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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.

Across private and public sectors, it is increasingly recognized how insights from behavioral science help in solving a variety of problems, optimizing processes, and achieving efficient outcomes. But how is this change taking place? How are businesses using behavioral insights to have a positive impact, and what type of professional from the field are they looking for?

The new Capstone Experience course consists of two semesters where students are invited to engage in a dialogue with industry to understand the landscape of the field of behavioral sciences, and use the tools learned in MBDS courses to tackle specific industry problems.

In the first semester (fall), students will engage in a conversation with industry leaders that will provide them with first-hand knowledge of a) how behavioral science is applied in organizations across several domains, b) why behavioral science insights and tools are becoming increasingly relevant in organizational settings, and c) what MBDS graduates can expect when they finally get to the job market. Students will use these conversations to identify, develop, and focus on their professional goals, helping them to refine their academic plans to support these goals. In the spring, students embark on a Design Challenge, where, in teams, they will have a chance to use instructional and strategic input from these conversations to shape their work.

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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