Is Neuroscience Hard? Here’s What You Need to Know
On average, neuroscientists make $91,510 per year, says the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some of the highest-paid are those who work for pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing companies. And now you are wondering if taking a Neuroscience program in college is going to be hard because neuroscientists are paid very well.
Neuroscience is hard because the core courses such as biology, chemistry, and mathematics are challenging. Earning a Ph.D. or MD in Neuroscience also requires students to stay in school so much longer. A graduate degree in Neuroscience, since it is in the medical field, can be hard on the pocket, too.
Don’t stop reading now if you are thinking about becoming a neuroscientist one day.
Below, you will come across some of the most important matters you need to know about turning your dream into a reality. We will talk about things like what neuroscientists do, which schools have the best programs, how you can get admitted into one, how long you will have to be in school, and how much a Neuroscience degree costs these days.
What Do Neuroscientists Do?
There are various types of neuroscientists. However, no matter the branch they are in, all neuroscientists focus on the nervous system, especially the brain and its impact on cognition and behavior. Neuroscientists also concentrate on what happens to the nervous system when problems with it show up.
One neuroscientist can differ from another neuroscientist based on the degree and specialization.
So, in other words, you can get your hands on a bachelor’s degree or a PhD or an MD, depending on which type of neuroscientist you want to become one day. For instance, you can be a neuroscientist who publishes studies or finds out how the brain develops. Or you can be a neuroscientist who invents drugs or someone who treats people.
Being a neuroscientist, you can specialize in a wide variety of fields, each one of them can help improve man’s understanding of the brain and the rest of the nervous system — from how they work to what effects happen to them in the presence of neurological, psychiatric, and neurodevelopmental issues.
The following are some of the major branches of neuroscience:
- Affective neuroscience
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Clinical neuroscience
- Cognitive neuroscience
- Computational neuroscience
- Cultural neuroscience
- Developmental neuroscience
- Molecular and cellular neuroscience
- Systems neuroscience
Because of the focus, commitment and demands that the job of neuroscientists requires (not to mention that the majority of them work full-time), it isn’t surprising why they make a lot of money every year.
The following are the average annual wages of neuroscientists in various industries in which they work:
|INDUSTRY||MEDIAN ANNUAL WAGE|
|Research and development||$99,840|
|Colleges and universities||$65,840|
How much money you will make an hour or per year when you are already a neuroscientist can be affected by factors other than the program you have completed.
Some common examples include experience level, type of employment, location of employment, and, more importantly, the specialty.
One of the nicest things about earning a Neuroscience degree is that you can apply for various jobs in the medical field or healthcare industry. Even an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, in many instances, is usually enough to make you eligible to work as any of the following:
- Clinical scientist
- Clinical research assistant
- Pharmaceutical researcher
- Laboratory or pharmacy technician
- Medical/healthcare or natural sciences manager
- Forensic science technician
- Residential counsellor
- Sales engineer
After obtaining your undergraduate degree in Neuroscience, you may apply to a graduate school to earn either a Ph.D. or MD in Neuroscience or both.
Needless to say, this will open more and higher-paying career opportunities for you. However, before you get to enjoy that privilege, you will first have to stay in school for many more years.
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Which Colleges Have the Best Neuroscience Degrees?
Some of the best Neuroscience degrees in the US are being offered by high-ranking colleges and universities, consisting of the Ivy Leagues and various selective schools. Leading the list are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Yale University and the University of San Diego.
Due to the nature of the work of neuroscientists, be it those who partake in medical research or perform clinical work, it is a good idea for a student wanting to become one to attend a college with a good Neuroscience program.
This is most especially true since attending graduate school after four years is usually required.
In the US, nearly 6,000 colleges and universities are in existence. Only a little more than 300 of those have Neuroscience programs. But it doesn’t mean that you can complete a Neuroscience program at just any institution and expect to be admitted into graduate school or paid well after graduation.
A large majority of neuroscientists end up in the medical field. It’s because of this exactly why having a solid Neuroscience program that can only come from a reputable and accredited college or university is a definite must. Needless to say, students who are looking to become neuroscientists one day should build the right college list.
Here are some of the top US schools with Neuroscience programs, starting from the best:
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge, Massachusetts||8%|
|Harvard University||Cambridge, Massachusetts||5%|
|Yale University||New Haven, Connecticut||6%|
|University of San Diego||San Diego, California||49%|
|Princeton University||Princeton, New Jersey||6%|
|Duke University||Durham, North Carolina||8%|
|Rice University||Houston, Texas||9%|
|Brown University||Providence, Rhode Island||7%|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||8%|
|Dartmouth College||Hanover, New Hampshire||8%|
|Columbia University||New York City, New York||5%|
|Washington University in St. Louis||Saint Louis, Missouri||14%|
|Vanderbilt University||Nashville, Tennessee||9%|
|Northwestern University||Evanston, Illinois||9%|
|University of Chicago||Chicago, Illinois||6%|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles, California||11%|
|Pomona College||Claremont, California||7%|
|University of Notre Dame||Notre Dame, Indiana||16%|
|California Institute of Technology||Pasadena, California||6%|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||15%|
It’s not enough to ensure that the college or university you are about to apply to offers a winning Neuroscience program that graduate schools and employers alike will respect.
You should also consider the following:
- Cost of attendance
- Financial aid
- Student-to-faculty ratio
- Internship support
- Research opportunities
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What are the Requirements to Enroll in a Neuroscience Degree?
The requirements for a Neuroscience undergraduate program can vary from college to college. They include completing certain courses and having the minimum GPA. For admission into a Neuroscience graduate program, meeting the required academic background and having research experience are required.
Students who wish to become neuroscientists with a PhD or an MD will have to meet certain requirements twice. One is when applying to an undergraduate program, and the other is when applying to a graduate program.
It’s true that different schools with Neuroscience programs have different requirements.
However, many or all of them tend to share the same requirements for admission, such as being enrolled in or having completed some prerequisite courses.
Most are in the STEM field, although it’s not unlikely for some of the required coursework to be in the realm of human sciences. Some common examples include:
Like other four-year courses, a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience can be completed in four years.
However, some students, in particular non-traditional ones who are busy with things other than pursuing higher education, might end up spending six years in college before earning their BA or BS in Neuroscience degree.
On the other hand, those who choose to complete an online Neuroscience program may be able to get their degree in just three years, depending on their pace.
Making sure that the Neuroscience program is being offered by an accredited online school is a must!
After completing their Neuroscience undergraduate program, those who would like to gain admission into a Neuroscience graduate program and earn their Ph.D. or MD in Neuroscience will have to meet a new set of requirements.
As expected, different graduate schools will have different requirements, but they are mostly as follow:
- Minimum college GPA – Depending on the school, it can be as low as 3.0 to as high as 4.0.
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution – In some universities, a degree in Neuroscience is preferred, but those with courses in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics and mathematics are welcome to apply, too.
- Research experience – Sometimes, it’s not required but considered an advantage.
It’s important to note that general requirements for applying to colleges and universities may be required, too. Some common examples include supplementary essays and letters of recommendation.
Since an MD in Neuroscience is offered at medical schools, applicants must first take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Simply put, the MCAT is a standardized test all students who wish to gain admission into medical schools in the country have to take beforehand. It is a computer-based, multiple-choice type of exam.
Just like the SAT and ACT, the MCAT doesn’t have a failing or passing score.
However, there is such a thing as a bad MCAT score: below 506, which is the average score of all test-takers. Keep in mind that each medical school in the country has its own average MCAT score. Having a score equal to or higher than what an institution is looking for is key to getting an acceptance letter.
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How Long Does It Take to Become a Neuroscientist?
To get a PhD in Neuroscience, a student typically has to stay in school for up to 10 years — four years in undergraduate school and four to six more years in graduate school. On the other hand, to earn an MD in Neuroscience, a student usually has to stay in school anywhere from 10 to 15 long years.
Getting your hands on a Neuroscience undergraduate program will take you four years. Needless to say, earning it requires you to go to college for the same length of time as completing any other four-year program.
However, it is a completely different matter if you prefer to have either a Ph.D. or MD in Neuroscience.
No matter if a Doctor of Philosophy or being a medical doctor is what you want, you will have to stay further in school after having your bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, which can come in either a BA or BS. In many instances, you will have to remain in school longer than when completing a Neuroscience undergraduate program.
Here’s how long it will take before you earn your Ph.D. in Neuroscience and can start doing research projects:
|DEGREE||NUMBER OF YEARS TO COMPLETE|
|Graduate||4 to 6|
|TOTAL||8 to 10|
And now, this is how long it will take before you can become a neuroscientist performing clinical work:
|DEGREE||NUMBER OF YEARS TO COMPLETE|
|Internship and residency||2 to 7|
|TOTAL||10 to 15|
Some institutions also offer a joint Ph.D. and MD Neuroscience program. As the name suggests, it allows for the attainment of both graduate degrees in Neuroscience. To earn a joint degree, you will have to complete medical school courses, laboratory and clinical rotations, and a thesis.
It will take about eight years to complete a joint Ph.D. and MD Neuroscience program.
Students who wish to earn an MD in Neuroscience will have to take and pass various examinations. It all begins with MCAT. As mentioned earlier, while we were talking about the requirements for enrolling in a Neuroscience degree, the MCAT is a part of the admissions process in medical schools in the US.
After completing an MD in Neuroscience and an internship or residency program, too, the next step is for the degree holders to get state-licensed and board-certified.
This is done by taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) exams.
How Much Does a Neuroscience Degree Cost?
The cost of completing a Neuroscience program can vary from school to school as well as from program to program. For the academic year 2020 to 2021, the tuition at colleges and universities offering Neuroscience programs averaged at $39,475 (undergraduate programs) and $28,457 (graduate programs).
Besides the courses, another thing that makes earning a Neuroscience degree hard is the cost of completing the necessary program. The cost can pile up the longer a student stays in school in order to earn the desired degree.
It goes without saying that the cost of a Neuroscience program is higher at a private institution than at a public institution. And at a public institution offering a Neuroscience program, the cost of completing a Neuroscience degree is generally so much cheaper for an in-state student than for an out-of-state student.
Earlier, when we were checking out a listing of the top US schools with Neuroscience programs, Harvard University was the second-best.
This is why it’s for certain that many students who want nothing but the best possible Neuroscience degree will be interested to know how much it would cost them to earn it from the Ivy League.
And because of this…
Let’s take a quick look at the breakdown of the estimated cost of attendance of an undergraduate degree at Harvard University for the academic year 2021 to 2022:
|Health insurance fee||$4,040|
|Room and board||$18,941|
|Books and supplies||$800|
The following is the breakdown of the estimated cost of attendance for the academic year 2021 to 2022 of a Ph.D. program at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University:
|Active file fee||$300|
|Health insurance fee||$4,040|
|Room and board||$16,575|
|Books and supplies||$900|
And now, here is the breakdown of the estimated cost of attendance of an MD program at Harvard Medical School for the academic year 2021 to 2022:
|Additional fees not charged to bill||$202|
|Health insurance fee||$3,922|
|Room and board||$23,220|
|Books and supplies||$3,415|
Doing the math, earning a Ph.D. in Neuroscience, and an undergraduate degree beforehand at Harvard University can cost anywhere from $646,044 to $804,930. Meanwhile, obtaining an MD in Neuroscience as well as the prerequisite undergraduate degree can cost you $718,456 (internship and residency fees excluded).
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Just Before You Apply to a Neuroscience Program
Whether it’s the program or the job itself, neuroscience can be very challenging. However, it can also be both noble and rewarding. This is why many students still opt for an undergraduate degree or a Ph.D. or an MD in Neuroscience despite the budgetary and intellectual demands that come with earning it.
Above, we discussed various must-knows, from how much neuroscientists make to how much it is to become one.
More than willing to subject yourself to the demands of getting a Neuroscience degree and more than happy to reap the fruits of your hard work? Then the only thing left for you to do is apply to a school with a good Neuroscience program and then stay committed and determined until you get your hands on your degree.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.