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Applied behavior analysis, often shortened to ABA, is a subfield of psychology, counseling, and mental healthcare. The American Psychological Association’s endorsement of applied behavior analysis notwithstanding, the field, while being in some ways a subfield of psychology, has gained serious ground by offering inroads to understanding autism spectrum disorder.
Applied behavior analysis is used to help treat and understand traumatic brain injuries, compulsion, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, and even addictive behaviors. Professionals in this role usually hold a master’s degree in applied behavioral science or psychology. What matters most in gaining an entry-level position is the ability to demonstrate competency in the areas of psychology, behavior studies, sociology, or applied behavior studies.
Applied behavior analysts counsel patients and their families on human behavior and the motivations for certain actions, how to set goals and work on behavioral or substance-abuse problems, and self-reflecting on their own strengths. They also teach positive self-image behaviors and how to recognize triggers for behavior types. Some lines of work in this field only require an undergraduate degree, while others call for candidates with graduate or doctoral-level education.
Applied Behavior Analyst Specialization & Career Types
There are a number of applied behavior analyst specializations and career types available for prospective behavioral professionals. They include:
- Applied behavior analysis instructor
- Applied behavior analysis therapist
- Residential applied behavior analyst
- Developmental applied behavior analyst
- Forensic behavior analyst
ABA is used in conjunction with many other approaches to mental health to address the highly-specialized needs of a wide variety of patients. Some of these jobs include the application of behavioral analysis to the areas of:
- Social assistance and public health settings
- Animal behavior training
- Behavioral gerontology
- Behavioral neuroscience
- Forensic behavior analysis
- Penal settings
- Rehabilitation and independent living settings
- Special education settings
- Telebehavioral health settings
- ADD and aDHD
- Aggression and impulse control
As a complement to:
- In-home care
- Occupational therapy
- Organizational behavior management
- Pain management
- Sports and athletic training
- Verbal therapy
Along with treatment of:
- Anxiety disorders
- Behavioral addictions
- Borderline personality disorder
- Eating disorders
- Fears and phobias
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Pediatric feeding disorders
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Post-stroke patients
- Substance abuse
- Traumatic brain injury
Admissions Requirements for Applied Behavior Analysis Programs
In terms of admissions requirements for those students interested in a career in applied behavior analysis, a background in the health sciences, psychology, sociology, or behavioral sciences, specifically, is an excellent place to begin.
Bachelor’s degree programs in applied behavior analysis typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0 for admission. During these programs, students complete approximately 120 credit-hours of undergraduate work in applied behavior analysis or psychology, and required courses in health, sociology, law, logic, and other required courses.
Master’s degree programs in applied behavior analysis dive deeper into the fields of behavior, psychology, counseling, and social systems—all paying thought to human behavior. Most graduate-level programs require practicum experience, usually around 500 hours for university-guided industry experience and approximately 1,000 hours for occupational experience.
Applied Behavior Analysis Program Accreditation
Students seeking a degree in behavior analysis should check a school’s accreditation status before applying to a specific program. Accreditation ensures that the curriculum and faculty of an educational program have met a set of peer-reviewed standards.
Programmatic accreditation is offered to programs in behavior analysis by the Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI). ABAI approves programs, both within the United States and internationally, through an identical process. Accreditation is granted to programs that have met the board’s standards, policies, and procedures and are in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local government requirements.
A full list of reputable regional accreditation entities is available on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.
On-Campus Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Programs
This bachelor’s program in applied behavior analysis at Florida Tech prepares students with the knowledge they need to excel in the field. In addition to a cutting-edge curriculum, Florida Tech offers partnership internships with a number of businesses, including the Children’s Home Society, Circles of Care, Space Coast Early Intervention Center, the Family Learning Program, and the East Central Florida Memory Disorder Clinic. Targeted work on autism spectrum disorders means graduates are perpared to enter the field or continue their education.
- Location: Melbourne, Florida
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI)
- Tuition: $ 1,170 per credit-hour
Online or Hybrid Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Programs
This 100 percent online bachelor’s program in psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis from Purdue Global can provide prospective ABA professionals the skills and knowledge needed to excel in the field. Purdue’s online Department of Psychology is a leading institution in the field and boasts a faculty of expert ABA, counseling, and psychology professionals.
Coursework for this undergraduate program includes courses on personality development; exceptional needs children, including autism spectrum disorders in young children; and clinical psychology. Obtaining this degree requires a course load of 180 credit-hours and prepares students for the BACB examination.
- Location: Various
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Tuition: $371 per credit-hour
An online master’s degree in applied behavior analysis is ideal for those who are interested in increasing their earning potential and positioning themselves in tech-rich industries that require a flexible and schooled mind. This fully online MS in applied behavior analysis features courses on behavioral interventions, experiment design, the fundamentals of behavior change, and more. Students can choose from two concentrations: autism spectrum disorders and social, emotional, and behavioral wellness.
- Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Duration: Two to Three Years
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Tuition: $978 per credit-hour
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology hosts a fully online PhD in applied behavior analysis that can be completed in three years (following a master’s) or in five years (following a bachelor’s degree).
Applying to the program requires completing an application, a fee of $50, a resume or CV, two essay answers to provided questions, college transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.
- Location: Chicago, Illinois
- Duration: Three years (post-master’s), five years (post-bachelor’s)
- Accreditation: Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC)
- Tuition: $1,492 per credit-hour
How Long Does it Take to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst?
From the beginning of one’s journey to becoming an applied behavior analyst to receiving a graduate studies degree and entering the mental health workforce, the length of the road to becoming an ABA professional will vary.
Expect a minimum of six years of postsecondary schooling for accelerated dual BS/MS degrees, with up to as much as seven years for completion of undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Expect an additional six months to one year to study and qualify for BACB certification, plus one to three years of clinical applied behavior analysis experience. In most cases, practicums, internships, and student residencies or counseling assistantships count towards the requirement for industry experience.
How To Become an Applied Behavior Analyst – Step-by-Step Guide
Becoming an applied behavior analyst, as mentioned above, can take a minimum of six years and up to as many as nine years if prospective applied behavior analysis professionals pursue more advanced degrees or gain extra years of clinical and industry experience in real-life settings.
Here is one path to becoming a credentialed ABA:
Step 1: Graduate High School (Four Years)
As a high school student, a focus in classes on the subjects of psychology, behavior, the social sciences, anthropology, economics, and sociology will help to build a solid foundation for ABA undergraduate study.
Step 2: Earn A Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)
Aside from the more general education requirements, gaining a BS or BA degree in psychology or applied behavioral science is ideal, but degrees in social services and ABA, if available, will also properly prepare future applied behavior analysts.
Step 3: Gain Industry Experience (At Least One Year)
One way to advance a career as an applied behavior analyst is to gain work experience in the human behavior industry itself. This should help candidates prepare for certification, which is requisite in those being considered for positions in upper management or as clinical directors.
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two Years or More)
Pursuing a master’s degree in psychology or behavioral psychology with a focus on applied behavior analysis can open the door to the world of the top-achieving percentile of applied behavior analysts.
Step 5: Become a Certified ABA Professional Through the BCAB
To become a certified applied behavior analyst, it is necessary to gain a master’s degree and become certified through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). The BACB offers certification for the following professional roles: Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and the Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).
Step 6: Earn a PhD (Optional, Three Years or More)
To increase earning potential, a doctorate in applied behavior analysis may be pursued. This credential allows degree-holders to teach, write textbooks, or lead clinics, offices, and university departments.
What Do Applied Behavior Analysts Do?
Applied behavior analysis is used to help treat and understand behavioral, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, conditions, and issues. Professionals in this role typically:
- Observe, develop, and recommend treatment plans with patients/clients and their families
- Evaluate the mental and physical health of clients, which includes their addiction or problematic behavior status
- Assist clients in honing skills and positive behaviors that will help them to modify their behavior and better integrate with society
- Work with and teach their clients to identify situations, individuals, or behaviors that interfere with their integration or recovery
- Gather lists of resources for clients, including outreach programs, job placement services, and housing assistance
- Counsel and support their patients in how to develop and build better lives
Applied Behavior Analyst Certifications & Licensure
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) certifies applied behavior analysts for work in the private and public sectors.
For BACB certification, behavior analysts must hold a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, education, or psychology. In addition, university-level practicums are required in order for students to demonstrate mastery in the field. BACB offers certifications in the following: Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA), Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D).
Learn more about licensing by state and state-specific requirements for credentials and experience on the BACB website. BACB is accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, the accrediting body of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
How Much Do Applied Behavior Analysts Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019) reports that the related fields of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors is set to grow by 22 percent between 2018 and 2028, adding 68,500 jobs nationally. Here is a detailed salary breakdown in this field according to the BLS (2019):
Number of professionals employed in the
US (as of May 2018): 304,500
- Average annual salary: $48,620
- 10th percentile: $28,240
- 50th percentile (median): $44,630
- 90th percentile salary: $72,990
These figures are roughly on par with the self-reported data from PayScale (2019), although the site states that master’s-prepared and board-certified ABAs make an average annual salary of $59,000.
The BLS notes that the required entry-level education for an applied behavior analyst is a bachelor’s degree, though earning a master’s degree in ABA allows a person to become BACB-certified. As with most fields, a healthy combination of clinical or industry experience and the proper university credential will set up a prospective applied behavior analyst for their career.
Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.