By: Gabrielle Galto, BCBA, NYS LBA

Imagine that you are a recent graduate in psychology, you achieved your Bachelor’s degree and start looking for jobs but notice there is not much for an entry level position working in the field.

You always intended to get your masters or doctorate, but are unsure where to start. You start to look into different fields of psychology and gain an interest in cognitive behavior therapy. The more you research, the more you start to see jobs as a BCBA®, but what does that even mean?

A BCBA® is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst®, okay great! Now what does that mean exactly? Well, that means you have gone through an extensive process to obtain credentials as a certified behavior analyst. You start to gain an interest in the science behind the field of behavior analysis, learn about learning theories, measuring behavior objectively, visual analysis and ways to make further adjustments to increase success for the client’s you work with. This is when things are looking up, towards this exciting field and future to help people achieve great accomplishments for a fulfilling life, but where do you even start?

Now imagine that you are a teacher in a special education classroom and observe a paraprofessional and BCBA® working with a student. You start to notice that they take data on a daily basis, work on targeting specific behaviors in an objective way through using various techniques and strategies.

In efforts to help the student continue to progress, the BCBA® collaborates with you, discloses the behavior intervention plan (BIP), and shares some very interesting graphs that illustrates everything discussed! This is awesome right! You then learn that not only are they working on decreasing the inappropriate and maladaptive responses but then replace those behaviors with appropriate ones based on the function of the behavior. This makes so much sense, right! Over time you see your student change in ways you never thought were possible. How can I become this amazing behavior change superhero?

Being a behavior analyst is awesome, it truly is, but it is not just rainbows and butterflies all the time. It is important that you research about the process of becoming a BCBA® and look into your state licensing laws.

Just a short summary: within the past 3-5 years, a few states started to require BCBA’s® to become licensed in order to practice. Over the years, more states started to require the same, but each state holds different licensing requirements. It is important that you are aware of these requirements and the process so when you start looking for work you are not limited. I will not so much go into the licensing process, as again it varies state by state, but currently most states require you to be licensed.

This does not mean you should only become licensed because being board certified is just as important. It provides a community you become a part of and enables opportunities to grow professionally and network. It means you went through a rigorous process and intensive supervision to demonstrate a superior understanding of the science of behavior – just to name a few.

Let’s Talk About the Process

Being a behavior analyst can be very rewarding, however it is not the easiest process as it is rigorous and tedious to get through the coursework. Then, you are required to go through intensive supervision.

My first piece of advice is DO THE RESEARCH!

Start looking into graduate programs that are qualified, accredited programs that meet course requirements (e.g. NYS approved schools for NY residents). This is getting a little easier as our field grows, but be sure to check out the BACB website for a list of accredited schools and coursework.

Once you find the best fit for you, whether that be online, campus, masters or doctoral, this is when you start learning the good stuff! I highly encourage you to start to network and gain some insight into the field of behavior analysis through asking your professors questions and becoming part of different organizations.

Your professors are in the field and are a great resource, so use them!

Ask about their process, for advice and recommendations on how you can be proactive! Most of all, start gaining direct, hands on experience!

Supervision Hours and Experience

Disclaimer: This is a summary of the authors own experience and knowledge; the Behavior Analyst Certification Board did not endorse the author or agency. It is encouraged the any potential BCBA® candidate do their own research to make the best decision and visit for the most up to date requirements to become a BCBA®!

Supervision hours and experience: what is it exactly, and what should I expect?

To be completely honest, that is a loaded question. Everyone’s experience is different as not all BCBA’s® are the same, I’m serious! And as our field grows, experience standards change and are revised to better the future BCBA’s® of the world!

New experience standards were just instated on January 1, 2019, so familiarize yourself with these as the next few years (or more) supervision will encompass your life and journey into BCBA®-hood. Just know if you are already enrolled in school or just starting to look at schools and this as a career, applying the skills and knowledge from your graduate program can take a few years in itself, so really make sure this is your passion!

Make sure you choose a supervisor you are comfortable with, who will help you achieve your professional goals, and support you in the long journey to becoming a BCBA®!

How Do You Become a BCBA?

The process is not an easy one. However, after you go through the coursework and start to gain experience working under a BCBA®, you start to learn more about what it takes to truly be a BCBA®.

That said, it is not always easy finding an experienced BCBA® who can provide you with everything you need to know. It is also just as important to find other BCBA’s® who are competent in other areas that your current BCBA® is not.

What does all this mean?

Well, when you start to acquire your experience hours as per the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) states before sitting for the examination (more on this later) you are required to obtain a total of 1500 hours, but that is not all!

There are more requirements on the type of hours gained. Indirect hours include areas where you are not directly working with a client and direct hours include working directly with a client. There is also a maximum on how many direct hours you can acquire, but there is no maximum for the indirect.

Personally, I think this is actually really helpful since I probably could have acquired all 1500 hours directly, but then I would have never gotten experience creating treatment plans, supervising, writing up protocols, conducting assessments, etc. Also, the experience gained should include each of the Task List numbers.

The Task List!

The Task List is such a helpful tool that ensures your experience is full bodied encompassing many parts of what being a behavior analyst truly entails. I had fun with it, but I really just love this field so that may just be me!

Advice: Make sure to discuss with your supervisor how you will complete each task list number. If there are some items that you are unable to get direct experience for, make sure to discuss what other ways to achieve them. This could be through a second supervisor or role playing or asking for additional cases that may help gain those experience hours. This can vary on the work environment you are in, but it is important to go over these concerns from the start so you are not stuck later on.

Lastly, once you complete your hours make sure you discuss a way to further expand and develop yourself professionally because this is a field that requires us to continually grow professionally.

Even BCBA’s® who have a ton of experience have their own areas they are more competent in. It is vital to know what those are for yourself starting off. However, this does not mean that you cannot take on cases if you have limited experience. I suggest you talk with your supervisors about how to gain continued support and supervision so you can take on new and exciting cases.

The BCBA Exam

After you complete your hours, this is when you can submit to take the BIG BCBA® EXAM!

I was so nervous to do so. I over prepared, but I am glad I did! I honestly do not have much to say on this other than to take advantage of all the great resources!

I used Behavior Development Solutions (BDS), an exam prep and curriculum for a behavior analyst in training. They were great! (No, I am not being paid to tell you that!) They provided me with many quizzes that helped ensure fluency and maintenance of skills.

It was such an amazing resource, and I highly recommend using all the resources they provide. Also, pace yourself to avoid getting overwhelmed when you get closer to the exam date. Working on ways to further increase your fluency of skills can be something to discuss with your supervisor too. Remember, he or she is there to help you achieve your goals too!

There are some other great resources through social media that you can find on Instagram like ABA wizard, which I still follow. There is also ABA study buddy. They hold webinars to help prepare for the exam. ABA wizard also has an app that you can download.

Once you feel ready to set a date for the exam, make sure you give yourself enough time to get through all the modules if you are using BDS or any other prep program.

If you do not feel ready to set a date in stone, it’s okay – just remember that you can only take the test 4 months of the year. Look at when those are, and try to determine a date from there Then, use behavior analysis to self-manage, use principles of reinforcement, and other methodologies to increase your skill set (precision teaching is also a great way to increase fluency)!

And lastly: remember, you can do this!

Hope this helps any potential or future BCBA’s® of the world!

Good luck to everyone!


Are you interested in becoming a BCBA® with Attentive Behavior Care? Apply today!