How To Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst

Industry Advice Healthcare

There are several reasons why someone would consider becoming a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). For one, many BCBAs get interested in the field because they want to work with children with special needs. While there are several career paths that work with these types of vulnerable communities, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is closely tied to the support and development of these groups.

If you’re interested in becoming a BCBA, here’s an overview of the timeline, the requirements for certification, and how to advance your career in this field.

How Long Does It Take to Become a BCBA?

Perhaps the most important factor in choosing a career path is understanding how long it will take to break into your desired field or position. However, it’s important to note that “becoming a BCBA is not a linear progression with the end-all-be-all being the exam,” says Nicole Davis, the director of the Applied Behavior Analysis programs at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

The timeline of becoming a BCBA is influenced by several components, such as required education, work experience, and certifications. However, on average it takes about six to eight years to become a BCBA. This estimation includes a four-year bachelor’s degree and an ABA master’s degree, which can take anywhere from two to four years depending on whether you attend the program full- or part-time.

If you’re interested in what this timeline entails, here’s a closer look at the requirements of becoming a BCBA.

6 Requirements of Becoming a BCBA

While this information should act as a guide to the numerous steps in becoming a BCBA, it isn’t a comprehensive list. With constantly evolving industry standards and certification requirements, the journey to becoming a BCBA is subject to many changes.

To combat this uncertainty, Davis urges students to read the BACB website. “The first step to any career hunt is to do your research. For this, you want to make sure you’re checking in with the BCBA handbook.”

That being said, here are five requirements you’ll need to fulfill if you hope to become a BCBA.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a bachelor’s degree is an essential first step for most psychology careers and becoming a BCBA is no exception. While an educational background in psychology is encouraged, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field isn’t a requirement. This is particularly promising for those who found a passion for helping vulnerable communities through behavior analysis while pursuing a degree that doesn’t necessarily align with ABA.

2. Enroll in the Right Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s Degree Program

Since board-certified behavior analysts are graduate-level professionals, a master’s degree as well as coursework in applied behavior analysis is required. While programs vary from school to school, it’s recommended that BCBAs earn their degree from an Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)-recognized behavior analysis master’s program or an institution that offers a verified course sequence (VCS).

A VCS is a curriculum that has been verified by ABAI as meeting specific coursework requirements, content hours, and faculty standards. According to the ABAI website, a degree program that offers a VCS satisfies the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s coursework requirements for the BCBA and BCaBA examination applications.

Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences includes a verified course sequence to ensure all their students are properly prepared for the BCBA exam. This means students must complete 315 classroom hours of graduate-level class in a number of specified concentrations. While this number may change over time, the core concepts should remain the same, including:

  • Ethical and professional conduct
  • Concepts and principles of behavior analysis
  • Research methods in behavior analysis
  • Applied behavior analysis

Coursework isn’t the only important factor to consider when enrolling in an ABA master’s program. “You want to find the educational experience that’s best for you and your needs,” says Davis. “That means finding coursework that will help you pass the BACB exam, but more importantly, make you the behavior analyst that you want to be in the future.” This means finding a school that matches your personal values, learning style, and lifestyle needs.

3. Get Practical Experience

Experience is an essential component of any career that requires certification. As a result, BCBAs are expected to obtain practical experience under close supervision. These supervisors must be qualified to supervise per the BACB guidelines.

This can be one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a BCBA, however. According to Andrew Bonner, director of the Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program at Northeastern’s Charlotte location, “Getting your supervised field work can be really tough. Not only do you need between 1,500 and 2,000 hours, but you have to have a supervisor oversee your progress in that context.”

Since supervisors juggle a number of responsibilities, it can be difficult to obtain experience hours in a timely manner. To combat this, the faculty at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences assist students in this process by offering a practicum course with these hours built in. No matter what institution you choose though, it’s important to keep a record of your hours and follow all requirements set forth by the BACB website to complete your certification.

4. Take the Behavior Analyst Certification Board Exam

After completing the required education and experience hours, prospective BCBAs will need to apply to take the board exam. This means providing requested documentation, including verification of a graduate-level degree and recorded experience hours. Once accepted, students will need to register and pay to be eligible to take the exam.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) examination is a four-hour long test that’s meant to evaluate your knowledge of the behavior analysis key concepts. This is a common barrier for prospective BCBAs gaining certification. While a master’s in applied behavior analysis is meant to prepare you for this exam, not all programs produce high pass rates. Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences offers course content focused on the BACB exam.

5. Apply for Certification and Licensure

Once you’ve passed your board exam, you’re ready to apply for certification and licensure if your state requires it. This allows BCBAs to practice independently in the field. Licensure and certification requirements vary from state to state, so it’s important to consult your state board for more information, especially since requirements are subject to change.

Despite the finality of this step, BCBAs are required to keep up their certification and licensure as well. This means you must obtain ongoing continuing education, adhere to BACB ethics requirements, and submit a completed certification renewal application along with the advertised fee. While most requirements vary from state to state, the BACB requires this recertification every two years to continue practicing.

Advance Your Career as a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst

Becoming a BCBA can be a daunting task, but there are several factors that can make it a little easier. For one, picking the right master’s degree program sets the foundation for this multi-step process, so it’s an incredibly important factor in your success. You want a program with “an integrated model where the end all be all is becoming a qualified, effective, good behavior analyst,” says Davis.

Northeastern is an excellent option for those hoping for a nurturing educational experience. “We have a verified course sequence. Therefore, your coursework is taken care of, you can take our practicum course where you can complete all of your supervised field work hours. We also have a prep course for the exam,” says Bonner. “We are holding your hand the whole time.”

Learn more about the benefits of this program and check out our Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program.