How Do I Become a Behavior Analyst?

Behavior analysts work with people who have behavior disorders or developmental delays such as post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Through the use of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, behavior analysts can help individuals and their families adjust behaviors to reach a more desirable outcome.

This subset branch of psychology is also known as the science of behavior. Behavior analysts typically earn at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate, in psychology, education, or applied behavior analysis. Licensure and certification for behavior analysts are currently only required in 31 states, although additional states require that behavior analysts hold a certification to bill insurance. The most common certification earned is the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

Becoming a behavior analyst takes dedication, as it can take at least six years of education post-high school to enter this field. Here is a step-by-step guide on to enter this profession.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Behavior Analyst – Education & Licensure

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

The first step for aspiring behavior analysts is to graduate from high school or obtain a GED. Earning a diploma or GED demonstrates a minimum level of education and is often required for additional education. Students who are interested in pursuing this career should focus on classes such as science, psychology, and language arts. Taking advanced placement classes can also help prepare students for the rigors of college-level courses.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the next step in becoming a behavior analyst. While students can pursue a variety of majors, the most common majors for professionals in this field are education, behavior analysis, or psychology.

In addition to completing a degree, students should pursue internships, volunteer positions, or work experience in behavior analysis. This will provide them with valuable hands-on experience and help boost graduate school applications.

Step 3: Complete a Master’s or Doctorate Degree (Two to Six Years)

To earn a BCBA certification, candidates must first complete at least a master’s degree. Students must complete their degree in either education, psychology, or behavior analysis. The program must be accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) or have a Verified Course Sequence (VCS), and BCBA certification has stringent coursework requirements.

If a student attends a program that isn’t accredited or have a VCS, they may will out an application for coursework evaluation to determine if they are eligible for certification.

Step 4: Complete ABA Experience (One Year or Less)

BCBA certification requires that applicants have hands-on work experience. To be eligible for certification, applicants must meet one of the following requirements:

  • A practicum that includes 1,000 hours of experience and one-month supervision with at least four supervisor contacts
  • An intensive practicum that includes 750 hours of experience and one-month supervision with at least eight supervisor contacts
  • Supervised independent fieldwork that includes 1,500 hours of experience and one-month supervision with at least two supervisor contacts

Candidates must accrue at least 20 hours but no more than 130 hours each month. The practicum hours can be earned as part of a graduate program, but the supervised independent fieldwork cannot.

Step 5: Pass Required Exams (Timelines Vary)

BCBA certification requires passing the BCBA exam. Candidates apply to take the exam by submitting official graduate transcripts and an experience verification form. They will also need to pay the $245 exam fee. The test four-hour test consists of 150 multiple-choice questions. The two main content areas covered are basic behavior analytic skills and client-centered responsibilities.

Students who completed a program that doesn’t have ABAI accredited or a VCS will need to pay an additional $100 fee for coursework evaluation.

Step 6: Apply for Certification or Licensure (Timelines Vary)

Behavior analysts are required to hold certification or a license in 31 states. BCBA certification is not necessarily for licensure in all states, although having this certification will generally meet state requirements.

In some states, insurance laws require behavior analysts to be BCBA certified to be able to bill insurance.

Step 7: Maintain Certification and License (Timelines Vary)

In order to maintain a behavior analyst certification or license, behavior analysts must maintain their credentials. License maintenance requirements vary by state, so behavior analysts must contact their local board to ensure they complete the necessary continuing education.

BCBA certifications must be renewed every year. Maintenance requirements for BCBA certification are:

  • Submit a renewal application
  • Complete 32 hours of continuing education, four of which must be in ethics
  • Pay $215 renewal fee

Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) State Licensure Requirements

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Virginia Virginia Board of Medicine

The Virginia Board of Medicine licenses Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Assistant Behavior Analysts.

Requirements for licensure are:

  • Submit an online application
  • Hold either a BCBA or BCaBA national certification
  • Pay a $130 application fee for a behavior analyst license or a $70 fee for the assistant behavior analyst license
  • Submit a completed Employment Activity Questionnaire

Behavior analyst licenses issued in Virginia must be renewed biennially on odd-numbered years during the license holder’s birth month. Behavior analyst license renewal fees are $135, and assistant behavior analyst license renewal fees are $70.

To renew, applicants must also complete continuing education hours. Thirty-two hours of continuing education are required for behavior analysts and assistant behavior must complete 20. Four of those hours must be in ethics.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about counseling careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.