Breaking Down the Value and Potential of a Master’s in Behavior Analysis Degree

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy has a long and storied history of success in treating developmental disorders in children. In the past forty years or so, it’s been studied, analyzed, and refined and is now recognized as a leading therapy for children and adults with autism.

At the same time, ABA’s evolution has produced a growing body of research that has opened up doors for its effective use in many other areas, and today, the use of ABA is heralded in a wide variety of industries and occupations.

Is a master’s in applied behavior analysis worth it? Yes! If you’re looking to become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and hope to qualify for a state license, it’s not only worth it, it’s absolutely mandatory. The master’s in ABA is your ticket to being able to independently design and implement treatment regimens, either within an existing practice, or if your plans are to start up a totally independent practice of your own. The scope of ABA continues to expand, creating new and exciting ways to apply its principles and techniques in education, human resources, social services, and more, making the master’s in ABA more valuable and more sought after than ever before.

This means that the master’s in behavior analysis isn’t a one-trick pony here, folks. Because ABA applications are so far-reaching, more and more colleges and universities now offer this program, which has allowed the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential to skyrocket in popularity in recent years. (The number of individuals holding BCBA certification increased by more than 6,000 between 2019 and 2020 alone, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.)

So, the answer to the question: What can I do with a master’s in applied behavior analysis? is… Plenty!

Master’s in Behavior Analysis Options, Accreditation, Course Content and More

The master’s in behavior analysis is solely focused on the principles and foundations of ABA therapy to teach new skills and improve human behavior.

It may be designed as a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), Master of Teaching (MAT), or a Master of Education (MEd), and it may be housed in any number of schools or colleges, depending on its focus. Generally, you’ll find this graduate-level course of study in dedicated schools of behavior analysis or in psychology or education schools. In fact, master’s degrees in psychology and education with a concentration in ABA are now widely available and an accepted path to becoming board certified.

Naturally, your choice of ABA master’s program will depend on your preferred area of study. For example, programs designed as an MEd or MAT are focused on educators/future educators, while MS and MA degrees are usually those focused on behavior analysis or psychology with an ABA focus.

Regardless of the program design, ABA-focused master’s degrees include theory and practice in this scientifically based approach to understanding behavior. Students of these programs complete intensive study in applied behavioral technology, methodology, experimental analysis, and behavioral philosophy while examining ethical principles and evidence-based best practices.

Practical experiences are focused on assessing behavior, developing personalized plans of therapy, and tracking/documenting progress within your chosen area of practice (e.g., education, ABA, psychology, etc.)

Most programs in ABA have earned accreditation through the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), which means they contain the Verified Course Sequence (VCS) required to be eligible for BCBA certification that includes a total of 315 coursework hours in:

  • BACB compliance code and disciplinary systems; professionalism: 45 hours
  • Philosophical underpinnings; concepts & principles: 90 hours
  • Measurements, data display and interpretation; experimental design: 45 hours
  • Behavior assessment: 45 hours
  • Behavior-change procedures; selecting and implementing interventions: 60 hours
  • Personnel supervision and management: 30 hours

Most master’s programs in applied behavior analysis include a practicum experience, along with a master’s project that is completed under the guidance of a faculty member.

Today’s master’s in behavior analysis programs are often offered in flexible formats that include part-time study and hybrid/online delivery. Learn more about earning a Master’s degree in ABA.

To qualify to sit for the BCBA exam, you’ll need to either complete a master’s or doctoral degree from an ABAI-accredited program, or you’ll need to show proof that your program meets specific BACB course content requirements. All candidates must also complete a practicum of at least 1,000 hours if it’s part of their master’s program or at least 1,500 hours if it’s completed as an independent fieldwork experience.

Ready to earn your graduate degree in ABA? Here’s our list of the top 20 ABA Master’s programs!

What Can I Do with a Master’s in ABA? – Top Jobs for Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis

Historically, ABA therapy has been used in the area of developmental disabilities—specifically, autism spectrum disorder. And while ABA therapy is still widely used and praised for the treatment of autism, in recent years, its scope has expanded to include professions and industries ranging from business management to health and fitness.

Earn a master’s in behavior analysis and you’ll enjoy everything from increased professional opportunities to better marketability to a stronger earning potential.

How much do you make with a master’s in ABA? Since a master’s is the minimum requirement for the board-certification (BCBA) and state licensure needed to practice independently as an applied behavior analyst, it places you in the running for the full range of salaries available in this role. Estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) put that range at anywhere from $44,500 on the low end (bottom 10%) on up to $133,470 at the high end (top 10%). As a branch of the US Department of Labor, the BLS is the only reliable source of salary information for all jobs in the US. But as an emerging profession, ABA hasn’t been given its own category yet, and instead, falls within the uncategorized “all-other” segment of psychologists. It’s very reasonable to conclude that master’s-prepared ABAs would fall right in the middle of that range, where the median salary is $105,780. At the very least, you can count on your applied behavior analysis salary to give you access to a comfortable middleclass lifestyle.

So, what can you do with a master’s in ABA? Maybe the better question is what can’t you do with a master’s in ABA?

Here’s a rundown of what’s available out there in terms of jobs for master’s in applied behavior analysis holders:

Clinical Behavior Analysis Therapy

BCBAs most often work directly with children and adults with behavioral disorders, intellectual disabilities, and developmental disorders, although they also serve as program directors, school support staff, and consultants.

Most students who seek a master’s in ABA and BCBA certification do so because they plan to pursue a career as a behavior analysis providing clinical therapy. And in that role, autism spectrum disorder is still the most common thing they treat.

But BCBAs can also provide those therapeutic interventions in schools, home healthcare agencies, in community settings, and in private practice either in-person or remotely providing telebehavioral health services. These pros conduct functional behavior assessments, outline behavioral goals for their patients, implement treatment plans, and document and update their plans to meet specific patient goals.

Education/Special Education/School Counseling

Special education and general education teachers often utilize a variety of ABA strategies to support their students’ success and manage their classrooms. ABA techniques in the school environment have been shown to improve behavior and academic progress, both in the short- and long-term.

Special education teachers often utilize applied behavior analysis therapy when adapting general education lessons for their special education students, particularly for students who have difficulty processing and retaining information. For special education teachers, a master’s in ABA is an effective way to increase their marketability and earning potential, making this degree a valuable addition to their resume.

A master’s in ABA is also a good fit for school psychologists and counselors who may work with students with any number of mental, social, emotional, and behavioral disorders. The implementation of ABA therapies may be particularly helpful when providing grief counseling and emergency counseling services.

Business/Human Resources

Human resource specialists, management consultants, recruiters, and other business pros focused on employee recruiting, training, and performance management often use ABA techniques to motivate employees and assess behavior.

ABA is closely related to the growing field of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), which works to improve everything from employee behavior to employee turnover. OBM pros are often called in to improve organization and efficiency within a corporate environment as to support business growth, retain and develop staff, improve customer satisfaction, and more. OBM and the application of ABA techniques have been shown to be highly effective in improving employee performance and elevating workplace culture.

You’ll find OBM consultants working in nearly all types of industries, including healthcare, government, financial services, retail, and manufacturing.

Occupational Safety

ABA techniques in occupational safety are used to prevent accidents and increase worker safety. ABA-trained professionals in this setting observe potentially dangerous behavior and then create strategies to motivate safer behavior. Occupational safety experts skilled in ABA are often called in to develop behavior-based safety (BBS) programs that are designed to reduce workplace fatalities and injuries.

Social Work/Social Assistance

Social workers help protect vulnerable children, adults, and families and those in need of assistance. Social workers address lifestyle issues like homelessness and drug addiction…mental, behavioral, and emotional issues…major lifestyle changes like divorce or loss of a job…and community issues that affect people living in specific circumstances.

Because these social assistance professionals support and advocate for the individuals they work with, ABA therapy has become a natural extension of a social worker’s skillset. ABA therapies may be used by social workers when seeking to change behaviors or mindsets within the context of the family, community, and more. Because social workers understand that behavior is impacted by a wide variety of environmental factors, they can utilize ABA strategies as a more holistic approach to reducing maladaptive behaviors and increasing adaptive behaviors.

Health and Wellness

ABA therapies in the context of health and wellness programs can be highly effective. Health and wellness coaches, dieticians, personal trainers, and more are responsible for helping individuals reach their goals and overcome their obstacles. Adding ABA strategies to a health and wellness plan may allow health pros to help their clients make better choices, whether it’s maintaining an exercise regimen, quitting smoking, or reaching a diet goal.

Market Research

A growing number of BCBAs work for companies that examine consumer behavior for research and marketing purposes. Usually holding titles like consumer behavior analysts or marketing specialists, these professionals work to identify consumer behaviors and purchasing habits using a blend of psychology and market research. Although they may be employees, they usually work in a consulting capacity.