Psychology and Neuroscience

At the undergraduate level, this department offers a major in psychology and a major and a certificate in neurosciences. Psychology is a broad discipline that seeks to understand human cognition, emotion, and behavior. It is also an applied field that is concerned with testing perception, psychopathology, inheritance of complex behavioral traits, mental health, memory, and social factors that influence behavior.

Neuroscience is the study of the mechanisms of nervous system—the brain, the spinal cord, and networks of sensory nerve cells, or neurons. Neuroscientists work to describe how neural circuits transmit signals and process different types of information. The principles of neuroscience are derived from the application of methods from many scientific disciplines, including molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, physiology, structure, and computational modeling.

Note that no terminal master’s degree is offered in except for the concurrent BA/MA program in cognitive psychology.   

Students contemplating postgraduate education, either in professional or in graduate school, are encouraged to participate in the departmental honors program, which provides special opportunities for individualized attention.   

CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience has been ranked by the National Academy of Sciences as one of the best in the country with respect to the quality of the faculty and their scholarly productivity. Moreover, the department offers undergraduates a wide range of opportunities for involvement in research.

Course codes for this program are PSYC and NRSC.

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Neuroscience

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and one of the two programs listed below. Additional explanatory notes are available in the department advising office in Muenzinger D243.

Neuroscience Major

In order to graduate with a degree in neuroscience, the department requires that students fulfill the following course requirements with a grade of C- or better. Additional explanatory notes are available in the department advising office, Muenzinger D243.

The department recommends taking NRSC 2100 and NRSC 2200, the genetics and statistics requirements and the ancillary biology, chemistry and calculus sequences during the first two years of study.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • NRSC 2100 Introduction to Neuroscience—4
  • NRSC 2200 Laboratory Techniques in Neuroscience—2
  • Complete one of the following genetics courses: EBIO 2070 Genetics: Molecules to Populations or MCDB 2150 with 2151 or 2161 Principles of Genetics with Lab. (Please check all prerequisites and corequisites before enrolling in courses.)—4
  • Statistics/computation requirement (complete one of the following):—3-4
    BCOR 1020 Business Statistics
    ECON 3818 Introduction to Statistics with Computer Applications
    IPHY 2800 Introduction to Statistics
    MATH 2510 Introduction to Statistics
    MATH 2520 Introduction to Biometry
    PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology

Upper-division Neuroscience Requirements                   

  • Complete MCDB 3135 Molecular Cell Biology 1—3
  • Complete at least three of the following:—9-10
    NRSC 4032 Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
    NRSC 4052 Behavioral Neuroscience
    NRSC 4132 Neuropharmacology
    NRSC 4092 Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
    NRSC 4072 Clinical Neuroscience
  • Complete 9 hours of upper-division elective course work by taking additional courses from upper-division requirements above or from the following neuroscience and general science electives with a maximum of 6 hours allowed from courses outside of psychology and neuroscience. (Please check all prerequisites and corequisites before enrolling courses.)
    CHEM 4611 Survey of Biochemistry
    CHEM 4711 General Biochemistry 1
    ECEN 3030 Electrical/Electronic Circuits Non-Major
    ECEN 4120 Neural Network Design
    ECEN 4811 Neural Signals and Functional Brain Imaging
    ECEN 4821 Neural Systems and Physiological Control
    ECEN 4831 Brains, Minds and Computers
    EBIO 3240 Animal Behavior
    IPHY 3410 Human Anatomy
    IPHY 3430 Introduction to Human Physiology
    IPHY 3470 Human Physiology 1
    IPHY 4200 Physiological Genetics and Genomics
    IPHY 4580 Sleep Physiology
    IPHY 4720 Neurophysiology
    MCDB 3140 Cell Biology Lab
    MCDB 3280 Molecular Cell Physiology
    MCDB 4201 From Bench to Bedside: The Role of Science in Medicine
    MCDB 4426 Cell Signaling and Developmental Regulation
    MCDB 4444 Cellular Basis of Disease
    MCDB 4680 Mechanisms of Aging
    NRSC 4011 Senior Thesis
    NRSC 4015 Affective Neuroscience
    NRSC 4062 Neurobiology of Stress
    NRSC 4155 Cognitive Neuroscience/Neuropsychology
    NRSC 4542 Neurobiology of Mental Illness
    NRSC 4545 Neurobiology of Addiction
    PSYC 4021 Psychology and Neuroscience of Exercise
    PSYC 4142 Brain Injury, Plasticity and Recovery: From Neuron to Behavior
    PSYC 4165 Psychology of Perception
    PSYC 4175 Computational Cognitive Neuroscience

Ancillary Foundation Courses

  • Ancillary molecular biology requirement: EBIO 1210 with 1230 General Biology 1 with Lab or MCDB 1150 with 1151 or 1161 Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Biology with Lab—4
  • Ancillary calculus requirement: MATH 1300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 or MATH 1310 Calculus, Statistics, and Modeling—5
  • Ancillary general chemistry sequence requirement:CHEM 1113 with 1114 and CHEM 1133 with 1134, General Chemistry 1 and 2 with Labs or CHEM 1251 and 1271 General Chemistry 1 and 2 for Chemistry and Biochemistry Majors or CHEM 1351 and 1371 Honors General Chemistry 1 and 2—10
  • Ancillary organic chemistry requirement: CHEM 3311 Organic Chemistry 1 or CHEM 3351 Organic Chemistry 1-4 for BCHM/CHEM majors. Students planning graduate/medical school or work in the biotechnology industry should plan to take CHEM 3331 and CHEM 3341, Organic Chemistry II with Lab-4. Students should verify program requirements for any additional chemistry prerequisites.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of "adequate progress" as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in neuroscience, students should meet the following requirements:

  • The neuroscience major must be started in the first semester. Adequate progress is defined as cumulative completion of at least one fourth of the required course work for the major during each academic year, including the following specific requirements: a) The ancillary molecular biology requirement and the genetics requirement must be completed during the first year; b) All ancillary requirements (molecular biology, calculus, and general chemistry) and Introduction to Neuroscience and Laboratory Techniques in Neuroscience must be completed by the end of the second year.
  • The neuroscience major requires at least 55 hours of required course work. Thus, at least 14 hours must be completed yearly, including timely completion of advanced course prerequisites.
  • The four-year guarantee also requires completion of 30 hours of core curriculum courses by the end of the sophomore year. Calculus counts as three hours of QRMS; chemistry and molecular biology count as 13 hours of natural science.

Psychology Major

In order to graduate with a degree in psychology, the department requires that students fulfill the following course requirements with a grade of C- or better. Additional explanatory notes are available in the department advising office, Muenzinger D243.

The department recommends taking PSYC 1001, 2012, 2145, 2606, and 3101 by the end of the sophomore year, and 3111 by the end of the junior year.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • PSYC 1001 General Psychology—3
  • PSYC 2012 Biological Psychology—3
  • PSYC 2145 Introductory Cognitive Psychology—3
  • PSYC 2606 Social Psychology—3
  • PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology—4
  • PSYC 3111 Psychological Sciences II: Research Methods—4
  • One of the following:
    PSYC 3102 Behavioral Genetics—3
    PSYC 3303 Abnormal Psychology—3
  • At least one course from the following upper-division laboratory and methods courses:
    PSYC 3001 Honors Research Methods Seminar—4
    PSYC/NRSC 4052 Behavioral Neuroscience—4
    PSYC 4136 Human Judgment and Decision-Making Lab—4
    PSYC 4145 Advanced Cognitive Psychology—4
    PSYC/NRSC 4155 Cognitive Neuroscience/Neuropsychology—4
    PSYC 4165 Psychology of Perception—4
    PSYC 4175 Computational Cognitive Neuroscience—4
    PSYC 4376 Research Methods in Social Psychology—4
    PSYC 4443 Research Methods in Clinical Psychology—4
    PSYC 4733 Psychological Testing and Assessment—4
  • Additional electives to bring total hours in psychology and neuroscience to at least 34, but not more than 45, of which at least 18 must be upper division. (Students are encouraged to use independent study to gain field or laboratory experience. However, independent study hours are pass/fail credit only and cannot be used toward the 34 hours required for graduation.)
  • In addition to the course requirements listed above, and the minimum of 31 hours in psychology, the student is required to pass one of the following natural science sequences with a grade of C- or better:
    CHEM 1011 and 1031 Environmental Chemistry 1 and 2
    CHEM 1051 and 1071 Introduction to Chemistry and Introduction to Organic and Biochemistry
    CHEM 1113 and 1071 General Chemistry 1 and Introduction to Organic and Biochemistry
    CHEM 1113 and 1133 General Chemistry 1 and 2
    CHEM 1251 and 1271 General Chemistry 1 and 2 for Chemistry/Biochemistry majors
    EBIO 1210 and 1220 General Biology 1 and 2 (formerly EPOB 1210 and 1220)
    MATH 1300 and 2300 Analytical Geometry and Calculus 1 and 2
    MCDB 1150 and 2150 Introduction to MCD Biology 1 and Principles of Genetics
    MCDB 1150 and EBIO 1220 Introduction to MCD Biology 1 and General Biology 2
    PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2 (science and engineering majors only)
    PHYS 2010 and 2020 General Physics 1 and 2
  • One of the following MATH courses with a grade of C- or better:
    MATH 1011 College Algebra
    MATH 1071 Finite Math
    MATH 1150 Pre-Calculus
    MATH 1300 Calculus


NOTE: Transfer students must complete a minimum of 12 upper-division hours of psychology course work on the Boulder campus with a C- or better. Of those 12 hours, one laboratory and methods course must be included.

Graduating in Four Years

Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in psychology, students should meet the following requirements:

  • Declare the major by the beginning of the second semester.
  • Complete PSYC 1001, 2012, 2145, and 2606 and  natural science sequence during the first two years of study.
  • Complete the 2-semester sequence of PSYC 3101 and PSYC 3111 by the end of the fifth semester.
  • Complete 3102 or 3303, a 4000-level laboratory and methods course, and at least two upper-division PSYC electives during the junior (third) year. (If students are unable to enroll in these courses due to oversubscription during the junior year, they will have top enrollment priority the senior year.)
  • Complete remaining elective requirements during the senior year.

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Prerequisites Statement

It is policy to enforce the course prerequisites listed in the course descriptions. If you have not either taken and passed (C- or better) the prerequisites for a course, or obtained permission from the instructor or a departmental advisor to take the course based on equivalent preparatory course work or experience here or elsewhere, you may be administratively dropped from the course. 

Concurrent Bachelor's/Master's Program

Concurrent BA/MA Program with Specialization in Cognitive Psychology

A concurrent BA/MA in psychology, with specialization in cognitive psychology, is offered. Both the BA and MA degree must be completed within a five-year period. In recent years, both basic and applied research in cognitive psychology have come to rely increasingly on related findings, theories, and methods in other cognitive science disciplines, including philosophy, computer science, and linguistics. 

The purpose of this degree program is to provide training that prepares students either for continuing doctoral study in cognitive psychology or for technical careers involving cognitive psychology in government and industry. Students complete the requirements for an undergraduate major in psychology, an interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate in cognitive science, and a master’s degree in the cognitive psychology graduate training program. Because of the demanding nature of this program, only highly qualified students are admitted.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

PhD Programs in Psychology and Neuroscience

Students are admitted for graduate studies leading to the PhD in one of five fields: behavioral genetics, behavioral neuroscience (including learning and motivation), clinical, cognitive, and social psychology. Note that no terminal master’s degree program is offered. The behavioral genetics program focuses on the study of genetic contributions to individual differences in behavior. The fundamental tenet of the behavioral neuroscience program is that a complete understanding of behavior entails unraveling mechanisms and principles at any and all levels of organization (i.e., behavior, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurochemistry, gene expression, and epigenetics). The major training goals of the clinical psychology program follow the Boulder model in that the preparation of scientist-practitioner is stressed. The clinical psychology program is accredited by the American Psychological Association. The Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience PhD Program investigates how humans process information and includes laboratories focusing on perception, attention, learning and memory, reading and language processing, skill acquisition, expertise, categorization, executive control, and child development. Researchers use a variety of methods, including behavioral measures, neuroimaging techniques (e.g., fMRI, EEG), computational and mathematical modeling, patient studies, and genetic analysis. The program in social psychology trains students to conduct research, either applied or basic, in the fields of social cognition, self-concept development, close relationships, and health.

Requirements for the PhD Degree

All students are admitted with the expectation that they will work toward the PhD degree. Many students receive a master of arts degree in the course of working toward the PhD. Students who receive the PhD degree must demonstrate that they are proficient in some broad subject of learning and that they can critically evaluate work in this field; furthermore, they must show the ability to work independently in their chosen field and must make an original contribution of significance to the advancement of knowledge.

In the first year of graduate study, all psychology graduate students enroll in a two-semester graduate statistical sequence. There is a first-year research requirement that starts the student on an active program of research. The student also must enroll in a sequence of courses designed to give exposure to various research topics and methods.

Before admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, the student must pass a comprehensive examination in the field of concentration and related fields. This examination tests the student mastery of a broad field of knowledge, not merely the formal course work completed.

A variety of advanced research seminars are taught on a regular basis. Students are required to be enrolled in at least one substantive course in the department each semester until the comprehensive examinations have been successfully completed. Upon completing the comprehensives, students engage in the dissertation research, culminating in a public oral defense.

PhD in Neuroscience

The neuroscience community at the University of Colorado Boulder is made up of over 80 faculty and research associates rostered in 13 departments and institutes. Neuroscience activities on the campus are coordinated by the Center for Neuroscience. The University of Colorado at Boulder offers a PhD in Neuroscience, as well as graduate and undergraduate certificates in Neuroscience that can be combined with a variety of majors.

The graduate PhD program in neuroscience is an interdepartmental program currently consisting of eight tracks to a PhD:

  • behavioral genetics (psychology);
  • behavioral neuroscience (psychology);
  • clinical neuroscience (psychology);
  • cognitive neuroscience (psychology);
  • social neuroscience (psychology);
  • integrative physiological neuroscience (integrative physiology);
  • molecular, cellular, and developmental neuroscience (MCD-biology); or
  • speech, language, and hearing neurosciences (SLHS).

Students apply for admission to one of the participating departments and their admission to CU-Boulder and financial support are determined by that department. Once in residence, students enter the neuroscience PhD program while still maintaining their “home” in the department to which they were admitted. They receive a PhD that lists both their home department and neuroscience.

The neuroscience curriculum includes a year-long intensive core course, graduate seminar courses linked to an invited speaker series, and wide-ranging neurosciences courses offered by many departments and institutes across campus. 

Potential applicants are encouraged to visit the neuroscience website, which provides detailed information on the program, application process, courses, faculty, and current trainees: www.colorado.edu/neuroscienceprogram.

Certificate Program

Certificate in Neurosciences

The neurosciences certificate program encourages undergraduate students interested in how the brain controls behavior to take courses in the basic sciences while providing the means to specialize in neuroscience. Since this subdiscipline of the biological sciences spans a number of departments at the university (e.g., integrative physiology, psychology, and MCD biology), students are encouraged to obtain greater academic breadth through inter­departmental course selection.   

To obtain the certificate, a student must satisfy the requirements of a major and the certificate program, and maintain a grade point average of 3.20 or better.  

For more information, see www.colorado.edu/neuroscienceprogram.

Graduate Certificate in Neuroscience and Behavior

The Graduate Certificate in Neuroscience and Behavior focuses on understanding the nervous system and its relationship to disease and behavior. This understanding encompasses the molecular, cellular, and behavioral aspects of neuroscience.

Students come from such graduate programs as ecology and evolutionary biology; behavioral genetics; molecular, cellular, and developmental biology; psychology; and integrative physiology. They receive a PhD in their department and a certificate in neuroscience. 

The neuroscience core curriculum includes courses in the following areas: neuroscience methods laboratory, neuroanatomy (PSYC 5263), neurochemistry or neuropharmacology (e.g., PSYC 5062, PSYC 5132), neurophysiology or systems neuroscience (e.g., PSYC 5042, EPOB 5190), behavioral neuroscience or animal behavior (e.g., EPOB 5240, KINE 5610, PSYC—to be developed), molecular neuroscience or molecular genetics or developmental neuroscience (e.g., PSYC 5232, EPOB 5200, MCDB—to be developed).

Students are required to attend a weekly journal club or discussion group and neuroscience colloquia.