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Introduction to Majoring in Cognitive Science

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Aja Altenhof in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered



What Is Cognitive Science?


Cognitive science is the study of intelligence systems and the human mind. This interdisciplinary field is at the intersection of biology, neuroscience, linguistics, math, philosophy, and psychology. 


With the wide variety of disciplinary perspectives within the field of cognitive science, you can discover your academic strengths and interests and use these as a lens to tackle pressing scientific questions about the mind and human cognition. 


If you are interested in majoring in cognitive science, check out this complete list of all United States colleges that offer a cognitive science major. 


Degree Requirements


Each college or university will have different degree requirements for their cognitive science major. Since the field of cognitive science spans many disciplines, degree candidates are often required to take at least one course in each of the following areas: 


  • Psychology
  • Computer Science
  • Language and linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Neuroscience
  • Upper-level math


Taking at least one course in each of these disciplines lays the groundwork for more advanced courses. Whereas higher-level classes will have small class sizes and are often led by a professor, you can expect the introductory science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses to be larger lectures taught by professors with smaller labs or study sessions led by course assistants. 


These labs or study sessions are opportunities for a handful of students to review the content that was covered in lecture, do practice problems, and ask questions. You will have minimal one-on-one learning time in the introductory STEM courses and should take advantage of office hours with the professor, course assistants, or tutors to discuss any challenging concepts and problems. 


After you finish the foundational courses, you will have the opportunity to concentrate on a specific area within the field of cognitive science. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, you can concentrate in one of three areas: 


  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Computation and cognition
  • Language and mind


Meet a Cognitive Science Major 


Aja Altenhof majored in linguistics and cognitive science at the University of Pennsylvania and graduated in the spring of 2021. Altenhof felt that some of the most interesting and useful cognitive science classes that she took were her computer science classes. The introductory computer programming class was particularly challenging because learning to program is very difficult and time-consuming, and the assignments would take hours to complete. 


Another course that Altenhof found interesting was called Games and Signals, an economics course about the applications of game theory to language. This class explored how different participants in a conversation use game theory to converge on specific meanings and ideas. 


Research & Career Opportunities


A major benefit of pursuing a cognitive science degree is that you have the opportunity to do research in a variety of different fields. One popular strategy for finding research opportunities is to approach the professors of your current or previous cognitive science classes and ask about what projects they are working on and if there is any need for a research assistant. 


For those who are passionate about research, a career in traditional academia may be on the horizon. But a degree in cognitive science positions you equally well for industry jobs in research, product development, user experience, software development, artificial intelligence, and data analysis. 


Ultimately, a degree in cognitive science equips you with the qualitative and quantitative skills that you need to be successful in any career of your choosing.