Why Earn an Applied Behavioral Analysis Degree

There is a strong, growing trend in the field of psychology generally that is leading to significant job growth in the next decade. One of the areas that has been seeing significant growth is in applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Applied behavior analysis is the scientific study of behavior and learning. The specialty is engaged in study about how people learn, and it also is concerned with how one’s environment can shape behavior, and how behavior can be changed or reinforced.

Applied behavior analysis degrees are offered at the master’s and doctoral levels, and they cover the most fundamental principles of behavioral psychology. These psychology-related degrees also may highlight how research analysis and behavior science may be applied to mental health problems, including autism or intellectual challenges.

There also are applied behavior analysis programs that study behavior so that psychology students can learn how consumers behave in purchasing situations; this is very important for market research purposes.

Career Paths in Applied Behavioral Analysis

Earning a master’s or doctoral degree in ABA can serve you extremely well in the growing field of psychology and related fields.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst

As a board certified behavior analyst, you will work in hospitals, clinics, homes and sometimes classrooms to reduce problematic behaviors, which can lead to improved human performance.

Behavior analysts normally work with other health care and psychological professionals, and they offer expertise to analyze problems with behavior. Their goal is to determine the root cause for why they are occurring so that a plan of treatment can be developed. The process typically is initiated with a detailed baseline and functional test that investigates the many possible reasons that the environment could contribute to the problem behavior.

Behavior analysts then need to develop an effective intervention plan based upon the findings, and train other professionals to do the treatment. Then, the analyst will evaluate the success of the treatment plan.

Many applied behavioral analysts work as full time consultants to public agencies, such as child welfare offices and residential treatment centers, where the end goal is to provide the best possible outcome to any adults or children who receive treatment.

Many behavioral analysts will concentrate their work in a certain area that might include developmental disabilities, mental health, head trauma or autism.

You are required to have at least a master’s or a Ph.D. to work in behavioral analysis. This type of degree may be earned in psychology, social work, rehabilitation or behavioral analysis.

Payscale.com reports that the average annual salary for someone with a master’s degree in this field can earn a salary up to $80,200. Payscale also reports that some of the highest salaries can be found in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Antonio.

Clinical Social Worker

A licensed, clinical social worker holds at least a master’s degree. He or she is certified to diagnose and treat many different behavioral, mental and emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression. Clinical social workers have the skills to provide therapy to groups, families, and couples, and they work with clients to come up with new strategies to modify behavior or to deal with highly challenging situations.

Some applied behavior specialists may obtain their master’s degree in clinical social work and specialize in this field. With this degree as a clinical social worker, you can come up with behavior modification treatment plans with your clients, and also doctors. The treatment plan can be modified as needed based upon the success of the outcomes.

Many clinical social workers may work in in a private practice setting and offer applied behavior analysis services.

The job outlook for clinical social workers is very good overall; the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment for all healthcare and clinical social workers is expected to rise by 19% by 2024. This is much faster than average. Clinical and healthcare workers are very much needed to assist aging Americans to deal with major changes to their lives and to modify their behavior to better work through the challenges of life.

Social workers who work in clinical and healthcare social work earn a median salary of $53,700, but the top 10% with a master’s degree can earn up to $80,000 per year.

Different Types of Applied Behavioral Analysis Degrees

To work in applied behavioral analysis, you are required to hold a master’s or doctoral degree. Some of the best options include:

Master’s Level Degree Options

Arizona State University offers an online Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction: Applied Behavior Analysis. This two year, online degree mixes both research and experience to ready you to work in a professional capacity with those with learning and behavioral needs, by applying applied behavior analysis principles.

The program allows you to tailor your studies on the population of patients that you most want to work with. You also will gain the skills and knowledge that you need to be successful at ABA in many settings and many groups of individuals. You will be very well prepared to give evidence based practices in the field of ABA as well as consult effectively with clients, family members and members of the community.

The ASU teacher’s college provides you with courses that have been approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board for those who want to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination. After you have passed this examination, you will be fully equipped to address and meet the many different behavioral needs of your clients.

Doctoral Level Degree Options

If you want to earn a doctoral degree in this field online, we recommend the Ph.D. in Applied Behavior Analysis from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

This three year, full time program (if you have your master’s; five years if not), will provide you with an excellent base of knowledge in behavioral analysis, radical behaviorism, and radical behaviorism. This doctoral degree will give you the skills that will assist you in making major changes in behavior in diverse patient groups via evidence based program development.

Some of the required courses in this five year program include the following:

  • Supervision and Consulting in ABA
  • Critical Analysis of Research in Verbal Behavior
  • Experimental Analysis of Behavior

The classes that you will take in this program have been approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and have met all of the requirements for you to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst examination.

Students in the five year program must complete a thesis, or an advanced applied project. The thesis has to be an empirical evaluation that is based upon data, but it does not have to an original contribution to literature on the subject.


It is important to verify if the master’s or doctoral program you are considering has been accredited by a respected body in the field of applied behavioral analysis. One of the leading organizations for accrediting these programs is the Association for Behavioral Analysis International.


The psychology field and related fields are growing rapidly as people want to deal with their mental health problems as they continue to live longer and longer. Professionals who earn their master’s or doctoral degree in applied behavioral analysis will be able to help people to modify their behaviors in a positive way, and earn a good living.


  • Sage University. Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Salary Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://online.sage.edu/applied-behavior-analysis-and-autism/salary-information-applied-behavior-analysis-therapists/
  • Social Workers. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#tab-5
  • The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Ph.D. in Applied Behavior Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thechicagoschool.edu/online/programs/phd-applied-behavior-analysis/
  • Arizona State University. Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, Applied Behavior Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/graduate/master-education-curriculum-and-instruction-applied-behavior-analysis