How to Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in 2022

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree
  2. Enroll in a graduate degree in applied behavior analysis
  3. Complete required coursework
  4. Complete experience hours
  5. Take the BCBA exam
  6. Apply for licensure

The road to earning a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis (ABA) prepares you to make positive differences in the lives of people with behavioral and psychological disorders. People who specialize in ABA help individuals struggling with disorders and disabilities that hinder their ability to function in everyday life. A board certified behavior analyst is similar to an applied behavior analyst, but they have taken the necessary steps for certification.

Autism is the most common disorder that behavior analysts treat. ABA professionals study the problems that people with autism face and develop plans to help them improve their quality of life in areas such as communication, reading comprehension and social skills.

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Department of Behavior Analysis info

Master of Science in Behavior Analysis

Earn your master’s degree in behavior analysis online in 23 months through Simmons’ highly respected program, BehaviorAnalysis@Simmons.

  • Complete Your Master in 23 Months
  •  BACB- Required Mentoring Incorporated into Program
  •  No GRE Required 

School of Education and Health Sciences info

Master of Applied Behavior Analysis

Complete the University of Dayton’s online Master of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program in as few as 21 months and prepare to pursue a career as a behavior analyst. GRE scores are not needed to apply. Bachelor’s required. 

  • Curriculum includes a Verified Course Sequence 
  • Complete in as few as 21 months  
  • No GRE required to apply

Graduate School of Education and Psychology info

Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis

Earn your master’s in applied behavior analysis in less than 2 years online at Pepperdine. Experience clinical training and prepare to sit for the board certified behavior analyst exam. GRE not required.

  • GRE not required
  • Complete online in as few as 15 months
  • Prepare to sit for the board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) exam

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What Is a BCBA and How to Get Certified

A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) provides behavior-analytic services in a range of settings and with a variety of different types of clients. A BCBA offers thorough assessments and evaluations for each client and identifies appropriate plans to intervene and improve targeted behaviors.

Wondering how to become a behavior analyst? Let’s look at common pathways for how to become a BCBA.

According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), potential BCBA candidates must complete one of four pathways.

  • Option 1: Coursework: This option entails earning a graduate degree from an accredited university with designated coursework and supervised practical experience.
  • Option 2: Faculty Teaching and Research: This option entails having a graduate degree (in an acceptable discipline like psychology or education), a full-time behavior analysis faculty position and appropriate practical experience.
  • Option 3: Postdoctoral Experience: This option entails having an acceptable doctoral degree conferred over 10 years ago and more than 10 years of postdoctoral practical experience.
  • Option 4: ABAI-Accredited Degree: This option entails having a degree from an ABA-accredited or ABAI-recognized behavior analysis master’s or doctoral degree program and have completed supervised fieldwork.

Learn more about the ABA certification and its various levels.

Steps to Become a BCBA

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field or another field

Since a master’s degree is required to pursue a career as a BCBA, individuals must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate studies in psychology and human behavior may be useful but are not a necessary requirement to apply for a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis.

2. Enroll in a graduate degree in applied behavior analysis

All professionals seeking a BCBA career must have a graduate degree. For individuals following Option 1, this is typically a master’s in applied behavior analysis. Students may earn these graduate degrees on traditional college campuses or online. The program length varies depending on the school.

That said, coursework must be completed at a qualifying institution, and meet the requirements designated in the BACB’s Task List and Course Content Allocation list. Additional coursework may also come from the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Verified Course Sequence (VCS). 

All students must earn passing grades (“C” or better) to receive appropriate credit, as is the case with most graduate programs.

3. Complete required coursework

The BACB outlines that qualified candidates must complete designated coursework from an eligible institution. Applicants must successfully complete 270 classroom hours of graduate level classes in specified concentrations. Such coursework includes the following core concepts:

  • Ethical and professional conduct
  • Concepts and principles of behavior analysis
  • Research methods in behavior analysis
  • Applied behavior analysis

4. Complete experience hours

All applicants must complete relevant, supervised experience as part of their education and training.

Supervisors must have a BCBA/BCBA-D in good standing, work as a licensed or registered psychologist, or work as an authorized Verified Course Sequence (VCS) Instructor.

Trainees can start accruing experience hours after they start qualifying coursework and obtain a qualified supervisor. The BCBA can engage in three different experience types during training.

Supervised Independent Fieldwork: This option mandates that trainees receive relevant experience placement with appropriate supervision. Candidates need a minimum of 1,500 hours.

Practicum: Practicum allows professionals to complete their experience in fewer hours but with more supervision than those participating in supervised independent fieldwork. Experience is only available within a VCS. Candidates need a minimum of 1,000 hours.

Intensive Practicum: Intensive practicum provides fewer hours of coursework with the highest level of supervision. Like practicum, the experience is only available within a VCS. Candidates need a minimum of 750 hours.

Trainees can accrue hours in a single category, or they can combine any of the types to meet the baseline requirements. The trainee is responsible for documenting and saving records for all experience hours. In the event of an audit, trainees must be able to provide proof of such experience.

5. Take the BCBA exam

The BCBA exam evaluates knowledge of the BCBA/BCaBA task list. The test consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and 10 ungraded, pilot questions. All candidates have four hours to complete the exam.

The exam focuses on the significant disciplines associated with BCBA including:

  • Basic behavior analytic skills
  • Specific behavior-change procedures
  • Experimental design
  • Measurement
  • Assessment

Like most tests, there are several third-party materials and study guides available for BCBA exam prep. Using these tools can familiarize candidates with content material and reduce test anxiety. Some companies also provide mock exams to resemble the real exam.

6. Apply for licensure

Once you obtain your BCBA certificate, some states may require you to apply for licensure to practice independently.

It is important to consult your state board for more information as licensure requirements are subject to change and may differ based on individual student backgrounds, including coursework taken outside the scope of the program.

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Differences Between LBA vs. BCBA

Each state has its own licensure requirements; however, New York is the only state that requires a different certification other than a BCBA certification to be able to practice. While a BCBA certification may be helpful to have, New York state does not require it, and it does not make you eligible to practice in the state. A separate certification, the Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) certification, is needed to practice in New York. LBAs have a limited range of practice compared to BCBAs and provide behavioral health treatments specifically for persons with autism and autism spectrum disorders and related disorders. 

Learn more about the differences between an LBA and a BCBA.

Differences Between BCBA vs. BCaBA

While there are similarities between the two, a board certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA) is a certified behavior analyst at the undergraduate level and a board certified behavior analyst is certified at the master’s degree level. Board certified assistant behavior analysts do provide behavior-analytic services; however, they may only provide these services underneath the supervision of a board certified behavior analyst. An assistant behavior analyst can complete their required coursework through an ABAI-accredited undergraduate program or a Verified Course Sequence.


What Does a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Do?

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all BCBA job description, there are a few specific tasks and duties required for most professionals.

Providing Individualized Treatment

BCBA treats each client as a unique individual with distinct needs, interests and behaviors. Thus, the BCBA develops individualized treatment plans based on the client’s unique abilities. To develop this treatment plan, the BCBA often spends extensive time with the individual and their support group to observe behavior and patterns.

Supervision of Client’s Care

Often, many professionals work together to provide wraparound care for clients. The BCBA may be responsible for supervising and overseeing the client’s care, according to Autism Speaks’ article on ABA. This may entail training, teaching and observing other analysts and therapists.

Training on Behalf of the Client

The BCBA may work with family members, teachers and medical professionals to implement training for the client. This training aims to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to reinforcing and promoting client behavioral changes.

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Regardless of the particular job, BCBAs need excellent communication and writing skills. They are usually responsible for maintaining detailed notes, creating curriculum, analyzing and editing reports, and discussing cases with other colleagues and service providers. Additionally, they are responsible for staying aware of recent trends and research in the industry.

BCBA Career Paths

There are various applied behavior analysis career options, and there are also many different work settings available for employment.

BCBA jobs may involve some form of counseling. Counseling can occur in a variety of settings including schools, private or public residential programs, hospitals and clinics. Moreover, counselors can work with individuals of all ages and demographics.

Psychological Assistants: These professionals support licensed psychologists with clinical tasks related to both counseling and research.

Special Education Assistants: These assistants work in schools, facilities and hospitals. They often work directly with teachers and families to provide effective care for the client. Some BCBA professionals pursue additional coursework to become a special education teacher.

Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTA): OTAs support individuals with various conditions to restore independent living skills through exercise and behavior change techniques. They can be employed in a variety of sectors.

Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors: These specific counselors work in a variety of settings that provide change for people challenged with substance use disorders. They may work in either inpatient or outpatient units providing both short-term or long-term care.

Certified Personal Trainers (CPT): CPTs support and motivate clients toward wellness and fitness intentions. As behavior analysts receive training in rewarding positive behavior, this can be an excellent choice for individuals who enjoy exercise and want to help others achieve their goals.

Where Do Behavior Analysts Work?

Behavior analysts, typically known as behavior disorder counselors or applied behavior science specialists, work in a variety of industries and settings. While many ABA professionals work with children, they also work with clients who are adults. ABA professionals work wherever there is a need, including schools, clinics and rehabilitation centers. 

O*Net classifies applied behavior science specialists under clinical, counseling, and school psychologist — as the job description appears mostly in line with these similar occupations.  As of May 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the highest levels of employment for this group of professionals are in the following industries: 

IndustryAnnual Mean Salary
Individual and family services
$78,900
Offices of physicians
$106,520
Offices of other health practitioners
$106,870
Outpatient centers
$106,490

BLS Clinical, Counseling and School Psychologist salary is used due to the lack of behavior analyst data. Data verified: April 2022

BCBA Salary and Job Outlook 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $99,640 as of May 2021, although salaries ranged from $47,010 to over $167,460. The demand is highest in California, New York, Texas, Illinois and Massachusetts. 

ABA is one of the only evidence-based therapy treatments designed to help individuals on the spectrum. Thus, there will likely be an increased demand for professional service providers who can help clients and their families. 

FAQs

How long does it take to become a BCBA?

Since becoming a BCBA requires several years of education, followed by licensure and examination, it may take an individual between six and 10 years to become a BCBA.

What does a board certified behavior analyst do?

Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. A BCBA may also supervise the work of an assistant behavior analyst or a registered behavior technician. 

What is BCBA certification?

BCBA certification is acquired through completion of the BCBA exam, which focuses on testing the different disciplines required to become a BCBA. Preparation for this examination can be done through practice questions and mock tests.

What does BCBA stand for?

BCBA stands for a board certified behavior analyst, which is a behavior analyst at the graduate level who has passed all certification and licensure requirements for the state they are working within. 

What jobs can you get with a BCBA?

There are many other careers that a BCBA may choose to pursue. Clinical director, staff trainer, group home adviser or an insurance care advocate for an insurance company are other possible roles for a BCBA, according to the Above and Beyond Learning Group’s article on ABA careers. 

Information last updated April 2022.

Department of Behavior Analysis info

Master of Science in Behavior Analysis

Earn your master’s degree in behavior analysis online in 23 months through Simmons’ highly respected program, BehaviorAnalysis@Simmons.

  • Complete Your Master in 23 Months
  •  BACB- Required Mentoring Incorporated into Program
  •  No GRE Required 

School of Education and Health Sciences info

Master of Applied Behavior Analysis

Complete the University of Dayton’s online Master of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program in as few as 21 months and prepare to pursue a career as a behavior analyst. GRE scores are not needed to apply. Bachelor’s required. 

  • Curriculum includes a Verified Course Sequence 
  • Complete in as few as 21 months  
  • No GRE required to apply

Graduate School of Education and Psychology info

Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis

Earn your master’s in applied behavior analysis in less than 2 years online at Pepperdine. Experience clinical training and prepare to sit for the board certified behavior analyst exam. GRE not required.

  • GRE not required
  • Complete online in as few as 15 months
  • Prepare to sit for the board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) exam

infoSPONSORED