Education Guide for Treating Speech and Hearing Disorders

Professionals who treat speech and hearing disorders enjoy competitive salaries, career stability, job flexibility, and the knowledge that what they do makes a positive difference in people’s lives. Careers in this area are generally grouped under the label of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)—a category that includes audiologists, speech-language pathologists (SLPs), and speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs). 

Those who work in treating speech and hearing disorders will need a rigorous education that exposes them to the wide range of patient-centered, evidence-based options available. They need a mix of both academic education and clinical experiences. While audiologists, audiology assistants, SLPs, and SLPAs may work together professionally, their educational pathways differ significantly. 

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM). Hosted by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), it’s an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and the role of the professionals who help in providing life-altering treatment. This year’s theme is “Connecting People.” 

To learn more about the educational standards for careers within communication sciences and disorders (CSD), read on.

Audiologists

Audiologists provide patient-centered care in the prevention, identification, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment of hearing, balance, and other auditory disorders. They can work in a various facilities and frequently collaborate with other healthcare professionals. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), the need for audiologists is set to grow 16 percent between 2020 and 2030, adding an estimated 2,100 jobs; the average rate of growth for all professions over the same period is only 8 percent. According to the BLS, tere are three reasons for the growth of this profession. 

  • A longer life expectancy in the population will lead to more hearing disorders.
  • The early identification of hearing disorders in children has improved.
  • There are more technologies to assist in diagnosing and treating hearing disorders. 

Audiologists need a doctoral degree in audiology (AuD), which typically takes between three and four years to complete. AuD curriculums have both an academic and clinical component; both will need to meet the standards for knowledge and skills set forth by ASHA’s CFCC Standard II for Audiology. AuD programs will also include a clinical practicum, but the number of hours will vary from state to state and program to program.

After earning their AuD, aspiring audiologists must pass a praxis examination in audiology and become licensed by their state. AuD programs should help graduates prepare for these requirements through their coursework and clinical practicum. 

Admissions requirements for AuD programs will vary from program to program. However, some typical requirements include a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); GRE and/or GMAT scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement. An applicant’s undergraduate degree can technically be in any area, but earning it in a field related to communication sciences and disorders (CSD) will ensure that all prerequisite courses are met.

Audiology Assistants

Audiology assistants perform delegated tasks prescribed, directed, and supervised by a certified and/or licensed audiologist. They improve access to care by increasing the availability of audiology services and reduce costs by performing tasks that do not require the professional skills of an audiologist. 

If they wish to become certified through ASHA, aspiring audiology assistants will need a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) and 500 hours of supervised clinical experience, or a bachelor’s degree in a non-CSD subject and 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Some states also have more stringent educational and licensure requirements than others. 

Undergraduate programs in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) generally take four years to complete. Students study normal and abnormal communication across the lifespan, including speech, hearing, language, and swallowing processes. These programs lay the groundwork for aspiring audiology assistants who wish to pursue professional certification; they may also be a stepping stone for continuing education as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist. 

Admissions requirements for undergraduate programs in communication sciences and disorders will vary from school to school. Typical requirements include a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT or ACT scores; and letter(s) of recommendation.

Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults. They work with a wide range of patients and practice in several settings. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), speech-language pathology is one of the fastest-growing careers in the nation, with the need for SLPs forecast to grow 29 percent between 2020 and 2030, adding an estimated 45,400 jobs. Its rapid growth is in part due to the retirement of the Baby Boomers, but also due to a growing mainstream awareness of speech and language disorders. 

Aspiring speech-language pathologists will need to complete a master’s degree accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). While the degree can be a master of arts (MA), a master of science (MS), or a master of education (MEd), it should be focused on either speech-language pathology or communication sciences and disorders (CSD). 

After completing their master’s degree, aspiring SLPs must complete a post-graduate fellowship, take a national exam in speech-language pathology, and apply for licensure at the state level. CAA-accredited programs will assist SLPs in crafting their experiences to meet future requirements in these areas. 

Graduate-level SLP programs generally consist of 48 credits and include academic and supervised clinical coursework. They also include a clinical practicum that matches the licensure requirements of the program’s home state; the total number of hours required ranges from 300 to 400. Online students will need to work with program staff to secure in-person experiences in their area. 

Admissions requirements for SLP programs vary from school to school. Common requirements include a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); letter(s) of recommendation; GRE scores; and a personal statement. An applicant’s undergraduate degree can be in any area, as long as certain prerequisite courses have been taken; generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) will satisfy all requirements.

Speech-Language Pathology Assistants

Speech-language pathology assistants (SLPAs) are support personnel who perform tasks prescribed, directed, and supervised by ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists. SLPAs are a critical component of meeting the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse client base. They also help expand scope of practice, increase cost-efficiency, and boost access to care for patients. 

SLPAs who wish to become professionally certified through ASHA have three possible educational pathways: 

  • A two-year SLPA program degree from an accredited institution
  • A four-year degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD)
  • A college degree in an unrelated field

Depending on the pathway chosen, additional prerequisite courses may be required. Those seeking certification will also need to complete a minimum of 100 hours of clinical fieldwork. 

Four-year programs in CSD are the most comprehensive option. Graduates learn the fundamentals of speech-language pathology and audiology and need to take fewer additional courses to earn certification. They may also go on to graduate-level degrees and advance to roles as SLPs. 

Admissions requirements for undergraduate programs in communication sciences and disorders vary from school to school. Typical requirements include a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT or ACT scores; and letter(s) of recommendation. 

Two-year programs in CSD culminate in an associate degree. These are the quickest and cheapest educational pathway to working as a certified SLPA: they eschew breadth courses to focus purely on speech and hearing disorders. While less comprehensive than four-year programs, graduates may still use their associate degree in CSD as a stepping stone to completing a bachelor’s degree later on. Admissions requirements for two-year programs in CSD will vary but generally include either a high school diploma or a GED.

Resources for Education in Speech and Hearing Disorders

Consider some of these resources below to learn more about the educational and career options for treating speech and hearing disorders. 

Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He’s been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt’s writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.

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