Question: What is BCBA certification? Professional Certifications in Applied Behavior Analysis
Updated: February 2, 2023
Answer: BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst, the designation for an applied behavior analysis specialist who has earned a professional credential in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). To qualify for BCBA certification, an individual must hold a relevant graduate degree as determined by the BACB, complete specified coursework in the theories and practices of ABA, engage in between 1,500 and 2,000 hours of fieldwork, and pass an exam administered by the BACB. Some states require BCBAs to be licensed by a state board in order to practice in that state, an additional step that typically does not require further training or instruction.
The BACB provides professional certifications for individuals working in the field of ABA. In addition to the BCBA credential, which requires a graduate degree, the BACB offers a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) credential. To qualify for BCaBA certification, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree, complete an approved curriculum of ABA coursework, engage in between 1,000 and 1,300 hours of supervised fieldwork, and pass a BACB administered examination.
Once certified, BCaBAs can practice under the supervision of a certified BCBA, conducting ABA assessments and assist in interventions. BCaBAs can also supervise Registered Behavioral Technicians (RBTs), a designation for junior practitioners who hold a high school diploma, complete 40 hours of training, and pass a BACB competency assessment.
It is important to note that a graduate certificate in ABA is distinct from BCBA certification. ABA graduate certificate programs provide academic training that can help students prepare to qualify for BCBA or BCaBA certification. However, the academic credential conferred by a graduate certificate program is not the same as the BCBA or BCaBA professional credentials.
How to Become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
There are four pathways* to qualifying for BCBA certification outlined by the BACB. All of these pathways require applicants to hold a graduate degree and to have completed up to 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork prior to taking the BCBA exam. These pathways are as follows:
- Earn a master’s or doctoral degree from a program accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI).
- Complete the Verified Course Sequence (VCS) in ABA, as outlined by the ABAI, in addition to holding a graduate degree in an approved field or discipline.
- Complete a master’s or doctoral degree program, followed by teaching and/or researching ABA at an accredited college or university.
- Hold a doctoral degree conferred at least ten years ago with a minimum of ten years of full-time experience practicing behavior analysis.
Recent high school graduates and current college students typically follow one of the first two pathways listed above, progressing through the steps detailed below.
*Between now and January 1, 2032, the BACB is changing the requirements to become eligible for BCBA certification. Starting January 1, 2032, pathway 1 will be the only eligibility pathway for students interested in BCBA certification.
Complete a bachelor’s degree program offered by an accredited college or university
Students who are interested in pursuing a career in behavior analysis can earn a bachelor’s degree in ABA at schools that provide such an option. It is also common for undergraduates interested in ABA to major in a related field, such as psychology or education. However, there is an advantage to completing an ABAI-accredited undergraduate program, as these programs provide a curriculum aligned with the academic requirements for BCaBA certification.
Students who earn an undergraduate degree in a subject other than ABA can qualify for BCaBA certification by completing ABA coursework in a post-baccalaureate certificate program offering VCS courses and engaging in the requisite number of fieldwork hours.
Complete an ABAI-accredited graduate program, or pair a master’s degree with a VCS in ABA through a graduate certificate program
Bachelor’s program graduates who want to become BCBAs can complete all of their academic training requirements in an ABAI-accredited master’s or doctoral degree program. While graduate degree programs are the most direct route to establishing eligibility for BCBA certification, students who already hold a graduate degree in an approved field or discipline related to ABA can establish eligibility through graduate certificate programs in ABA that offer a curriculum aligned with the ABAI’s VCS. To ensure that a program meets all of the coursework requirements for BCBA certification, contact a program representative prior to applying to that program.
Complete fieldwork hours
For BCBA certification eligibility, the BACB requires 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork, 1,500 hours of concentrated supervised fieldwork, or an approved combination of the two. Concentrated fieldwork requires more contact hours with a supervisor, which is why fewer concentrated hours are required. Fieldwork hours must be supervised by a BCBA.
Pass the BCBA certification exam
The final steps in BCBA certification process are registering for and passing the BCBA examination. Upon completion of academic training and fieldwork requirements to establish eligibility, students can apply to sit for the four-hour BCBA exam, which consist of 185 multiple-choice questions. Candidates who achieve a passing score on the exam are then granted the BCBA credential, after which they may apply for state licensure in states that require it.
Graduate Certificate Programs in ABA and BCBA Certification
Most certificate programs in ABA are aligned with the ABAI’s VCS, which outlines the coursework required to establish BCBA and BCaBA certification eligibility. However, an academic certificate on its own is not sufficient to establish this eligibility. Rather, a certificate program can provide all or most of the academic training required for certification. Students must also meet specific degree requirements and complete the requisite number of supervised fieldwork hours.
It is important to understand there are three distinct types of certificate programs that provide training in ABA:
- Post-baccalaureate certificate programs that provide undergraduate courses in ABA
- Post-baccalaureate graduate certificate programs that provide master’s level courses in ABA and are designed for students with a master’s degree in a relevant field or those currently enrolled in a master’s program (Note: Some of these programs may accept students with a bachelor’s degree who are looking for additional training in ABA but who are not pursuing BCBA certification.)
- Post-master’s graduate certificate programs that provide master’s level courses in ABA, but specifically require a master’s degree in a relevant field for admission (Note: Students with a master’s degree can pursue either type of graduate certificate program.)
Post-baccalaureate certificate programs in ABA require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. These programs provide students with undergraduate courses in ABA that are designed to prepare them for BCaBA certification. Students who complete a post-baccalaureate ABA certificate program and 1,000 to 1,300 hours of supervised fieldwork are eligible to apply for BCaBA certification, provided they have satisfied the VCS requirements.
Post-bachelor’s/post-master’s graduate certificate programs in ABA provide students with graduate level courses designed to prepare them for BCBA certification. A graduate certificate coupled with a relevant master’s degree and between 1,500 and 2,000 hours of fieldwork is a viable pathway to satisfying BCBA certification eligibility requirements at this moment in time. As noted above, the BACB will require a graduate degree in ABA started January 1, 2032.
While most graduate certificate programs are clear about their adherence to VCS requirements, it is still advisable to contact a program representative regarding BCBA certification prior to filing an application. Credits earned in a graduate certificate program may be eligible to transfer towards a master’s degree in ABA or Special Education for students who wish to earn a second master’s degree.
Note: Students should review post-bachelor’s certificate programs in ABA carefully to ensure that they choose a certificate program that will provide the curriculum needed for their desired professional certification.