Bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis program guide

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What is applied behavior analysis?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is both a scientific way to understand behavior and a type of therapy that can improve social skills, communication, and learning through positive reinforcement. ABA is mainly known as the treatment for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). It is also used for treating dementia, eating disorders, problems with anger, cognitive impairment, anxiety, panic disorders, misuse of substances, OCD, borderline personality disorders, and phobias.

According to the American Psychology Association (APA), behavior analysis is a natural science that studies topics like:

  • How reinforcement processes strengthen new behaviors
  • How we make choices
  • Where addictions come from
  • How impulsivity and self-control work
  • How we choose and form new behaviors
  • What makes us discriminate and generalize

Why should you get a bachelor’s degree?

Bachelor programs for ABA’s can either be a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in psychology. Regardless of which one you choose, a bachelor’s degree will give you a foundation in the validated science of applied behavior analysis. It will make you understand behavior and social problems in individuals, groups, and communities and provide you with the tools to apply successful behavioral interventions.

Getting a bachelor’s degree is also the first step in becoming an ABA therapist or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). A bachelor’s degrees in ABA will prepare you for work in a variety of fields, obviously including as an assistant applied behavior analyst.

The program consists of 120 credits, which typically takes 4 years of study. The undergraduate program will introduce you to the exciting field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) or to explore similar careers. The minor provides high quality ABA training in designing, delivering, and evaluating behavioral interventions. The coursework, along with appropriate practicum experience, will prepare you to sit for the Analyst BCaBA examination.

What are the study requirements?

Most colleges will require a minimum of 3.0 GPA, where a GPA of 3.6 or higher is considered competitive. A number of schools also ask for acceptable GRE scores of around 297.

What should your application include?

Filling out your college application is tedious, and it takes time. Remember that each school is different, the application forms and processes vary, and application deadlines differ. Make sure you’ve filled in all the details, so you don’t risk missing out on your dream college because your application was returned. These are the documents your application typically should include:

Application form

Personal essay

Don’t rush this – allow enough time to write your essay as this is your chance to really stand out from other applicants. Most universities ask for 300-500 words that can sometimes be about a specific topic. Make sure it is polished, flawless, and lacks awkward sentence structures. 


Your transcript shows the high school(s) you attended, what courses you took and your grades, your Regents exam grades, GPA, SAT, SAT subject tests and ACT scores, and school attendance. If you pick up your transcript, don’t open the envelope or the school may refuse it.

Test scores

These include SAT or ACT scores. Some universities accept both, while others only accept one of them. You can register online to choose whether or not you want the schools to receive all, some or just one of your SAT scores. If you don’t make a choice, the schools will automatically receive all of your SATS.

Letters of recommendation

The minimum is often 2 recommendations. Get teachers, guidance counselors, employers or others to provide in depth comments about you. Each college has their own recommendation requirements.

List of activities

This list should include all the extracurricular activities you participated in throughout high school.  

Fee or fee waiver form

You’re requested to send a check or money order for the application fee. If you’re requesting a waiver, use the College Board Waiver Form or letter from your school. 

Where can you study your bachelor program?

If you want to study applied behavior analysis, you have more than 100 schools to choose from across the nation. Some offer on-campus programs, others you’ll attend from the comfort of your own home. It’s up to you to decide if you want to live the campus life, socializing with your peers both at school and home, or if you want to study online, while working or doing other things. Your decision will most likely be made after considering factors like cost, location, and time preferences. Here are the options for your education:

  • Public university, also called state schools. Some offer scholarships and they are open to anyone. Campus living is common.
  • Community college, smaller and cheaper and often more flexible than their public counterparts. Campus living is not an option here.
  • Private non-profit college, smaller and more specialized than public universities, and often with higher tuition fees. The main purpose of these colleges is to help you finish your education.
  • Private for-profit college, very close to the non-profit version, but set up like a business, which you might feel in the general vibe.
  • Online college, every bit as valuable as any other university education and a great option if you’re working and don’t have time to study full time, on location. Most of the coursework is done online.

Which applied behavior analysis program should you choose?

This depends on why you’re studying this subject. If your aim is to pursue a career in ABA, it makes sense to choose a course that includes the required fieldwork experience, alongside the necessary coursework, to sit the BCaBA exam. No less than 57 schools in the U.S. currently offer the pre-approved BCaBA course sequence as part of a bachelor’s degree program, usually in psychology or education, or ABA specifically.

If you’re working and studying part time, look out for courses that consist of evening classes. If there’s an option between 2 similar colleges, compare the student-to-faculty ratio. The national average for U.S. colleges and universities is 18 students per faculty member, as calculated by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Applied behavior analysis bachelor’s degrees are mainly grounded in education, special education, psychology, or applied behavior sciences, all depending on the institution or college or department where the program is located. But all programs include study in behavior analysis, like behavioral assessment, behavior interventions, and the development of behavior therapy programs.

Students will learn effective practices in ABA that align the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s task list. Almost all courses are taught by faculty members with advanced degrees and almost half hold a doctorate in their area of expertise. 

Why is accreditation important? 

Accreditation is your guarantee that an institution or program provides a recognized standard of quality education. So, make sure you check that your bachelor’s program has been accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). If you want to work within the Applied Behavior Analysis field, it’s important to look for courses that meet the Verified Course Sequence (VCS) requirement. The Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), awards courses a VCS if they meet the criteria for specific coursework requirements, content hours, and faculty standards. At the moment there are 119 BCaBA VCS verified courses available nationwide. To take a closer look, try this really useful directory that covers all of the ABA university courses in the country.

How long will it take you to graduate?

The bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis is a 4-year program consisting of 120 credit hours that’s available to study at several colleges and universities across the country.

What’s the coursework in applied behavior analysis programs?

You can pick and choose some of the courses when you study applied behavior analysis, while some subjects are compulsory. Many students choose to major in psychology while others choose biology, ethics, special education, or social sciences like social work or sociology. The courses on offer vary considerably among institutions, but many programs include:

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Advanced behavior supports
  • ABA methods, procedures and tools
  • Contemporary social problems and the workplace
  • Ethical, professional practice in behavior analysis
  • Psychological assessment
  • Application of consultation in applied behavior analysis
  • Lifespan development
  • Behavior analysis processes for behavior change
  • Teaching and positive behavioral support in autism
  • Management strategies in applied behavioral intervention
  • Functional analysis and treatment of challenging behavior
  • Human memory
  • Professional and ethical standards
  • Behavior intervention and support
  • Program design and evaluation
  • Personality development

How much does a bachelor’s degree cost? 

It’s an understatement to say that the cost of your education varies a great deal. Some programs are almost 8 times more costly than others. So choose wisely, pick an accredited program that you can afford with the help of grants, scholarships, or financial aid. If you want to work within the ABA field, you should also ensure that the curriculum is approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

If you’re already working, or want a more cost-effective course, an online university may be the best choice for you. You can study full time or part time and the net price of the tuition fees at some well reputed courses can vary from approximately $6,500 to around $35,000, both estimations for 4 years of study. The fees at public universities or private colleges fluctuate wildly. By picking a few universities at random on the National Center for Education Statistics site and comparing their estimated total tuition fee over the next 4 years we’ve found fees for public universities from $30,000-$65,000 in-state and $67,000-$130,000 out-of-state. The fees at some of the private non-profit colleges ranged between $50,000-$230,000 and private for-profit college $60,000.

Are you entitled to financial aid?

The most vital step in applying for federal grants, work-study, and loans for college is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. You’re entitled to financial aid if you have a financial need, are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, and are registered for an eligible degree or certificate program at your college or career school.

Filling in forms can be tedious, but the FAFSA form is fairly straightforward, especially if you select the “Fill out the FAFSA” button on the home page and follow the instructions. Here’s a helpful graphic created by Federal Student Aid to help visualize the procedure.

Where do you find scholarships and grants to apply for?

Scholarships and grants will help you save money on your education. Scholarships are based on merits, like grades, community service or athletic talent. Grants are based on needs, related to your income and expenses. Both work as financial aid which you’ll receive without any need for later repayment. Use APA’s webpage to get an idea of what’s out there and apply for as many scholarships as you want, there’s no limit.

The American Psychological Foundation funds grants for psychology students. Some scholarships are offered specifically to women, while others may be offered based on gender, race, merits, economic factors, location, institution or other criteria. You may also receive grants for a special talent, academic excellence, need or other qualifying factors. Check with your state’s board of education to determine if any additional grants exist that will help to pay for your education.

What jobs can you get after graduation?

Understanding why people act the way they do and having knowledge of how to change behavior is an asset, almost regardless of profession. Having a degree in ABA can help you to get a job as a:

By far the most popular job after graduation. It is a job with great potential for the future as it has steadily grown over the last 4 years. Approximately 1 in 5 counselor job listings require a candidate with a background in ABA.

Helping clients to make better choices for themselves, including guiding them to implement lifestyle changes. By using behavior analysis skills, the coach encourages the client to focus on their goals and overcome the obstacles to achieve the preferred outcome.

Works in an area where behavior analysts are in high demand. The assistant often works in a school environment where a background in developmental disabilities and knowledge about autism is a key factor.

Many students study ABA because they want to make a real difference in people’s lives. As such, there are fantastic opportunities available in nonprofit organizations. The skillset gained from the university degree is an asset for various things like helping clients to stop smoking, control their weight or keep from self-harm.

A job that opens a door to working in the community in numerous ways. The social worker can impact the lives of children or adults dealing with illness, special needs or sudden lifestyle changes.

Works in a support role alongside a certified supervisor to improve people’s lives. Conducts behavior assessments and helps develop intervention programs to fit an individual client’s needs. The assistant also gathers, interprets and shows the effectiveness of interventions.

Assists in the treatment of clients with behavior issues at mental health facilities. They also help clients in their daily lives with social interactions and other skills. The technician often works at medical centers, mental health facilities and schools.

The ABA skills are equally valid when working with animals as they are for human interactions. An animal trainer offers help to the animal and its owner to improve interactions and to modify behaviors as needed.

What can you expect to earn after finishing your bachelor’s degree?

What you’ll earn depends on where you live and work and what field you choose. You can earn up to $45,000 a year with a bachelor’s degree in ABA, but around $32,000 a year is the average according to a study in 2020. Choosing to get a certification not only helps you to earn more, but it will also make you more attractive on the job market.

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA) are really sought after, and the number of job postings has jumped dramatically. Similarly, the number of jobs posted for BCaBAs doubled between 2017 and 2018 and it keeps on growing.

An average salary for BCaBAs primarily employed in educational and scientific jobs is around $45,000. Generally speaking, with a BCaBA you can expect to earn significantly more than someone in the same job that isn’t certified.

Do you need a license or certificate after your studies?

As previously stated, becoming a BCaBA certainly helps to boost your career after your bachelor’s degree. The criteria for getting certified involves the completion of considerable hours of work experience alongside the coursework, as you’re required to complete a BACB-recognized practical experience to qualify. This could consist of completing a program-based practicum of 670 hours, an intensive practicum of 500 hours or a field experience of 1,000 hours, under supervision.

Your certification shows that you have met certain critical requirements in providing behavior analytic services under the supervision of a BCBA. It will also help you get a job as it makes it easier for employers, funders, and clients to verify that you have the right kind of knowledge and skills and that you’re not under any disciplinary sanctions.

The behavior analyst certification board’s handbook covers all you need to know about becoming certified. But remember that you have to check the requirements the day your course has finished, as they might change. Check in on the BACB webpage for the latest info.

Association for Behavior Analysis International

Many university programs are affiliated with and accredited by the ABAI. It gives fantastic support and outreach through a variety of worldwide events, job placement services and scholarly journals. The organization is divided into special interest groups, known as SIGs, to serve individualized areas of concern.

Association of Professional Behavior Analysts

APBA is a nonprofit organization that promotes and advances the science-based practice of applied behavior analysis. It represents the interests of professional ABA practitioners. APBA provides support, resources and education opportunities. It also brings professionals, paraprofessionals, consumers, and vendors together at meetings.

Behavior Analyst Certification Board

Founded in 1998, the BACB played a major role in professionalizing ABA. It operates certification programs, establishes practice standards and administers examinations. Its development of standards for educational and training and its credentialing process has defined what it means to be a professional practitioner of applied behavior analysis.

American Psychiatric Association

The organization’s goal is to make sure patients are receiving effective and humane treatments throughout their psychiatric care. The group is dedicated to keeping a close eye on psychiatric research, maintaining proper ethical standards in clinical practice and providing encouragement and leadership to its members. There are currently more than 37,000 members involved in the organization doing research, reaching others in academia and practicing with patients.

American Psychological Association

This organization, also known as APA, is very similar to the American Psychiatric Association. It has more than 115,000 members and focuses on proper application of psychology practices. The APA works to improve the qualifications and the research of psychologists through professional conferences, published reports, discussions and own publications.

American Educational Research Association

Formed more than 100 years ago as a nationally recognized research society, membership is divided into 12 divisions and more than 155 special interest groups. Developmental psychologists make up a strong constituency that shapes the developmental side of education policies.

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