Behavioral Specialist Certification and Degree Program Info

Specialists in the field of behavioral science may work as community, family and substance abuse counselors as well as researchers, doctors and more. Aspiring behavioral specialists might consider enrolling in a Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy program in behavioral science.

Essential Information

Emphasizing psychology and the behavioral sciences, these programs are designed to teach group counseling and intervention strategies. Programs are also likely to feature research or dissertation components. In order to earn a certification, applicants must pass a national examination offered through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

  • Program Levels in Behavioral Science: Master's, PhD.
  • Prerequisites: An undergraduate degree is required for admission; GRE scores; Professional resume; Letters of recommendation; Personal statement.
  • Program Length: 2 years for master's; 4-6 years for PhD.
  • Other Requirements: Independent research is generally required.

Master of Science in Behavioral Science

Behavioral science is a broad, interdisciplinary field that is ideal for individuals who enjoy working with and helping other people. A master's degree can prepare students to work as behavioral specialists in the fields of counseling, human resources, education, research and criminal justice. Several fields benefit from employing professionals who have an understanding of how humans behave in certain situations.

Students enrolled in a master's degree program in behavioral science learn the basic theories behind human behavior and counseling methods. They also study research methods, ethical principles and statistics in behavioral science.

Graduate programs in behavioral science are open to recent graduates of a baccalaureate program as well as to mid-career professionals who are looking to change careers or increase their advancement opportunities. Some schools only accept graduate students who have work experience in profit, non-profit and government organizations.

Most master's degree programs in behavioral science incorporate seminar courses, individual research and a thesis project or paper. Specific courses might include:

  • Ethics of counseling
  • Theories of behavioral management
  • Statistics in behavioral sciences
  • Crisis intervention
  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Drug and alcohol counseling

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Behavioral Science

This program is ideal for behavioral specialists who are interested in becoming researchers, program directors or professors in a variety of public and private settings. Many Ph.D. programs are specialized; for example, some universities offer programs that focus on the influence human behavior has on public health trends, while others concentrate on the field of social work. Prospective students should carefully examine the specific goals of any doctorate program prior to enrollment, because they are often much more specialized than master's degree programs in the field.

Individuals typically must submit all former educational transcripts along with their application. They must also supply GRE scores, a professional resume, letters of recommendation and a personal statement.

These programs often combine courses on research methods and statistics with specialized courses in behavioral science. Electives and a dissertation make up the rest of the program. Examples of courses include:

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Advanced research design and analysis
  • Statistical methods of research
  • Epidemiology
  • Public health promotion

Popular Career Options

A behavioral specialist with a master's degree can actually take on professional roles in several fields. A sampling of these roles as well as their median annual salaries as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 are listed below (

  • Counselor, $40,850
  • Human resources specialist, $57,420
  • Psychologist, $92,110
  • Social worker, $59,100

Graduates often go on to earn positions in academia, research, science or administration. Some specific roles and their salaries as of May 2014, per the BLS, might include:

  • Professor, $62,330
  • Public health educator, $50,430

Certification Options

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board is a non-profit corporation that offers certification to behavior specialists. Graduates of a master's degree program in behavioral studies can also gain certification pertaining to their chosen vocations. For example, aspiring counselors can gain certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors and the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Theory.

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