Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Speech and language are our bridges to the world. For many of us, it’s taken for granted, but more than three million Americans stutter. Nearly one in 12 children in the US have a disorder related to voice, speech, or language, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Over 55 percent of those children received intervention services in the past year. Speech-language pathologists help give people their voices back. 

The need for speech-language pathologists has been rising for years. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts openings in the profession will grow 25 percent between 2019 and 2029, a rate that’s nearly six times the national average. 

A major factor in this growth is the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. There are more people over 65 in the US than there ever have been. With that aging population comes an increased number of strokes, brain injuries, dementia cases, and other medical conditions that impact speech and language. At the same time, improvements in healthcare have upped the survival rate of premature infants. Speech-language pathologists are needed at both ends of the age spectrum.

Speech-language pathologists work in schools, clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals. They work with physicians, teachers, and psychologists. They are needed in big cities and in rural areas. They are giving people their voice back and building bridges into the world. 

If you are interested in a fast-growing profession that makes a real difference, read on to learn more about speech-language pathologists.

Speech-Language Pathologist Specializations & Degree Types

Speech-language pathologists typically have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. At the bachelor’s level, many choose to major in speech-language pathology, communication disorders, or speech and hearing science. However, it’s also possible to major in a different field and then complete some foundational prerequisite coursework later on. 

Master’s programs are focused purely on speech-language pathology and include both clinical practicums and working internships. Students in these master’s programs may tailor their education and clinical experience to a particular area of interest, such as working with autism or other specific developmental disorders.

Admissions Requirements for Speech-Language Pathologist Programs

Admissions requirements for speech-language pathologist programs will vary from school to school, but there are some commonalities. 

For bachelor’s programs, applicants will generally have to submit a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); SAT and/or ACT scores; letter(s) of recommendation, and a personal statement. 

For master’s programs, admissions requirements typically include an undergraduate degree with a  competitive GPA (3.0 or greater); GRE scores; letter(s) of recommendation; and a personal statement. Some prerequisite coursework may also be required for graduate-level programs.

Speech-Language Pathologist Program Accreditation

Aspiring speech-language pathologists should be sure to check the accreditation status of any educational programs to which they are applying. Accreditation ensures that a program’s curriculum is meeting peer-reviewed standards of excellence. 

For undergraduate programs, regional accreditation is sufficient. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) maintains a full list of regional accreditation entities on its website. Graduate programs, however, should be accredited programmatically through the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). This ensures not only that they are meeting academic standards, but also that they are adequately preparing graduates for state licensure and certification.

On-Campus Speech-Language Pathologist Degree Programs

Boston University (Bachelor’s Degree)

Boston University offers a bachelor of science degree in speech, language, and hearing sciences. The curriculum is designed to facilitate entry into graduate programs, and an accelerated version that combines bachelor’s and master’s degrees is available for highly motivated students. 

Classes include an introduction to linguistics; language acquisition; an introduction to speech science; an introduction to phonological disorders; and aural rehabilitation. The baseline bachelor’s program consists of 128 credits. 

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECH)
  • Tuition: $58,560 per year

University of Northern Colorado

The master of arts in speech pathology program at the University of Northern Colorado is designed to prepare students for entry-level work as speech-language pathologists. Built within the clinician-researcher model framework, the program emphasizes evidence-based practice (EBP) and lifelong learning. 

Courses cover the following topics: phonology; early child language; speech and hearing science; language and cognition; and language and literacy. In addition to two internships and on-campus clinical practicums, students will have the chance to participate in a variety of community-engaged learning opportunities. The program consists of 75 credits.

  • Location: Greeley, CO
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation:  Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $1,150 per credit

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Students can earn a master’s of science in speech-language pathology at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. With a strong emphasis on clinical experiences, students in this program will be exposed to a variety of clinical rotations. In fact, the clinicals start the second week of the program. There are even specialty training tracks and internships for students who wish to work with special populations. Research-focused students have the option of completing a thesis. 

This program is only offered on-campus and for full-time students. It takes 20 to 24 months to complete. The required courses vary based on a student’s educational background. Students without a background in speech and communication disorders are required to take additional classes. 

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation:  Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $14,007.50 per semester

University of Wisconsin-Madison Speech and Hearing Clinic Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

There are two master’s degree options through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Speech and Hearing Clinic’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. They are a clinical master’s of science in speech-language pathology for professionals wanting to work directly with clients and a non-clinical master’s of science in Normal Aspects of Speech, Language and Hearing for students who want to pursue a career in research or continue their studies with a PhD.  

This competitive degree has rigorous prerequisite coursework requirements. Students must have completed courses in statistics, biology, social sciences, and speech disorders. A post-bac program is offered for applicants who don’t have a background in speech disorders. Other admission requirements include already holding a bachelor’s degree, letters of recommendation, a current CV or resume, a letter stating reasons for pursuing graduate studies, and a completed application. 

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation:  Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $1,640.88 per credit

University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The goal of the master’s in communication science and disorders at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences is to prepare students with a solid foundation so they are prepared for entry-level work as speech-language pathologists. Ranked number three in the nation by US News & World Report, this outstanding program offers a general program or an option of a clinical concentration in either dysphagia or voice.  There is both a master’s of arts and a master’s of science track as well. 

The required 60-semester credits for this program are completed in two years of full-time study. Students complete a total of six semesters as summer classes are required. Ten of the credits earned are in clinical practice giving students ample hands-on experience. Admission to this program is competitive and requires prerequisite coursework, a high GPA, GRE test scores, and three letters of recommendation. 

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $1,345 per credit

Online Speech-Language Pathologist Degree Programs

Arizona State University (Bachelor’s Degree)

ASU has an online bachelor of science (BS) in speech and hearing science program that gives students a foundational understanding of speech-language pathology, and prepares them for graduate programs and state licensure. The curriculum is sequenced so that students first learn about normal speech and language processes, then proceed to communication disorders. 

Courses include developmental speech and language disorders; an introduction to phonetics; clinical methods and treatment of communication disorders; acquired speech and language disorders; and the principles of audiology. The program consists of 120 credits. 

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Duration: Four years 
  • Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCASC)
  • Tuition: $680 per credit

University of Akron

In collaboration with the University of Cincinnati, the University of Akron offers a collaborative distance learning master’s program in speech-language pathology. Students may mix and match classes from either school to complete their degree. 

Courses cover topics such as neuroscience for communicative disorders; language and literacy development; language disorders in later childhood; and augmentative communication. Multiple practicums and externships are included as part of the curriculum. Do note that while the University of Cincinnati requires its students to live within a two- to three-hour distance from the institution, the University of Akron accepts students from anywhere in the country.

  • Location: Akron and Cincinnati, OH
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $442.10 per credit (Akron); $662 per credit (Cincinnati)

New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

The master of science in communicative sciences and disorders at New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development is offered entirely online. The online modality is the same curriculum and professors as the on-campus degree. Offered in both a full and part-time format, this flexible program allows students to complete their studies while still working or caring for family. 

Many of the online classes are taught live, providing students with a more traditional learning format. This encourages direct communication with faculty and peers as well as creating space for everyone to interact. Required courses are in one of four categories: foundation courses, instrumentation and research, disorder courses, and elective. To graduate, students must complete a total of 48 semester-credits and in-person clinical experiences. 

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: Two to Four years 
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $1,867 per credit

University of St. Augustine College of Rehabilitative Sciences

The flexible online master’s of science in speech-language pathology at the University of St. Augustine College of Rehabilitative Sciences can be completed in just one year and eight months. Because of the trimester format instead of semesters, and including summer courses, this program can be completed faster than others. Students are required to complete 55 to 58 credits, of which 40 are core courses, and 15 or more are in clinical credits. 

Even though this program is offered remotely, students are able to develop a strong connection to the program and school. Each trimester students are required to travel to campus for four to five days for hands-on coursework. All students also have an assigned dedicated faculty mentor who will help them navigate choosing coursework, clinical placements, and job searching. 

  • Location: Austin, TX
  • Duration: One year and eight months 
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $12,800 per trimester

Tennessee State University College of Health Sciences

Students can choose to complete the master’s of science in speech and hearing science at Tennessee State University’s College of Health Sciences either online or on-campus. Both programs include the same curriculum and are taught by the same faculty. The online program is only part-time enrollment and takes eight semesters to complete. Students complete clinical rotations every summer at clinical sites approved by the school. 

If students are near TSU, they can complete some of their clinical experiences at the in-house speech and language clinic. Over the summer, this clinic provides free intervention services to children five to 12 years old. 

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Duration: Eight semesters 
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA)
  • Tuition: $1,105 per credit

How Long Does It Take to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist?

Becoming a speech-language pathologist requires a four-year bachelor’s degree and a two- to three-year master’s degree. Combined bachelor-to-master programs can reduce this timeline slightly while attending on a part-time basis can extend it. 

Generally speaking, it takes between six and seven years to become a speech-language pathologist after high school.

How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring speech-language pathologists need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Major choices are not as liberal as they are with other careers: look for a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing sciences, in speech-language pathology, or in communication disorders. 

Step Two: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two to Three Years)

A master’s degree in speech-language pathology is a requirement for work in this profession. These master’s programs are intense and can take up to three years to complete. During this stage, students will learn about the nuances of speech-language pathology, and also put them into practice through clinical experiences. 

All CAA-accredited master’s programs tailor their curriculum towards meeting the requirements for state licensure (see step three below). 

Step Three: Obtain State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

All speech-language pathologists will need to be licensed by the state in which they wish to practice. The licensure process is facilitated by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), but specific eligibility requirements can vary from state to state

Furthermore, if a speech-language pathologist wishes to work in a school setting, they will need to earn a state teaching certification through their state’s board of education. 

What Do Speech-Language Pathologists Do?

A speech-language pathologist’s daily tasks are largely informed by the place and role in which they work. However, some typical responsibilities of speech-language pathologists include:

  • Evaluating levels of speech or language difficulty
  • Identifying various treatment options
  • Carrying out individualized treatment plans
  • Teaching children and adults how to improve their voice and make sounds
  • Helping individuals improve their vocabulary and sentence structure
  • Counseling individuals and families on how to cope with communication disorders
  • Monitoring and evaluating an individual’s progress in speech or language

Speech-Language Pathologist Certifications & Licensure

Speech-language pathologists need to be certified and licensed at the state level in order to practice. This process is administered through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Specific eligibility requirements can vary from state to state, but generally include 400 hours of supervised clinical experience; 36 weeks of clinical practice; and a passing score on the Praxis exam. 

Speech-language pathologists may also pursue a certificate of clinical competence in speech-language pathology (CCC-SLP). While not required for licensure in all states, it may be required by some employers. Certifications and licenses need to be renewed through the completion of continuing education units (CEUs), with the precise number of hours needed varying from state to state. 

As mentioned above, do note that if a speech-language pathologist intends to work in a public school, they will need to obtain a state teaching certification. Details for this certification will vary based on location and are available on each state’s board of education website.

How Much Do Speech-Language Pathologists Make?

Speech-language pathologists enjoy a better-than-average earnings potential. According to the BLS (May 2020), there are 148,450 speech-language pathologists currently working in the US making an average wage of $83,240 annually. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $50,370
  • 25th percentile: $62,790
  • 50th percentile (median): $80,480
  • 75th percentile: $101,110
  • 90th percentile: $122,790

Speech-Language Pathologist Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a speech-language pathologist. 

Become a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help clients regain mobility. The loss of mobility can be due to injury, illness, stroke, accidents, or a job. They typically work one-on-one with patients providing hands-on therapy, utilizing equipment to increase flexibility and strength, and assigning at-home exercises. Care can be short-term for acute injuries or long-term for chronic conditions. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of physical therapy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Physical Therapist Specialties

Become an Exercise Physiologist 

Clients who need customized exercise plans will rely on exercise physiologists to prepare one for them. Exercise physiologists use specialized medical equipment to measure a client’s fitness and then discuss what the long-term goals are. They will then utilize their training to write a plan. Follow-up appointments are conducted to ensure clients are on track to meet their goals or to adjust plans as necessary. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) 

Become an Occupational Therapist

Musculoskeletal issues in patients are addressed and treated by occupational therapists. The end goal is to help patients be able to perform daily tasks with independence and proficiency. Often clients may suffer from a chronic condition such as Alzheimer’s, spina bifida, or a stroke. They can work closely with other professionals such as physical therapists or speech-language pathologists to provide well-rounded support to clients with multiple needs. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization:  National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)
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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