The top master’s degree programs in applied behavioral analysis (ABA)

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Introduction to applied behavioral analysis (ABA)

Looking for the best opportunities to further your education in applied behavioral analysis? Within this page, you’ll find the top universities offering graduate programs in ABA, giving you the chance to secure a master’s degree as a full-time or part-time student.

In most cases, securing a master’s in ABA is not enough to walk straight into employment at the end of your postgraduate program. Fortunately, most of the ABA master’s degree programs listed below combine the necessary technical and practical curriculum to enable you to sit for Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification at the end of your program.

The top master’s in ABA programs

The following colleges have been hand-picked as the leading schools for their master’s in applied behavioral analysis programs based on a combination of potential earnings post-graduation, the higher-than-average graduation rate, and the levels of investment in students on top of tuition.

  • Vanderbilt University

    Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee
    Vanderbilt University

    Nashville’s Vanderbilt University is another hugely successful and in-demand private research university. Named after shipping and rail magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, who offered the initial funding for the college, Vanderbilt has approximately 6,480 postgraduate students across all its master’s programs. 

    Its applied behavior analysis master’s degree has been carefully cultivated by Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, focusing on licensed special education teachers looking to practice ABA in educational settings. Its program faculty boasts decades of combined expertise in designing and evaluating interventions to the behavior of children with disabilities.

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  • Rutgers University

    Rutgers University New Brunswick, New Jersey
    Rutgers University

    The Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, is a leading national research university and remains the eighth-oldest college in the U.S. Established in 1766, Rutgers attracts a student base of almost 69,000 people, including 19,500+ postgraduates across its urban and suburban campuses.

    Rutgers offers its master’s degree in ABA through the Department of Applied Psychology at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP). Postgraduates that complete the ABA masters program at Rutgers will receive a 42-credit degree combining the foundation knowledge of the scientific basis of ABA and the practical training of applying areas of behavior analysis.

    Admissions requirements are a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate or associate degree transcripts, along with 2 letters of recommendation, a professional statement and examples of former course or work experience in ABA.

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  • University of Wisconsin

    University of Wisconsin Madison, Wisconsin
    University of Wisconsin

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison is the official state university of Wisconsin. This top-ranked research institution offers plenty of opportunities to graduates seeking to further their education with a master’s degree in ABA. Students can enroll in the ABA program on a full-time or part-time basis, which is designed in line with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. Verified Course Sequence.

    Prospective students for Wisconsin’s ABA program must first complete the Phase I and II portfolio evaluation and have a GPA of at least 2.75. They must also hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an accredited university or college. GRE or GMAT scores may also be required, along with a personal interview, depending on the course’s popularity.

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  • University of Minnesota

    University of Minnesota Twin City, Minnesota
    University of Minnesota

    The University of Minnesota Twin Cities is up there with the leading public research universities in the U.S. With its campuses spanning both Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota, it is the flagbearer for undergraduate and postgraduate education in the state of Minnesota. Graduates seeking a postgraduate program in ABA would become one of 11,500+ postgrads on campus, which is home to over 3,800 academic staff.

    This college operates a special education M.A., with a distinct emphasis on applied behavior analysis. The course requires 36 overall credits, comprising 3 semesters of practical experience alongside a board-certified behavior analyst and a capstone research project in the final semester.

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  • University of Maryland

    University of Maryland College Park, Maryland
    University of Maryland

    Founded in 1856, the University of Maryland, College Park is the flagship institution of Maryland’s university system. It boasts an acceptance rate of 44%, which means that less than 50% of applicants are fortunate enough to get on a program here.

    The UMBC operates a master’s program in human services psychology – applied behavior analysis. The track is accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysis, and its program is based on a Behavior Analyst Certification Board Verified Course Sequence, preparing postgraduates for their subsequent BCBA certification examination. Application to this graduate program requires GPA and GRE scores, along with 3 letters of recommendation to supplement program applications.

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  • University of Pittsburgh

    University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    University of Pittsburgh

    The University of Pittsburgh was founded in February 1787 and currently has an enrolment of over 9,000 postgraduates on campus. The university offers a master of education in applied behavior analysis.

    With a full-time program duration of 12 months or 24 months part-time, this course contains 39 credits and is widely regarded for its rigorous coursework and practicum opportunities, preparing individuals to sit their BACB examination. A GRE exam is not a requirement for admissions to Pitt’s program, although graduates must have completed the foundations of special education course or an equivalent.

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  • Saint Louis University

    Saint Louis University St. Louis, Missouri
    Saint Louis University

    The private Jesuit research university of Saint Louis University is the second-oldest Jesuit institution in the U.S. Established in 1818, SLU has developed a proud reputation for its forward-thinking approach.

    SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice operates an M.S. in applied behavior analysis for 39 credits and available as either a full-time or part-time program. The curriculum spans 7 courses, followed by a thesis and 5 practical courses. Students are also required to undertake 1,500 hours of field practicum under supervision by a board-certified behavior analyst. Applicants must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 and should have prior knowledge of ABA through previous coursework or independent studies.

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Why choose a master’s degree in ABA?

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 13.1% of U.S. citizens live with a disability. That’s more than 1 in 8 people. The education sector requires specialists that can work with young people with disabilities – including autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities – and make recommendations and tweaks to improve their education and life opportunities.

There are multiple career opportunities open to postgraduates with a master’s in ABA under their belt, including:

Board certified behavior analyst

Individuals with BCBA certification can work as independent practitioners, providing behavior analysis services to clients who exhibit complex behavioral disorders. All BCBA-certified analysts must re-certify their skills and expertise every 2 years.

Counselor

Graduates of ABA master’s programs typically look to counseling as another career path. Counselors work across a host of settings, including hospitals, colleges, schools and residential programs.

Special education assistant

Special education environments increasingly require the support of BCBA-certified analysts to work closely with students and parents alike to provide a framework that allows youngsters with special needs to thrive.

Psychological assistant

Although postgrads with a master’s in ABA are not typically permitted to practice as psychologists, they can work in tandem with licensed psychologists to consult on research, clinical and counseling objectives.

Clinical behavior analyst

Postgraduates can also seek employment as a clinical behavior analyst (CBA), working alongside clinical social workers (CSWs) to define behavioral management frameworks and interventions for CSWs supporting clients with developmental disorders like autism.

The career outlook for graduates with a master’s in ABA

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2024 employment opportunities will increase by 19% across all areas of the psychology sector, including applied behavior analysis. These figures can be backed up by the surge that was seen in the demand for BCBA-certified analysts between 2010 and 2018.  According to the BACB report, the demand for behavior analysts increased by 1,942% in this 8 year period.

Average salaries and career paths for ABA therapists

The potential for career earnings as an ABA therapist depends heavily on your certification level and years of experience in the field. The Economic Research Institute (ERI) claims that average salary for behavior analysts across the U.S. is $62,629 per year. This equates to an hourly rate of $30 per hour.

The ERI also anticipates salary demands among certified behavior analysts to rise by over 16% during the next 5 years as the specialism continues to mature.

Financial aid

As you might expect, given the educational requirements needed to be approved onto an ABA master’s program, these courses come with hefty tuition costs attached. Achieving BCBA certification does not come cheap. However, it is possible to pinpoint and apply for scholarships with your chosen university that could cut the cost of your studies.

Most of the colleges listed above will award scholarships to applicants with impeccable scholastic performance. Students with GPA scores of 3.5 and above stand the best possible chance of being considered.

It’s also worth noting that tuition costs are generally half the price if you opt to study at your local university. If you reside in the same state, you can not only halve the cost of your tuition, but you may also be able to apply for location-specific scholarships. Minnesotans thinking of applying for a master’s degree in ABA should consider the University of Minnesota, given that the Autism Recovery Foundation has been known to offer ABA scholarships to graduates who plan to work in Minnesota after their studies.