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How to Become a Speech Language Pathologist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for speech language pathologists. Get the facts about degree requirements, licensure, salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Does A Speech-Language Pathologist Do?

Speech-language pathologists are also known as speech therapists. They work with individuals to diagnose, treat and prevent speech and swallowing disorders. They will evaluate a patient, discuss treatment options, and then may conduct treatment. In some cases they may teach patients how to produce specific sounds and improve their speech. They may also teach patients exercises that are designed to strengthen the muscles that they use to swallow. Speech-language pathologists will also work with the families of their clients and provide information about their disorder and steps they can take to cope with the impact of the disorder. Some of the places they may work include educational settings, hospitals and nursing facilities.

Degree Requirements Master's degree
Education Field of Study Speech language pathology
Key Skills Speaking, listening, patience, compassion
Licensure Most states require speech language pathologists to be licensed
Job Growth (2018-2028) 27%*
Median Salary (2018) $77,510*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Speech Language Pathologist?

If you work as a speech language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist, you'll diagnose speech disorders and implement treatment plans for people who stutter or for those who have problems with pitch, pronunciation or language comprehension. You'll learn how such disorders can occur as a result of learning disabilities, cleft palates, cerebral palsy, stroke or other reasons.

Step 1: Understand This Occupation

Your main objective as a speech language pathologist is to help patients communicate or swallow more effectively. To properly evaluate patients, you'll gather medical information and administer tests for language and hearing. You'll develop treatment plans that may involve utilizing specialized instruments or developing personalized therapy. Speech language pathologists sometimes incorporate alternative methods of communication such as sign language.

For patients with difficulty swallowing, you may recommend muscle strengthening exercises. You may also help a patient undergo swallowing therapy, which may include neuromuscular stimulation.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

A master's degree is required to work as a speech language pathologist. For your undergraduate degree, you may want to consider a major in communication sciences and disorders, speech and hearing science or American Sign Language.

In these programs, you'll learn about human language function and development, hearing science, phonetics, speech and language development and sign language. Your program may also provide opportunities for internships that will allow you to observe professionals and gain clinical experience.

Step 3: Pursue a Master's Degree

Many graduate programs in speech language pathology are accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation, which is part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In most cases, graduation from such a council- accredited program is a requirement to obtain a state license.

Your graduate coursework will include classes such as linguistics, psychology, early childhood language disorders, advanced diagnostic procedures and rehabilitative audiology. If you plan to work as a researcher or scholar, you may want to consider obtaining a doctorate degree in speech or language pathology.

Step 4: Obtain a State License

Obtaining a state license as a speech language pathologist means you'll need to fulfill several requirements, according to the BLS. You'll need to pass the Praxis Series of the Educational Testing Service, which administers a national examination. You'll also need to amass up to 375 hours of supervised clinical work experience and obtain at least nine months of professional postgraduate experience.

If you'd like to work as a speech pathologist at a school, you may also need to earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), which is awarded by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. This credential requires completion of a postgraduate fellowship, 400 hours of supervised clinical practice and a passing score on the Praxis Series test. Speech language pathologists are often required to participate in continuing education courses to renew their licenses.

Step 5: Seek Advancement Opportunities

Years of experience as a speech language pathologist may lead to advancement opportunities, including supervisory or mentoring positions. You can become a specialist in an area of speech therapy by taking professional continuing education courses. This will allow you to work closely with specific groups of patients, such as children or individuals with learning disorders.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Audiologists work with individuals who may be suffering from hearing loss and balance issues. They are normally required to have a doctoral degree. Speech-language pathologists often work in conjunction with physical therapists and occupational therapists. Physical therapists work with individuals who need to improve their mobility. Like audiologists, they need a doctoral degree. Occupational therapists need a master's degree, and work with individuals who are injured, disabled or ill and need to learn or relearn skills needed for everyday tasks. These roles are comparable to that of a speech-language pathologist because the patients may have similar issues affecting their abilities, such as a disability or injury, and like speech-language pathologists they must assess the patient, diagnose, and initiate a treatment plan to address their specific needs.