Advertiser disclosure

Cognitive Science Major Overview

Curious about how the mind really works? Well, then cognitive science might be a great major for you. Cognitive science is all about learning how the processes of the mind (i.e. the brain) work. From how we pay attention, to how we recognize faces – cognitive science truly covers it all. 

If that sounds interesting to you, keep on reading to take a deeper look into what the cognitive science major entails! 

What is a cognitive science major?

Rather than focusing on people’s thoughts and behaviors themselves, cognitive science focuses on the underlying processes that are responsible for these behaviors. Cognitive science may, for example, have you study (1) how thoughts are generated or (2) how a signal in your brain causes movement. It also focuses on more subtle, unconscious processes that are important in our everyday lives, like attention, memory, language, and motor control. 

To prepare students for their futures, cognitive science undergraduate coursework typically has a large focus on foundational theories and practical skills. At some universities, cognitive science majors may even be able to focus on a specific problem, take related courses, and use their newfound skills to see what they can find. Similarly, if they choose, cognitive science majors can engage in research while in undergrad.

P.S.: If you’re interested in doing research with a professor, but aren’t sure how to reach out – be sure to check out How to email your professor (with examples)!

Coursework to expect

In order to learn about our brains’ processes and functions, cognitive science majors must take classes in a wide variety of subjects. From the social sciences, to the natural sciences, to mathematics, cognitive science majors cover a lot. And, once they’ve completed their foundational courses, cognitive science majors also have a wide variety of electives to choose from, which often dive deeper and explore more specific topics within cognition.

By selecting particular elective courses, cognitive science majors can focus on a specific area within the subject. For example, those interested in studying the interplay of cognitive science and psychology may take courses like Social Psychology or Cultural Psychology to learn how the mind impacts one’s behavior and thoughts.  

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a cognitive science major:

  • Cognition
  • Psychology
  • Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence
  • Neuroscience
  • Computer Science
  • Philosophy
  • Mathematics
  • Introduction to Data Science
  • Minds and Brains
  • Language, Culture, and Cognition
  • The Musical Mind
  • Statistical Analysis


Opportunities after graduation

The interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science opens up those who study it to many possibilities post-graduation. Further, the writing, analytical, and research skills that one earns while studying the subject allows majors to find careers in many industries and fields. Whether cognitive science majors want to pursue a career in medical research, health care, marketing, academia, or even game design – all are possible! Alternatively, cognitive science students can choose to pursue further schooling (but we’ll get into that later).

Jobs you can get with a cognitive science degree

For now, here are just a few of the great jobs that one can pursue with a degree in cognitive science (with salaries included!).

1. Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers

Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers each work with computers and computer software – just in different ways. For example, Software Developers create computer applications that allow users to do specialized tasks, as well as underlying programs that allow devices to run. Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers, on the other hand, design and perform software tests to learn how the software works and identify any potential problems with it. Each of these professions typically requires individuals to have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or a related field. However, employers may sometimes prefer to hire those with Master’s degrees. 

2020 Median Pay: $110,140/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 22%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Human Resources Specialists

Working directly with new hires, Human Resource Specialists are responsible for recruiting, interviewing, and placing employees. Before doing so, they discuss with employers to find out what types of employees they’re looking for. With this information, they then search for employees and interview, perform background checks on, and hire applicants that seem qualified for the position. They also process employment paperwork and sometimes even help carry out new employee orientation. Typically, one needs a bachelor’s degree in business, human resources, or a related field to become a Human Resources Specialist. However, the specific amount of previous experience preferred may vary by company.

2020 Median Pay: $63,490/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 10%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Being in the field of business and marketing, marketing managers’ main goal is to generate public interest in their companies’ new products and services. They work with a wide variety of people, from those responsible for the artistic direction of their company, to advertising sales agents, to the financial staff of their companies in order to come up with ideas to create consumer interest in their company. Marketing managers typically hold bachelor’s degrees and have related work experience in advertising, marketing, or business.

2020 Median Pay: $141,490/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 10%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Operations Research Analysts

Operations Research Analysts use their research and mathematical skills in order to help organizations and companies make better decisions. To do so, they gather information from a wide variety of sources, including customer feedback, sales, and computer databases. Then, they use statistical analysis, simulations, graphs, predictive modeling, and other forms of visual data in order to create solutions for companies’ problems. Operations Research Analysts are certainly not limited to one field, with many working in the logistics, business, healthcare, and other industries. A bachelor’s degree is generally required to become an Operations Research Analyst, but some employers may prefer to hire those with a Master’s.

2020 Median Pay: $86,200/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 25%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Advanced Degrees You Can Pursue with a Cognitive Science Degree

After graduating with a bachelor’s in cognitive science, many students decide to pursue further graduate or professional schooling rather than going straight into a career. While graduate and professional programs focusing on cognitive functioning are some of the most popular options for majors, here are just a few of the advanced degrees you can pursue with a cognitive science degree:

  • Master’s or Ph.D in Clinical Psychology
  • Master’s or Ph.D in Neuroscience
  • Ph.D or master’s in Linguistics
  • Master’s or Ph.D in Education
  • Doctor of Medicine
  • Business Administration Master’s degree
  • Juris Doctor (the standard degree for lawyers)

How do I know if a major is right for me? 

Knowing whether or not you’re majoring in the right subject is tricky. Even after being in college for multiple semesters or years, it is not uncommon for students to wonder whether they truly enjoy their major. However, many students also love their majors, and end up sticking with the same one for their entire college experience. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in cognitive science, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Are you curious about why people behave the way they do?
  • Do you want to learn more about artificial intelligence?
  • Do you enjoy taking classes in a wide range of subjects?

If you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, then cognitive science may be a great fit for you. Remember to be MINDful of yourself and others, and we wish you good luck. Have fun in college!

Also see: How to pick a major

Frequently asked questions about cognitive science majors

Is cognitive science the same as psychology?

Great question! Although cognitive science and psychology both focus on the human mind, they do so in different ways. Cognitive science is the scientific study of how the human mind works. It looks into how information is processed or transformed into other information or action (on the part of a person). Essentially, it seeks to understand how the nervous system and artificial intelligence function when processing different types of information. Psychology, on the other hand, is the scientific study of human behavior. It focuses on how people behave, and how different factors can influence one’s behavior or ways of thinking. To learn more about psychology, be sure to check out our psychology major overview!