5 Things To Look For in an Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s Program

Pursuing the right applied behavior analysis (ABA) master’s program shouldn’t be a decision taken lightly. The right degree program should guide prospective ABA professionals through the rigorous curriculum and provide support when preparing for the Behavior Analyst Certification exam. This produces well-rounded behavior analysts equipped with the right tools to help others.

Here’s a closer look at why earning a master’s degree in ABA is so important, what to look for in a master’s program, and how it can help you become a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Why Is a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis Important?

A master’s degree in ABA can lead to many fulfilling career paths, but perhaps the most common is becoming a behavior analyst. Board-Certified Behavior Analysts are ABA professionals who have taken courses in ABA through an institution that offers a verified course sequence and received certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Most students who want to be a leader in the ABA field aspire to become a BCBA.

As a result, earning a master’s degree in ABA is imperative for a successful career in the field. The process of picking the right program, however, isn’t as simple as researching proximity or prestige. Since careers in behavior analysis vary depending on the populations served; a robust, yet flexible ABA masters program is the ideal structure that will prepare any student with the appropriate industry knowledge, experience, and exam preparation.

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What to Look For in an Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s Program

There are a number of factors to consider when applying to a graduate ABA program, but the most essential ones deal with the various ways a school should align with your professional goals and academic preferences.

1. A Verified Course Sequence

One of the most important factors you need to consider is whether or not your prospective ABA master’s program is accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International Accreditation (ABAI) or follows a verified course sequence (VCS).

If you want a curriculum that follows the industry’s current best practices and standards, make sure to apply to schools that offer a VCS. Since the Behavior Analyst Certification Board requires prospective BCBAs to experience a VCS, it’s important to take this into account when choosing a program. If you’re unsure about a school’s VCS status, check out the ABAIs VCS locator for more guidance and information.

2. Aligned Program Focus and Coursework

ABA master’s programs are only effective when they align with a student’s professional goals. While this seems like an obvious factor to consider, many students overlook this essential component.

Each student has their own set of individual needs that should be addressed or prioritized in their education structure. For example, students who have time-consuming obligations outside of the classroom typically require a more flexible program to accommodate their lifestyle. While there has been a recent shift to online or hybrid programs, not every school offers the schedule some students need to succeed.

A strong ABA master’s program needs to provide rigorous education that shapes professional development, but it also must be administered in a way that ensures a student’s success both in and outside the classroom. If coursework demands are too light, students are less likely to develop well-rounded skill sets. On the other hand, highly intense curricula can lead to burnout.

3. Experience Opportunities

Another challenge students might face when pursuing the right ABA master’s program involves the fieldwork experience. Since this line of work impacts the lives of vulnerable people, such as the elderly or individuals with developmental disabilities, supervised fieldwork experience is required of all prospective BCBAs to ensure their competency.

Gaining experience is a vital component to gaining certification as a BCBA. In fact, the BACB requires all individuals who hope to take their exam to complete a large amount of logged hours of fieldwork. As a result, it’s vital to choose an ABA master’s program that provides opportunities to accrue hours to supplement a verified course sequence. While it isn’t a necessity, programs that put an emphasis on supervised hours in the field lay extensive groundwork for behavior analysts who want to become certified.

4. Effective Exam Preparation

The next important factor to consider when applying to ABA master’s programs is the amount of support it provides when preparing for the BCBA certification exam. Not every institution offers structured test prep courses, so this is a particularly important thing to research.

Programs like Bouvé College of Health Sciences’s Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis, offer a comprehensive exam preparation course that manages to synthesize the coursework into an exam roadmap, equipping students with the skills and strategies needed to pass. After hours of coursework, students don’t want a program that lets them stumble at the finish line.

5. Flexibility

In the months that followed the pandemic, higher education institutions were forced to rapidly adapt to the rising demand for remote learning options. While not every institution was prepared to meet these challenges, Bouvé College of Health Sciences has offered an online curriculum in behavior analysis since 2013, making them an established leader in the world of online learning.

While an in-person ABA master’s program benefits those seeking a synchronous course structure, an increasing number of people have neither the time nor the bandwidth to meet these demands. If you’re struggling to see how to fit a master’s degree into your busy schedule, then you should strongly consider a program that offers online access to its coursework.

The right ABA master’s program is going to provide a well-rounded education that best suits your professional aspirations. A flexible, adaptive, and asynchronous program enables you to build the educational experience designed to make you the best behavior analyst you can be.

Choose the Right Program

Choosing the right ABA master’s program is going to depend on a number of factors—ranging from the nature of the program’s fieldwork to the flexibility and accessibility of the program’s coursework. Perhaps the most important deciding factor, however, is choosing a graduate program that can unlock your potential as a successful behavior analyst. Find out how Bouvé College of Health Sciences’s ABA master’s program aligns with your career needs and gives you the power to construct the applied behavior analysis career path you’ve been looking for.

Want to learn more about how ABA is changing the world of behavior analysis? Check out Northeastern’s Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program page.