If you’re looking to take the next step in your career as a behaviorist, you might want to consider a PhD in applied behavior analysis.
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Not only can it help prepare you for the rigors of science, independent research, or teaching, but it can also help you bolster your qualifications to enter an often lucrative but highly competitive field.
PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Programs
Applied behavior analysis (ABA), sometimes called behavioral engineering, is a specialization within the field of behavioral therapy. It looks at scientific and research-based methods for identifying, cataloguing, and correcting various types of behavior.
You might be most familiar with ABA in the context of autism treatment, but ABA specialists can seek employment in a variety of fields.
Common careers in applied behavioral analysis include:
- Behavioral analyst
- Medical scientist
- Health services manager
- Researcher or university professor
While the specifics will depend on your college’s unique ABA program, topics covered in your coursework will usually include things like psychology, research methodology, special education, and leadership.
A doctorate is the highest degree that you can receive for applied behavioral analysis, but there are a few professional certifications that you can pursue after graduation.
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The most well-known is the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification issued by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. There’s also the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certifications.
To qualify for the BCBA, you’ll need to have a master’s degree or doctoral degree from an accredited university.
Some schools offer a special program that has been accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) specifically for BCBA certification, and allows students to skip some of the usual requirements of certification.
Something to note about applied behavior analysis PhD programs is that many of them have face-to-face requirements.
Even if you’re enrolled in online degree programs, you might be expected to fulfill things like clinical hours in a real-world setting. You’ll have to make arrangements with your school to satisfy these requirements locally.
Applied Behavior Analysis Careers & Salaries
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists make a median salary of $82,180 per year. Their typical salary range is $46,270 to $137,590 per year. The highest-paying jobs for psychologists are in hospitals, schools, government agencies, and ambulatory healthcare services.
Here are a few common career paths for ABA students, as well as their median salaries:
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Medical and Health Services Manager||$137,590|
|Postsecondary Education Administrator||$97,500|
|Special Education Teacher||$61,420|
|School or Career Counselor||$58,120|
|Marriage or Family Therapist||$51,340|
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder or Mental Health Counselor||$47,660|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have specific wage information for the field of ABA, so that’s something to keep in mind as you’re comparing and contrasting salaries.
For the most accurate assessment of what you might make after obtaining a PhD in behavioral therapy, look at specific jobs in your area that are held by people with the same level of education as you.
Choosing a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Degree
There are several things to consider before enrolling in applied behavior analysis programs.
- Accreditation. Is the university accredited? Is the program accredited? The latter is particularly important if you want something that meets BCBA certification requirements.
- Admission requirements. Some schools will want you to have a background in psychology or behavioral therapy. Others might ask for a certain number of master’s degree courses or for you to retake master’s degree courses at their own institution.
- Concentration areas. While ABA is already a specialized field, there are some programs that narrow their focus even further into areas like education, behavioral research, data analysis, and technology.
- Online accessibility. It’s hard to find an ABA program that’s entirely offered through online degree programs. Most will be blended or hybrid programs that outsource the necessary fieldwork components to local organizations.
However, you can still look for programs with a high ratio of online classes. Since ABA programs can be highly competitive, it’s best to start applying early. This will give you time to apply to other schools if your first options don’t pan out.
PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Curriculum & Courses
Every degree program is different. However, since graduate-level ABA programs are often developed to follow the certification guidelines for the BCBA, there’s some uniformity in their subjects.
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Here are some of the courses you may encounter in your ABA program:
- Concepts and Principles of Behavior Analysis: This introductory course is designed to give you the framework that you’ll need to understand the tools, technologies, methods, and code words of the ABA field.
- Research Methods: As a PhD student, your degree will likely involve ample amounts of independent research, and it can help to take preparatory courses to understand what’s expected of you at this level of your education.
- Behavioral Disorders: This is a broad-ranging course that can help prepare you for the realities of working with people with autism, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and other behavioral conditions.
- Special Education: Aimed at future educators, these classes can cover everything from disability laws to the emotional and psychological analysis of special needs behavior.
- Experimental Design: Experimental design is a necessary skill for studies and clinical trials. You’ll often find these classes listed within specialties like Experimental Design in Education.
- Data Analysis: Some ABA careers involve working with large volumes of data, and these courses can teach you how to find, track, analyze, and organize it into things like databases and statistical models.
- Supervision, Management, and Consultation: Focused on leadership, these classes are often part of degree programs that lead to BCBA certification.
- Ethical and Professional Conduct: Often a required class in ABA PhD programs, it is designed to teach the codes of conduct that you’ll be expected to uphold once you start your professional career.
- Special Topics in Behavioral Therapy: This is an ever-changing course that revolves around current, contemporary issues and trends within the ABA community.
- Fieldwork: Most applied behavior analysis programs require fieldwork, a condition of obtaining BCBA certification, in the form of practicums, internships, clinical rotations, or supervised classroom hours.
For more information on things like BCBA requirements, check out the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website. They have extensive breakdowns of what you’ll need before applying, including credits, courses, and fieldwork hours.
What does it take to get into a PhD program for applied behavior analysis? Every school’s requirements are different, but there are a few general criteria that you can expect to see for many programs.
- Test scores. While a growing number of schools are going “test-optional” with the GMAT and GRE, it’s still a requirement for some institutions.
- Relevant classwork or fieldwork. Some ABA programs are only open to students with a demonstrated interest in the subject. This might take the form of classes, fieldwork hours, or total credit hours.
- Resume or CV. This is the place to list your accomplishments in the field. You might include original research, published papers, or nonprofit programs that you’ve started or contributed to in some way.
- Statement of purpose. A place to explain why you want a PhD in applied behavior analysis, and to explain your goals and purposes in applying.
Depending on the school, you might also need things like transcripts, interviews, writing samples, letters of recommendation, or credit hour assessments.
Accreditation can be especially crucial when you’re seeking a PhD in ABA. For starters, credits may not be transferable unless they were earned at an accredited university.
Since behavioral therapy programs can require anywhere from 3-5 years to finish, there’s always a possibility of rotating or changing schools while in the process of getting your degree. Transferable credits will be essential if you do.
BCBA eligibility requirements include a master’s degree or doctorate degree from an accredited university, and if you attend a school accredited by their organization, all of the necessary coursework and fieldwork will be built into the program. Continuing professional development is also usually required after entering the profession.
If you want to know whether a potential school is accredited, use the search engine at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Financial aid is available for qualified PhD students. There are even some opportunities for fully-funded PhD programs. In some cases, the school will pay for your tuition and textbooks, and also provide you with a stipend. In exchange, you’ll participate in internships or assistantships.
Another option is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While you won’t qualify for the same FAFSA loans and grants as undergraduate students, you might be eligible for exclusive, doctorate-level assistance in the form of the Direct PLUS Loan for Graduate or Professional Students.
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Lastly, you can look around for scholarships and employer programs that will pay for some or all of your schooling. While these aren’t always advertised by colleges, you may be able to find some you qualify for through your own research.
What Can You Do With a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis?
You can pursue many different careers with a PhD in this field. Jobs are available in schools, hospitals, government agencies, mental health agencies, and a variety of social service programs.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational growth rate for psychologists is projected at 3%. This translates to thousands of new jobs being added to the market every year, so it’s a good time to invest in a degree.
How Much Does a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Program Cost?
The cost of your PhD can depend on several different factors, including the length of your program and the number of credits or fieldwork hours required.
The per credit hour cost can vary widely by university, but you can likely expect to pay between $600 and $1,500 per credit hour. Financial aid or scholarships may help to offset these costs.
How Long Does it Take to Get a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis?
PhD programs usually take between 3 and 5 years to complete. However, accelerated or dual degree programs may be completed more quickly, and it may take longer if you are attending as a part-time student.
It’s common for ABA doctorate programs to offer both a post-bachelor’s option and a post-master’s option. The post-bachelor’s option usually takes around 5 years to complete—2 years for your master’s degree and 3 years for your PhD.
How Much Does a PhD BCBA Make?
The median salaries for many of the careers open to those with a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but keep in mind that those with PhDs often make more than the median salary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for psychologists is $82,180 per year, and the top earners in the field can take home as much as $137,590 per year.
How Do You Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)?
If you are interested in pursuing a BCBA doctoral program online, there are four different pathways to getting your certification. The first requires enrollment in a PhD program that’s been accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI).
The second allows you to be enrolled in any accredited university, but you’ll need to prove that you meet the same coursework and fieldwork requirements that are built into an ABAI-approved program.
The third and fourth options are for teachers and other professionals who have graduate degrees with a high number of fieldwork hours. In addition to meeting these prerequisites, you’ll also need to submit an application and sit for a qualifying exam. You may need to commit to professional development as well so that you care always current on new knowledge discovered in the field.
Is a PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Worth it?
Yes, a doctorate in applied behavior analysis is worth it for many graduate students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 5% job growth in life, physical, and social science occupations over the next 10 years.
Common ABA careers in this field include psychologist, therapist, behavioral analyst, researcher, university professor, and health services coordinator.
Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
Arizona State University offers an online Doctor of Behavioral Health to interested graduate students. There are three main foundational pillars of this program including medical literacy, entrepreneurship, and integrated behavioral interventions. The goal is to provide clinicians with the most comprehensive training on working in today’s primary career environments.
- Doctor of Behavioral Health
Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.
Graduate students at Capella University can earn their Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis. The program requires 104 total quarter credits for completion, and these credits include seven core courses, six specialization courses, three electives, and three dissertation seminars. Students can transfer a total of 25 credits.
- PhD in Psychology – Behavior Psychology
Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The Ph.D. in Applied Behavior Analysis program at Endicott College is a research-based program that aims to prepare graduate students for advanced clinical and practitioner work or university-level teaching careers.
Courses are designed to teach students to objectively define and measure behavior, cultivate reliable relationships with patients, and utilize methods of science in treatment.
Endicott College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Students enrolled full-time in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Ph.D. in Applied Behavior Analysis program can expect to graduate in three to five years depending on prior educational achievement. Sample courses include critical analysis of research in verbal behavior, supervision, consulting, and experimental analysis of behavior.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
The University of Nevada – Reno offers an online Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis through its Department of Psychology. Graduate students receive supervised instruction and hands-on experience in many different fields such as basic research in animal behavior, basic and applied research in human behavior, and the philosophies of behaviorism.
- PhD in Behavior Analysis
The University of Nevada – Reno is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Students interested in behavior analysis at the University of Washington can enroll in the special education doctoral program with a concentration in applied behavior analysis.
Students have opportunities to complete rigorous coursework, conduct behavioral research alongside distinguished researchers, supervise future students, and collaborate with special education educators. Financial aid options may be available.
- Doctorate in Special Education – Applied Behavior Analysis
The University of Washington is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Walden University’s Doctor of Psychology in Behavioral Health Leadership program helps students develop firm, sophisticated knowledge bases while also building their practical experience and cultivating their management skills.
Students can choose from six specializations and are expected to take part in numerous interactive case studies. Up to 40 credits may be transferred.
- PsyD in Behavioral Health Leadership
Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Getting Your PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis Degree Online
Maybe you’re a first-year college student already thinking about the future. Maybe you’re a practicing professional who wants to take the next step towards a higher-paying or more advanced job.
Whatever your reasons for considering an applied behavior analysis degree, it may be a very rewarding choice, especially if you combine your education with a certification program.
If you have been researching what you can do with a masters in applied behavior analysis, consider reaching out to universities about their doctorate-level ABA programs. There are many opportunities that are worth exploring.