science

Choosing to earn your PhD launches you to the elite of your field, opening doors to career opportunities that were closed when you had a lesser degree. can help you every step of the way with career planning tools, educational resources, and the support you need to make the right decisions about your perfect program for a PhD in behavioral science.



  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Careers at CDC: CDC Social and Behavioral Scientists
  • Education-Portal, Behavioral Science PhD Program Information
  • Educational Testing Service, Graduate Record Examination
  • U.S. Department of Education, The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
  • U.S. News and World Report, Best Graduate Schools
  •, Guide to College Majors in Behavioral Science
  •, Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs
  •, The Insider’s College Guide for Working Adults
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