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Best Master's Degrees in Behavioral Health

Nov 05, 2021

What Is a Master's in Behavioral Health Degree?

A Master's in Behavioral Health arms students with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the role that behavior plays in a person's physical and mental health and overall well-being. Students are taught how socioeconomic factors, cultural norms, religious beliefs, and biology contribute to behavior. Students completing a Master's in Behavioral Health will study psychology, sociology, and biology to understand the connections between the different fields and their role in behavior. It is only through understanding societal differences and how this impacts behavior that we can develop effective policy in order to maximize society's health.

There are a number of career paths available to graduates that include working as public health specialists, social workers, counselors, crisis intervention specialists, and rehabilitation specialists. Graduates work in a wide range of settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, social agencies, correctional facilities, and intervention centers. The field is relatively new, with it only really gaining standing in the last 30 years, so its applications in the real world are very much in their infancy.

The Best Masters Degree Programs in Behavioral Health

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 Brown University $58180 7% 96% 56% Yes Yes N/A
2 University of Arizona $13271 85% 65% 91% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
3 University of San Francisco $25810 64% 75% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
4 Temple University $17846 60% 74% 90% Yes Yes AP Credits
5 Washington University in St Louis $54750 14% 95% 51% Yes Yes AP Credits
6 Tulane University of Louisiana $56958 13% 86% 79% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Behavioral Health

The three fields of study that behavioral health draws from psychology, biology, and sociology. These are all common undergraduate degrees for those looking to pursue a Master's in Behavioral Health. All three programs give students a good foundation for post-graduate study in this area, as they give students an understanding of relevant concepts and theories. Those with undergraduate degrees in human services, social services, counseling, and mental health studies also contribute to the students that choose to undertake post-graduate behavioral health studies.

Admissions Requirements for Behavioral Health Master's Programs

The admission requirements vary between schools; however, there are several commonalities. Students are generally required to have a GPA of at least 3.0, although, at some schools, this may be as high as 3.5. Most schools require 2-3 letters of recommendation, including 1-2 letters from professors familiar with the student at the undergraduate level. Additionally, a personal statement from the student detailing their reasons for pursuing this course of study is an almost universal requirement.

Some schools limit the intake by only accepting applications from students who have obtained their bachelor's degree at certain schools. Other schools require students to have completed certain courses as part of their undergraduate study. The courses vary between programs, so it is vital students ensure they have met this requirement for the school they are interested in studying at.

Why Should I Get a Behavioral Health Master's Degree?

The Master's in Behavioral Health provides students with an opportunity to move into careers in a wide array of areas. It also has the potential to unlock more advanced positions within certain fields. Also, building on the material they have learned at an undergraduate level, students will have the chance to focus on the areas that interest them most and develop skills in those areas.

Students looking to work successfully in the behavioral health field should possess the following aptitudes:

  • Strong written and oral communication skills
  • Healthy professional boundaries
  • Strong professional boundaries
  • Active listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Tolerance

The field is still developing, meaning there is plenty of scope for future growth within the field.

How to Choose a Master's in Behavioral Health Program

Not all schools offer a Master's in Behavioral Health program. There are several different names for this program, including behavioral science and behavioral medicine. The content of these different programs varies between schools. It is crucial students review the coursework and material of each program they are considering to ensure it meets their needs.

Another factor to consider is the cost of tuition. There is a significant variation in the cost of tuition depending on the school chosen. Private schools tend to cost more than public schools, while in-state schools tend to cost less than out-of-state options.

More schools are offering programs online. Online programs offer cost savings. Additionally, they also provide students the opportunity to complete the program at their own pace. Students considering this option will need to be motivated to maintain the schedule they set. On-campus programs have the advantage of physical interaction with other students and teaching staff.

Behavioral Health Master's Degree Courses

Most programs require students to complete both core and elective courses.

There are several different pathways for students considering a Master's in Behavioral Health. The program is often offered on an applied track or a general track. The applied track focuses on teaching students how to take theoretical concepts and apply them to the real world. Students choosing this option have less freedom when it comes to selecting elective courses. The general track provides students with a broad understanding of the field and allows them to tailor their study toward their areas of interest with their elective choices.

Students may also elect whether they want to complete a program that includes a thesis or a non-thesis program. Students that elect to go the thesis route are expected to have completed empirical research at an undergraduate level.

Behavioral Health Foundational Courses

Most programs require students to complete a set number of core courses. Core courses typically relate to key concepts and material that is applicable industry-wide. These courses are designed to provide students with the level of knowledge required to complete elective courses.

Some of the standard core course include:

  • Psychological Assessment provides students with a range of tools that will enable them to assess a person's psychological well-being comprehensively.
  • Behavioral and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions cover the assessment of behavior and how to intervene or modify behavior in the context of cognitive therapy.
  • Evidence-based Interventions aim to provide the student with an armory of interventions and the evidence to support them.

Behavioral Health Specialist & Elective Courses

The choice of elective courses generally depends on the area that students wish to pursue. If a thesis option is offered, this will typically replace several of the elective options. Elective courses tend to cover the aspects of life that influence behavior or interventions relating to the treatment of unhealthy behaviors. Some of the common elective courses include:

  • Substance Use and Addiction
  • Psychopathology
  • Mental Health
  • Behavior Disorders
  • Individual and Group Counseling
  • Family Counseling
  • Ethnic and Cultural Disparities

Licensure & Certification in Behavioral Health

The requirement for licensure and certification depends on the area that the student works in. If the student intends to work as a counselor, they will need to obtain a license for the state they will be working in. Most states require students to show they are of good character, provide letters of recommendation, and have completed a set number of supervised hours in practice. Candidates are then required to take an examination. This is usually administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Behavioral Health Analysts are required to obtain certification. There are a number of online certificates that fulfill the requirements of the Behavioral Analysts Certification Board.

For students who intend to pursue a career in social work, licensure requirements depend on the area they are working in. A number of jobs require a social worker to be licensed, especially if the job entails working with vulnerable populations. The requirements vary between states. Common requirements include completing a set number of hours in supervised practice and passing an examination.

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Behavioral Health

The Doctorate of Behavioral Health is available as an on-campus and online option. The doctorate program offers a clinical concentration for those with a master's who have a clinical license, such as nurses, counselors, psychologists, and therapists. The doctorate program is also offered as a research-based option whereby students complete a thesis as part of their study program. This option is aimed at students who intend to pursue a career in research or as a teacher.

Behavioral Health Professional Organizations

There are several professional organizations available to those working in this field. Professional organizations are an excellent place for networking and building professional contacts. They also provide a range of different continuing education opportunities and advocate for members on matters of policy.

Some of the professional organizations that are most popular among graduates with a Master's in Behavioral Health include:

What Can I Do with a Behavioral Health Master's Degree?

A Master's in Behavioral Health provides students with a range of options in terms of their future careers. These options include working as social workers , counselors, and behavioral scientists. Many professionals focus on working with those with substance use and addictions. Careers working in social services are another popular option. A significant number of graduates work in mental health services.

Behavioral Therapists work with clients to help them understand and address unhealthy behaviors that are impacting negatively on their lives.

Within the criminal justice system, graduates may be involved in working with offenders in correctional facilities or probation services. These roles could include working with offenders to assist in rehabilitation, assessing offenders, making recommendations around sentencing, and determining how external factors influence an offender's behaviors.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Behavioral Health

Demand for psychologists is steady at 3% according to the US Bureau of Labor; however, demand in specific areas within the field is expected to be much higher. Psychologists and counselors that focus on substance abuse and addictions are expected to be in higher demand,

Forensics is another area predicted to have higher than average growth, with the demand for forensic psychologists expected to increase by 7.8% over the next ten years.

Social and community services are also expected to see high levels of demand over the coming years and offer graduates the opportunity to work with a wide range of cultures, age groups, and populations.

How to Become a Social Services Manager

Those working in social services work with a range of disadvantaged groups, including the homeless, mentally ill, aging, disabled, or anyone who is socially challenged. Social service managers are responsible for directing a team of social workers, counselors, psychologists, and behavioral therapists to support those that are disadvantaged in society. They are also responsible for developing and implementing community initiatives to assist those groups that are most in need.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, social service managers receive an average annual salary of $72,900. The District of Columbia pays the highest salaries with an average salary of $104,510. Rhode Island follows this with an average salary of $94,860 and New Jersey at $88,270. Job growth over the period 2019 to 2029 is expected to be 7.8%, with New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts employing the most social service managers.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors work with individuals and families who are struggling with addictions. They help addicts understand how their behavior affects their lives and those who are close to them and help them develop strategies to overcome their addictions. Substance abuse counselors work in a range of different settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, correctional facilities, and private clinics.

Students who intend to pursue this career option will also need to obtain a psychology or counseling qualification to meet licensure requirements.

There is an increasing number of people who are struggling with addiction, meaning the job growth is predicted at 25% for the period 2019-2029, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2019, the average salary for substance abuse counselors was $49,950, with Utah, Oregon, and Nevada paying the best. The states that employ the most substance abuse counselors are California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Master's in Behavioral Health Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

Financial aid is available to students studying for a Master's in Behavioral Health. To ensure they qualify for aid, students must ensure they attend an accredited school. The first step in obtaining financial assistance requires students to complete and lodge the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is recommended students apply early to maximize their aid.

Students should also contact the relevant state agency who can provide information about financial aid details in each respective state.

There are a number of scholarships offered by schools, states, and private organizations. Some of the scholarships available to behavioral health students include:

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