A Guide to Cognitive Science Specializations

3 min readFeb 16, 2021


Here at UC San Diego, students have the option to choose between five different areas of specialization to focus on in Cognitive Science. Specializing can be a great way to tune your education to your specific interests and strengthen your professional background through elective courses. Figuring out which specialization is the one for you is probably the most challenging part. Here’s a guide on the areas of specialization offered at UCSD!


Interested about learning all the workings of the brain? The neuroscience specialization is intended for people interested in neuroscience research or medicine. This specialization consists of 11 lower division courses and 12 upper division courses, of which students can choose to take Cognitive Science electives that take on a more neurological, biological, or physiological approach. This is a great specialization for those who are interested in brain science or who want to pursue the pre-med or research pathway! For those interested in undergraduate and graduate research in the neuroscience field, make sure to check out UCSD’s Brain & Cognition Laboratory for potential research opportunities!

Clinical Aspects of Cognition

Taking on a specialization in Clinical Aspects of Cognition is a great opportunity for Cognitive Science students to delve deeper into cognitive neuropsychology, psychiatry, cognitive disorders, and the effects of drugs and brain-damage on cognitive functions. The specialization encourages students to take upper division elective courses focusing more on the organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology aspects of Cognitive Science! With this background, students who specialize in Clinical Aspects of Cognition will find themselves well-prepared for future careers in education, therapy, social work, or other mental health professions.

Language and Culture

For those interested in the linguistics aspect of Cognitive Science, a specialization in Language and Culture can perfectly align with their interests in human psychology, neuropsychology, and linguistics! Students can choose between upper division elective courses in cognitive development, language, laboratory research of cognition, anthropology, and sociology. Additionally, there are also several on-campus Cognitive Science research labs related to language and culture that students can check out for research opportunities: the Language & Cognition Lab and the Language Acquisition and Sound Recognition Lab! Students who graduate with a specialization in Language and Culture can find themselves in possible careers such as speech language pathologists, language teachers, occupational therapists, counselors, or in other research professions!

Design and Interaction

The Design and Interaction specialization is an especially popular option for students interested in learning about Human Computer Interaction through the lens of human psychology! In this specialization, students can take a wide variety of electives ranging from Visual Arts, Communication, and Computer Science. Additionally, students can gain useful and interesting research experience at the Design Lab, and can work with various professors to gain design experience. UCSD has a special place in the history of human computer interaction, so students can be rest assured that this specialization will prepare them for careers in user experience (UX) design, user interaction (UI) design, front-end programming, user testing research, software engineering, and data visualization.

Machine Learning and Neural Computation

The Machine Learning and Neural Computation specialization is the most popular Cognitive Science specialization at UCSD, and is perfect for students interested in learning more about machine learning while still having a neuroscience background! Students in this major will learn about computational approaches to modeling cognition as well as software engineering and data science. There are several labs where students can get research experience with professors such as de Sa, Fleischer, Mattar, Yu, Guo, and Voytek. Students in this specialization will become familiar with deep learning and algorithms, and can go on to professions such as software engineering, ML engineering, data science, statistics, and AI research.

Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience

The Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience specialization is perfect for students who want to learn about cognitive neuroscience, but also want a stronger focus on psychology! This is a major jointly administered by the Cognitive Science department and the Psychology department. Several of the requirements for this specialization are different from the other specs, as students will have to take Natural Science courses and research experience classes and have the option to take both Cognitive Science and Psychology classes. If you’re interested in understanding more about neural activity and perception, basic behaviors, and other cognitive functions of the brain, this major will be the perfect fit for you!