How to Become a Speech Pathologist
A speech pathologist, also known as a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist, is someone who helps people overcome a range of communication and swallowing problems. These types of problems may be due to developmental delays; physical issues such as a cleft palate; or a range of medical issues including brain injuries, strokes, and hearing loss.
Speech pathologists work with patients to identify, treat, and even help prevent certain issues that make communication and swallowing difficult. They work in a variety of settings, including in educational institutions and for medical providers at the state, federal, or local level. This might include working in early education to help students overcome speech difficulties or working in a medical facility to help those with brain injuries learn how to communicate.
So, what exactly does a speech-language pathologist do? Below are a few examples of day-to-day tasks:
- Administer hearing or speech and language tests.
- Assess, diagnose, and treat communication and swallowing problems.
- Help patients overcome issues like speech and language delays.
- Assess and help treat cognitive-communicative disorders.
- Counsel and educate patients on communication and swallowing disorders.
- Help patients deal with fluency disorders, like stuttering.
The types of tasks for which a speech pathologist is responsible may vary based on the needs of the organization for which they work. Additionally, both the type of education and area of study may dictate the type of work a speech pathologist performs. For example, if you have a master’s degree and focus on swallowing disorders, your work may be different from someone who focuses on speech and language delays.
Be a Communicator and Advocate for Others
Being a speech pathologist can be a rewarding career because it allows you to help people who are struggling with fundamental abilities like communicating and swallowing. As with any career, it may be beneficial to understand the types of traits that can lead to success and reflect on whether they align with your personality, career goals, and communication style. This can also help ensure that you have greater satisfaction with your career as a speech pathologist.
Here are a few traits that may help you enjoy a successful career as a speech pathologist:
Strong communicator: To work as a speech pathologist, you need to have an enhanced understanding of the components of speech, including the physical process that enables it. However, on a personal level, it’s helpful to be a strong communicator who can deliver complex information — which may include difficult news and medical details — in a way that’s easy to understand. Since you’ll work in a professional setting, your job will also involve communicating with other professionals verbally and in writing.
Empathetic and concerned: Communication and swallowing problems often stem from difficult situations like brain injuries, disease processes, and development issues. As a speech pathologist, it’s beneficial to be able to understand the feelings of those you work with, which may often include negative emotions and stress.
Enthusiastic collaborator: Much of your work as a speech pathologist will involve working directly with patients. In many settings, you’ll also need to coordinate and communicate with other professionals to provide your patients with the best care possible. To be effective, it’s helpful to be good at creating and fostering both personal and professional relationships.
Analytical mind: Depending on your area of focus and where you work, you may need to analyze and solve difficult speech and swallowing problems. This includes the ability to apply your education and experience, think critically, and conduct research. It also involves problem solving in order to assess patients and create a treatment path that maximizes their recovery.
You generally need at least a master’s degree to become a speech pathologist. Every master’s degree program has its own requirements for admission, including which areas of undergraduate study are acceptable. For example, some may require you to have your bachelor’s in a directly related field such as communication sciences and disorders (CSD), speech-language pathology (SLP), or speech and hearing sciences. Others, however, may allow you to enter with an unrelated degree as long as you have coursework that is related to the fields of speech and communication.
It’s important to remember that the requirements to enter a master’s degree program are not universal and can vary widely. It is not uncommon for master’s programs that allow degrees from unrelated fields of study to require additional prerequisites to enter the program. To be sure you’re on the right path, check the requirements of the master’s degree program you want to pursue before making decisions about your undergraduate coursework.
Earn a Master’s in Speech Pathology
Earning your master’s in speech pathology will put you on the right track to become a speech pathologist. There are, however, a few different degree pathways that can help you reach your goal such as communication sciences and disorders (CSD), speech pathology, and speech-language pathology (SLP). To enter a master’s program, you may also be required to take the GRE exam, but this is not always needed.
Many master’s in speech pathology degree programs require you to complete a period of supervised clinical training. During the course of the program, you may also have the opportunity to specialize in specific areas like fluency, language development, or swallowing issues. You can achieve this by selecting a particular minor or by earning specialty certifications. This allows you to receive a deeper knowledge of areas you want to focus on once you start your career as a speech pathologist.
It’s beneficial to make sure you enroll in a speech pathology master’s program that’s accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA-ASHA). This is one way to help ensure that your education prepares you to work with patients and gets you ready for any required state certification or licensure exams. Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences offers a CAA-ASHA-accredited Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program online. Request more information on Baylor’s speech-language pathology program.
The purpose of a clinical fellowship is to provide students with real-world experience under the direct supervision of a seasoned professional. Students who complete a clinical fellowship receive mentored guidance and insight into what it means to work as a speech pathologist in the field. This period also acts as a time of transition between being a student and becoming a professional who is ready to practice independently.
A clinical fellowship may start when all of your academic work is complete but could also be allowed as you near completion, depending on the program. During the course of your clinical fellowship, you will gain hands-on experience with the types of activities you will be responsible for once you start your career. These may include the following:
- performing assessments on patients to determine their needs
- performing diagnostic evaluations
- creating treatment plans
- providing treatment for a range of issues
- writing reports, notes, and other required documentation
- working with other providers to manage patient care
The successful completion of the clinical fellowship is required to receive certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) as an SLP.
Complete the Praxis Exam
The Praxis exam in speech-language pathology is a national test that is typically required to become certified in speech-language pathology. It is commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and facilitated by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). You are required to pass it to receive ASHA certification, and some states also require you to have it in order to be certified or licensed in the state. Some states may require applicants to complete additional examinations; be sure to check with your state board for more information.
Praxis tests are given via computer but may be available through other formats for those who need special accommodations. The Praxis for SLPs consists of 132 questions over key areas covered in an SLP degree program. You have 150 minutes to complete the exam.
When selecting a speech pathology degree program, you will want to look at their Praxis success rates. Graduates from the last three years of the on-campus and online SLP programs at Baylor University have a 97 percent Praxis pass rate. High pass rates can be an indication of a rigorous program that prepares students for success in the field of speech pathology.
Apply for a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology
Obtaining a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology is a voluntary process; however, it can help streamline the licensure process for applicants and may be required to apply for licensure in some states. The first step to apply for a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology is to graduate from a degree program that is accredited by CAA-ASHA. You must have successfully completed all coursework and any required fellowship or clinical practicum to be eligible. You must also have confirmation from your degree’s program director that all requirements have been met.
Additionally, you’ll be required to become a member of ASHA and submit the following information and documentation:
- passing Praxis exam scores, which must be sent to ASHA directly from ETS
- your official graduate transcript which verifies the date and degree you were awarded
- Speech-Language Pathology Clinical Fellowship (SLPCF) Report and Rating Form report
- disclosure documents, if necessary
Once you have completed all requirements and are deemed eligible, you can apply and pay for a certificate of membership.
Apply for Licensure
In order to practice as a speech language pathologist, you will need to apply for a license in your state. It is best practice to check with your state board about licensure requirements, as there may be additional state-specific steps you must meet.
Applicants who wish to practice in a school setting must coordinate their licensure and approval efforts with the state or local departments of education, should requirements differ.
Please note: Individual state requirements will vary and are subject to change, including licensure standards, exam eligibility, and appropriate pathways, and may differ based on individual student backgrounds. Students should do their own due diligence and determine the appropriate pathway and license type for themselves.
Start Your Career in Speech Pathology
Speech and language pathology is a growing field that is likely to offer qualified professionals many opportunities in the coming years. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow around 29 percent from 2020 to 2030. This above-average growth indicates that there should continue to be plenty of opportunities for years to come. So while there are numerous steps to becoming a speech pathologist, this degree path may provide you with a solid base for starting a rewarding career.
Learn more about careers in speech pathology.
Last updated November 2021