How to Become a Speech Pathologist

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by Juliann Scholl

Published on August 13, 2021 · Updated on April 26, 2022

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How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists diagnose, treat, and prevent communication and swallowing disorders in adults and childrens. Successful pathologists possess critical thinking skills, compassion, patience, and a desire to help others.

These professionals need a master's degree and a license to work in most states. Speech-language pathologists can find work in schools, hospitals, and offices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 162,600 jobs in this field in 2019.

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Speech-language pathologists, sometimes called "speech pathologists" and "speech therapists," diagnose and treat swallowing and communication difficulties in children and adults. These professionals also identify most causes of speech-related conditions.

Speech pathologists often work with individuals who have trouble with language and speech or who cannot speak at all.

Speech pathologists often work with individuals who have trouble with language and speech or who cannot speak at all. Other clients might have cognitive or social challenges that make speech or communication challenging. Speech pathologists address vocal rhythm problems, language comprehension difficulties, stuttering, and voice disorders.

Some speech-language pathologists teach clients how to make vocal sounds, increase vocal fluencies, and improve oral language skills. Some of these professionals also help people strengthen the muscles they use to speak and swallow. They may develop treatment plans that address clients' specific issues.

Speech pathologists must keep detailed records and billing information. They also track clients' progress and issues with treatment plans. Many of these professionals specialize in an age group or specific communication disorder. They typically work with physicians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.

Speech Pathologist Salary and Job Demand

Most speech-language pathologists obtain full-time employment. They can work in healthcare, education, skilled nursing facilities, and office settings with speech therapists and audiologists. Some professionals who work in education sometimes travel between two or more schools.

The BLS projects that jobs for speech pathologists will grow 25% between 2019 and 2029.

The BLS projects that employment for speech pathologists will grow 25% between 2019 and 2029 — much faster than the 4% average projected growth rate for all occupations. The demand for these professionals will likely increase due to the growing population of older adults.

According to the BLS, speech pathologists earned a median annual salary of $80,480 in 2020. A speech pathology salary can increase depending on location and setting. For instance, professionals working in nursing and residential care facilities earned a median salary of $95,010 in 2020, while those working in hospitals earned a median salary of $87,110.

Step by Step: How to Become a Speech Pathologist

To become a speech pathologist, learners must graduate from accredited undergraduate and graduate programs. Most programs include a graduate-level internship or fellowship.

After graduation, qualified candidates obtain a license based on state requirements. Many professionals pursue the speech-language pathology certificate of clinical competence (CCC-SLP).

Step 1: Complete a Relevant Undergraduate Program

Prospective students should look into an undergraduate degree in speech pathology or communication sciences and disorders (CSD). Students may pursue a degree in a related field like linguistics, psychology, or English. A bachelor's in CSD is the most common path to a speech pathologist master's degree.

Undergraduate students need coursework in human anatomy, linguistics, research methods, neuroscience, physics and acoustics, math, and statistics.

A bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders is the most common path to a speech pathologist master’s degree.

Aspiring speech pathologists must also develop critical thinking, intercultural competence, communication, and problem-solving skills. Learners must master the scientific method and evidence-based decision-making to ascertain sources of speech-language problems and determine proper treatment.

Students with a bachelor's who do not want to get a master's can pursue careers in healthcare, education, and public policy. Job candidates may be able to find employment as support personnel for audiologists or speech-language pathologists. Bachelor's degree-holders can also pursue jobs as community health workers, hearing aid specialists, and audiology or communication disorder research assistants.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree in Speech Language Pathology

Speech-language pathologists typically need a master's degree to work in their field. Most master's programs take two years to complete.

Through coursework and practicum experience, graduate students typically learn about speech and language development, speech disorders unique to specific age groups, and swallowing physiology. They also acquire skills in research methods and clinical service delivery. Prospective students might consider programs that provide study abroad opportunities and specialized clinical training.

Many speech pathologist programs offer concentrations in areas like autism spectrum disorders, aphasia, child language disorders, swallowing disorders, and fluency disorders.

To gain licensure in speech-language pathology, prospective students should make sure the program they enroll in holds the proper accreditation. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers accreditation through their Council on Academic Accreditation.

true Admission Requirements
  • Bachelor's degree in CSD or related field
  • Minimum 3.00 GPA
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Essay or biosketch
Typical Courses
  • Age-Specific Speech Disorders
  • Anatomy and Physiology of Speech
  • Communication Disorders
  • Communication Across the Lifespan
  • Neuroscience or Neuroanatomy
  • Auditory Rehabilitation
  • Phonetics
  • Speech and Language Development
  • Statistics
  • Swallowing Disorders

Step 3: Complete a Graduate-Level Fellowship or Internship

Some master's programs offer fellowships or internships. These experiences can prove beneficial, as the CCC-SLP requires a specific number of fellowship hours. Whereas internships usually apply to students currently taking courses, students who have already graduated typically take on fellowships.

Internships and fellowships help students gain practical experience in speech-language pathology under a certified speech-language pathologist's direct supervision. During this time, students can apply their course knowledge to real-life situations and fine-tune their skills. Some programs that prepare students for clinical careers require clinical practicum hours.

Step 4: Establish State Licensure

All states regulate speech-language pathologists, and most require these professionals to earn a license. States vary in licensure requirements. Pathologists who seek employment in schools might need a teaching license.

Licensure candidates need a master's degree from an accredited institution. They must also obtain supervised clinical work experience and pass an exam. Check with your state board for specific requirements.

Step 5: Consider Applying for Professional Certification

The CCC-SLP demonstrates the knowledge and skills required for speech-language pathologist positions. The credential satisfies some state licensure standards, and some employers also require it.

To earn the CCC-SLP, candidates must earn a graduate degree from an accredited institution and pass an exam. They must also complete a supervised fellowship under a certified speech-language pathologist, which typically lasts about 36 weeks. Professionals must take 30 hours of continuing education every three years to keep their CCC-SLP.

Professionals can get their specialty certifications from the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders, American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and the American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders.

Feature Image: fizkes / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

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