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Courses and Curriculum

Courses and Curriculum

Courses and Curriculum

Curriculum structure and plans

To fulfill the requirements for this degree program, you must complete nine course units (c.u.)* of on-campus study. Students can finish the coursework in one full-time academic year, using the summer to complete the capstone research project, or at a part-time flexible pace.

During your studies, you take a common core of three behavioral methods courses and then select a concentration in an area such as social science, public health, neuroscience, education, or social and public policy. Our courses are taught by leading researchers and experts in neuroeconomics, cognitive science, government and much more.

Our interdisciplinary curriculum allows students to take four elective classes from:

You learn to model how individuals and groups make decisions, the behavioral and neural foundations of decision-making, and have the opportunity to design lab and field experiments to test your hypotheses. You are taught to create and analyze computational models of social emergence and use network analysis to understand how behavior can spread or dissolve. Students interested in real-world applications can work with faculty members who employ their research in fields like social and public policy, education, law, business and medicine.

Required courses

All students are expected to take four core classes, four elective courses and one dedicated capstone research project to earn the nine course units required for the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences.

Core classes

  • BDS 501 Behavioral Economics & The Psychology of Decision Making
  • BDS 502 Social Norms & Informal Institutions
  • BDS 503 Public Policy & Applications
  • Quantitative Core—choose ONE from the following:
    • BDS 521 Judgments & Decisions
    • BDS 522 Statistical Reasoning for Behavioral Science
    • BDS 516 Data Science & Quantitative Modeling

Note that if you take more than one course from the Quantitative core, it will serve as an elective course. 

Electives and concentrations

The goal of the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences is to equip students with practical tools for applications and a focused academic portfolio. You can select four courses from disciplines and schools across the University in relation to your academic and professional goals. An advisor from the program works with you one-on-one to craft a successful curriculum. 

Elective concentrations include:

  • Public health
  • Psychology/Neuroscience
  • Education policy
  • Social and public policy
  • Economics/Neuroeconomics
  • Sociology/Networks
  • Computational systems


The program has two prerequisite courses: (1) introductory statistics and (2) microeconomics/game theory or judgment and decision. For students who lack sufficient background in one or all areas, the prerequisite courses are offered through the College of Liberal and Professional Studies during the summer prior to the start of the program in the fall term.

Capstone experience

The final capstone research project for the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences is an independent study experience. Throughout the process, you connect with faculty members in your area of concentration to determine appropriate final projects or ways to participate in applying research, such as completing an internship or conducting fieldwork.

The capstone schedule allows for incremental deadlines and feedback from professors. The requirement for the capstone is a final project that contributes to your future career path. The paper is expected to:

  • Present a position that is unique, original and directly applies to your experience
  • Use primary sources or apply to a primary organization/agency
  • Conform to the style and format of excellent academic writing
  • Analyze empirical research data that is collected by you or that has already been collected
  • Allow you to demonstrate the competencies gained in the master’s program

Neuroscience Certificate 

Students in the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program are eligible to use electives to complete the Graduate Certificate in Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN). The four required courses provide a strong foundation in neuroscience for non-scientists, emphasizing the aspects of neuroscience that are most relevant to understanding human behavior. If you are interested in this certificate, please contact

*Academic credit (PDF) is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.

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