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How to Become a BCBA (Board-Certified Behavior Analyst)

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How to Become a BCBA

A role as a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is equally rewarding and challenging. BCBAs play a critical role in supporting children and adults with diverse needs by implementing applied behavior analysis (ABA) strategies and techniques. If you’re drawn to the science of ABA or have a passion for helping others achieve a high quality of life, pursuing board certification is an excellent way to elevate your career.

Are you a recent high school graduate contemplating career options? Perhaps you’re already in the ABA field and considering moving up the ladder. You may even have an established career, but you’re ready to make a change. Wherever you are in your career journey, let’s explore how to become a BCBA.

What Does a BCBA Do?

Before diving into the requirements for becoming a BCBA, let’s discuss what a behavior analyst’s role entails. Behavior analysts wear many hats, implementing and overseeing ABA therapy programs.

Some of the responsibilities a BCBA has include:

  • Assessments–BCBAs conduct skill assessments to identify a learner’s strengths and areas of weakness across domains like communication, social interactions, self-advocacy, and adaptive functioning. They also conduct behavior assessments to evaluate behaviors that interfere with learning.
    Important note: ABA assessments are not conducted to diagnose autism or other conditions. Diagnosing disorders is out of the scope of a BCBA.
  • Creating Treatment and Behavior Intervention Plans–BCBAs analyze the assessment data and write plans to address the skill delays and behavior challenges.
  • Training and supervising–Behavior analysts train registered behavior technicians (RBTs) on the treatment plans and supervise the delivery of 1:1 care.
  • 1:1 Therapy–While a behavior technician (RBT) most often conducts 1:1 therapy with BCBA supervision, BCBAs may also provide direct therapy.
  • Data analysis and progress monitoring–Analysts are responsible for their learner’s ongoing progress monitoring. They analyze data and make modifications as necessary to ensure continued progress toward treatment goals.

75% of BCBAs work within the autism population. Others work in organizational behavior management (OBM), education, clinical behavior analysis, or sports and fitness. They may work in homes, schools, clinics, hospitals, residential settings, or other community locations.

How Do You Become a BCBA?

The path to BCBA includes a combination of education, fieldwork experience, and an exam to test your knowledge of behavior-analytic principles and techniques. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) develops and implements the standards for certification. There are currently four eligibility pathways to become a BCBA. However, in 2027, pathways 3 and 4 will be eliminated as they are rarely utilized. Therefore, the following information will cover the requirements for pathways 1 & 2.


The first step toward becoming a BCBA involves obtaining the necessary degrees. A minimum of a master’s degree is needed to be board certified as a behavior analyst.

Pathway 1 requires a graduate degree or higher from a behavior analysis degree program that is ABAI-accredited or recognized. Pathway 2 allows for a graduate degree in any field as long as it is obtained from a qualifying institution.

ABA Coursework

If you earn a master’s degree in ABA from an ABAI-accredited institution, additional coursework is not needed (Pathway 1). If you earn a master’s degree in another discipline, additional coursework is necessary (Pathway 2).  

Behavior-analytic coursework required includes:

  • BACB Ethics Code and Code-Enforcement Systems
  • Professionalism
  • Philosophical underpinnings
  • Concepts & Principles
  • Measurement, Data Display, and Interpretation
  • Experimental Design
  • Behavior Assessment
  • Behavior-Change Procedures and Selecting and Implementing Interventions
  • Personnel Supervision and Management

While pathway 2 is currently an allowable eligibility pathway, it is important to note that the BACB will be eliminating it. As of January 1st, 2032, the only eligibility pathway to becoming a BCBA will be a master’s degree in behavior analysis from an accredited program.

Supervised Fieldwork

One of the most critical components of becoming certified as a BCBA is the hands-on experience during supervised fieldwork. While coursework is essential for laying the groundwork and ensuring candidates understand the science and behavior-analytic principles, the applied practice with actual clients is invaluable.

An aspiring behavior analyst must complete at least 1,500 hours of fieldwork with a qualifying supervisor. There are two options for fieldwork accrual:

How to Become a BCBA

Other requirements for fieldwork hours include:

  • Must accrue between 20-130 hours per month.
  • At least 60% of total hours must be unrestricted; No more than 40% can be restricted. Restricted hours involve working directly with clients to implement behavior-analytic services, while unrestricted hours include activities such as data analysis, report writing, research, and attending supervision meetings.
  • Fieldwork hours must be completed within five years.
  • No more than 50% of supervision can be in a group.
  • Supervisor must observe the trainee with a client at least once per month.

The purpose of fieldwork is to gain the competencies necessary to provide quality behavior-analytic services.


The last step to becoming a BCBA involves passing the BCBA exam. You can apply for the exam once you have completed all of the previous steps. The exam content is currently based on the 5th edition task list, but be aware that beginning January 1, 2025, the 6th edition task list will go into effect.

The BCBA tests an applicant’s knowledge of:

  • Philosophical Underpinnings
  • Concepts and Principles
  • Measurement, data Display, and Interpretation
  • Experimental Design
  • Ethics
  • Behavior Assessment
  • Behavior-Change Procedures
  • Selecting and Implementing Interventions
  • Personnel Supervision and Management

This exam consists of 175 scored multiple-choice questions and 10 unscored “pilot” questions, so 185 in total. You have four hours to take the exam.

How Long Does It Take to Become a BCBA?

The time it takes to become a board-certified behavior analyst can vary. Let’s break down the timeline for each step.

  1. Undergraduate degree – 4 Years

    For most people, a bachelor’s degree takes around four years to complete, though it may be shorter or longer depending on the program and the number of credits taken each semester.

  2. Graduate degree – 2 Years

    Again, this can vary, but a master’s degree usually takes roughly around two years to complete.

  3. Behavior-Analytic coursework – 12-18 months

    If your master’s degree was in ABA and obtained from an ABAI-accredited program, you do not need additional behavior-analytic coursework. However, for those whose master’s degree is in a different field of study, additional ABA-specific coursework is necessary. You can expect this to add another 12-18 months.
  1. Supervised fieldwork – 1-5 Years

    Most people obtain their fieldwork hours in 2-3 years. However, it could be completed in as little as one year or as many as five years. It’s very common to complete fieldwork hours while completing a graduate program. This can reduce the amount of time it takes overall.

  2. Study Prep and Examination – Varies

    Everyone dedicates a different amount of time to exam prep. Many candidates dedicate 2-6 months to studying before taking the exam. Others may take longer to prepare.

With all the steps from undergrad to exam, it can take 6-13 years to become a BCBA. However, if you already have a masters in another field of study, it can take as little as 3-5 years.

Do BCBAs Need to be Licensed?

Some states require BCBAs to be licensed, while others do not. For those living in a state that does not require licensure, passing the board exam is the last step in their journey. They can begin providing behavior-analytic services. However, 37 states have legislation requiring behavior analysts to be state-licensed. In these states, when one becomes certified as a BCBA, they must apply for a state license before providing behavior-analytic services. Aspiring behavior analysts should become familiar with the licensure process before earning board certification. For most states, it’s a simple application with proof of certification and payment. Learn more about each state’s licensing requirements here.

Final Words

If you’re passionate about helping others achieve their highest potential, a career as a BCBA may be for you! We encourage you to explore entry-level roles in ABA to see if you enjoy the field. Also, check out the BCBA Handbook for a deeper dive into the requirements for becoming certified.

Our ABA software solutions are designed to enhance your education, streamline practice and client management, and improve your overall data collection and analysis. Schedule a demo to see how our BCBA-designed software improves the overall quality and delivery of ABA services.



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