Common Types of Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s Programs

There are a wide range of master’s programs that incorporate Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) approved course sequences that are recognized by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB). Many states already require a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification in order to practice applied behavior analysis (ABA), and the field continues to become more regulated.

There are many kinds of master’s degrees that can lead to becoming a BCBA, including a master’s in applied behavior analysis and a master’s in education. Here is some information on some of the kinds of degrees that are approved by the ABAI.

Fieldwork, which is required for certification as a BCBA, will typically be required as part of the program, though you may need to complete additional experience to earn your certification or be approved for state certification.

Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Applied Behavior Analysis

A MS or MA degree in ABA is specifically designed for those who want to become BCBAs (so long as the program is an ABAI Verified Course Sequence (VCS)). These programs are created to meet all content requirements for certification, and often include at least some of the field experience you need to become certified by the BCBA. Depending on the program, you may need to complete additional fieldwork in order to earn certification as a BCBA. Your state may also require additional fieldwork in order to be eligible for licensure.

Coursework will cover the subject areas required by the ABAI, including ethics and professionalism, concepts and principles of ABA, philosophy of ABA, experimental design and data measurement and display, behavior assessment, behavior change methods and selection and implementation of such methods, and supervision and management.

Master’s in Education (MEd)

A Master’s in Education is a degree in education that is broader than a Master’s in Teaching. It can prepare professionals for a variety of careers related to education, both inside and outside the classroom, including policy, administration, and curriculum development. Some specific roles pursued by earners of an MEd degree include district administrator, school psychologist, or principal. Many MEd programs with ABAI approved course sequences will more specifically prepare students to work in the field of applied behavior analysis, some will be a broader MEd degree that incorporates an ABA certificate as additional coursework/elective fulfillment. 

General MEd coursework may include research, education theory, curriculum development, education technology, and classroom management. Coursework specific to ABA will cover the ABAI required subject areas mentioned in the MS/MA section above.

Fieldwork, which is required for certification as a BCBA, will typically be required as part of the program, though you may need to complete additional experience to earn your certification or be approved for state certification.

Some Master’s in Education are called Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction.

MEd or MA in Special Education

A common MEd degree offering tracks or emphasis in ABA is a MEd in Special Education. A master’s in special education is relevant to ABA because it is often used with students with autism and other special needs. A MEd in special education will likely feature a typical MEd curriculum with coursework more specific to special education.

MA in Psychology, Emphasis on ABA

Another kind of master’s degree that sometimes incorporates an ABAI verified course sequence is a master’s in psychology. Applied Behavior Analysis is based on psychology and part of the psychology discipline, so it makes sense that a psychology master’s might incorporate behavior analysis coursework. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) affirms that applied behavior analysis is appropriately established in the psychology discipline.

While a master’s degree in psychology will not be enough education to qualify a student for licensure as a psychologist, this level of degree can qualify a student to become licensed as a behavior analyst (so long as the course sequence is ABAI verified). Such degrees may also prepare students to become counselors or fill other similar roles, depending on state licensure requirements.

MA in Counseling, Emphasis on ABA

A master’s in counseling, as the degree name suggests, prepares students to become counselors. Degrees like this use the counseling framework, blended with an ABAI verified course sequence, to prepare students to apply behavior analysis. This framework can help students learn to apply counseling principles as they deliver applied behavior analysis services. While any verified course sequence will prepare students for licensure as behavior analysts, some of these kinds of programs may also prepare students for counseling licensure (though not always). Make sure you look into the programs you are interested in to see what sort of licenses you will be qualified to apply for once you finish your education and any fieldwork requirements.