The Cognitive Science Major 2013-14

Students conferring in the McHenry Library Addition. Photo by Phil Carter.

Cognitive science has emerged in the last few decades as a major discipline that promises to be increasingly important in the 21st century. Focused on achieving a scientific understanding of how human cognition works and how cognition is possible, its subject matter encompasses cognitive functions (such as memory and perception), the structure and use of human language, the evolution of the mind, animal cognition, artificial intelligence, and more. The cognitive science degree provides a strong grounding in the principles of cognition through courses in cognitive psychology, and, in addition, provides breadth in the interdisciplinary aspects of cognitive science such as anthropology, linguistics, biology, philosophy, and computer science.

Study and Research Opportunities

  • B.S.
  • Opportunities for research experience in the laboratories of active cognitive science researchers.

High School Preparation

In addition to the courses required for UC admission, high school students considering cognitive science as their university major find that the best preparation is a solid general education in English, mathematics through precalculus or beyond, natural sciences, social sciences, and writing.

Transfer Preparation

UC Santa Cruz lower-division requirements in cognitive science are:

  • Psychology 2, Introduction to Psychological Statistics (or equivalent)
  • Psychology 20, Introduction to Cognitive Psychology
  • Calculus -- one of Applied Mathematics and Statistics 11A, Mathematics 11A, Mathematics 19A, or Mathematics 20A)
  • Computer Programming -- one of Computer Engineering 13/L, Computer Systems and C Programming with Laboratory; Computer Science 5C, Introduction to Programming in C/C++; Computer Science 5J, Introduction to Programming in Java; Computer Science 5P, Introduction to Programming in Python; or Computer Science 12A, Introduction to Programming (Accelerated)

Students admitted to the major must have a 3.00 grade-point average (GPA) in the lower-division requirements, with no single grade lower than C and no course taken P/NP. Transfer students may substitute equivalent courses from other institutions. Students receiving a C or lower in one of the lower-division courses may contact the department for possible substitutions.

While it is not a condition of admission, students from California community colleges may complete the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) in preparation for transfer to UC Santa Cruz. However, the cognitive science major requires additional courses for admission to the major. Transfer course agreements and articulation between the University of California and California community colleges can be accessed on the ASSIST.ORG web site.


The cognitive science major is intended for students wishing to enter doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in cognitive psychology, cognitive science, or cognitive neuroscience to pursue careers in research; enter the field of public health, for example, to work with individuals with neurological disorders and learning disabilities; or to enter the technology-related fields such as human-computer interface design or human factors research; or pursue other related careers.

Major Admission Requirements

Students may petition to declare the cognitive science major once they have completed the lower-division requirements. Students admitted to the major must have a 3.00 grade-point average (GPA) in the lower-division requirements, with no single grade lower than C and no course taken P/NP. Transfer students may substitute equivalent courses from other institutions.

Cognitive Science Major Upper-Division Requirements

Students must complete 10 courses toward the major after completing the lower-division requirements. At least eight of these must be upper-division courses (a minimum of 40 credits). These must include Psychology 100, three upper-division core courses, and three upper-division cognitive psychology electives. Students must also complete four interdisciplinary electives in other departments, which may or may not be upper-division. Students must ensure that one of the interdisciplinary electives is an upper-division course.

Comprehensive Requirement

UCSC requires that every student satisfy a senior exit/comprehensive requirement prior to graduation. Cognitive science students will satisfy this requirement by receiving a passing grade in a cognitive seminar (Psychology 139A-G).


Honors in the cognitive science major are awarded to graduating seniors whose academic performance is judged to be consistently excellent by a committee of Psychology Department faculty. Highest honors in the major are reserved for students with consistently excellent academic performance and an honors-level senior thesis.

More Information

Psychology Department
273 Social Sciences 2 Building
University of California, Santa Cruz
1156 High Street
Santa Cruz, California 95064
(831) 459-2002

See Also