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Courses and Curriculum

Curriculum structure

To fulfill the requirements for this degree program, you must complete nine courses including a capstone research project. You 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 establish a theoretical, methodological and quantitative foundation in the field with a common core covering behavioral economics, psychology, social norms, and public policy. 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.

You may select a concentration in an area such as social science, public health, neuroscience, education, or social and public policy. 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.

Our interdisciplinary curriculum allows students to take elective classes from:

Required courses

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

  1. BDS 501 Behavioral Science: Theory and Application of Experimental Methods
  2. BDS 502 Social Norms & Informal Institutions
  3. BDS 503 Behavioral Public Policy
  4. BDS 521 Judgments & Decisions
  5. Quantitative Core—choose ONE from the following:
    • 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. 

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 three 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 or game theory. For students who lack sufficient background in one or all areas, the prerequisite courses may be taken after you learn of your acceptance into the program during the summer session prior to the fall term. These classes are offered through the College of Liberal and Professional Studies or may be taken locally.

The new final capstone research project is an independent study experience that may work as a paid/unpaid internship/externship where students and clients work together in a behavioral and decision sciences project through the period of one semester (fall, spring, or summer).

How does it work? 

  • Industry partners submit ideas/real-life problems they would like to see addressed through behavioral/decision science insights
  • The MBDS team receives all ideas and makes them available to students
  • Students choose clients and ideas based on their skill-sets and professional goals from a profile list provided and are grouped by the MBDS team
  • During that semester, clients and students have 3-4 touch-points, and at the end of the process, students submit a narrated slide-deck presentation along with deliverables proposed (e.g., works cited, frameworks utilized, executive summary, etc) to the MBDS program

By working with students on a capstone project, clients have a unique opportunity to identify top talent and gain behavioral insights from a single member of the MBDS program.

Costs and time commitment: At this time, there is no direct cost for being a client in our MBDS capstone project. We do encourage clients to offer paid opportunities to compensate students' time and efforts whenever possible. Unpaid capstone students are expected to work 5-10 hours per week negotiated at the onset of the project; paid capstone students are expected to work a maximum of 15-20 hours per week, knowing that some of those hours may be non-capstone related and assisting other roles/functions for the client. Everyone should expect to devote about 5-10 hours a week to direct capstone research, writing, interviewing, etc.

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 penn-scan@sas.upenn.edu.


*Academic credit 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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