How Do You Become an Applied Behavior Analyst?

How Do You Become an Applied Behavior Analyst?
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Alicia Betz profile
Alicia Betz September 3, 2019

As a behavior analyst, you'll work with clients to address behavior challenges through therapy and training. The job requires skill, patience, and compassion, but for those with helping hearts and analytical minds, it can be a genuine calling.

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Are you thinking about majoring in psychology, applied behavior analysis, or a related field? Do you already have your bachelor’s degree and are trying to figure out what it takes to become a board certified behavior analyst? If you want to learn more about how to treat people with behavior challenges, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a behavior analyst
  • The kinds of behavior analyst careers
  • The educational commitment to become a behavior analyst
  • Licensure and accreditation to become a behavior analyst
  • Resources for becoming a behavior analyst
  • Typical advancement path for behavior analyst
  • Further licensure and accreditation for becoming a behavior analyst

Pros and cons of becoming a behavior analyst

As a Board-certified behavior analysts (BCBA) or applied behavior analyst, you will have the opportunity to work in a variety of different settings. Many behavior analysts work with patients or students who have a problem behavior. Others engage in research.

Like all occupations, behavior analyst has its pros and cons:


  • If you’re interested in human behavior, you’ll be able to find a work setting you enjoy.
  • The average annual salary for a Board Certified Behavior Analyst is around $62,000, with top salaries around $80,000.
  • You’ll also help people overcome challenging behaviors and developmental disabilities. You’ll teach their loved ones and caregivers how to help them as well.
  • The projected rate of job growth is good for behavior analysts. This is a quickly growing field according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, which reports that “demand for individuals holding BCBA/BCBA-D certification has increased approximately 800 percent from 2010 to 2017.”


  • Board-certified behavior analysts must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. Getting into this field requires a significant commitment of time, money, and effort.
  • The job can be emotionally and mentally wearing since you will work with individuals with challenging behaviors regularly.


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Kinds of behavior analyst careers

Applied behavior analysis operates on the principle that behavior can be taught and changed. As a behavior analyst, you’ll work with individuals to help improve problem behaviors.

Much of the work of a licensed behavior analyst is focused on developing and implementing treatment plans. You might help build an inclusive environment in a school or help a client improve her verbal behavior, for example. Many behavior analysts work closely with autistic children, especially the very young.

If you become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, you could become a psychologist or counselor for people with developmental disabilities. Potential work settings include:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Community organizations

There are also some unique ways you can work with behavior analysis, such as working with traumatic brain injuries. There’s even a branch of behavior analysis that focuses on animal behavior, leading some applied behavior analysts into careers training pets, livestock, and zoo animals.

Educational commitment for becoming a behavior analyst

Those seeking certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board must complete one of three tracks.

All candidates must:

Plus at least one of the following:

  • Additional graduate coursework in behavior analysis
  • A full-time faculty position in behavior analysis that includes research and teaching
  • A doctoral degree, and postdoctoral practical experience of at least ten years

Most behavior analysts train for six years: four for a bachelor’s degree and two for a master’s degree. To maintain your certification, you must follow a two-year timeline that includes 32 units of acceptable continuing education. An example of an acceptable course would be a behavior management course from an accredited university.

Licensure and accreditation for becoming a behavior analyst

There is no uniform licensure requirement in the U.S; eEach state sets its own <a href=”” target=”_blank”>accreditation and licensure standards.

The following states require BCBA certification for licensure:

  • Alabama
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

The following states accept BCBA certification but will consider other qualifications in awarding licensure:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington

The remaining states either have optional or no licensing requirements.

Applied behavior analysts who don’t have a master’s degree but want to begin to work with those with mental health issues can seek certification as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. Registered Behavior Technicians are paraprofessionals who have at least a high school diploma and are supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Schools, hospitals, and other institutions might have other requirements for employees, such as background checks and immunizations.

Resources for becoming a behavior analyst

Typical advancement path for behavior analysts

If behavior analysis is your passion, you can easily stay in this field until retirement. The job market for behavior analysts is expected to grow, so there should be plenty of opportunities going forward

If you become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, it’s likely your terminal position will be as a clinical director or supervisor. You should have a number of options. For example, you might choose to use evidence-based practice to work with children with autism spectrum disorders.

Further accreditation or education for behavior analysts

Behavior analyst certification through BCBA is the most common accreditation. If you want to work in special education, you will also need to follow education certification requirements for your state.

There is always new research developing in behavior analysis, so it’s important to stay up to date or you might miss the latest research on, say, spectrum disorders that could help your clients.

The Behavior Analysis Certification Board offers multiple certification levels as you continue your education and learn more:

  • Registered Behavior Technician
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst–Doctoral

Certified behavior analysts must continue their education in order to keep their certification. Accreditation is required in some states, and is optional in others. In addition to state requirements, it’s also an ethical imperative to stay current so you are always offering the best care to your clients.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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