Social and Behavioral Science Degrees in Public Health

Social and Behavioral Science degree programs aim to provide important educational value to the public health field and to wellness in general. The influence of society and the natural behavior acquisition cycle can affect a person’s ability to maintain good health and respond well to unforeseen illnesses.

How society plays a role in the transmission of illness and disease is another topic that is prevalent within this field. For students that become involved in this field, the relationship between society, behavior, and health can become more apparent, as well as the change programs and interventions that are involved in the improvement of public health. Social and Behavioral Sciences can have a dramatic effect on the efficiency of public health programs.

The Social and Behavioral Science specialization of Public Health encourages students to investigate the effects of society and behavior on the acceptance of health programs, motivation behind staying healthy, and the overall sustenance of illness and disease. Through standardized training and education, students can have the tools necessary to properly analyze and investigate social and behavioral issues so that public health programs are acceptable and useful for all people.

Bachelors Programs in Behavioral Science

The social and behavioral science track is important to the field of public health as a whole, and can be similar to Social Work (especially the MSW), but also has its differences. A Bachelors in Social and Behavioral Science typically provides valuable insight into how society and individual behavior play a role in the health of the people within the country. At the bachelor’s level, students can begin to integrate knowledge of personal interaction, psychology, and sociology with health habits and preventative notions that affect public health in general.


The bachelor’s program in social and behavioral sciences consists of 4 years of educational courses in standard subjects such as Algebra, History, and Chemistry, and specialized courses that focus more specifically on the social and behavioral aspects of the public. This degree program can be found in traditional on-campus environments as well as in an online setting. This section includes some of the core courses that can be found within this program.

Counseling Theories

Counseling Theories can provide students with insight into the theory and practice of counseling from a public health perspective. This course focuses on the need for sensitivity to diversity, which is a large portion of what makes counselors effective in community settings. Theories of counseling are discussed in detail, as well as the effective communication methods and therapeutic practices that are popular in modern society.

Ethics of Behavioral Health Sciences

This course outlines some of the common ethical dilemmas and issues that arise in behavioral health science. Students may be given the opportunity to review case studies and apply their knowledge in mock dilemmas. Ethics in public health is a great concern, which provides the foundation for knowledge during this class.

Cultural and Social Diversity

Cultural and Social Diversity is a course that provides students with knowledge about differences among people within society. Working with the public can be an enlightening opportunity for professionals, in that there are numerous cultures at work within different areas. This course gives students a broad outlook on diversity in hopes of evoking more open-mindedness and sensitivity when working in the public domain.

Masters in Social and Behavioral Science Programs

There are many aspects of the human persona that play a role in how people deal with illness, wellness, and healing. The goal of master’s level programs in social and behavioral sciences is to identify what aspects of human personality and interaction can be influenced to provide a more proactive approach to these ideas. Through course work in this program, students may investigate what lies beneath social interaction, behavior, and attitudes toward public health. Students may also identify cultural norms or ideas that influence how people respond to health dilemmas.

Course work in this major includes classroom studies, writing assignments, group work, and even on the job training. Depending on the university, learners may find a combination of all or some of these learning methods. Online master’s in public health degree programs are common and can provide students with knowledge into how ideas and opinions can be changed to include a more proactive approach to dealing with personal health.


Master’s programs typically take 1-2 years to complete full time and typically require over 40 credits. During these programs, students may take courses that focus strictly on their desired degree major and specialty. Some of the common concentrations for this degree program include social and behavioral interventions, psychosocial epidemiology, disease prevention, and overall health promotion. Students that choose a specialty with their degree program can take courses that sharpen their skills within those concentrations in addition to the core components. Some of the core classes can be found below.

Cultural Competence

This course includes some of the attitudes, behaviors, and programs that are present within groups that work in society. Throughout this class, students may be permitted to express their understanding of various cultures, in an effort to better understand the beliefs and customs of different people. Increasing awareness, knowledge, and appreciation of these different cultures is pertinent to providing better services to all people.

Program Planning and Evaluation

Students in this course begin with the basics of assessing the needs of people for public health programs. Policies surrounding program development may be discussed in detail, as well as some of the challenges that may arise during the process. Program planning, creation, and implementation are also main topics throughout this course.

Behavioral Science and Intervention

Students that seek to apply what they know about behavior to public health agendas may gain expertise throughout this course. Using interventions to help shape behavior is a primary method of providing improvement to societal systems. In this class, students may be introduced to behavior change theories, interventions, and the science behind behavior modification.

Doctorate Programs

Doctorate level programs can redefine the way that social and behavioral sciences are implemented in the study of public health. Through these programs, students may learn how to use the knowledge of behavior and interaction in relationship to health dilemmas. This can provide for a more specialized approach to developing public health agendas, which can in turn improve overall health of communities around the world.


Doctoral programs may focus on the need for extensive research as a primary means of learning. While most doctoral programs take 3-4 years for completion, the implementation of online programs has eased the transition to higher learning for a lot of incoming students. Independent studies and learning activities are a major part of doctoral programs in social and behavioral sciences, as well as the supervised working activities that some programs require. Common course work in doctoral programs includes the following:

Social Determinants of Health

Connecting societal beliefs and habits to overall health is best completed through understanding social influence. This course can provide students with the knowledge of how socioeconomics, race, ethnicity, connections, relationships, and the economy affect attitudes and actions concerning personal and public health. These connections throughout society may then be evaluated to determine proper methods of change that can be effective for large groups and communities.

Behavioral and Social Science Theory for Health Promotion

This course outlines some of the popular behavioral and social theories that are related to health promotion. After students have gained a better understanding of how behavior and society influence the attitudes surrounding public health, students must have knowledge in the application of change programs and community-wide education programs that can help change the views toward better health. Students may be responsible for writing projects or the analysis of case studies throughout this course.

Health Behavior Intervention Research

In an effort to better educate students on the effectiveness of behavior change programs, this course allows students to take a deeper look inside some of the completed studies on these programs. The methods for evaluating the effectiveness of these programs may also be discussed, providing students with a clearer aspect of what is required to effectively administer interventions in public health.

Social or Behavioral Science Career Options and Salary/Employment Information

Behavioral and social sciences have a large influence on the field of public health. Careers in this discipline can be found in many different areas, including mental health, sociology, and research. Students that want to blend their knowledge of public health with specific fields such as psychology may find that careers as licensed therapists or counselors may be a good fit, while others may be more interested in some of the research-oriented aspects of health such as sociology. Knowledge of behavior and society can also be useful in careers working for the government or even for individual agencies that seek to find social cues and psychological components that play a role in health and wellness.

Organizations for Social and Behavioral Science

National Council for Behavioral Health

The National Council for Behavioral Health is a leading organization for individuals that have degrees or careers within this field. The importance of continuing education and research within this field has fueled organizations such as this one to provide outstanding knowledge and new case studies to members on a regular basis. For graduates in social and behavioral sciences, memberships to organizations such as this one can mean more knowledge, expertise, and potential within their particular field.

American Association of Behavior and Social Sciences (AABSS)

The AABSS is a scholarly society of professionals within behavior and social science disciplines. The goal of this organization is to promote further learning and innovation in the field of behavior and social sciences. Since these fields are constantly changing in response to new knowledge about the human mind and interaction, it is important for professionals to change with them. For graduates, this organization can bring the opportunity to advance knowledge in the field through attendance to conferences, continuing education, and journal studies. Through this organization, professionals can continue to learn about the changing policies, regulations, and standards set forth by professionals in this field and seek to provide their best to the field in which they work. The AABSS provides a great opportunity for both intellectual growth and professional advancement for graduates in social and behavioral sciences.