How Much Does a BCBA Make?

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Please note that Verywell Mind does not promote Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy. ABA is a harmful type of "therapy" because it aims to change an individual's behaviors so that the person appears more neurotypical. However, this technique harms the autistic community (among others) because it is rooted in behaviorism, which is connected to eugenics. This article describes the role of a BCBA and is for informational use only.

What Does BCBA Stand For?

BCBA is an acronym that stands for board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA is a person who has been certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board to perform applied behavior analysis.

Applied behavior analysis utilizes behavioral processes, including classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and three-term contingency, to change people’s behavior. Some estimates suggest that BCBAs made an average of $66,711 per year.

Learning more about what they do and the type of training they need can help you better decide if this is a career that might be right for you. Other considerations, including how to find a job in this field and how much you can expect to make with your degree and certification, are also important.

What Does a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Do?

A BCBA works with people to solve behavior-related issues. These professions often work with autistic children, but they also work with other people to help with various issues. 

People with a BCBA may specialize in using ABA for certain conditions, including:

Using behavioral principles, particularly positive reinforcement, a BCBA professional works with clients to improve social, learning, communication, and behavioral skills.

Ivar Lovaas famously adapted ABA to treat autism. ABA is still widely used to help autistic children develop their skills. However, the approach originally advocated by Lovaas—which involved discrete trial training characterized by up to 40 hours a week of repetitious trials often conducted while seated at a desk—has been criticized as overly rigid and dehumanizing.

Discrete Trial Training

Discrete trial training is an ABA therapy technique that involves breaking down a skill into its smallest components and then teaching each component step-by-step.

Today, BCBA professionals and ABA programs typically utilize play-based approaches that rely on positive reinforcement in naturalistic settings to help children develop their strengths. ABA is not a “treatment” for autism. It is an approach that can help people learn new skills, identify triggers, and find ways to adapt to their environments to improve functioning.

While BCBA’s often work with autistic children, it is essential to recognize that they also utilize applied behavior analysis to help people with various mental health conditions.

Do I Need a Degree to Become a BCBA?

A BCBA is a graduate-level certification. To obtain the certification, people must have a minimum of a graduate degree in a related field. 

You Will Need a Bachelors Degree and a Graduate Degree

To become a BCBA, you should start by earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. You might consider a degree in psychology, education, social work, or applied behavior analysis. For most people, the next step is to earn a graduate degree from an ABAI-accredited program. 

Sometimes, people opt to earn a graduate degree in a related field such as psychology, education, behavior analysis, social work, or medicine. This is also an option for people who have already earned a degree in a different field before deciding to pursue a career as a BCBA. In such cases, they may need to complete additional behavioral analysis coursework.


A graduate degree is required to become a BCBA. Some people earn a graduate degree in behavior analysis but related degrees in psychology, education, social work, and medicine are also acceptable.

How to Become a BCBA

The first step in becoming a BCBA is to complete a graduate degree. The next steps depend on the pathway to certification that you choose.

Earning Your Graduate Degree

The most common path to certification is to earn a master's degree from a program recognized by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), complete a supervised practicum, and pass certification exams.

There are four different eligibility pathways to getting the certification. 

  1. Master's degree pathway: The first pathway is to get a master's degree from an ABAI-accredited or ABAI-recognized behavior analysis degree program. 
  2. Behavioral analytic coursework pathway: Another pathway is to get a graduate degree in a relevant field and complete behavioral analytic coursework. This includes 315 hours of coursework in BACB ethics, behavior analysis concepts and principles, data measurement, experimental design, behavior assessment, behavior change procedures, and personnel management.
  3. Teaching and research pathway: Another option is to get a graduate degree and conduct teaching or research. To qualify, candidates must have at least three years of full-time teaching and research experience in behavior analysis.
  4. Doctoral pathway: Finally, it is possible to become certified by post-doctoral training in ABA. To qualify via this route, your doctorate needs to be in behavior analysis, education, or psychology and you must get ten years of full-time practice in behavior analysis.

Fieldwork Is Required

No matter which path you choose, fieldwork is also required. Fieldwork requires a certain number of hours of supervised fieldwork. Fieldwork can involve 1,500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork, 1,000 hours of supervised practicum work, or 750 hours of an intensive supervised practicum.

Take the BCBA Exam

After completing this fieldwork, the next step is to take the BCBA exam to become certified. Once certified, a BCBA must take continuing education credits, adhere to ethical requirements, and re-certify every two years.


There are several different ways to become a BCBA. The most common is to earn a master's degree from an accredited program, complete supervised fieldwork, and pass the certification exam.

How Much Does a BCBA Make?

The average salary for a BCBA in August of 2022  was $66,711 annually. However, various factors can influence pay, including geographic location, years of experience, and employment sector. For example, a person with less than one year of experience can earn an average of around $59,000, while a person with ten or more years of experience can earn approximately $72,000.

Location plays an integral part in determining pay:

  • Lowest-paying: According to some estimates, some of the lowest paying states include Georgia ($53,007), North Carolina ($56,305), and Florida ($56,853). 
  • Highest-paying: Among the highest paying states for a BCBA include New Jersey ($83,183), Tennessee ($79,464), and Massachusetts ($78,612).

BCBA's can help maximize their earnings potential by acquiring additional skills, specializing in treating specific populations, or obtaining a doctorate to become a BCBA-D.

Skills that can give you a vital edge include experience with case management, clinical supervision, program development, and program management. An experienced BCBA might also consider opening their own practice.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. PayScale. Average behavior analyst salary.

  2. Smith T, Eikeseth S. O. Ivar Lovaas: Pioneer of applied behavior analysis and intervention for children with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2011;41(3):375-378. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1162-0

  3. Child Mind Institute. The controversy around ABA.

  4. Behavior Analyst Certification Board. BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst Handbook.

  5. ZipRecruiter. What is the average BCBA salary by state?

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."