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10 Best ABA Master’s Degree Programs 2022

Badge for our ranking of top master's in abaIn this article, we profile the 10 best ABA graduate programs from accredited colleges and universities for 2022.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of techniques and principles designed to bring about positive and meaningful change in behavior. To become a certified ABA specialist, highly specialized skills and education must be acquired. Few programs that lead to Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification exist, but those that do exist provide students with the necessary coursework and curriculum needed to sit for board certification.

10 Best Master’s in ABA Programs Ranking Methodology

For the purpose of this list, we looked at 42 regionally and nationally accredited colleges and universities that offer ABA master’s degree programs in a traditional on-campus format. We selected accredited ABA programs, many of which aligned their coursework with the standards set forth by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). We also chose schools with graduate tuition (inclusive of fees) of less than $25,000 per year. Many of the programs on our list are BACB-certified and offer eligibility to sit for the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification exam. To narrow down our options still further, we included only programs with course sequences approved by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). Also, we included only programs with indicated BCBA examination pass rates of 70% or higher.

Ranking the 10 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Schools

Logo for GSU for our ranking of top master's in ABA10. Georgia State University

Applied Behavior Analysis, M.S.

Atlanta, Georgia

School Profile

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $24,517

Georgia State University’s master’s in applied behavior analysis is among the best behavioral analysis degree programs available. Georgia State University ranks with U.S. News & World Report as #3 among most innovative schools. It also ranks among top national universities. This school had a BCBA examination pass rate of 71%. Some of the courses in this program include principles of behavior analysis, psychology of learning & learners, strategies for challenging behaviors, and ethics for behavior analysts. The course sequence is approved by the ABAI, and Georgia State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges. This is one of our top picks for best ABA master’s degree programs.

Logo for University of Nebraska for our ranking of top master's in ABA9. The University of Nebraska Omaha

Applied Behavior Analysis, MS

Omaha, Nebraska

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $21,718

The University of Nebraska Omaha, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, is one of the best ABA therapy schools. Although it is not the cheapest on our list of ABA programs, it is a high-quality degree, as evidenced by several factors, including its 17-1 student-to-faculty ratio and its BCBA pass rate of 88%. Another factor is that this program ranks among top national universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. It is also one of the top performers on social mobility, which means that it helps students with family incomes below the national median to graduate and acquire jobs. The course sequence for this program is approved by the ABAI; students will need to choose the path that is approved, as there are multiple course sequences offered. The master’s degree in applied behavior analysis is available for those with a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology, or applied behavior analysis.

Logo for UNT for our ranking of top master's in ABA8. The University of North Texas

MA in Applied Behavior Analysis

Denton, Texas

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $20,906

The Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis offered by the University of North Texas is one of the top ABA therapy programs available. Some of the courses in this program are: fundamentals & techniques of compassionate & effective behavior change, evidence-based practice: understanding & using applied behavior analytic research, and culturally responsive ethics in behavioral practice. All of the courses in this program are available every semester, so students do not need to wait for the course they plan to take. The course sequence is ABAI-approved. Graduates of this program have a pass rate of 94% on the BCBA examination, which is remarkable among applied behavior analysis schools.The University of North Texas tied for #44 in social mobility, according to U.S. News & World Report, as well as ranking among top national universities and top public schools. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges. The University of Texas is among the best applied behavior analysis schools.

Logo for University of Houston Clear Lake for our ranking of top master's in ABA7. The University of Houston Clear Lake

Behavior Analysis M.A.

Houston, Texas

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $20,752

Ranking #7 on our list of top ABA programs, here is a great option from the University of Houston Clear Lake. This program offers a balance of experience, coursework, and research, all three of which are invaluable for those going into the field of behavior analysis. The program emphasizes both knowledge, or the theoretical, and skills, or the practical aspects of the field. This emphasis appears to be effective, as the University of Houston Clear Lake has a BCBA pass rate of 100%–rare even among the best applied behavior analysis programs. The University of Houston Clear Lake is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges. It has a student-to-faculty ratio of 17-1. Some graduates take the BCBA exam; others continue further in their studies, either in applied behavior analysis or in psychology. 

Logo for CSUN for our ranking of top master's in ABA6. California State University Northridge

M. S., Applied Behavior Analysis

Los Angeles, California

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,897

California State University Northridge is a top pick for accredited ABA graduate programs and offers one of the best applied behavior analysis programs. Their course sequence aligns with the standards set forth by the ABAI. Major publications like U.S. News & World Report rank California State University Northridge one of the best global universities. The courses will get students ready to assess patients’ behavior, and it will prepare them to intervene and eventually help to change the patient’s behavior for the better. Graduates of this program had a 92% pass rate on the BCBA examination. Also, this school is accredited by the WASC Senior College & University Commission.

Logo for SSU for our ranking of top master's in ABA5. Salem State University

Master of Science in Behavior Analysis

Salem, Massachusetts

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,480

Salem State University offers an ABA master’s degree program that is designed to prepare students to be highly competent behavior analysts in applied or research settings. According to the school’s website, the mission of the program is “to use behavior analysis to inspire solutions that lead to a more rewarding life.” Salem State University graduates had a 71% pass rate on the BCBA examination. Students who complete the graduate degree may need to meet additional requirements in order to be eligible to take the examination to become a board-certified behavior analyst.  In addition to the reputation of the ABA program, Michigan State has earned top rankings with U.S. News & World Report, tying for #36 for social mobility, #44 in top public schools, and #125 in best regional universities in the North.

Logo for USF for our ranking of top master's in ABA4. The University of South Florida

Master of Science in ABA

Tampa, Florida

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,898

One of the top online ABA programs on our list is the 44-credit master of science in applied behavior analysis at the University of South Florida. Three colleges work together to award this degree: the College of Behavioral & Community Sciences, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the College of Education. This program had a 82% BCBA pass rate. According to the program’s website, this ABA master’s program prepares students for work in the fields of mental health, education, autism, rehabilitation, and others. The University of South Florida has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges, and ranks #103 with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities. Also, the course sequence for this program is approved by the ABAI. This school has one of the best ABA programs available.

Logo for St. Cloud State for our ranking of top master's in ABA3. St. Cloud State University

Applied Behavior Analysis (M.S.)

St. Cloud, Minnesota

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,195

Breaking into the top three on our list of the top ABA master’s programs is St. Cloud University’s master’s in applied behavior analysis. St. Cloud University offers this program either online or on-campus. Students in this program have the opportunity to present at conferences during the course of their studies. There are two options for completion of this degree: Plan A is heavy on research and the student writes a thesis, while Plan B finishes with a comprehensive exam. Plan A requires 45 credits, while Plan B requires 46. The course sequence is approved by the ABAI. St. Cloud University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and the BCBA pass rate for this program is 90%.

Logo for Cambridge College for our ranking of top master's in ABA2. Cambridge College Boston

Autism/Applied Behavior Analysis Program (MEd)

Boston, Massachusetts

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Graduate Tuition/Fees: $16,266

Cambridge College Boston offers a master of education in autism/applied behavior analysis that takes 38 credits to earn. 14 of those credits are autism or special education credits, and 24 of them are part of the ABA course sequence. Cambridge College Boston is dedicated to helping adult students who have other responsibilities than school, so there are online, evening and weekend options for working students. Graduates of this program had a 94% pass rate on the BCBA exam. Cambridge College Boston is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education and has the remarkable student-to-faculty ratio of 11-1. This affordable college has among the best ABA degree programs available.

Logo for Queens College for our ranking of top master's in ABA1. Queens College

Psychology: Master of Arts (MA) in Applied Behavior Analysis

Cambridge, Massachusetts

School Profile

Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,488

Queens College offers the most affordable ABA master’s degree on our list. This master of arts in applied behavior analysis program supports students whether they plan to continue with their education and earn a doctoral degree or plan to begin work in the field immediately upon graduation. Those who wish to study in this program must have taken 15 credits in undergraduate psychology, including specific laboratory courses. If they have not met this requirement, but are otherwise qualified for admission, they will be required to take the courses they have missed at the undergraduate level. Queens College tied for #50 in best regional universities in the North and is #23 in best colleges for veterans according to U.S. News & World Report. Queens College had a BCBA pass rate of 88%. This is the most affordable ABA master’s degree on our list of the top ABA master’s programs.

 

ABA Frequently Asked Questions

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? 

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is a science-based approach to dealing with behavioral disorders. This form of therapy uses reinforcement both to teach skills and to correct behavior. Behavioral issues usually refer to the very basic skills that are needed for an individual to relate to others, as well as to work, play, learn, and live. The therapeutic ABA approach is personalized, as it assesses each individual and their very specific needs. 

The goal of applied behavior analysis is to determine the “why”  behind specific behaviors. After identifying the cause for an individual’s behavior, the plan can be to both correct harmful behaviors as well as to establish new behaviors. ABA is often used as a therapy for social and behavioral issues such as communication, social skills, and language. ABA professionals view behavior and behavior patterns as a science, and approach the therapy with this perspective. Analysis of what happens before a behavior occurs paired with the analysis of what happens after a behavior occurs are combined to construct a plan to modify an individual’s particular behavior. 

Through positive reinforcement, applied behavior analysis can successfully work to retrain behavior patterns. There is a long list of behavioral disorders that have been shown to improve through the use of applied behavior analysis.  

What Does an Applied Behavior Analyst Do? 

An applied behavior analyst is an expert on the science of behavior. ABA therapists attempt to find the cause of certain behaviors, and then they determine a plan to help to correct problem behaviors as well as to teach new behaviors. 

The goal of an ABA professional is to identify behavioral issues. After identifying issues, they will then work to try to improve the lives of the individuals, as well as all of those who care for them. The day to day jobs of ABA professionals will vary based on areas of focus.  All applied behavior analysts can expect their job to include many of the following:

  •  meetings with individuals, teachers, and families to identify and assess behavior that need to be addressed 
  •  observing behaviors in a variety of settings and environments 
  •  analyzing information gathered through various methods, including observation and conversation
  •  determining appropriate intervention and plans based on information gathered
  •  teaching new, appropriate behaviors 
  •  choosing reinforcements that work well with an individual’s needs 
  • educating patients and their parents/caretakers in behavioral plans 
  • maintain records of meetings and plans – both successful and unsuccessful 

Applied behavior analysts aim to approve the lives of their patients by making positive changes in the areas of behavior, speech, and physical abilities. The education that ABA professionals receive prepares them to deal with a variety of situations, and to apply the science of behavior with the ultimate goal of helping improve the life of each patient.  

What kind of settings does an ABA professional work in?

ABA professionals can work in a variety of settings, but some of the most common environments are home, school, hospital or medical facility, and clinic. 

Home therapy occurs most often when children are involved. ABA therapy within the home allows the parents and caregivers to observe how this specific kind of therapy works. Through close observation, caregivers will be able to support by taking a more active role in the ongoing therapy plan. Home therapy can sometimes speed up the process, as patients may benefit from working in a familiar environment with their caregivers nearby.  

ABA therapists will often work in a school environment. Though not as common as therapy within the home, ABA will often be a part of the plan for a particular student with special needs. Public schools are required to make accommodations for students’ learning and development. Occasionally, this will include the work of an applied behavioral therapist within the walls of the school. 

ABA therapists will sometimes work at a hospital or a medical facility. Many hospitals or mental health institutions will offer applied behavior analysis as part of a treatment plan for a diagnosed patient. The ABA professional will be brought in to assess and treat the patient. This can take place in both out-patient and in-patient facilities. 

Many ABA professionals will treat patients in a private clinic. In this setting, applied behavior analysis is often the primary treatment offered to patients, and those diagnosed with a variety of behavioral disorders will come to the clinic to receive treatment in that setting.  

What is the difference between a BCBA and an ABA?

A BCBA is a graduate-level, board certified behavioral analyst. A BCBA is certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) to train and to supervise an applied behavior analyst. An applied behavior analyst, or ABA, will always work under the direction of a BCBA. 

It is often a BCBA who will establish goals and treatment plans, and an ABA who will practically implement the treatment. Although working in the same profession and towards the same goal, an ABA will professionally be viewed differently because of different qualifications. 

How much can I make working in the ABA field?

According to ZipRecruiter, board certified behavior analysts make between $59,000 and $140,000 per year. This variation in salary depends on many factors which include location, experience, and work setting. The salary for applied behavior analysts is lower. ABA therapists average around $55,000 per year.  

What kind of education/certification do I need to work in the ABA field?

To work as a BCBA, which is considered to be the highest position in the field, one should plan on six to eight years of study. After earning an undergraduate degree, it is essential to earn a graduate degree in applied behavioral analysis. Following the completion of a graduate program, applicants must complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience. The final step to becoming a BCBA is to take the BCBA certification exam. 

It is the most lucrative decision to continue education and become certified as a BCBA, but not everyone chooses this route. To work as an ABA therapist, you need an undergraduate degree. More and more organizations are requiring master’s degrees for work in the field, so although it is not absolutely necessary, it may be the wisest decision to pursue additional degrees in the ABA field. This will open the door for professional growth as well as for upward mobility.  

Is ABA therapy useful for both children and adults? 

Applied behavior analysis is often considered to be used primarily as a treatment for children. Although this is usually true, there are some instances when ABA therapy can be used for adults, as well. ABA programs are highly individualized to the needs of each learner, so this plan of action can easily be applied to adults, as well. 

ABA has been especially successful with adults when teaching specific skills, such as dining in public, basic household skills, hygiene, or riding public transportation. ABA is also helpful for adults who may be exhibiting aggressive or challenging behaviors, as ABA works to retrain behavioral patterns using positive reinforcement. Although it is undisputed that early intervention is usually the best option, applied behavior analysis for adults can also be a good option to consider. 

Is ABA only used with those diagnosed with Autism Disorders? 

ABA is considered to be one of the top treatment plans for those who have been diagnosed with autism disorders. It is a good fit for autistic learners, as the skills and behaviors that are most commonly targeted in ABA therapy align well with the challenges faced by those diagnosed with autism. 

ABA therapy has been proven to help those on the autism spectrum with common challenges that they may face. These challenges include areas such as social skills, communication, and behavioral issues. These are challenges that are also faced not only by those with autism, but also by many who are not dealing with an autism disorder. ABA therapy has been known to successfully help with other behavioral disorders as well. The following is a list of other conditions that can benefit from ABA therapy:

  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder 
  • Panic disorder 
  • Traumatic brain injury sufferers
  • Substance abuse disorder 

For both those on the autism spectrum and those who aren’t, ABA therapy is a successful way to improve quality of life by targeting destructive and unhealthy behaviors and teaching and encouraging healthy alternatives.  

What are some examples of Applied Behavior Analysis? 

As we have mentioned, applied behavior analysis is a scientific approach to understanding behaviors.  The goal is then to correct or retrain these negative behaviors in order to improve an individual’s quality of life. One may wonder how this could play out practically. 

In simpler terms, what would one actually do to utilize the ABA approach?  There are a number of different techniques in ABA, and here are a few of them, as well as a basic description of how they work:

  • Reinforcement systems – this could be either with positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement, although it is more common to use positive. When dealing with an unwanted behavior, this method clearly pairs a behavior with a consequence. It is essential for the connection between the behavior and the consequence, whether positive or negative, to be clearly laid out. It is also very important to be consistent when using reinforcement.
  • Modeling – this is a simple concept, but can be very effective. Through modeling, an ABA patient will watch, either in real life or through a video, an example of the behavior that needs to be learned. Through watching it clearly modeled, it becomes easier to “copy” and therefore learn. An ABA therapist may ask an individual to mimic behavior that they have seen displayed for them, and this can be a successful way to teach new behavior.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System – This is especially helpful for those who have a difficult time expressing themselves verbally. If an individual is unable to find the words to explain a desire or an emotion, they are often able to point to a picture that depicts what they are thinking or feeling. This works as a gateway to communication with their therapists, and possibly with others as well.  
  • Discrete Trial Training – this technique aims to break down the skill or behavior that needs to be taught into small, or discrete, steps. Each of these components are taught, one by one, and each small step is reinforced along the way. Some individuals greatly benefit from this method of breaking down whatever task may be at hand, and mastering one small part before moving on to the next.  

What type of skills and qualities are needed for an ABA professional to be successful?

Many people may be drawn to this demanding, yet rewarding career. There are a few qualities that are essential for those wishing to make an impact as an ABA therapist. It is quite important to be empathetic. ABA professionals will continually interact with families and individuals who are facing challenges in their everyday life. Having eyes of compassion and a heart of empathy when trying to understand another’s struggles is important. This will make the patient and therapist relationship more successful, and there will be a greater level of understanding and listening.  

It is also important for an ABA worker to be a good communicator. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is a crucial part of the success of therapy. Being able to listen intently, as well as to read non-verbal cues, will go a long way. 

Lastly, it is important to be able to think critically. Much of the job involves assessing a situation or behavior, and then choosing a treatment plan or program based on an individual’s needs. This part of the job is ever-changing, and it is helpful for the therapist to be able to gather information and use critical thinking to make appropriate decisions for the sake of each person they encounter.  

The need for applied behavior analysts is expected to continue to grow, and if someone is looking for a career in which they can be sure to make a difference in the lives of others, they should look no further.  

ABA Staff
April 2021

This concludes our ranking of the top master’s in ABA programs.