ABA Therapist Degrees by Degree Program Level

Graduates of undergraduate ABA degree programs learn methods to help individuals change and develop certain behaviors in specific settings. Master's program are more centered around research-based analysis behavioral science.

Essential Information

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the use of behavioral and emotional interventions to help autistic children. ABA therapy degree programs train students to help children using this therapy. Completing an undergraduate degree in ABA therapy can lead to assistant behavior analyst professional certification, and completing a graduate degree in ABA therapy can lead to behavior analyst certification.

  • Program Levels in ABA Therapy: Bachelor's degree, master's degree
  • Prerequisites: A high school diploma or its equivalent is required to enter a bachelor's program; a bachelor's degree, typically in a related field, is required to enter a master's program
  • Program Length: A bachelor's program takes four years; a master's program takes two years
  • Other Requirements: Clinicals are required at the master's level

Bachelor's Degree Programs in ABA

Applied behavior analysis therapy degree programs vary widely in their applicability due to the reluctance of some organizations to agree on a standard. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Psychology with an ABA concentration and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in behavior analysis are two degree options that can prepare students for roles as therapists upon graduation.

Transfer or freshmen applicants to a bachelor's degree program offering ABA training need prerequisite coursework in a number of areas, such as computers, English, social science, fine arts, foreign language and science. Most programs also require students to complete the core curriculum offered by the college or university.

The broad curriculum in programs offering bachelor-level ABA degrees prepares students for careers in other psychological and scientific fields, as well as careers specific to behavior analysis. The coursework emphasizes development of assessment skills, strategies and techniques in behavioral intervention and other areas, such as the following:

  • Data collection and analysis
  • Psychology statistics
  • Organizational behavior management
  • History of applied behavior analysis
  • Behavior principles

Master's Degree Programs in ABA

At the graduate level, programs offering ABA degrees become more focused on research-based analysis of behavior science and how it applies to specific mental ailments like autism. Courses in behavior analysis theories and applications are coupled with a clinical practicum in order to provide graduates with a solid foundation for treating autism and other disorders. Graduates of the master's degree program learn to become behavior analysts and can become certified ABA therapists through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Applicants to a master's-level ABA program need a bachelor's degree, preferably in a relevant field, such as special education, psychology, sociology or education. Most programs also require students to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of between 2.75 to 3.00 in all undergraduate coursework.

The purpose of the master's degree program is to prepare students for the ABA therapist role in a variety of settings, such as rehabilitation, education or mental health. The following are examples of typical courses in the ABA program:

  • Functional assessment
  • Learning and behavior analysis
  • Biological foundations of behavioral disorders
  • Stimulus control
  • Cognitive psychology

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

In addition to educational training, ABA therapists need the patience, understanding and communication skills necessary to work with their clients. The employment outlook for ABA therapists should be positive. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) estimates that approximately one in 110 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As the need for ABA therapists and treatment for ASD grows, employment opportunities will likely increase as well. The median annual salary for a recreational therapist, a field related to ABA therapy, is $44,000 as of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Professional Certification and Continuing Education

Certification options are available for graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree in ABA therapy or a related field. The certification, offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacd.com) includes Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, which requires a bachelor's degree and Board Certified Behavior Analyst, which requires a master's degree. Although a master's degree is the highest degree level required for ABA therapy positions, post-graduate certificate and doctorate degree ABA programs are also available. These programs can prepare students for advanced research, teaching and management positions in the ABA field.

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