Children learn to speak and articulate words quite early in their age. They learn from their parents, kindergarten teachers, and peers. They are constantly increasing their vocabulary and speaking skills as they grow up. However, some children and adults are not quite able to articulate words and they develop speech problems due to various genetic and environmental factors. Many of these speech problems are treatable, and to make them less prominent or completely cure them, people go to speech language pathologists.
Speech language pathology is a noble occupation and the people who practice it help others to reach their full speaking capabilities. For those who are interested in becoming Speech Language Pathologists, there is a clear cut educational and career path that they can follow to achieve their goals. We will go through a comprehensive guide on how to become a Speech Pathologist.
What is Speech Language Pathology?
The occupation of Speech Language Pathologist is a popular one. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecasted that job growth for this profession will increase by 21% from 2014 to 2024.
Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) or as they are more commonly known, Speech Therapists are those who diagnose and treat speech problems in children and adults. These are people who for some reason cannot speak fluently or clearly. They might have been born with different problems, or they might have acquired them later on in life.
The median annual wage for SLPs is $74,680, while it can go to over $100,000 depending on the employer.
People who have speech problems might have trouble swallowing, articulating words, aphasia, rhythm problems and so on. Speech Therapists work with them to prevent the development of these disorders or treat them. They most commonly work in schools, but they could also be involved in medical clinics, research labs, have private practices, or even go to clients’ homes to treat with them.
Speech Pathologist Requirements
Speech Language Pathologists need to go through certain educational paths and complete many requirements to be able to practice. Requirements change by country and state, so you should check about what your location requires for you to qualify as a practicing speech therapist.
The general qualification and educational plan for Speech Language Pathologists, however, includes the following:
- Bachelor’s Degree
- Accredited Masters Degree
- Practical Experience
- Standardized Exam
- SLP Certification
- SLP Licensing
In order to start your educational path towards becoming a Speech Language Pathologists, you need to have completed a Bachelor’s Degree. The degree does not necessarily have to be related to speech therapy, but it would be beneficial if it was.
If you are coming from a background which has nothing to do with Speech Therapy, you might be required to take introductory courses which qualify you to start your education in speech therapy. So all in all, a Bachelor’s Degree is a must have, but it could be in other fields rather than speech pathology.
Accredited Master’s Degree
You cannot become a Speech Language Pathology if you have not completed a Master’s Degree. Even if your Bachelor’s Degree is in Communication Sciences and Disorders, the degree which trains Speech Therapists, you cannot practice without a graduate degree.
A Master’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) is a two year full time program which qualifies you to go through the next step to become a speech pathologist. If you choose to complete the degree part time, or have to take introductory courses, the degree might take longer to complete.
During this program, students will follow a strict curriculum, which trains them in a variety of courses such as:
- Speech Anatomy and Physiology
- Speech Production
- Research Techniques
- Articulation and Phonology
- Neurological System
- Speech disorders such as aphasia, dysphagia, dysarthria, slurred speech etc.
Besides taking the required courses, students could also specialize in working with different speech disorders, or even types of clients, such as children or adults. In addition, they could dedicate their career to working in clinical settings and researching neurological or other potential causes of speech problems.
It is also helpful for students of speech pathology to have the ability to speak two or more languages. Bilingual students expand their client base if they can work with people who have speech problems in various languages, rather than just one.
To be eligible for applying to a CSD graduate program, which are highly competitive, students need the following:
- Proof of completion of a Bachelor’s Degree
- Minimum GPA of 3.0
- GRE scores
- Letters of Recommendation
- Statement of Purpose or Research Proposal
For your CSD Master’s Degree to qualify as your Speech Language Pathologist education, it is necessary to be accredited. Accreditation for this occupation is done through the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and their Council on Academic Accreditation.
So before you enroll in any SLP grad school, you should make sure that they are properly accredited, otherwise it will be a waste of effort and you won’t be able to find a job. In addition, ASHA is also the certifying authority for SLPs, so you will constantly have to fulfill their requirements.
To find accredited Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) as well as the procedures on how to apply and make your application stand out, you can visit the following resources:
- ETS Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
- Student’s Say: Craft a Stand-Out Application
- Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) Centralized Application Service (CSDCAS)
Besides the Speech Language Pathologist education and Master of Speech Pathology, students are also required to have specific hours of practical experience. After their required courses, they are enrolled in clinical fellowship programs.
Clinical Fellowships to become a certified SLP need to be 36 weeks long, or 1,260 hours. Students can choose to do the fellowships full time or part time, but they cannot work less than 5 hours per week.
During their practical experience, students work in medical clinics and with clients, all the while being supervised and evaluated by licensed Speech Therapists.
The clinical fellowship programs are only one of the requirements for ASHA to certify the student as a Speech Language Pathologist.
The PRAXIS exam is another requirement by ASHA in order to grant certifications to students who want to become Speech Language Pathologists. The test is standardized and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the same organization which compiles and administers the GRE and TOEFL tests.
The PRAXIS exam is necessary for both Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists.
It is composed of three parts such as:
- Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators (Core)
- Praxis Subject Assessments
- Praxis Content Knowledge for Teaching Assessments (CKT)
To get more information about this exam and access preparation materials and guides, you can visit the following websites:
Different states have different certification and licensing requirements, and in some places it is actually voluntary and not mandatory to be certified. However, for the places where you need to obtain certification and licensing, ASHA is the regulatory body for it.
Almost all of the 50 states in the US require certifications and licenses, and even in the states where it is not specified as mandatory, employers will still want proof of your qualifications and credentials, so you will need to complete all the steps that ASHA has in their guidelines.
The requirements for certification are as follows:
- Have an accredited degree by ASHA, more specifically the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology (CAA).
- The institution where you completed your degree needs to have demonstrated compliance with the Standards for Accreditation of Graduate Education Programs in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology.
- Obtain the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP). Sometimes the CCC-SLP is not required by the state, but employers may want to see proof of its completion.
- If you are interested in working in educational environments such as schools, you might also need a Teaching Certificate. You can find out whether you need this certification by checking with your state education board.
After you complete the certification, another requirement on how to become a speech pathologist, is obtaining your license. Licenses are regulated in 48 states in the United States and the District of Columbia. Each state has their own requirement, so you will have to check with the one that applies to you. This can be done on the Advanced Travel Therapy website.
For example, if you want to become licensed as an SLP in New York State, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) has the following requirements:
- Be of good moral character
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Meet education requirements
- Meet examination requirements
- Meet experience requirements
Following your certification and licensing as a Speech Language Pathologist, you can take the next steps to ensure that you are always on track with the latest SLP developments and that you have more career paths you can take.
Continuing Education Units (CEU)
ASHA, the accreditation and certification authority wants its SLPs to continuously get the skills and knowledge necessary to operate successfully. That is why in order to maintain their licenses and certification, Speech Language Pathologists might be required to complete continuing education units.
This requirement might change from state to state, so you should check for details with ASHA and your state licensing authority.
SLP Doctoral Degree
If you aspire to work in research and academics, then a PhD in Speech Language Pathology is necessary. PhD programs take around 3 to 5 years to complete and you will have to choose a particular concentration, such as:
- SLP Clinician
- Leader in Clinical Setting
- Clinical Educator/Administrator
- Collaborator and supporter of clinical research
As with any PhD program, you will be heavily involved in laboratory research. The program will assign you a mentor or you will have the possibility to choose one yourself. Your mentor will guide your research and give advice and feedback, and will help you on your way to completing your dissertation.
The dissertation will be the crowning achievement in your educational path to becoming a Speech Language Pathologist.