What Does a Behavior Analyst Do? | How to Become a BCBA

Every teacher recognizes how important it is to help children learn good habits and how to react appropriately to different situations. For instance, an instructor might reinforce positive conduct by awarding a sticker or discourage acting out by revoking computer lab free time. Believe it or not, this general approach to behavior modification can work for individuals of all ages — just so long as a trained behavior analyst is facilitating the process. Earning a degree or certification as a behavior analyst will help you enter an exciting, in-demand field.

What is a Behavior Analyst?

As experts who employ techniques and treatments that drive positive outcomes, behavior analysts serve important functions in numerous environments. But while it’s easy to understand how valuable these professionals are, it’s less clear what their day-to-day work entails. What does a behavior analyst do? What exactly is their role?

“We are problem solvers for things that society needs help with,” says Dr. Sharon Noble, former special education teacher, current professor and UMass Global’s ABA Program Developer.

From Noble’s perspective, there are a number of things those considering becoming a behavior analyst should know. Perhaps her insight will help you understand whether this career is right for you.

What Does a Behavior Analyst Do?

Does this field intrigue you? If so, then there are some specific questions you should ask. For instance, “What is a BCBA, exactly?” The answer may surprise you, because it is a more expansive field than you might expect.

What Sort of Work Does a Behavior Analyst Do?

BCBAs are professionals who help solve behavior-related issues in all sorts of environments. Their field, which is called applied behavior analysis (ABA), is most commonly associated with treating children on the autism spectrum. While that’s certainly one application, there are so many others as well. ABA is leveraged in education, human resources, and even mobile app development.

“Behavior is shaped through a learning history of consequences that have been applied to the behavior,” Noble explains. “If we get reinforced from swiping across the screen, we’ll swipe again and continue to do it in the future.”

Daily BCBA Responsibilities

What does a BCBA do on a daily basis? Specific tasks will vary depending on their area of focus, but there are certain duties that span the entire field. Noble says these general responsibilities, which summarize the much more detailed list of skills and knowledge required to pass the BCBA exam, are common among all behavior analysts:

  • Meeting with families, teachers, and other clients to discuss behavior problems that need to be addressed
  • Observing behavior in environments
  • Collecting data related to the frequency, duration, and rate of concerning behaviors
  • Generating graphs to track changes
  • Analyzing information to determine appropriate interventions
  • Applying education ABA techniques to achieve objectives
  • Adjusting interventions as necessary

Where Do Behavioral Analysts Work?

Because behavioral analysts work in so many different disciplines, their professional environments can vary. A behavior analyst working in schools might work in a school or even travel across an entire district. A specialist in behavioral gerontology, conversely, would likely be found at a healthcare facility or nursing home. Some behavior analysts even work with individuals at their homes.

Though there is quite a bit of variety in this career, some areas are more common than others. Schools, especially those with strong special education programs, are common places for these professionals to work. They may have their own offices or classrooms where they work in small groups or one-on-one with students, or they may come into the main classroom to help classroom teachers with behavioral management strategies.

Sometimes, BCBAs work for dedicated therapy centers. These professionals work with families who have special needs family members, helping them navigate behavioral challenges as they navigate the world. These centers often specialize in one particular type of developmental difference, such as autism or ADHD.

ABA Techniques Used by BCBAs

There are numerous techniques behavior analysts use to help achieve desired outcomes. For instance, token economy systems award points of some sort that can be redeemed for rewards to help reinforce desired behavior. Another example is discrete trial training, which teaches a new skill or behavior by breaking it down into a series of steps. There’s also an emerging technique called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) that can be incredibly useful for treating issues that occur within our own consciousness.

“ACT therapy is really the first tool that we have in ABA to address some of the issues in that private, internal space,” Noble says, who led a webinar on the topic. “That includes things like depression, anxiety, and phobias.”

Behavior Analyst Specialties

ABA is an incredibly expansive field. As such, there are numerous subspecialty areas focused on different populations that behavior analysts can choose from. It’s worth noting that there are options to further focus your career on a specific sub-area, but here are 12 main subspecialties:

  • Behavioral treatment of autism and other developmental disabilities
  • Organizational behavior management
  • Behavior analysis in brain injury rehabilitation
  • Behavioral gerontology
  • Clinical behavior analysis
  • Behavior analysis in education
  • Behavioral sport psychology
  • Prevention and behavioral intervention of child maltreatment
  • Behavioral treatment of substance use disorders
  • Behavior analysis in environmental sustainability
  • Behavior analysis in health and fitness
  • Behavioral pediatrics

Different Levels in Behavior Analyst Careers

In addition to the various focuses behavioral analysts can choose, there are different levels within this career path. Most professionals in this career path can call themselves applied behavioral analysts, or ABAs. However, within that classification are a variety of levels, including:

  1. Registered Behavior Technician (RBT): RBT is a certified professional who has entry-level training in behavioral analysis. The only education requirement for this qualification is a high school diploma and 40 hours of training under a BCBA. An RBT can help implement behavioral strategies, but they do not create treatment plans or evaluate the needs of clients.
  2. Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA): A BCaBA holds an undergraduate level degree in behavior analysis. In most states, they must operate under a BCBA, but they can do much of the same work as the BCBA, just under supervision. Many behavior analysis professionals will start their career paths as a BCaBA, which gives them income as they pursue a master’s degree and BCBA certification.
  3. Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA): This professional holds a master’s degree and successfully passes the BACB exam. They spend time observing their clients and creating behavioral treatment plans that will help them overcome the unique challenges they face in life, whether due to behavior patterns, autism, ritualistic behavior, or cognitive impairment. After receiving a master’s degree, a BCBA must complete around 2,000 hours of fieldwork and take the BACB exam before becoming certified.
  4. Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral Level (BCBA-D): This professional does the same work as a BCBA but has additional training at the doctoral level. This may open the door to higher-paying roles and leadership positions.

How Much Does a BCBA Earn?

The national average salary for an ABA professional varies significantly depending on their credentials and level of certification. Entry-level RBT professionals earn around $33,000 a year nationally, while those with ABA therapist certification of some sort can expect to earn between $42,000 per year. Holding a degree increases the level of income. BCaBAs, for instance, earn an average of $45,000 a year, while BCBAs earn around $70,000. Doctoral degree holders can expect to earn $85,000 a year.

Degrees for Behavior Analyst Education

If the idea of studying applied behavior analysis appeals to you, then you need to determine what behavior analyst degree would best fit your needs. If you are starting your education for the first time, you can pursue training directly in ABA. If you already hold a degree, then you can often meet behavior analyst job requirements with additional certification beyond your existing degree. Here are some common options to consider:

Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis

A bachelor's degree in ABA opens the door to working as a BCaBA. For many, this is a good starting point for a career in this field. This degree focuses on the foundational concepts in behavioral analysis necessary for this career, providing a strong foundation for continuing education.

Master’s Degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis or Similar Program

A master’s degree is the minimum degree required to work as a BCBA independently. This degree focuses on behavioral analysis, mental health, and psychology topics, and it may also weave in education. For this level of training, the degree does not have to be in ABA specifically. Some professionals will study special education with a focus on ABA to achieve this level of training. A Master of Arts in Educational Psychology with an ABA emphasis can provide both special education and behavioral analysis training in one degree program. Additionally, a Masters in Special Education, Applied Behavior Analysis, offers specialized training for those seeking to work with individuals with developmental disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum.

Master’s Certificate in Applied Behavioral Analysis

For students who already have a master’s degree in education or a similar field, adding certification in ABA can open the door to additional career opportunities. UMass Global offers an ABA Graduate Certificate that is an Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) verified course sequence program and includes all necessary instructions to take the BCBA examination.

Ph.D. in Applied Behavioral Analysis

Some students decide to take their training to the doctoral level. A Ph.D. in ABA will be a research-based degree for those interested in leadership or research roles in this field.

How to Become a Behavior Analyst

Every aspiring behavior analyst needs to graduate with a bachelor’s degree before even thinking about next steps. The good news is you have some freedom to major in whatever subject interests you the most. Common degree options include psychology, early childhood education, or social work.

From there, you can proceed in a few ways. The first option is to obtain a graduate degree in applied behavior analysis from an appropriately accredited program. But as of January 1, 2022, candidates with a master’s degree in any concentration can pursue certification so long as they complete additional coursework as outlined by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). It’s worth noting that some schools, such as UMass Global, offer a certificate program that fulfills these additional education requirements. This is a good option for students who want to start preparing for the BCBA exam as soon as possible. When considering educational programs, it is also essential to look for accreditation or recognition from organizations like the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), which offers designations such as accreditation, recognition, Verified Course Sequence (VCS), and concentration.

Upon completing all education requirements, you’ll then need to complete supervised fieldwork experience. There are a few potential paths, but most candidates will devote 2,000 hours to this practical training requirement. While you’re free to accumulate experience in a number of settings and with more than one supervisor, Noble says it can be difficult to find multiple placements. Furthermore, it’s probably a better idea to seek continual guidance from someone who already works in the specialty you’re pursuing.

“It should be a mentor-mentee relationship,” Noble advises. “You want your supervisor to be someone who you can really learn from.”

At this point, when you’ve met coursework and supervision requirements, you’ll want to apply to the BACB, submit all required documents and receive your authorization to test. You’ll then register for the exam through Pearson VUE. Results are available right after the test, and your certification becomes effective immediately.

Of course, the learning isn’t done once you pass your exam. The field is constantly evolving as new research emerges. As such, you’ll need to complete continuing education requirements throughout your career to maintain your certification.

Make an Impact as a Behavior Analyst

What does a behavior analyst do? It depends on the practitioner’s specialty and even the day. But now that you know more about the field and how to become a behavior analyst, you probably have a better understanding of whether this could be your career calling.

If you’re interested in actively working toward becoming a BCBA, it’s a good idea to make sure you have the requisite education. For many aspiring behavior analysts, obtaining a targeted credential is a good option for transitioning into this field.

For additional information about how you can gain the education you need to make your own career move, learn more about UMass Global’s Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate.


Become a Student

Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?

Further your education with a few questions

Student Type
Please enter your zip code to proceed.
Please enter a valid zip code to proceed.
Please select a degree type
Please select your area of interest
Please select a program type
Please select a session
Have you served in the U.S. Military or are you a Military Dependant?
Please enter your name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your email to proceed
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter your phone number to proceed.
Please enter a valid phone number.

UMass Global is partnered with hundreds of employers like yours—learn if you’re eligible for tuition discounts by providing your work email address.

Please enter a valid work email address
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

About UMass Global

Earn your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or certificate at UMass Global, a regionally accredited university.

We value your privacy

By submitting this form, I agree that UMass Global and/or Kaplan North America, LLC may contact me about educational services by voice, pre-recorded message and/or text message using automated technology, at the phone number provided, including wireless numbers. I understand that my consent is not required to attend University of Massachusetts Global. Privacy Policy