Applied Behavior Analysis PhD Programs

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in applied behavior analysis is a research-based program designed to produce researchers, scientists-practitioners, and university faculty in applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Doctorate-prepared applied behavior analysts work in business and industry, education, and public policy, while some continue to work as practitioners of applied behavior analysis.

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Applied Behavior Analysis

A doctorate in applied behavior analysis provides advanced-level education and training in the discovery, translation, and application of newly acquired knowledge in behavior analysis, aimed at solving socially significant problems of human behavior through applied interventions.

Many programs provide the opportunity to:

  • Conduct clinical and research training alongside experts in the field of applied behavior analysis
  • Specialize in areas such as autism, community outreach, or severe behavior disorders
  • Engage in teaching experiences

The Association for Behavior Analysts International (ABAI) accredits doctoral degree programs in applied behavior analysis.

PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis programs consist of about 60 semester hours of coursework, research, and dissertation credits and take about three years to complete.

Many programs are offered either through an online format or as blended campus/online format, allowing busy professionals and those not residing near a campus-based program the opportunity to complete the program through an interactive, web-based format.

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Admission Requirements

Admission into a PhD in Behavior Analysis is highly selective and competitive. Most programs demand, at a minimum, a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, psychology, or special education, along with a minimum GPA (usually 3.5 or above) in your master’s degree coursework.

Other requirements for admission often include:

  • Current BCBA® certification from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board
  • A writing sample – Usually your master’s thesis or research-based paper from a graduate course
  • A personal statement or essay describing your reasons for pursuing a PhD in ABA
  • Personal interview
  • Letters of recommendation who can attest to your ability to complete a doctoral program successfully
  • Minimum GRE scores
  • Resume/curriculum vitae describing your post-master’s/BCBA® professional experience

A PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis requires students to display proficiency in three areas:

  • Coursework
  • Practicum and research
  • Dissertation research

Curriculum Requirements

The core curriculum of a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis focuses on:

  • Advanced principles and procedures of basic and applied behavior analysis practice and research
  • Applying behavior analysis and behavioral support in complex environments
  • Supervising and training others in behavior analysis
  • The conceptual and theoretical foundations in advanced topics in behavior analysis
  • The development and completion of independent research in behavior analysis

Core coursework includes:

  • Analysis and Intervention in Developmental Disabilities
  • History of Behavior Analysis
  • Verbal Behavior
  • Behaviorism and the Philosophy of Science
  • Research methods in ABA
  • Experimental Design and Analysis
  • Professional and Ethical Issues in ABA

Most programs require students to complete all core and elective requirements before they can attain the status of doctoral candidate and receive approval to proceed with the programs’ research and practical experience requirements.

Practicum and Research Requirements

The research and practical experience requirements of a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis may include a college teaching practicum, a research tool presentation, a research presentation, and a doctoral dissertation.

Before submitting a dissertation proposal, most students are required to complete a research project in applied behavior analysis under supervision of their doctoral advisor. Students are generally required to publish their research paper or present it at a professional conference.

Independent work and internships at local partner sites are often part of a doctoral program in ABA. Clinical experiences allow students to partake in research, teaching, and clinical practice experiences.

Dissertation Requirements

The third year of a doctoral degree in applied behavior analysis will be spent working on your doctoral dissertation. Under the direction of a faculty mentor, you must develop an empirical thesis/project and defend it in an oral examination.

Doctoral Degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis Leading to the BCBA®-D Certification

The doctoral designation (-D) for the BCBA® certification allows BCBA®s to demonstrate they have successfully completed a doctoral program in applied behavior analysis.

To qualify for the BCBA®-D designation, you must hold a current BCBA® certification and meet ONE of the following requirements:


  • Complete a non-ABAI-accredited doctoral program where you completed a behavior-analytic dissertation, AND
    • Passed at least four behavior-analytic courses as part of your doctoral program; OR
    • Were formally advised by a faculty member who held the BCBA® designation; OR
    • Authored two peer-reviewed journal articles that were behavior-analytic in nature


  • Complete a doctoral degree from an accredited institution, AND:
    • Have at least 1,800 hours of experience in ABA during a postdoctoral fellowship or postdoctoral employment experience that included ongoing education in ABA under the supervision of a BCBA®
    • Authored two peer-reviewed journal articles that were behavior-analytic in nature and were completed as part of your training experience

Ready to take the next step in your education journey? Find an online aba doctoral program.

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