Best behavioral neuroscience graduate programs

HomePsychologyThe best graduate programs in behavioral neuroscience

Introduction to behavioral psychology

The field of psychology is broad and includes many sub-specialties ranging from forensic to industrial-organizational psychology. Behavioral neuroscience, also known as biological psychology, psychobiology or biopsychology, is one such specialty. Researchers in this field study the genetic, physiological and developmental mechanisms of behavior from a biological perspective.

Behavioral neuroscience is concerned with neural function, brain activity and genetic mapping to build evidence-based explanations for human and animal behavior. Students and researchers often focus on areas like emotion, sensation, perception, learning and memory, and control of movement. Professionals in this field often work closely with cognitive, developmental and clinical psychologists as well as neuropsychologists.

Critical thinking, creativity, attention to detail, self-motivation and excellent written and oral communication skills are qualities usually found among behavioral neuroscience scholars. As research is an integral component of this field, those drawn to the field are passionate about solving the mysteries of the brain and behavior.

A doctorate in behavioral neuroscience often leads to lucrative, high-level positions in research, education or scientific writing. The healthcare industry, and pharmaceutical companies in particular, are among the most common employers of behavioral neuroscientists.

Admission requirements for doctoral programs in behavioral neuroscience typically include:

  • resume
  • minimum GPA of 3.5
  • statement of purpose
  • research work samples
  • letters of recommendation
  • transcripts
  • relevant undergraduate degree
  • GRE test scores

Listed below are the most prestigious Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in behavioral neuroscience.

School listings

  • Yale University

    Yale University New Haven, Connecticut
    Yale University

    Yale University’s Department of Psychology enrolls about 15 Ph.D. students a year. All graduate scholars in good standing receive full tuition funding and a stipend for at least 5 years.

    The neuroscience graduate program is flexible, allowing students to tailor their coursework and earn their master’s degree at the same time they get their Ph.D. Research methods and statistical analysis courses are required, along with a first-year research paper, teaching fellowship, pre-dissertation paper and dissertation.

    Students have access to a diverse range of modern research methods and are encouraged to start their research as early as possible while attending regular seminars. There is also a 3-year residency requirement.

    Yale offers the following graduate programs in areas related to behavioral neuroscience:

    • clinical psychology 
    • cognitive psychology 
    • developmental psychology 
    • social/personality psychology 
    Program nameNeuroscience graduate program
    Name of school (dept.)Department of Psychology
    AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    LocationNew Haven, Connecticut 
    Cost$44,500 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length6 years, 12 semesters
    Read more
  • Brown University

    Brown University Providence, Rhode Island
    Brown University

    Brown University’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences promotes interdisciplinary learning with a vast range of specialized research focus areas, including behavioral neuroscience. Students will learn to use various methodologies for their research, including neuroimaging, cognitive and behavioral experiments, computational modeling and neurophysiological studies.

    Students receive 5 years of financial support in the form of tuition, a stipend and health insurance. A first-year research project, 4 semesters of teaching assistantships, a dissertation proposal, a preliminary exam paper, a dissertation and an oral presentation must all be completed during the course of the program. A residency of 2-3 years is also required.

    Related programs:

    • cognitive science Ph.D. program
    • linguistics Ph.D. program
    • graduate program in neuroscience
    Program namePsychology Ph.D. program (Behavioral neuroscience/comparative research focus area)
    Name of school (dept.)Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
    AccreditationNECHE
    LocationProvidence, Rhode Island
    Cost$60,944 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length5 years
    Read more
  • Princeton University

    Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey
    Princeton University

    The psychology graduate program at Princeton University allows students to specialize in a diverse range of fields, including cognitive neuroscience, learning and memory, and systems neuroscience. The department of psychology also offers an interdisciplinary program leading to a joint Ph.D. degree in psychology and neuroscience. As such, students also work with faculty at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

    Students must attend seminars and present their own once a year. Students also need to teach a minimum of 9 hours, conduct independent research and submit a thesis proposal and a thesis. An oral presentation of their dissertation is also required.

    The university guarantees funding for all of its regularly enrolled Ph.D. students, including tuition, fees and a stipend. Students are expected to remain in residence throughout the program.

    Related program:

    • neuroscience graduate program
    Program namePsychology graduate program (joint degree program)
    Name of school (dept.)Department of Psychology
    AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
    LocationPrinceton, New Jersey
    Cost$56,470 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length5 years
    Read more
  • California Institute of Technology

    California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California
    California Institute of Technology

    Caltech’s social and decision neuroscience graduate program prepares students to conduct research on the neural basis of learning behavior, social interactions and decision making. Research techniques at the Chen Institute of Neuroscience include neural measuring methods such as EEG and fMRI, as well as computational modeling.

    Students must complete lab rotations, serve as teaching assistants and attend seminars throughout their graduate careers. They also attend conferences, submit grant proposals and give talks. Scholars must also submit and defend a thesis to earn their Ph.D. Caltech’s doctoral students with satisfactory academic progress also receive full tuition funding in the form of external and internal fellowships, teaching assistantships and research assistantships.

    Related programs:

    • neurobiology Ph.D. 
    • social science Ph.D. 
    Program nameSocial and decision neuroscience Ph.D. program
    Name of school (dept.)Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
    AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission
    LocationPasadena, California
    CostPrivate university tuition: $56,649 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Teaching approachOn-campus
    Course length5 years
    Read more
  • Harvard University

    Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts
    Harvard University

    The cognition, brain and behavior Ph.D. program is 1 of 4 graduate degrees at Harvard’s distinguished Department of Psychology. Research topics using modern methodologies include neurological disorders, language, emotion, moral decision-making and motor control. Students can earn their master’s degree while on their way to earn their Ph.D.

    A full-time residency of at least 2 years is required, along with a first- and second-year project. A dissertation prospectus must also be submitted before students can complete and defend their dissertation in their final year. Harvard provides full financial support to Ph.D. students in their first to fifth years, including basic living expenses, health insurance and tuition.

    Related programs:

    • clinical science Ph.D. 
    • developmental psychology Ph.D. 
    • social psychology Ph.D. 
    • Ph.D. program in neuroscience 
    Program nameCognition, Brain and behavior Ph.D. program
    Name of school (dept)Department of Psychology
    AccreditationNECHE
    LocationCambridge, Massachusetts
    Cost$56,649 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length5+ years
    Read more
  • University of California, San Diego

    University of California, San Diego La Jolla, California
    University of California, San Diego

    In UCSD’s psychology department, Ph.D. students can choose from among 5 specialized fields in experimental psychology, including cognitive-behavioral neuroscience. The school provides advanced training in modern laboratories where students have research opportunities in experimental psychology.

    UCSD provides 5 years of funding to graduates, including fees, tuition and additional support, but students must serve as teaching assistants for at least 4 years during the program. There is also a full-time residency requirement of 9 months per year.

    Additionally, graduates must complete first- and second-year projects, attend seminar courses and practicums, and submit and successfully defend their thesis.

    Related programs:

    • cognitive psychology Ph.D. 
    • developmental psychology Ph.D. 
    • sensation & perception Ph.D. 
    • social psychology Ph.D. 
    Program nameCognitive-behavioral neuroscience Ph.D. program
    Name of school (dept)Department of Psychology
    AccreditationWASC Senior College and University Commission
    LocationLa Jolla, California
    CostCalifornia residents: $17,583.98 per year
    Non-residents: $32,685.98 per year
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length 5+ years
    Read more
  • Duke University

    Duke University Durham, North Carolina
    Duke University

    Duke’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience embraces an interdisciplinary approach, using research methods such as epigenetics, neuroimaging and lab experiments. Students can choose from 5 training areas, including cognition and cognitive neuroscience, which forms part of the university’s Consortium of Neuroscience Graduate Programs. Systems and integrative neuroscience is another option for students interested in neuroscience.

    The department also works with Duke’s Global Health Institute and Social Science Research Institute. All admitted graduates receive 5 years of financial support as long as they remain in good academic standing. Along with core and elective coursework, students must also defend their Major Area Paper (MAP) and pass an oral exam. A dissertation proposal is also required before it can be completed and defended for graduation. Students are required to complete 2-4 years of teacher assistantships.

    Related graduate programs:

    • clinical psychology 
    • developmental psychology 
    • social psychology 
    • systems and integrative neuroscience 
    Program name Cognition and cognitive neuroscience graduate program
    Name of school (dept)Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
    AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
    LocationDurham, North Carolina
    Cost$67,329 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length5+ years
    Read more
  • Boston University

    Boston University Boston, Massachusetts
    Boston University

    Boston University’s Behavioral Neuroscience Ph.D. program provides students with a strong foundation in the principles and methods of experimental neuropsychology for an academic or industry-related career in behavioral neuroscience.

    The program explores human cognitive, perceptual, affective, linguistic and neurobehavioral disorders and how they relate to brain function and structure. It also encourages research techniques like clinical assessment, experimental design and neuropsychology principles. In addition to core coursework, students can enroll in elective courses offered by departments like psychology, neuroscience, anatomy and neurobiology.

    BU has a full-funding model that covers Ph.D. student tuition, fees, stipends and health insurance for 5 years. Graduates must participate in a research apprenticeship and submit a dissertation prospectus and abstract. In their final year, students defend their dissertation and must pass an oral exam to earn their degree. A residency requirement and practicum may also be required.

    Related programs:

    • M.D./Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience 
    • Neuroscience graduate program 
    Program name Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience
    Name of school (dept)Division of Graduate Medical Sciences
    AccreditationNECHE
    LocationBoston, Massachusetts
    Cost$78,305 per year (full-time)
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length5+ years
    Read more
  • University of California, Los Angeles

    University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California
    University of California, Los Angeles

    Behavioral neuroscience is 1 of 8 programs offered by UCLA’s psychology department. As a leader in the neurobiological study of behavior, UCLA exposes scholars to a spectrum of research opportunities at the Brain Research Institute and across other faculty labs. The goal of the program is to train students focused on careers in research that will contribute to the field.  

    Graduates must complete core coursework, a research project and their dissertation proposal. An oral exam is required before students can continue with their dissertation research. Students also take a final oral exam where they defend their research. Participants must also complete at least 2 years of residency.  

    UCLA provides financial support to graduate students in the form of paid teaching and research assistantships, grants and fellowships.

    Related Ph.D. programs:

    • Cognitive neuroscience 
    • Cognitive psychology 
    • Developmental psychology 
    Program nameBehavioral neuroscience
    Name of school (dept)Department of Psychology
    AccreditationWASC Senior College and University Commission
    LocationLos Angeles, California
    CostCalifornia residents: $17,486 per year
    Non-residents: $32,588 per year
    Finance office
    Program formatOn-campus
    Program length6 years
    Read more

Financial aid

Education can be expensive, especially when it comes to doctoral studies. Fortunately, research-driven programs like behavioral neuroscience often come with financial aid. Most universities and other organizations provide graduate student funding in the form of paid tuition, health insurance and even monthly stipends in some cases. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) offers prospective students a way to check their eligibility for aid.

Career options with a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience

Ph.D. programs in behavioral neuroscience prepare students for a variety of careers. While many graduates choose to remain in research-driven positions, others find employment at government institutions, medical facilities and private enterprises. Here are some popular career choices: