What Education is Needed to Become an ABA Therapist?

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Updated: March 17, 2024, Reading time: 8 minutes

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Understanding the educational background necessary to pursue a career as an ABA therapist is essential in ensuring you’re taking the right path the first time.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Academic Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree

An undergraduate degree opens doors to entry-level career opportunities in the ABA therapist field. More specifically, a Bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement to obtain the position of an assistant behavior analyst closely supervised by a licensed or certified behavior analyst.

There is generally no prerequisite on the degree major to obtain at the Bachelor’s level to become an ABA therapist. However, the majors below are popular among aspiring ABA therapists who are attending undergraduate programs.


This major is the most popular major for those who want to be ABA therapists, as the curriculum typically covers the majority, if not all, of the topics related to ABA therapy, like emotional conditions, developmental challenges, and mental disorders.

Some of the schools offering a Bachelor in Psychology with an online learning format include Ohio University, Maryville University, and the University of Florida.

Behavioral Sciences

A Bachelor in Behavioral Science degree, such as the one offered by Bellevue University (online program) and Wilmington University (both online and in-person),  is perhaps the most suitable undergraduate program for those who are determined to become ABA therapists right from the start.

This major provides students with a comprehensive understanding of human behavior and all its influencing factors. In essence, this degree major generally covers the essence of what ABA therapy is about.

Special Education

The curriculum of Special Education degree major programs equips aspiring ABA therapists with the capacity to assist in the learning and academic development of individuals with special needs and related conditions. These children are commonly the subjects or clients of professional licensed behavioral health therapists.

The schools offering a Bachelor in Special Education programs include the University of Wisconsin Whitewater (online program), Drexel University (online), Kent State University (traditional on-campus), and many others.

If you wish to pursue further education, you can consider earning an online Master of Arts in Special Education, and then an online Doctorate in Special Education.


Since the scope of ABA therapy goes beyond individuals with autism spectrum disorder, a degree major in Education is also an ideal stepping stone, especially for aspiring therapists who want to focus on individuals with behavioral and learning challenges.

A Bachelor in Education program, such as the online degree program offered by Liberty University, can provide valuable insights into learning theories and instructional techniques.


A Bachelor’s degree in Sociology provides the foundation for understanding the social environment that influences human behavior. This is also a popular undergraduate degree attended by students who aspire to become ABA therapists working with individuals in various social contexts. Arizona State University offers a web-based BS in the Sociology program, while Southern New Hampshire University offers an online BA in Sociology.

Master’s Degree

The minimum educational requirement for ABA Therapy practice is a master’s degree. In fact, a graduate-level degree is also required to sit for the certification exam through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board or BACB to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

This certification allows you to practice independently, as well as supervise ABA therapists and behavior analysis paraprofessionals, commonly referred to as Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs).

You can actually have a Master’s degree in any field, but you will need to complete additional training and certification in behavior-analytic coursework if you want to become a certified ABA therapist.

However, if you have yet to attend a Master’s degree program, it’s more practical to pursue one that specifically offers Applied Behavior Analysis, either as a major or as a concentration in a related field. Below are some examples:

Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis

This Master’s degree program, like the online program offered by Regis College, provides a comprehensive curriculum on the principles of behavior analysis and their applications to real-world scenarios.

Master of Arts in Special Education with Applied Behavior Analysis Concentration

This Master’s degree program equips aspiring certified ABA therapists with a solid foundation on the principles of special education in order to work effectively with individuals with developmental and behavioral challenges.

The University of Colorado Denver is one of the schools offering this program in both fully online and hybrid formats.

Master of Psychology with Applied Behavior Analysis Concentration

This Master’s degree program, such as the one offered by Eastern Kentucky University in a 100% online format, allows aspiring certified ABA therapists to comprehend psychological concepts and theories fully and how they relate to the real-world application of behavior analysis principles. 

Other valuable degrees to consider include a Master of Speech Pathology or a Master’s in Occupational Behavior and Development. Both are ABA-related fields inclined to assist patients with various issues.


If you have a doctorate in the field of behavior analysis, you can seek the Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D) designation with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. However, this is not a separate certification, as you will have the same privileges and capacity as those with the BCBA designation, i.e., being able to practice independently and supervise ABA therapists.

While a doctorate isn’t always a requirement in employing ABA therapists, earning it offers many advantages:

How ABA Therapists Obtain Relevant Experience While Completing Their Education

How ABA Therapists Obtain Relevant Experience While Completing Their Education - Image

Having relevant experience in the field of ABA therapy is important not just to ensure you’re a capable professional but also to meet licensing or certification requirements. 


Bachelor’s degree programs most often include internships or related experiential learning opportunities in the curriculum. This is typically a structured work experience program that allows students to explore real-world scenarios in the field of ABA therapy and gain hands-on learning experiences under the guidance of professionals.

If you’re currently completing your Bachelor’s program, consider looking for organizations that can provide you with the opportunity to observe and learn from ABA therapists as they work with their clients.


A practicum is closely similar to an internship, but you’ll have the chance to apply your theoretical knowledge and skills in professional settings directly. This on-the-job experience is typically offered or performed while completing your Master’s degree program and after completing your thesis.

A practicum experience also counts toward the credit required for obtaining your ABA therapist license, but this will depend on the state you’re in. In the case of certification for BCBA, applicants have to complete 1,500 to 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork in order to be qualified to sit for the certification exam.

Volunteer Work

ABA therapists can have practical experiences by offering their expertise at community centers and organizations that serve individuals with developmental and behavioral challenges.

Research Opportunities

Many universities encourage their undergraduate and graduate students to collaborate with faculty members working on relevant research projects.

What Does an ABA Therapist Do - fact

How Long It Takes to Become an ABA Therapist

The educational journey to becoming an ABA therapist will take at least six years. More specifically, the Bachelor’s degree program requires a minimum of four years to complete, while the Master’s program takes at least two years.

Some schools may offer accelerated Bachelor’s degree programs wherein you’ll attend graduate-level courses while still in the last semesters of your Bachelor’s program. For those with a Master’s degree but without the Behavior-Analytic coursework, there are ABA certificate programs that can be completed in one to two years.

A therapy career is filled with many advantages, as it allows professionals to witness the transformative power of the human mind and spirit. Therapists have the unique opportunity to guide individuals through their struggles and help them discover their inner strengths and resilience.

It is a fulfilling and rewarding profession that offers a deep sense of purpose and makes a positive impact on the lives of others. Whether it is through listening, facilitating healing, or providing guidance, therapists have the ability to bring healing into the lives of their clients, making a career in therapy truly remarkable.

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