Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Master's Degree

Master’s degrees in applied behavior analysis prepare students to work as independent practitioners of applied behavior analysis (ABA) in special education, developmental services, or mental health.

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These graduate degree programs provide study in the application of the principles of behavior analysis and produce ABA professionals capable of working with a wide range of populations in an equally wide range of settings.

Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis: Who is it Right For?

ABA Practitioners … A master’s degree in ABA provides students with advanced study in research-based theories and findings, arming them with the knowledge to implement the concepts and principles of behavior analysis so as to begin or advance in professional practice.

As an applied behavior analyst, you may work with children or adults with developmental disorders, traumatic brain injuries, or mental health issues in settings like:

  • Private autism clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Community mental health centers
  • Home-based settings
  • Schools
  • Residential settings (group home, foster home, institution)

Many applied behavior analysis master’s degrees provide students with the education necessary to qualify for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) designation through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

With the BCBA® certification in hand, ABAs are automatically eligible for state licensure in most states that license ABA professionals, which grants unlimited practice authority allowing practitioners to assess patients and develop and implement therapy and treatment plans.

BCBA® holders are also eligible to receive insurance reimbursement for ABA services under many state’s autism insurance mandate laws, which, in turn, meets the requirements of most employers.

ABA Professors and Advancing Students … This degree is the ideal prerequisite if you have plans to pursue doctoral studies in applied behavior analysis for research or teaching purposes or for advancing your knowledge in a specific area of ABA.

Educators, School Counselors and Administrators … If you’re an educator, a master’s degree in education or special education with a specialization on ABA can elevate your special education career to include ABA therapy or prepare you for a career as a counselor, behavior coach, or administrator.

Applied Psychologists … A master’s degree in psychology with a specialization or focus in ABA can prepare you for a career as an industrial-organizational psychologist or in organizational behavior management, which focuses on improving individual or group performance within a corporation or other workplace or organizational setting.

Behavioral Specialists … You may also work in one of the many sub-disciplines of ABA, including, behavioral gerontology, which includes working with older people with late-life anxiety, depression, dementia or post-stroke behavioral problems.

Research and Experimental Behavior Analysis … You may also complete a master’s degree in ABA as to focus your career on experimental behavior analysis and work in emerging areas of study like behavioral economics, behavioral pharmacology, and behavioral toxicology.

Master’s Degrees (MA, MS, MAT, MEd) in Applied Behavior Analysis

Master’s degree programs in ABA are usually housed in schools/colleges of behavior analysis, psychology, or education.

Master’s degrees in applied behavior analysis or psychology with an ABA focus are structured as MS or MA programs, while master’s degrees in education/special education with an ABA focus or specialization may be designed as MAT, EDs, or MEd programs.

MEd programs are generally designed for experienced educators interested in pursuing graduate work in a specific area of education or refocusing their teaching careers on a different area, while MAT programs are focused on individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field of study and are interested in becoming a teacher with a focus on ABA. EDs programs are designed for educators who already hold a master’s degree in an educational specialty and want to specialize in ABA.

Many master’s degrees in applied behavior analysis are offered as online programs, thereby accommodating busy working professionals and individuals who do not reside near a campus-based program. These programs provide students with distance-based coursework complemented with an online learning network that promotes peer-to-peer and faculty interaction.

Admission Requirements

Admission to a master’s degree in ABA requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a minimum GPA (usually 3.0 or higher). Most programs require an undergraduate degree in a related area, such as psychology or behavior analysis. Other admission requirements often include:

  • Minimum GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Admissions essay

Curriculum Requirements

Master’s degrees in ABA generally follow the curriculum requirements of the BACB for the BCBA® certification, which include coursework in:

  • Ethical and Professional Conduct
  • Concepts and Principles of Behavior Analysis
  • Research Methods in Behavior Analysis
    • Measurement (including Data Analysis)
    • Experimental Design
  • Applied Behavior Analysis
    • Fundamental Elements of Behavior Change and Specific Behavior Change Procedures
    • Identification of the Problem and Assessment
    • Intervention and Behavior Change Considerations
    • Behavior Change Systems
    • Implementation, Management, and Supervision

Master’s practicums provide students with the opportunity to apply their graduate-level knowledge in real world settings, where they:

  • Conduct behavioral assessments
  • Design education and behavioral programs
  • Develop behavior support plans
  • Create data collection procedures

Many institutions offering online master’s degree programs in applied behavior analysis assist students in finding and securing a practicum located near their home.

Master’s Degrees in Applied Behavior Analysis Leading to Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) Certification

A master’s degree earned through a recognized program or through the completion of approved courses satisfies the educational requirement to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Education Requirements

To qualify for the BCBA® designation, you must complete a master’s degree program in behavior analysis, education, or psychology that meets one of the following requirements:

  • Has earned accreditation through the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s (ABAI) Behavior Analysis Accreditation Board (BAAB) (ALL ABAI-BAAB accredited programs include a BACB pre-Approved Course Sequence (ACS); some schools offer stand-alone ACS courses independent of a master’s program for those that already hold a graduate degree but need to take the required ABA courses before being qualified to sit for the BCBA® Exam)

OR

  • Meets BACB course content allocation requirements (programs that have not received pre-approval may still include the required course content, but would be subject to a curriculum evaluation through the BACB before candidates can sit for the BCBA® Exam)

Experience Requirements

You must complete a practicum of at least 1,000 hours or an intensive practicum of at least 750 hours as part of your master’s degree program.

If your master’s degree in ABA does not include a qualifying practicum, you must complete an independent fieldwork experience of at least 1,500 hours.

Examination Requirements

The final step to BCBA® certification requires passing the national BCBA® Examination administered through Pearson VUE.

The BCBA® exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions based on the BACB’s Fourth Edition Task List and the following content areas:

  • Basic Behavior Analytic Skills
    • Measurement
    • Experimental Design
    • Behavior Change Considerations
    • Fundamental Elements of Behavior Change
    • Specific Behavior Change Procedures
    • Behavior Change Systems
  • Client-Centered Responsibilities
    • Identification of the Problem
    • Measurement
    • Assessment
    • Intervention
    • Implementation, Management, and Supervision

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