How to Become a Behavior Specialist

How to Become a Behavior Specialist
Whether you earn a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or just a high school diploma, there are many career options for behavior specialists. Image from Unsplash
Alicia Betz profile
Alicia Betz May 29, 2020

Behavior analyst, special education teacher, therapist, social worker: these careers have more in common than you might think. Learn how becoming a behavior specialist can set you up for a surprising variety of great careers.

Article continues here

According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), the largest authorization body for analytics specialists, behavior analysis “focuses on assessing the environmental influences on behavior, assessment-based intervention, and data-based decision making.” The technique started out as a way to treat autism, which explains why this method is so prevalent in special needs education. Today, the BACB recognizes 12 specialty areas of behavior analytics:

  • Autism & intellectual/developmental disabilities
  • Behavioral gerontology
  • Behavioral pediatrics
  • Brain injury rehabilitation
  • Clinical behavior analysis
  • Education
  • Health and fitness
  • Organizational behavior management
  • Prevention/intervention in child maltreatment
  • Sports
  • Sustainability
  • Treatment of substance abuse disorders

As a behavior specialist, you might work in a school setting helping students complete Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Alternately, you might find work with a sports team, helping analyze player behavior and technique to optimize performance. As you’ll see by reading further, you’ll have quite a few options.

Wondering how to become a behavior specialist? In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Pros and cons of becoming a behavior specialist
  • Kinds of behavior specialist careers
  • Educational commitment to become a behavior specialist
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a behavior specialist
  • Resources for becoming a behavior specialist
  • Further accreditation or education for behavior specialists

Pros and cons of becoming a behavior specialist

Whether you earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or just a high school diploma, there are many career options for behavior specialists, including:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for all substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is $49,710. However, you can earn more or less depending on employer, job title, education, and experience.

What are the pros of the behavior specialization field?

  • The field is projected to grow by 22 percent from 2018 to 2028, more than four times the growth rate for the entire job market.
  • You can form close bonds with your clients and see a long-term change in them over time.
  • Since your days are often packed, there will never be a dull moment.

What are the cons of becoming a behavior specialist ?

  • This can be an exhausting job—both mentally and physically.
  • Some behavior analysis specialties require advanced degrees, certifications, and hands-on training.
  • The field often lacks adequate resources and legislation.

What does a behavioral specialist do?

Many behavior analysts are special needs teachers who help children with autism. However, they may work in any of a number of disciplines, including:

  • Health care
  • Insurance
  • Social assistance

Across the field, behavioral specialists help people with behavioral issues adjust to society. Job titles and specialization disciplines open to behavior specialists include:

The job you qualify for will depend significantly on your education level. Applicants with a master’s degree will have more opportunities than those with a bachelor’s.



University and Program Name Learn More

Educational commitment to become a behavior specialist

You can perform a lot of behavior specialist jobs with just a bachelor’s degree and proper certification, but many require additional certification and/or a master’s degree. School psychologists, for example, must earn a master’s degree. Requirements for special education teachers vary from state to state; in some, a bachelor’s degree, proper teaching licensure, and BACB certification are sufficient.

In addition to a (potentially) extensive educational commitment, a capable behavior specialist must have diverse skills. Depending on their specialty field, behavior analysts might require knowledge of any or all of the following:

How long does it take to earn a behavior specialization degree?

Many behavior specialists choose to earn a bachelor’s in behavioral science during undergraduate study. According to the Florida Institute of Technology, “degrees in behavioral science typically encompass the science of psychology, performance management and education”—all skills a behavior specialist needs.

If your college does not offer a behavioral science degree, you might want to look into undergraduate programs in:

  • Cultural anthropology
  • Education
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Should you attend a graduate program?

Earning a master’s degree can be helpful (read: required) for behavior specialists looking to expand their career options, but be aware that it takes two additional years of (full-time) study. Earning a bachelor’s, working for a while, and then returning to school is a common trajectory for those who eventually proceed to the master’s level.

Because so many behavioral specialists work in special education, many programs are geared towards teachers. These schools offer programs that prepare students for a BACB exam, which allows them to work in many behavioral analytics specialties.

Well-known universities with behavior-focused graduate programs include:

  • CUNY Hunter College offers a ABA preparation program designed for special education teachers who work with autistic students.
  • Drexel University offers a special education focus and ABA certification program.
  • Florida Institute of Technology offers both master’s and doctoral degree programs that prepare students for several career paths, including behavioral gerontologist, applied behavior analyst, and government and industry data analyst.
  • Kent State University at Kent offers a behavioral intervention specialist certification designed for special education teachers.
  • Monmouth College offers a Board Certification in Behavior Analysis (BCBA) preparation program, as well as a M.S.Ed.: Special Education – Autism/ABA program.
  • Northeastern University offers a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis designed “to prepare graduates to assume supervisory behavior analyst roles in service agencies and in private and public school settings and to serve as independent consultants”
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha allows students to earn a concentration in behavioral intervention as a part of their Master of Science in Special Education program.

Licensure and accreditation for becoming a behavior specialist

Most behavior analysis professionals hold some form of certification. Even registered behavior technicians, who’s minimum education requirement is a high school diploma, are required to take a 40-hour paraprofessional course.

Board-certified assistant behavior analysts need to complete a bachelor’s degree and must also meet certification requirements. Board Certified Behavior Analysts, who can supervise BCaBAs, need a graduate degree plus fieldwork in order to qualify for the exam. The highest BCAB certification level is Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral, though that’s really in degree and name only. In fact, the BACB says straight up that the BCBA-D “is not a separate certification and it does not grant any privileges above or beyond the BCBA certification.” Even the recertification requirements are exactly the same.

30 states currently use BACB certification.

Resources for becoming a behavior specialist

You can find financial resources for becoming a behavior specialist from the US Department of Education. The government offers loans and grants as well as loan forgiveness for certain service employees; special education teachers and social workers who specialize in behavioral disorders are eligible for loan forgiveness under specific conditions.

Other resources include:

Further accreditation or education for behavior specialists

If you’re accredited through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, you’ll need to complete continuing education requirements every two years (unless you are a registered behavior technician, in which case you must renew annually).

While the techniques for behavior analysis that you learned 20 years ago might be effective, there are always new things to learn. Professional development and recertification will keep you up to date on developments and research in spectrum disorders.

Aside from BACB requirements, continuing education is largely left up to your state or field.

(Updated on January 18, 2024)

How useful is this page?

Click on a star to rate it!

Since you found this page useful...mind sharing it?

We are sorry this page was not useful for you!

Please help us improve it

How can this content be more valuable?

Questions or feedback? Email

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: PsychologySocial WorkSocial Work & Counseling & Psychology