ABA stands for applied behavior analysis.  It is one of many tools used to help people who are on the autism spectrum have a good quality of life, but can be used in other areas of psychology and with additional populations.  Therapeutic practitioners practice ABA by observing clients’ behavior and then intervening to help the client change their behavior, utilizing a psychological system of rewards and punishment.  Individuals applying ABA in non-clinical contexts can also use behavior analysis strategies to improve their professional tasks.  For example, a CEO might utilize ABA to make better business deals or work more effectively with clients and business partners, while a career counselor or psychology professor who went into ABA studies may utilize what they learned to better serve students they work with.  Cyber analysts may not be the first occupation that comes to mind when thinking about ABA, but they use behavior analysis via machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data, and analytics to identify malicious behavior and analyze differences in normal, regular behavior.

While traditional routes in ABA studies include clinical settings and specific populations, the possibilities with and applications of a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis span a variety of occupations and careers.  In other words, ABA studies aren’t just for soon-to-be therapists.

This article will guide you through what applied behavior analysis is, what a degree in it can offer you, and the steps you need to take to figure out if ABA studies is right for you.

What is applied behavior analysis? What is an ABA degree?

An ABA degree allows clinicians or teachers to specialize in helping the autistic community. The average ABA session costs anywhere from $120-$150 per hour, and the national average salary in the ABA field is $64,000 according to Lightcast.io.

It’s important to note that while ABA is predominantly used for those on the autism spectrum, ABA is also beneficial for those struggling with addiction, the elderly, athletes, students and parents, and those struggling with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Four main ethics or principles inform all of the strategies used in ABA according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board:

  1. Benefit Others
  2. Treat Others with Compassion, Dignity, and Respect
  3. Behave With Integrity
  4. Ensure Your Competence

Coursework for an ABA degree includes learning about what applied behavior analysis is, understanding the populations that benefit from ABA, and then experiential learning via fieldwork, working directly with clients.

How long does ABA certification take? How long does it take to become a behavior specialist?

At Ball State University, the online behavior analysis masters program consists of 30 credits that can be completed in less than two years. We also offer the flexibility of choice between 8-week or 16-week course lengths.

Generally speaking, it takes two years to become a behavior specialist, as that’s the typical length of time it takes to get a master’s degree. To become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you just have to have a bachelor’s degree and an additional Master’s (in any area), and have completed supervised field experience hours in addition to the BCBA exam . The master’s in applied behavior analysis and the BCBA certification are typically done simultaneously.

Because Ball State offers 8-week and 16-week course options, the Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis only takes around 18 months.

Earning BCBA certification requires 2,000 hours of fieldwork in applied behavior analysis. Students may not start fieldwork until they start their graduate ABA coursework, have a qualified supervisor, and have signed a contract with all supervisors involved.

Courses required to complete the degree at Ball State include:

  • SPCE 609: Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)
  • SPCE 610: Behavioral Consultation (3 credits)
  • SPCE 611: Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)
  • SPCE 619: Professional Issues in Applied Behavior Analysis (3 credits)
  • SPCE 630: Research Methods for Behavior Analysis (3 credits)
  • SPCE 680: Introduction to Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (3 credits)
  • SPCE 682: Interventions and Treatments for Persons with Autism (3 credits)
  • SPCE 683: Field-Based Experience in Autism (3 credits) or SPCE 638: Field-Based Experience in Applied Behavioral Analysis (must have a superviosr and site for this and work with at least 2 clients)
  • SPCE 689: Verbal Behavior (3 credits)
  • SPCE 691: Supervising Human Service Staff in ABA (3 credits)

This is also a general timeline of what courses you’ll take and when.  SPCE 609 and SPCE 610 are usually taken first, but classes vary.  Enrolling in SPCE 609 in the first semester will let you start fieldwork experience, if you want to get a roll on that.

Also, note that there are two separate fieldwork requirements for a Master’s in ABA.  There’s the fieldwork required for your degree, and the fieldwork supervision hours required for the BCBA exam.  Should you plan to become a BCBA, you’ll need both, but otherwise, you’ll just need the fieldwork required for the degree.

If you attend Ball State, you supervisor for fieldwork is not required to be a BCBA–but they should be familiar with ABA and with working with folks on the spectrum.

If you’re looking for a certificant, the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) has resources on their website to Find a Certificant.

What is the BCBA exam?

The BCBA exam is a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. It consists of 150 multiple-choice questions administered in a computer-based testing format. You have four hours to complete the exam, and it consists of two main sections: basic behavior-analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities, according to behaviorist.com. The exam is a scaled score exam, with the highest score you can achieve being 500. You need a score of 400 and above to pass. Students can take the exam a total of eight times within a two-year timespan. After that, they must restart the exam application process.

Note that you can only take the BCBA exam after completing graduate coursework.  So you will obtain your Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis (or complete the coursework prior to graduation), then take the exam.

The bulk of the costs to become a BCBA will come from educational costs like tuition, but there are specific fees involved:

  • $245 certification application fee
  • $125 examination appointment fee
  • $215 recertification application fee (paid every two years)

There are also fees associated with retaking the certification exam or cancelling an exam appointment.

Ball State’s BCBA first-time exam pass rate is among the highest in the nation for high-enrolled programs. We offer you the skills and knowledge necessary to ace this exam and move on to the next chapter in your career.

What can you do with a BCBA?

While BCBAs often have successful careers serving children with autism or those struggling with addiction or mental health concerns, many other industries also employ behavior analysis professionals.

The top posted occupations that can result from a Master’s in ABA, according to Lightcast.io, include a wide variety of options overall:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst
  • physician
  • registered nurse
  • substance abuse counselor
  • safety specialist/counselor
  • college/university administrator
  • coach
  • healthcare social worker
  • career counselor
  • psychology professor
  • chief executive officer (CEO)
  • occupational therapist
  • physical therapist
  • case worker
  • special education teacher
  • medical director
  • cyber/information security engineer/analyst
  • psychotherapist
  • chief psychologist
  • behavioral health specialist
  • counseling psychologist
  • bookkeeper/accounting clerk
  • database administrator
  • human resources/labor relations specialist
  • academic/guidance counselor
  • billing clerk/specialist
  • training and development specialist

Top industries for this degree include:

  • general medical and surgical hospitals
  • administration of veterans’ affairs
  • offices of mental health practitioners (expect physicians)
  • colleges, universities, and professional schools
  • elementary and secondary schools

As of December 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling sector to grow by 22% through 2031. Social and human services, another popular option for BCBAs, is expected to grow by 12% within the same time period.

Whether you decide to work in the mental health field or branch out into something non-clinical, applied behavior analysis is a good career with great career growth prospects.

The median advertised salary for clinical and counseling psychologists with ABA is $42.03, according to Lightcast.io, with a proposed advertised wage trend increase of 63.5% from January 2010 to January 2023.  In other words: job prospects are good!  California has the most job postings (again, according to Lightcast.io), followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and then Florida.

Conclusion

From helping autistic children to working in HR, the possibilities with applied behavior analysis are expansive and promising.  Many students who attend Ball State and gain their Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis find the degree and program to be rewarding and well worth the effort.  For Ball State students who do go into traditional ABA therapies or occupations post-degree, they say that being able to help friends, family, and themselves with the skills that they learn is the ultimate reward from this program. If you think ABA studies fits your career goals, visit our webpage or contact a student success specialist.