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How Do ABA Graduate Certificates and Masters Programs Differ?

How Do ABA Graduate Certificates and Masters Programs Differ?Each individual seeking a degree or certificate has different circumstances they must work around. While many prospective students have just finished up another degree program before moving onto an ABA Master’s degree or graduate certificate, others are adults who already have a career, are choosing to change career paths, or have waited a while before continuing their education. Some have children, other family members they take care of, many responsibilities, and little time. For a large amount of people, choosing one type of degree program over another makes perfect sense for various reasons. This is why colleges and universities offer numerous in-person and online options for prospective students to make their educational experience as convenient as possible. 

Related resource: 40 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Graduate Certificate Online Programs

For those considering their options en route to an ABA career, it’s beneficial to know the differences between an ABA graduate certificate program and the ABA Master’s degree program. While there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between the two, there are significant distinctions that might persuade someone to choose one over the other. One good thing is that they are both viable options for individuals to pursue and will both allow for a similar outcome—a successful career in ABA. 

What exactly are those differences? Follow along for a quick rundown.

Certificate Programs Versus Degree Programs 

Generally speaking, there are a few clear differences between certificate and degree programs. 

Certificate programs prepare people by helping them develop specific skills and obtain a certain amount of educational hours. Students can enroll in certificate programs through a community, vocational, or technical college, as well as access a program online. Some who are in the process of earning a certificate can do so while simultaneously earning an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. 

A degree is simply an academic title that correlates with a certain number of credits in a specific subject area. A Master’s degree program requires students to already have a Bachelor’s degree in a related field and have completed requisite courses. 

Depending on the position, an employer may ask that job-seekers have one or the other. 

Overall, the main differences between the two are the time commitment and money involved, requirements to be accepted into the program, and the coursework to complete. 

The hiring experts at Indeed discuss questions you should ask yourself if you find yourself wondering which program type will be most appropriate for your future. 

  1. Determine how quickly you need to earn your credentials.
  2. Think about balancing work and school.
  3. Consider the field you want to work in.
  4. Plan how far you want to advance in your career.
  5. Consider where you are in your career currently.

It is up to the prospective student to decide how much time, money, and effort they can put into their degree. They also should determine if the employer(s) they might work for in the future will accept a certificate over a Master’s degree. 

See Also: 5 Careers for Professionals With a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis

The ABA Graduate Certificate

Those interested in enrolling in an ABA program will want to weigh the differences between getting a certificate or going even further to obtain a Master’s degree in ABA. For many, an ABA certificate program makes more sense for their lifestyle, budget, and ultimate goal. 

Once a college student has reached the baccalaureate level in their particular discipline of study, they can then choose to continue for two more years of traditional schooling in order to receive their Master’s, or they can often divert to a graduate certificate program instead. Thankfully, those in charge of in-person and online programs realize the convenience and benefits of offering certificate programs to students.

ABA students seeking out a certificate can find dozens of affordable graduate certificate options online. Some of the top choices are from St. Edwards University, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and the University of Oklahoma. 

An example of the courses you may be required to take in an ABA graduate program comes from Ball State University. 

In this example, each course is worth three credits, requiring 15 credits to obtain the certificate. However, those at this university who seek a Master’s degree must take even more courses, complete 1500 supervised field experience hours, and complete two additional courses (SPCE 630 and 691) to be eligible to take the BCBA exam.

Graduate certificate programs, such as those designed for the ABA, usually take one to two years to complete. They also involve several college courses that assure the student’s upper-level fluency in the subject. As a certificate holder, one can enjoy many professional benefits such as ABA job eligibility and raises therein.

See Also: Can You Get an ABA Certificate Online?

The ABA Master’s Program

As touched on above, many students decide to continue onward in the traditional degree path to get a Master’s as opposed to the more immediately available graduate certificate. To get the ABA Master’s degree, it typically takes about two more years of schooling beyond the baccalaureate level, as is the case in most disciplines. In this path, students will likely encounter much of the same coursework encountered by certificate-pursuers but with the addition of several more courses.

Some of the top schools offering a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis include Jacksonville State University, Florida Institute of Technology, University of Kansas, University of Maryland, Simmons University, University of Nevada, and the Teachers College at Columbia University. 

An example of coursework we can look at is from Georgia State University, where students must take a minimum of 36 semester hours, along with supervision hours, and pass the BCBA exam. 

The GSU ABA Master’s program course requirements are as follows per their online catalog. 

Recipients of an ABA master’s degree can be better served than those of the ABA graduate certificate depending on their situation and needs. This is because of the more extensive training provided by this option and the subsequent, additional weight given to it by employers, the greater medical profession, and other professions as well. Few real-world ABA roles are out of the reach of an ABA Master’s grad.

Ideal Candidates for Certificate Pursuit

In some professions and even some personal circumstances, a graduate certificate is the most ideal option for the time being. Personal reasons that can understandably drive one to the decision to pursue a graduate certificate can involve the costly financing of additional classes, the investment of years of extra time, and other, common dilemmas. 

Many people who seek out a certificate program might already be working in an ABA-related field and want to continue their education without the hardship of obtaining a Master’s degree. Some may be changing careers and already have a Master’s in a different area and find going back to school for that long unappealing. Others have families, careers, and other situations which leave no extra time for an extensive program. Whatever the reason behind choosing an ABA certificate program over an ABA Master’s degree program really doesn’t matter––there are still tremendous benefits to be gained from a certification program. 

Professionally, there are also some industries in which there’s little if any difference in the yield of a graduate certificate versus a Master’s degree. For example, many careers in law and medicine can be affected significantly without going on to obtain advanced degrees. On the other hand, people in industries such as social media marketing, patient advocacy, global sustainability, and even homeland security often experience very little difference in the end career result if they decide to pursue a certificate program over a Master’s program.

Those who are interested in obtaining an ABA graduate certificate should do some research now before applying and enrolling. By browsing online or speaking to someone who works at a job location of interest, you can determine if a Master’s degree is needed or if a graduate certificate will suffice. You will be surprised at the amount and type of employers who will accept ABA Master’s certificates. 

See Also: 10 Characteristics of Great Autism Support Teachers

How Do ABA Graduate Certificates and Masters Programs Differ?: Conclusion

Fortunately, there are several ways that students can ultimately obtain work in the field of applied behavior analysis. The ABA graduate certificate and the ABA Master’s degree represent the two, primary routes. Each program route has unique benefits and cater to individuals with specific needs. These programs meet people where they are at financially and time and location-wise. Whether you’re fresh out of an undergraduate program, are single, married, have children, or already have a career in an unrelated field, either of these program types can work.

If you are seeking even more resources on the ABA profession or the educational avenues into it or any other career path, the US Department of Education and the American Psychological Association represent some excellent points of contact with which to inquire further.

Brittany Cerny

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated January 2022


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