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Speech and language are our bridge 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 2019) forecasts openings in the profession will grow 27 percent between 2018 and 2028, a rate that’s nearly quadruple 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 a 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 a competitive undergraduate 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: NECH
- Tuition: $54,720 per year
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 framework of the clinician-researcher model, the program puts an emphasis on 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: CAA
- Tuition: $615
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: NCASC
- Tuition: $540 per credit
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 radius of the institution, the University of Akron accepts students from anywhere in the country.
- Location: Akron and Cincinnati, OH
- Duration: Three years
- Accreditation: CAA
- Tuition: $421 per credit (Akron); $640 per credit (Cincinnati)
How Long Does It Take to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist?
To become 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 varies 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 (2018), there are 146,900 speech-language pathologists currently working in the US, with the bottom 10 percent making $48,690 (or less) per year, the median making $77,510 per year, and the top 10 percent making $120,060 (or more) per year. The average wage of all speech-language pathologists is $80,700 annually.
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.