Special Education Careers

How To Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst BCBA in 8 Easy Steps

If you’re thinking of becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), the road ahead might look overwhelming. You know you need certification, but how do you get it?

There are a few ways you can go about getting certified. I’ll cover them in this guide and outline the steps you need to take to become a BCBA.

Becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst

  • What is a BCBA and What Does a BCBA Do?
  • What Are the Qualifications to Become a BCBA?
  • 1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  • 2. Earn a Master’s Degree
  • 3. Get Supervised Work Experience
  • 4. Gain Teaching Experience
  • 5. Earn a Doctoral Degree
  • 6. Apply for the BCBA Exam
  • 7. Take the BCBA Exam
  • 8. Maintain BCBA Certification
  • How Do I Get a Job?
  • What’s Next?

What is a BCBA and What Does a BCBA Do?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst has certification in applied behavior analysis (ABA). They work with children and adults to help them recognize automatic behavioral responses and change them.

BCBAs work in schools, hospitals, clinics, and similar settings to help people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues learn to manage their behaviors. BCBAs work to understand a person’s behaviors to help them work with their own responses and emotions.

A BCBA’s work goes beyond working directly with their clients. They have good organizational skills for maintaining records and making plans to help clients change their behaviors. 

They also communicate clearly and calmly, whether that means with their client or that client’s family or employer. 

Lastly, a BCBA understands many different disabilities. Each client is different, and BCBAs use compassion to communicate with clients one on one. They prioritize client needs and work to create a behavioral pattern that benefits the client.

What Are the Qualifications to Become a BCBA?

To become a BCBA, you need to get certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). There are a few different ways you can go about that process. 

For most people, it takes anywhere from six to 10 years to become a BCBA. Below, I give you a guide for how to become a BCBA.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Getting a Bachelor’s degree starts you on your path to becoming a BCBA. Education alone isn’t enough to earn the certification, but getting this degree will set you up for future steps.

When deciding your field of study, it’s best to choose one related to your eventual certification. Psychology or education, for example, both give you a good foundation for getting a BCBA certification.

Sometimes, you need to get a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certification before you become an applied behavior analyst. This certification is specifically for undergraduates who want to go on and become BCBAs. 

To get it, you need to go to a college or university with an ABAI Accredited program.

Here’s a review of, “The 10 Best Schools Offering BCBA and ABA Therapy Degree Programs“. Choose the one that best fits your intended career path.

2. Earn a Master’s Degree

A BCBA certification requires a graduate degree. While the BCaBA will certify you to work with the supervision of a BCBA, a master’s degree is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a BCBA yourself.

Just like with your Bachelor’s degree, your Master’s needs to be in a relevant field of study from an accredited university. 

You might narrow your focus to point you in a more specific direction. For example, instead of studying psychology as a broad field, you might go into behavior analysis.

You’ll need to then submit proof of completion to say that you did all the necessary coursework as part of your application for certification.

3. Get Supervised Work Experience

Getting supervised work experience comes after you get your BCaBA certification. No matter what, you need work experience before you become a BCBA.

You’ll need one of three types of field work before you can apply for your BCBA:

  • 1,500 hours independent supervised work
  • 1,000 hours with a supervised practicum
  • 750 hours with an intensive supervised practicum

During this field work, your supervisor guides you through your work with clients, reviews your reports and data, and gives you feedback. As you work with your supervisor, you develop your skills as a behavior analyst while learning more about the field overall.

4. Gain Teaching Experience

If you want to go a different route than submitting proof of coursework, there’s another option. It still means you need experience in the field, but by teaching as full-time faculty in the behavior analysis field, you have equivalent qualifications for becoming a BCBA.

In this case, you need evidence that you’ve conducted behavioral analytic research along with your teaching and supervised field work. That research must be published and peer-reviewed, as well as have an experimental evaluation.

You also need to have taught full-time in behavioral analysis for at least three years.

5. Earn a Doctoral Degree

You don’t need a doctoral degree to become a BCBA. However, some people get their doctoral degree to gain more experience and study even further in the field while they work in it.

If you want to use your post-doctoral experience to become a BCBA, you need to practice behavior analysis for at least 10 years

You’ll still need your supervised field experience, but having your doctoral degree means that you present your post-doctoral experience rather than your coursework when applying.

6. Apply for the BCBA Exam

Before you can take the BCBA exam, you need to apply for it. Once you meet the qualifications, you can apply on the BACB website. 

It doesn’t matter whether you completed your Master’s and coursework, taught full-time, or earned a doctoral degree. You still need to apply first.

With your application, submit proof that you’ve completed your degree, required coursework, and field experience. The application does come with a fee, so be sure you’re ready to pay it.

After you submit the application, the BACB reviews it. They then approve you if you’ve met the requirements.

After that, you can sign up to take the exam.

7. Take the BCBA Exam

The BCBA exam has 150 multiple choice questions. It’s a scaled exam, and you need a score of at least 400 to pass. The highest score you can get is 500.

The BACB changes the exam and requirements now and then. In 2022, the requirements and the exam are set to change. If you plan to take the exam after that, check the BACB website to find out what’s changed.

The BCBA exam asks questions about many areas of behavioral analysis. That includes designing behavioral experiments, client assessment, client intervention, and foundational knowledge of the field.

Before you take the test, it’s a good idea to prepare with studying and practice tests. There are online resources that can help you study the right materials so that you can feel ready when it comes time to take the test. Whatever you do, don’t cram at the last minute.

Check out this article I wrote that provides important information regarding the BCBA exam, as well as exam prep tips and resources. Board Certified Behavior Analyst BCBA Exam Preparation and Information.

8. Maintain BCBA Certification

Becoming a BCBA isn’t only about getting your initial certification. That’s a great achievement, but you also need to keep it as long as you work as a BCBA.

Every two years, you need to get re-certified. That doesn’t mean you have to retake the test, but you do have to meet similar requirements to the ones you submitted before you first applied for certification.

If you meet the BACB’s requirements for continuing education and ethics and submit an application for recertification, you’ll have no problem maintaining your certification.

How Do I Get a Job?

BCBAs are in high demand. You have plenty of options when it comes to where to work and how to do your job.

Before you get a job as a BCBA, consider who you want to work with. Are you interested in working more with adults or children? Do you want to work for an organization or for yourself?

Some BCBAs apply to work at an organization or facility. These positions often offer benefits in the form of health insurance or retirement. You can work in precision teaching, organizational behavior management, or apply at a school to work as a BCBA with children.

If you prefer to work for yourself, you can start your own practice. That way, you can work as an independent consultant and choose your own clients according to your specialties.

You can also apply your skills as a BCBA to areas like speech pathology, occupational therapy, special education, and many other areas that help people with developmental disabilities.

When interviewing for a position as a BCBA, prepare to discuss your qualifications and experience. Know your goals and research the facility where you interview.

If you have access to a network of people who can refer you to jobs, use them. You can connect with teachers, mentors, and peers in your field who may have job leads for you. Remember to use any resources you have while looking for work, including online job boards.

Contact Us!

I hope this guide helped in providing you the roadmap and information you need to get started on your journey to becoming a BCBA! If you have any questions or comments, please leave a message below or feel free to send me an email! I’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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