The best BCBA programs prepare students to become independent behavior analysts who are ready to sit for the BCBA exam. In order to take the exam, you must complete a verified graduate program that covers required behavior-analytic coursework.
BCBA programs that prepare students to take the exam offer graduate degrees in behavioral analysis, education, or psychology. Reputable BCBA programs teach verified coursework, offer optional practicums, and can be completed in person, online, or through a hybrid of learning environments.
You have a lot of options for this type of education in 2020.
Jobs in behavior analysis can be rewarding and challenging, and can lead to a personally and professionally fulfilling career.
In order to start your career, you need to become a certified behavior analyst. Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) hold graduate degrees and the highest level of national certification in the field.
Before becoming certified, you must complete a verified graduate program that covers required coursework on behavior analysis. It is important to attend a BCBA program that meets all education requirements for a BCBA certification, so you will be eligible to take the national exam and become certified.
BCBA Program Requirements
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is the national organization that grants behavior analyst certifications. In order to become a BCBA, you must do the following:
- Earn a graduate degree.
- Complete behavior-analytic coursework.
- Complete supervised fieldwork.
- Pass the national exam.
The graduate degree, either a master’s degree or doctoral-level degree, must be from a qualifying institution. It is also essential that you completed acceptable coursework in behavior analysis throughout your graduate program.
The BACB defines qualifying institutions as:
- U.S. institutions that are listed in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation database.
- Institutions outside the U.S. with degrees that meet certain standards.
If you are unsure that your graduate degree qualifies you for certification, you can request a preliminary coursework evaluation to determine if your coursework meets all or part of the degree requirements. If it only meets part of the requirements, you may need to take additional approved courses.
Acceptable BCBA Degrees
To help you identify a BCBA program that meets eligibility requirements for becoming certified, the BACB has outlined acceptable degree definitions. Most degrees that lead toward a BCBA credential are in behavior analysis, education, or psychology. Degrees in these fields must meet the following definitions:
- Behavior analysis: The term behavior analysis must be included in the degree or program name or in a functionally equivalent name. Programs accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International meet this requirement.
- Education: The terms education or educational must be included in the degree or program name. If your education degree does not meet this requirement, you must submit documentation that shows your coursework was focused on education and that your degree was offered by a department of e
- Psychology: The terms psychology or psychological must be in the degree or program name. If not, you must submit documentation that shows your coursework was focused on psychology and the degree was offered by a department of psychology.
Degrees outside of the above three categories can also be approved for BCBA eligibility. Graduate degrees in counseling and other mental health areas are often satisfactory, but they must meet the same acceptable degree definitions.
Reputable BCBA Programs
Colleges and universities across the country offer BACB-certified master’s programs in behavior analysis. Many institutions offer both on-campus and online learning options. Most programs can be completed in about two years, and some in as little as 18 months.
Here is a sample of reputable on-campus BACB-certified graduate programs:
- Drexel University: Earn a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with an option to extend into a PhD program in ABA, School and Clinical Psychology, or Experimental Psychology. On-campus, online, or hybrid learning programs are available.
- Simmons University: A Master’s in Behavior Analysis is offered through evening classes and some online courses. The course sequence meets BCBA eligibility requirements.
- Michigan State University: Michigan State prepares students to be highly competent behavior analysts in educational settings through their Master’s in ABA program. Coursework aligns with BCBA standards and prepares students for the certification exam.
- University of Massachusetts: An on-campus Master’s in Psychology with a focus on ABA is offered. Coursework can be completed in seven semesters and meets BCBA eligibility requirements.
- University of Michigan: A Master’s in ABA is offered that prepares students to become independent ABA practitioners and to sit for the BCBA exam. Both degree and certificate programs in ABA are available.
- Central Washington University: One of the most affordable graduate ABA programs available, Central Washington University prepares students to become BCBAs and work with a variety of populations.
In today’s age of online and distance learning, there is a large selection of online BCBA programs. Online programs offer a great option for students who want to earn a degree but need the flexibility of distance learning.
Here is a selection of reputable online BCBA programs:
- Northeastern University: A Master’s in ABA is offered through a part-time completely online program that can be completed in 18 to 24 months. An optional two semester practicum is offered to students who wish to gain supervised experience hours toward their BCBA certification.
- Florida Institute of Technology: Florida Tech offers an online Master’s in ABA that is BACB aligned. On-campus and distance learning options are available. A further PhD option is also available to students who wish to continue their studies in behavior analysis beyond the master’s level.
- California University of Pennsylvania: An online Master’s in Education with a focus on ABA is offered. Full-time students can complete the program in four semesters, though additional time is allowed.
- Regis College: An entirely online Master’s in ABA is offered that can be completed in 20 months. Coursework is BACB-certified and prepares students to take the BCBA exam.
- Monmouth University: A Master’s in Education with an ABA certificate is offered that combines the core Master’s in Education Autism Track with an ABA certificate. Students take an online six-course sequence to earn the ABA certificate that qualifies them to take the BCBA exam.
- Pennsylvania State University: A Master’s in Education with an emphasis on ABA and an optional practicum is offered. Online and BACB-accredited, this program prepares students to sit for the BCBA exam.
What to Look Out For
When searching for a BCBA program, be cautious about the accreditation of the degree program. While there are many programs available on the topic of behavior analysis, not all are accredited by the BACB. Some programs teach students about behavior analysis but do not meet course requirements to allow students to take the BCBA exam.
If your goal is to become a board certified behavior analyst, you must complete coursework, either in person or online, that has been certified by the BACB. Before committing to a program, be diligent about confirming that the program meets BACB program requirements.
Selecting the Right Program
The right program for you will depend on your personal situation and professional goals. Some students benefit from the in-person interactions offered by on-campus learning, while others enjoy working independently online and at their own pace.
Many online programs meet eligibility requirements for students to take the BCBA exam, but you may have to do extra research on securing a practicum placement for yourself, which is required for certification. Costs of in-person versus online learning also vary due to the level of services being provided. Generally, online learning is more affordable than in-person programs.
There is a wide variety of BCBA programs available across the country in 2020. By identifying your personal, educational, and professional goals and requirements, you will be able to find the right BCBA program for you.
- Acceptable Degree Definitions. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Advance Your Career With Applied Behavior Analysis. Drexel University.
- Behavior Analysis. Simmons University.
- Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis. Michigan State University.
- Psychology: Applied Behavior Analysis. UMass Dartmouth.
- M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis. University of Michigan-Dearborn.
- BCBA Certification. Central Washington University.
- Applied Behavior Analysis. Northeastern University.
- Applied Behavior Analysis Programs. Florida Tech.
- About Special Education Applied Behavior Analysis – General Track. California University of Pennsylvania.
- Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis. Regis College.
- Applied Behavior Analysis. Monmouth University.
- Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis. PennState Harrisburg.
- ABA Therapist Licensing Rules Set to Take Effect Soon Mandate Background Checks. (November 2019). Crain’s Detroit Business.
- Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment of Autism: The State of the Art. (October 2008). Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America.