Find Your Program
appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

How does Someone Become an Applied Behavior Analyst?

How does Someone Become an Applied Behavior Analyst?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a growing field that enables therapists and educators to help people with different behavior disorders and disabilities. This includes children and adults with autism, developmental disabilities, and simply anyone who would benefit from behavior modification. ABA strategies can be used in the workplace, at home, out in the community, at school, or in a clinical environment. There is always a definite need for someone in this particular field—ABA is actually growing as an occupation as more people discover the amazing benefits and the huge need for it. 

Anyone who wants to become an applied behavior analyst will need to earn a Master’s degree and complete a supervised practicum. They also will be required to pass specific exams to officially become certified. But before these steps, college students should begin taking courses that coincide with this career such as education, psychology, and behavior courses. 

To become an applied behavior analyst is not much different compared to other college program requirements: take the courses, do the internship/supervision hours, pass the exams, obtain certification/licensure. 

Continue reading to understand more about the basics of applied behavior analysis, which degree is the right one, which exams are necessary, and how to obtain certification. 

Understand Applied Behavioral Analysis

Understand Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied behavioral analysis refers to psychological principles and therapeutic tools that are used to increase appropriate behaviors by using positive reinforcement and explicitly teaching new skills. Behavior can also be modified to decrease undesirable behaviors through the use of consequences and behavior interventions based on an intervention plan. 

Analysts are generally called upon to work with children or adults who need extra help to improve social/emotional, life, and communication skills. 

Other ABA-related jobs often include:

  • therapist assistants
  • psychology researchers
  • assessment assistants
  • clinical specialists
  • mental health workers
  • registered behavior technicians 

Applied behavioral analysis is used to maintain behaviors, such as through teaching self-control, and it is used for transferable behaviors, which refers to skills that can be used outside in the real world. Strategies used in ABA are also used to prevent behaviors that cause self-injury and restrict conditions that interfere with socially acceptable behaviors. 

Applied Behavioral Analysis is a scientifically based, objective discipline that uses reliable metrics and evaluations of observable conduct. Reliable measurement means that behaviors cannot be vaguely defined as something like anger or sadness. Instead, metrics must be observable facts and quantifiable factors.

Those who choose this career must be flexible in their job, as they may be required to work in various types of environments. They also must be patient, caring, empathetic, and diligent to be successful and create success for their clients/students. 

The first step to becoming an applied behavior analyst is to earn the right type of college degree. 

Earn the Right Degree

All ABA candidates must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, which is usually psychology, education, or social work. For example, a general Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology degree will help students build a solid understanding of psychological tools, concepts, and trends. These programs should follow The American Psychological Association’s basic learning goals for psychology degrees. For instance, the degree should help students gain a fundamental understanding of the historical trends, empirical findings, major concepts, and theoretical perspectives.

These frameworks will help them apply psychological principles to behavioral problems. The chosen course of study should also include scientific inquiry and critical thinking, as these are major components of being a great ABA specialist. Learning these concepts will help ABA students interpret behavior, study research data, apply principles to draw conclusions, and demonstrate an understanding of psychological literature. Finally, the degree program should include courses that cover:

  • occupational ethics
  • communication
  • social responsibility

A Master’s degree program in ABA should also explore these topics, but in more detail and not generally. This is where students will get to the core of the learning and begin to practice ABA strategies and go through real-life situations. Typically, Master’s degree programs come with required internship and supervision hours at an approved site of interest. 

Experts in the field explain what is generally mandatory regarding supervision hours:

Supervised practicum experiences can vary in terms of the required amount of hours and the intensity of supervision. The minimum required hours for these requirements is typically 750 for intense supervision and 1,000 hours for a standard practicum.

Intense supervision requires two supervisors and around 10% of the hours supervised while standard practicums require only one supervisor and about 7.5% of the hours supervised.

When individuals are researching programs, it is important to ensure that what they are looking for are accredited colleges. 

Once courses have been completed, ABA students must take specific exams to move along in the process. 

Take the Correct Exams

Board Certified Behavior Analyst

All ABA students must pass an exam to become a BCBA, or Board Certified Behavior Analyst. This is done through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board

The BCBA certification exam includes 150 multiple-choice questions. The exam content covers analytical skills like measurement and experimental design, as well as client-centered responsibilities like assessment and intervention. The BCBA exam is a scaled score exam. To pass it, you’ll need to achieve a passing score of 400 and above. For context, the highest score you can achieve is 500.

This exam is rather rigorous and some people need to take it a few times before passing it. Staying up-to-date on relevant field information, paying close attention during coursework and practicum work, and studying for the exam will be highly beneficial. 

Obtain Certification

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is considered the standard-setter for this specific field of behavioral psychology. The BACB requires certified behavior analyst candidates to hold a Master’s degree in psychology, education, or applied behavior analysis. The BACB defines the academic requirements in their Approved Course Sequence (ACS) policy. Next, candidates must have at least 270 hours of core curriculum related to applied behavior analysis. The BACB will consider other coursework under certain conditions.

For example, licensed professionals who already have a qualifying master’s degree can earn a graduate-level certificate in applied behavior analysis. The BACB may accept university-supervised practicums and supervised work experiences of 1,500 hours. The actual number of practicum hours depends on the intensity and frequency of supervision. Finally, BACB certification forms the basis for licensure in most states, but this ultimately depends on the student’s state of residence.

It is important that practicing analysts maintain their BCBA certification so that they can keep practicing as Board-Certified Behavior Analysts. This is done by participating in continuing education, complying with ethics requirements, and submitting the recertification application before it expires. 

Once all requirements are satisfied, analysts will be officially certified in the field of ABA and can then begin working in the capacity they choose. 

How to Find a Job as an ABA

Once an ABA student has completed these requirements, has graduated, is certified, and is looking for a job, there are a few easy routes to take. 

Of course, analysts can simply Google “ABA job openings in my area”; however, there are also general places they can look if they want to be more specific and hone in on what they are interested in. 

First, analysts can inquire as to whether or not the location of their internship or supervision hours is hiring ABA specialists—but this depends on if that experience was a good one and if that is where they see themselves long-term.

Another easy way to find a job is by looking into school districts. Schools are always in need of behavioral specialists, and districts regularly hire applied behavior analysts to work with students and teachers at their schools.

Mental health clinics and centers are also great places to inquire with. Residential and outpatient centers for people who struggle with addiction, eating disorders, and other mental health disorders are often hiring analysts to join their teams. 

Or analysts can simply start their own business and contract themselves out to parents and other individuals who need a behavior specialist. In this case, the analyst can go into clients’ homes, visit them at school, follow them out in the community, or work in whatever capacity they need the analyst in. This gives the analyst more flexibility and control over their schedule and the type of clients they want to work with. 

This is a growing field—there are always openings for applied behavior analysts! 

Conclusion to How does Someone Become an Applied Behavior Analyst

Those who are interested in becoming an applied behavior analyst must follow these steps toward certification. Choosing courses that complement educational requirements during undergrad is the best thing to do. This will save time and money in the long run for those who know they want to go into the field of ABA. Finding an approved and interesting site to obtain supervision hours is also important. Students benefit the most from gaining experience in a variety of settings. And then there are the exams—taking the BCBA exam is the last step in obtaining ABA certification! Once passed, the student is no longer a student, but an official applied behavior analyst! 

Brittany Cerny

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

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated August 2021

Related Resources