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Behavior Specialist Degree and Training Program Options

If you want to become a behavior specialist, you must obtain formal training in behavior analysis at the graduate level and hold at least a master's degree.

Essential Information

Three options that fulfill the education requirements to become a behavior specialist are master's programs, graduate certificates, and doctoral degree programs. In a master's-level program, you will study theories and principles in behavior analysis. To become certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), which is increasingly required by employers, candidates must also complete 225 hours of graduate training specific to this field. For a certificate program, you will oftentimes need a master's degree. The coursework for certificate programs is similar to that in a master's program, but the focus is on BACB rules and regulations. Master's and certificate programs are commonly available online. To enter a doctoral program you may need to already have BACB certification. This advanced level program will allow you to do extensive research and clinical work in the field.


Master of Science in Behavior Analysis

Behavior analysts use case studies, statistical analysis, research and observation to interpret normal and abnormal behavior. They analyze verbal and non-verbal cues and work with clients in need of intervention and behavior modification. A graduate degree is often needed to work in this field, and prepares candidates to enter the workforce.

Those applying to a master's degree program must first possess a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as psychology, sociology or behavior science. Colleges and universities also take into account letters of recommendation, graduate record examination scores, previous coursework and any applicable employment experience.

A master's degree curriculum allows for advanced study of theories and principles of behavior analysis and often includes a mixture of directed research projects, informative lectures and practical hands-on experience. Course topics include:

  • Research methods
  • Observational methods
  • Ethical and legal issues in the profession
  • Human behavioral theories and principles

Graduate Certificates in Behavior Analysis

Graduate certificate programs are designed to meet BACB requirements for certification; they not only satisfy 225 hours of post-baccalaureate study, but are broken down according to the categories prescribed by the organization (such as intervention, experimental evaluation and behavior change). Typically, they also include an internship or practicum to help satisfy professional requirements and prepare participants to pass the exam. These programs can be completed in 1-2 years.

Some programs require prospective students to hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field while others only accept those who have already finished a master's degree program. Either way, it is expected that those seeking to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) will hold a master's degree in behavior analysis or a related field either before or after completing the graduate certificate program. For example, a student with an undergraduate background in psychology, social work or sociology may wish to obtain a master's degree in any number of fields (business, medicine or anthropology), while simultaneously enrolling in a certificate program to complete the curriculum necessary to obtain certification.

Coursework for post-baccalaureate and post-master's programs are similar to one another as well as similar to the content found in a master's degree program for behavior analysis. However, the amount of time spent focusing on each subject adheres to guidelines established by the BACB. Often, coursework for these programs are available entirely online. Topics may include:

  • Learning methods
  • Special education
  • Child development
  • Autism disorders

Doctor of Philosophy in Behavior Analysis

Successful interaction and intervention techniques, behavior theory and personalized treatment programs are at the heart of a doctoral degree program. A master's degree in behavior analysis or closely related field is the minimum requirement to enroll, though colleges and universities also look at previous transcripts, letters of reference and work experience--and may expect candidates to already be certified.

Students engage in extensive academic research, practical training in a clinical environment and attending advanced seminars and lectures. Some course topics include:

  • Quantitative research
  • Verbal behavior
  • Statistical analysis
  • Behavioral interventions

Continuing Education and Certification

A master's degree is the minimal requirement to become a BCBA. Offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, the merit is achieved by passing qualifying examinations and is intended to offer additional professional clout. Prospective test-takers must satisfy additional educational and experiential qualifications, such as completing 225 hours of graduate work, 1,500 hours of supervised practice, one year of classroom instruction or attaining a doctorate.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2016, Payscale.com reported the median annual salary for behavior analysts to be $53,920. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment growth for mental health counselors and counseling psychologists, both of which can include behavior specialists, is expected to be 20% and 19% respectively during the 2014-2024 decade.

Master's programs, graduate certificates and doctoral degree programs fulfill the education requirements to become a behavior specialist. Students receive coursework and clinical experience in analysis, research and observation of abnormal behavior and certification is available from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.


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