Should I Get a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis?

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If you’re interested in the field of behavior analysis, earning a master’s degree is a smart career move. Although you can find work in this field as an assistant behavior analyst without one, there are numerous reasons why it’s worth going the extra mile to complete a graduate education.

The Benefits of a Master’s Degree

In the discipline of behavior analysis, a master’s degree doesn’t just give your existing career a little boost – it qualifies you to move into a different career role that includes advantages such as more independence in practice, better job prospects and higher wages. With only a bachelor’s degree, you can only become a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). While this position includes many of the same job responsibilities as the non-assistant-level role, it is still a support role. Assistant behavior analysts can only work under the supervision of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), limiting their opportunities to support roles. Once you attain a master’s degree, you can complete the full certification requirements to move into this BCBA position.

RELATED: The 20 Best ABA Online Masters Programs (Applied Behavioral Analysis Degrees)

In the field of applied behavior analysis, the independence that comes with becoming a BCBA doesn’t only mean more responsibilities, but also more freedom. A BCBA has the option of launching a private practice in providing ABA services, but a BCaBA does not. Further, employers may see the need for further supervision as a limitation when it comes to choosing whether to hire a BCBA or a BCaBA. In recent years, the field of behavior analysis has grown. The number of job postings for BCBAs grew by 116 percent during the same years when job listings for BCaBAs grew by 76 percent.

BCBAs don’t just have more career opportunities than assistant behavior analysts without a master’s degree. They also tend to earn considerably more money. PayScale reports an average wage of $59,248 for BCBAs, compared to just $43,364 for BCaBAs. Moving up into management roles such as clinical director can also add to your earning potential, but again, you typically need the BCBA credential to achieve this career advancement.

BCBAs who earn a doctoral degree, known as BCBA-Ds, have the same responsibilities as those with a master’s degree, but they are likely to see higher salaries. PayScale reports an average wage of $83,000 for BCBA-Ds.

Keeping Your Options Open as a BCaBA

There are just as many reasons why going to graduate school at a given time may not be feasible for an individual student as there are reasons to earn an advanced degree. If you’re thinking about graduate school but the timing isn’t right for financial, family or other reasons, taking the right steps to pursue your BCaBA credential can allow you to get started in your career now while preserving your options for future advancement.

For one thing, you want to make wise choices about your undergraduate studies. Attaining the BCaBA credential requires students to hold a bachelor’s degree from a college recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation but does not require a specific major. Studies in any discipline are acceptable for this level of certification. However, when it comes to the BCBA credential, your master’s degree must be in a subject such as behavior analysis, psychology or education. If you already are interested in this field, it’s ideal to choose an undergraduate major that will help you gain acceptance into and perform well in a graduate-level program in one of these subject areas.

Both BCaBAs and BCBAs must complete coursework in behavior analysis that meets specific content area requirements set by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. The content areas are the same for both credentials, although BCBAs need more hours of study in all content areas except for behavior assessment and behavior change procedures. As a result, the behavior analysis coursework you complete for your BCaBA credential can also be applied to your BCBA credential – but there’s a catch. Coursework for BCBAs must be taken at the graduate level, even though BCaBAs can complete these courses at the undergraduate level. If you really want to keep open the option of fulfilling the BCBA certification requirements in the future, it may be a good idea to choose a graduate-level certificate program, rather than an undergraduate certificate program, to complete your BCaBA coursework.

Both the BCaBA and BCBA credentials require candidates to pass a multiple-choice professional exam. The BCaBA exam is 20 questions shorter, but it may not be easier. A smaller percentage of BCaBA test-takers than BCBA test-takers passed on their first try.

Additional Resources

What Is the Difference Between a Behavior Analyst and an Assistant Behavior Analyst?

What Courses Will I Take to Become a Certified Behavior Analyst?

Will a Ph.D. Help Me in the Field of Behavior Analysis?