Do I Need a Degree? How to Become a Speech Pathologist

how to become a speech pathologist


Being able to effectively communicate may be important in many aspects of life. Those who face challenges in communication could thus have difficulty in areas such as education, work, and relationships. Speech pathologists help to bridge the gap for individuals facing speech and language challenges. Read on to learn how to become a speech pathologist, what they do, salary potential, and employment outlook.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Speech pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree to practice. While there is no specific bachelor’s degree required to enter a master’s program, institutions may require undergraduate coursework in biology, social science, or certain healthcare and related fields.

Speech pathologists also need to be licensed in all states. Requirements for licensing typically include a master’s degree, clinical experience, and passing an exam—however, requirements might vary by state.

They might also obtain certification, and some employers might require it. There are a number of certification options, including the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). Those who work in schools might also need teaching certification.

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Courses in a speech pathology master’s degree program

While curriculums may vary by institution, they often include coursework in:

  • Speech and language development
  • Communication disorders in adults
  • Communication disorders in children
  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • Stuttering and related disorders
  • Audiology
  • Dysphagia

How long does it take to become a speech pathologist?

Master’s degree programs typically take 2 years to complete. Some schools might offer a 3-year track for students who have no speech-language pathology pre-professional background.

What Is a Speech Pathologist?

A speech pathologist, also known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), is a healthcare professional who specializes in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of speech, voice, language, and swallowing disorders. Such disorders might be caused by medical conditions, such as a cleft palate or stroke, or result from developmental delays.

What does a speech pathologist do on the job?

Speech pathologists may narrow their focus by working with certain age groups or types of disorders. They might also conduct research. However, some typical responsibilities include:

  • Assessment: Speech pathologists evaluate individuals to identify communication and swallowing disorders. Assessment might involve evaluating speech, language, voice, fluency, and cognitive communication skills.
  • Treatment planning: Based on their assessment, develop individualized treatment plans tailored to the specific needs of their clients. Treatment goals may focus on improving speech clarity, language skills, voice quality, fluency, or swallowing function.
  • Therapy: Speech therapy involves direct intervention to help individuals improve their communication and swallowing abilities. This may include exercises, activities, and strategies to address speech sound production, language comprehension, expressive language skills, voice modulation, and more.
  • Collaboration: Speech pathologists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals, educators, and family members to provide comprehensive care. This interdisciplinary approach ensures a holistic understanding of the individual’s needs.
  • Education: Speech pathologists may provide education and training to individuals and their families on strategies to support communication and swallowing outside of therapy sessions.
  • Research: Some speech pathologists engage in research to advance the understanding of communication and swallowing disorders. Their research may contribute to the development of new therapeutic approaches and interventions.

Where do speech pathologists work?

Speech pathologists work in various settings, including schools, hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, and offices of physical, occupational & speech therapists, and audiologists. Some are self-employed. The greatest percentage are employed by educational services (42%), followed by offices (25%) and hospitals (14%).1

What skills do speech pathologists need?

Speech pathologists require a diverse set of skills to effectively assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with communication and swallowing disorders.

  • Communication skills: Speech pathologists need strong verbal and written communication skills to interact with clients, families, and other healthcare professionals. Clear communication could be essential for explaining assessment results, preparing treatment plans, and providing guidance.
  • Empathy and patience: Dealing with individuals facing communication challenges requires empathy and patience. Speech pathologists must understand the emotional aspects of their client’s experiences and provide support throughout the therapeutic process.
  • Listening skills: The ability to keenly observe and analyze speech and language behaviors is a key aspect of being a speech pathologist. They need to be able to identify subtle nuances in communication patterns to make accurate assessments and tailor interventions accordingly.
  • Critical thinking skills: Addressing communication and swallowing challenges often involves creative problem-solving. Speech pathologists must be able to adapt their approaches and find innovative solutions to meet their clients’ needs.
  • Detail-oriented: Managing caseloads, documentation, and scheduling requires strong organizational skills and the ability to pay attention to detail. Speech pathologists must keep accurate records and ensure timely communication with clients and other professionals.
how to become a speech pathologist

Are speech pathologists in demand?

In 2022, 171,400 speech pathologists were employed. This number is projected to grow to 204,500 in 2032, an increase of 19%—which is much faster than the average growth of all occupations.2

Demand may vary based on the type of employer and geography. As mentioned previously, the largest employer of speech pathologists is schools. The specific breakdown is as follows:1

  • Educational services; state, local, and private: 42%
  • Offices of physical, occupational & speech therapists, and audiologists: 25%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: 14%
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: 4%
  • Self-employed workers: 3%

The following states have the highest employment levels of speech-language pathologists:3

New York13,760

While these numbers correlate somewhat with population, Illinois and New York also have the highest concentration of jobs, along with Colorado, Vermont, and Arkansas.3

How much do speech pathologists make?

The median annual wage for all speech pathologists was $84,140 in 2022.4 However, salaries may vary based on the type of employer and geography.

The employers that paid the highest wages in 2022 were:4

  • Nursing and residential care facilities: $101,320
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private: $96,830
  • Offices of physical, occupational & speech therapists, and audiologists: $93,600
  • Educational services; state, local, and private: $77,310

Following are the top paying states for speech-language pathologists:3

StateAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia$105,360
New York$104,240
New Jersey$102,200

Speech Pathologist Assistant

If you’re interested in speech pathology but aren’t ready to commit to earning a master’s degree, you might consider pursuing a career as a speech pathologist assistant.

What is a speech pathologist assistant?

A speech pathologist assistant, also known as a speech-language pathologist assistant (SLPA), is a trained professional who works under the supervision of a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP) to provide support in the assessment and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders.

Their responsibilities might include:

  • Preparing for a session: SLPAs might set up the treatment room with any needed equipment or documentation.
  • Treatment assistance: SLPAs support the implementation of speech and language treatment plans developed by the supervising SLP. This may involve conducting therapy sessions, leading specific activities, and providing feedback to clients.
  • Administrative tasks: SLPAs typically assist in documenting clients’ progress, maintaining records, and preparing reports. Accurate and thorough documentation helps SLPs track outcomes.
  • Client education: SLPA may play a role in educating clients and their families on exercises and activities that could be done outside of therapy sessions to reinforce and generalize skills.

How to become a speech pathologist assistant

There are several educational paths you might take to work in this profession:

  • Earn an associate degree in an SLPA program
  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in related fields, such as communication sciences and disorders
  • After earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in any field, complete a program offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

Some states might require you to be licensed, so make sure to research the requirements in your state. While you don’t need to be certified to practice, earning certification might improve your chances of landing a job.


Speech pathologists help individuals facing communication and swallowing challenges cope with and overcome their disorder. As skilled professionals, they bring a unique blend of empathy, expertise, and therapeutic strategies to help clients overcome barriers and achieve improved functional communication. From assessing and diagnosing disorders to designing personalized treatment plans, speech pathologists contribute significantly to the well-being of diverse populations across various settings. Click below to learn more about your educational options.

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