What Is a BCBA? Board Certified Behavioral Analyst Certification and Career Overview

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Published May 28, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) helps those with behavioral challenges make positive changes in their lives. Learn more about BCBA certification and career prospects.

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As applied behavior analysis gains more recognition, the demand for board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) has also increased. BCBAs promote positive behavioral changes and often specialize in autism, developmental disabilities, and brain injuries.

BCBAs need a graduate degree in behavior analysis or a related field, complete coursework and supervised experience, and pass the BCBA exam to achieve certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Learn what a BCBA does, certification requirements, and career and salary prospects in this guide.

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What is a BCBA?

A BCBA is a therapist with a graduate-level certification through the BACB who assesses, analyzes, and develops interventions for behavior-related challenges. BCBAs often work with individuals who have developmental disabilities or behavioral disorders in various settings, including hospitals, educational institutions, government and nonprofit agencies, and private homes.

BCBAs are highly trained professionals who use evidence-based treatment techniques drawn from applied behavior analysis principles such as positive reinforcement, conditioning, and other behavior modification skills. They identify the factors that trigger or increase unwanted behaviors and help reduce them by modifying their patients’ reactions to the social environment.

Responsibilities typically include designing and implementing behavior-analytic interventions, conducting assessments, and ensuring ethical practices. Other duties include training and supervising board certified assistant behavior analysts (BCaBAs), registered behavior technicians (RBTs), and other applied behavior analysis practitioners.

Quick Facts About BCBAs

  • There are over 68,000 BCBAs as of 2024
  • 6,948 new BCBAs in 2023
  • The total number of BCBAs increased by 10.6% from 2022 to 2023
  • 75% of BCBAs list autism spectrum disorder as their primary area of focus

Source: BACB

BCBA Specialties

Specializations can help BCBAs advance their careers and boost salary potential. Growing recognition of the value of applied behavior analysis in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities continues to drive demand for highly specialized BCBAs.

The following is a list of the five most common BCBA specialties, according to data from BACB:

How to Become a BCBA

Becoming a BCBA is a rigorous process with strict requirements. Applicants for BCBA certification must hold a graduate degree in a relevant field, receive passing grades in graduate-level coursework in behavior analysis, complete supervised fieldwork hours, and pass the BCBA examination.

The BACB offers four pathways to certification. The two most common pathways require a master's degree or higher from an accredited behavior analysis program or a graduate degree and completion of behavior analysis coursework. The other two pathways are designed for applicants with full-time faculty experience in behavior analysis or those with a doctorate in behavior analysis, education, or psychology.

1. Earn an Accredited or Recognized Graduate Degree from Qualifying Institution

The two most common pathways to BCBA certification first require that you complete a master’s degree or higher in behavior analysis, psychology, or education and completion of coursework with specific behavior-analytic content. A master’s degree typically takes two years and an additional year to complete fieldwork hours.

Pathway 1 requires a master’s or higher from a program accredited by the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA) or the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). The curriculum generally includes 270 hours of graduate-level classes in specific concentrations, covering research methods, behavior analysis concepts, and ethical and professional conduct.

Candidates for Pathway 2 certification must have a graduate degree from a qualifying institution and complete 315 hours of a verified course sequence in specific behavior-analytic content areas with a grade of ‘C’ or better in each course. Qualifying institutions include any schools listed in the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s directory. However, only coursework recognized by the ABAI as part of a verified course sequence counts for certification.

2. Complete Supervised Fieldwork

Candidates for BCBA certification must fulfill either 1,500 hours of concentrated supervised fieldwork or 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork. Although the concentrated fieldwork path takes fewer hours, it requires more intensive supervision. The supervised fieldwork option often works best for working professionals or others with limited time to meet with supervisors. In each month-long supervision period, candidates must complete between 20 and 130 hours of fieldwork. All fieldwork requirements must be completed within five years.

Total fieldwork hours consist of both independent hours without supervision and supervised hours. Candidates spend the rest of their fieldwork hours in unrestricted activities focusing on organizational, analytical, and training areas. Fieldwork supervisors must meet BACB requirements, including a current Board Certified Behavior Analyst or Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D) credential.

3. Apply for BCBA Certification

The next step is submitting the BCBA application for certification. You must submit your application online through the BACB website, along with documentation proving that you have completed the appropriate degree, required coursework, and supervised fieldwork experience. BCBA certification requires a $245 application fee submitted via credit card or mailed check. You have 90 days from the time of payment to submit all required documents.

The BACB processes all applications in the order received. You can expect approval for your application within 45 days of receipt of payment and all documents. Within 24-48 hours of approval, you will receive an email with instructions on scheduling your certification examination.

4. Schedule and Pass Your BCBA Certification Examination

You have two years from your application approval to take the BCBA certification exam. To schedule your exam, you need to create an account with Pearson VUE, which offers regularly scheduled in-person testing dates at sites across the country, and choose an exam date, time, and location.

The four-hour exam consists of 185 questions covering philosophical foundations, concepts, and principles, analytical content such as measurement and experimental design, and client-centered responsibilities, including assessment, intervention and personnel supervision.

After completing the exam, you will receive a pass/fail report before leaving the testing center. You should receive your BCBA certification number in your BACB account within 24 hours of passing the examination and your BCBA certificate in the mail within 4–6 weeks. If you did not earn a passing score, the BACB allows you to retake the exam eight times within two years. You must pay the $125 appointment fee and a $140 examination retake fee for every attempt.

While most BCBA candidates pursue certification through the first two pathways, two less common options are available.

Candidates holding a full-time faculty position in behavior analysis with significant research and teaching experience may choose Pathway 3, earning their certification by providing documentation of their faculty experience, completing supervised fieldwork, and passing the BCBA exam.

Pathway 4, designed for candidates with a doctoral degree and postdoctoral professional experience in applied behavior analysis, requires submission of evidence of relevant postdoctoral experience, completion of fieldwork, and a passing grade on the BCBA exam.

Maintaining BCBA Certification

To continue practicing as a BCBA, you must renew your certification every two years.

This process requires submitting a recertification application with a $215 renewal fee, complying with BACB ethics requirements, and completing 32 continuing education units (CEUs) during the two-year recertification period, including four CEUs in ethics and three in supervision (for board-approved supervisors).

You must retake the certification exam if you fail to complete enough CEUs by logging your participation in approved courses, seminars, and other approved activities.

BCBA Salary and Career Outlook

Board certified behavior analysts make an average annual salary of $71,675, with the highest earners making over $86,000, according to Payscale data from April 2024. Annual salary levels increase steadily as BCBAs gain experience, from $65,120 annually for those just beginning their careers to over $75,000 for BCBAs with ten years or more of work experience.

The demand for individuals with BCBA or BCBA-D certification has grown continuously since 2010 and has accelerated in recent years. The rate of employment has increased 14% from 2022 to 2023. Among the top ten states for BCBA employment nationwide, Massachusetts, Maryland, Kansas, New Hampshire, and New Jersey reported the highest number of openings for BCBAs after adjusting for population.

Here are the top states with the most BCBA openings per 10,000 people:

  1. Massachusetts: 59.7
  2. Maryland: 34.7
  3. Kansas: 34.0
  4. New Hampshire: 33.2
  5. New Jersey: 32.6
  6. Connecticut: 32.2
  7. California: 31.0
  8. Indiana: 27.6
  9. Georgia: 27.5
  10. Michigan: 26.9

Frequently Asked Questions About BCBA

How long does it take to become a BCBA?

Becoming certified as a BCBA can take six years or more. You need to spend approximately four years to earn a bachelor's degree and two more years for a master's that meets specific verified course sequence requirements. You also have to fulfill between 1,500-2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork.

What is the difference between BCBA and BCBA-D?

The only difference between a BCBA and BCBA-D is the level of education. The BCBA certification requires at least a master's degree. The BCBA-D designation is given to individuals with a doctorate but is not a distinct certification from the BCBA. Both BCBAs and BCBA-Ds provide the same level of behavior-analytic services.

What is the best degree for becoming a BCBA?

You can prepare to become a BCBA by earning a bachelor's degree in behavior analysis, psychology, or education before enrolling in a master's in applied behavior analysis or a closely related field. You should choose a master's program accredited by the APBA or one that offers an ABAI-verified curriculum.

Is becoming a BCBA worth it?

Earning the BCBA credential can lead to professional and personal rewards. BCBAs may also face emotional and physical challenges when working with clients. However, they can benefit from expanding job opportunities and promising salary potential while making significant contributions to the lives of individuals and their families.

Page last reviewed on May 13, 2024

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