Psychology The best graduate programs in behavioral neuroscience

Best behavioral neuroscience graduate programs

Published Jun. 10, 2021 Updated Jan. 11, 2023 Our editorial process
Table of Contents

    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.

    The best graduate programs in behavioral neuroscience

    • Yale University

      Yale University New Haven, Connecticut

      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 name Neuroscience graduate program
      Name of school (dept.) Department of Psychology
      Accreditation New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
      Location New Haven, Connecticut
      Cost $44,500 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 6 years, 12 semesters
      Read more
    • Brown University

      Brown University Providence, Rhode Island

      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 name Psychology Ph.D. program (Behavioral neuroscience/comparative research focus area)
      Name of school (dept.) Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
      Accreditation NECHE
      Location Providence, Rhode Island
      Cost $60,944 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5 years
      Read more
    • Princeton University

      Princeton University Princeton, New Jersey

      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 name Psychology graduate program (joint degree program)
      Name of school (dept.) Department of Psychology
      Accreditation Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
      Location Princeton, New Jersey
      Cost $56,470 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5 years
      Read more
    • California Institute of Technology

      California Institute of Technology Pasadena, California

      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 name Social and decision neuroscience Ph.D. program
      Name of school (dept.) Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
      Accreditation Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission
      Location Pasadena, California
      Cost Private university tuition: $56,649 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Teaching approach On-campus
      Course length 5 years
      Read more
    • Harvard University

      Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts

      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 name Cognition, Brain and behavior Ph.D. program
      Name of school (dept) Department of Psychology
      Accreditation NECHE
      Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
      Cost $56,649 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5+ years
      Read more
    • University of California, San Diego

      University of California, San Diego La Jolla, California

      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 name Cognitive-behavioral neuroscience Ph.D. program
      Name of school (dept) Department of Psychology
      Accreditation WASC Senior College and University Commission
      Location La Jolla, California
      Cost California residents: $17,583.98 per year
      Non-residents: $32,685.98 per year
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5+ years
      Read more
    • Duke University

      Duke University Durham, North Carolina

      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
      Accreditation Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      Location Durham, North Carolina
      Cost $67,329 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5+ years
      Read more
    • Boston University

      Boston University Boston, Massachusetts

      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
      Accreditation NECHE
      Location Boston, Massachusetts
      Cost $78,305 per year (full-time)
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 5+ years
      Read more
    • University of California, Los Angeles

      University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California

      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 name Behavioral neuroscience
      Name of school (dept) Department of Psychology
      Accreditation WASC Senior College and University Commission
      Location Los Angeles, California
      Cost California residents: $17,486 per year
      Non-residents: $32,588 per year
      Finance office
      Program format On-campus
      Program length 6 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: