Applied Behavior Analyst

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 several 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
  • Psychotherapy
  • Sports and athletic training
  • Verbal therapy

Along with the treatment of:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism
  • Behavioral addictions
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • 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 credits 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

Florida Institute of Technology

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 several 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 prepared to enter the field or continue their education.

  • Location: Melbourne, Florida
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI)
  • Tuition: $ 1,200 per credit

University of Washington – College of Education

The on-campus master’s of education in applied behavior analysis at the University of Washington’s College of Education can be completed in just two years. Classes are offered in the late afternoon to allow students to continue to work, should they so choose. 

Classes are taught by leaders in the field of special education and help students understand behavioral learning principles and how to apply a collaborative approach to ABA therapy. Students will complete a practicum as part of this program, providing them with half the needed hours for licensure. 

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: American Psychological Association (APA
  • Tuition: $35,064 per year

McNeese State University 

The on-campus master’s in psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis at McNeese State University will prepare graduates for a career in this field. Students will gain a strong foundation in basic ABA principles through comprehensive lecture classes, a thesis project, and on-site practicums. This program houses the McNeese Autism Program, which is an outpatient treatment facility that provides ABA services. This cutting-edge program allows students to gain hands-on experience while supervised by outstanding faculty. 

  • Location: Lake Charles, LA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI)
  • Tuition: $ 5,000 per semester

University of North Texas

The bachelor’s of science in applied behavior analysis at the University of North Texas is a four-year degree program taught by six experts in ABA therapy. Graduates of this program can be credentialed as Board Certified Applied Behavior analysts. 

The curriculum in this program focuses on how behavior can be affected by events in the social and physical environment and how to help change that behavior to improve lives. All students will gain practical experience as part of this degree. This school was the first in the nation to offer an undergraduate ABA degree. 

  • Location: Denton, TX
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI)
  • Tuition: $9,637 per semester

Online or Hybrid Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Programs

Purdue Global

This 100 percent online bachelor’s program in psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis from Purdue Global can provide prospective ABA professionals with 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 credits and prepares students for the BACB examination. 

  • Location: Various
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $371 per credit

Drexel University

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: $1,017 per credit

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology 

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: $1,622 per credit

St. Cloud State University

St. Cloud State University offers an online master’s of science in applied behavior analysis for students who want to work with clients with autism, behavioral disorders, or developmental disabilities. This program emphasizes community integration to help clients be able to navigate their world safely and efficiently. 

With over 120 agencies partnered nationwide, students have the chance to complete their practicum at a location that suits them. Graduate assistantships are available to help offset the cost of tuition. 

  • Location: St. Cloud, MN
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI)
  • Tuition: $6,688 per semester

Ball State University

Students who have just completed high school or earned a GED can embark on their ABA education journey with the four-year online bachelor’s of arts or science in applied behavior analysis. This distance learning program has full-time or part-time options to suit a student’s work or family needs. 

Students will learn proven ABA techniques and principles to help change clients’ behavior positively. Graduates will have the skills to teach clients how to solve social problems and navigate relationships more easily. 

  • Location: Muncie, IN
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $544 per credit

Texas A&M University – College of Education and Human Development

Professionals who already have completed a degree can complete a graduate certificate in applied behavior analysis at Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development. This certificate is only 21 credits, is available entirely online, and consists of the necessary coursework to be able to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst exam. 

Students should check with their state board to ensure this program provides the necessary qualification for licensure. Classes required include assessment in school settings, ethics and professional conduct, and an introduction to applied behavior analysis.   

  • Location: College Station, TX
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges 
  • Tuition: $927 per credit

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 seven years to complete 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

As mentioned above, becoming an applied behavior analyst 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 psychology, behavior, the social sciences, anthropology, economics, and sociology will help 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)

A doctorate in applied behavior analysis may be pursued to increase earning potential. 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 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)
  • 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 (BLS 2022) reports that the related fields of substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health counselors are set to grow 22 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031, adding 77,500 jobs nationally. Here is a detailed salary breakdown in this field according to the BLS (May 2021):

Number of professionals employed in the US: 310,880

  • Average annual salary: $53,490
  • 10th percentile:  $30,870
  • 25th percentile: $38,520
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,520
  • 75th percentile: $61,660
  • 90th percentile salary: $77,980

Applied Behavior Analyst Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an applied behavior analyst: 

Become a Social Worker

If a career in helping people is what you are after, then becoming a social worker might be a good fit. Social workers are the ultimate problem solvers. They can provide mental health care services and help clients access the community resources they need to be successful. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s of social work
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)

Become an Addiction Specialist

Addiction specialists work with clients who are suffering from addiction. Most addiction specialists have completed at least an undergraduate degree in counseling or a related field. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)

Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Licensed mental health counselors help clients who are struggling with mental health. These clients can include those who have a diagnosed mental illness such as anxiety or depression, or it can be people who are just having a hard time because of life circumstances. Many mental health counselors will specialize in a type of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or in a particular population such as LGBTQ+ or children. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s in counseling
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker


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,, 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.