How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Advice for Individuals Interested in becoming Speech Pathologist

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

The first step to become a speech pathologist is a good graduate program. Speech pathology graduate programs train students to pursue careers in the field of speech pathology. Speech pathology is a field in which professionals work with individuals of all ages to diagnose, evaluate, and address communication and swallowing disorders.
Speech pathologists fill numerous roles. They work as managers, assistants, or service providers; they work for primary, secondary, or collegiate schools as program directors, supervisors or educators; they work as researchers or scientists; they work as or curriculum designers or evaluators; disorder advocates; and more.

Speech pathologists might work for public or private agencies in settings such as:

  • hospitals, clinics, health departments, and short and long-term nursing and rehabilitation facilities
  • public and private schools, colleges, and universities
  • research and development facilities
  • daycare centers for both children and adults
  • government agencies and centers for people with disabilities
  • private-practice offices

To become a speech pathologist you must obtain graduate-level education and clinical experience, and pass a national examination in order to be certified by the Council for Clinical Certification (through ASHA). Read below to learn how to pursue becoming a speech pathologist.

Accepted Majorsto Become a Speech Pathologist

While professionals in the field are required to have a graduate-level degree from a speech pathology program, they are not necessarily required to have a baccalaureate degree connected to speech pathology. However, students who don’t have an undergraduate degree in speech pathology are often required to complete speech pathologist prerequisites prior to enrolling in a speech pathology program.

If you are just beginning your college-level education, and already know you want to pursue a speech pathology graduate degree to become a speech pathologist, consider looking for a school offering both undergraduate and graduate courses in speech pathology. For more convenience and accessibility, consider trying online speech pathology programs. If you are in the process of earning your undergraduate degree, and have already completed the majority of your program without majoring in or emphasizing speech pathology, consider focusing your remaining coursework on fulfilling speech pathologist prerequisites required for graduate level programs.

If you are currently applying to speech pathology programs, consider that ASHA requires individuals complete graduate level speech pathology programs focused on one of the following subjects in order to earn the organizations Certificate of Clinical Competence:

  • audiology
  • speech-language pathology
  • speech, language, and hearing science
  • an allied discipline such as communicative disorders or communication sciences and disorders

One or more of these specialties are typically offered through graduate-level speech pathology programs. For a current list of ASHA requirements, please go to ASHA.org.

Undergraduate Courses for future Speech Pathologists

If you want to become a speech pathologist and are currently earning your undergraduate degree, you may consider focusing on completing coursework in:

  • Physical Sciences: anatomy, biology, and physiology
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences: psychology, human development, and sociology

Complimentary subjects include linguistics, phonetics, semantics, and mathematics.

If you are attending a school that has an undergraduate speech pathology program or a related subject such as communication sciences and disorders, you may consider choosing the program as your major. Also, if you have already selected a graduate program, contact the school to find out the required as prerequisites for their graduate speech pathology program.

Complimentary Minors for future Speech Pathologists

Students who are majoring in speech pathology might consider a minor or emphasis in any of the subjects commonly covered in graduate-level speech pathology programs. Such subjects include but are not limited to physiology, biology, psychology, audiology, and technology. Students might also consider supplementing their speech pathology by earning a teacher’s license, obtaining ESL certification, or completing coursework that prepares them to work in an urban or rural setting or with a particular population.

Graduate-Level Courses for Speech Pathology Programs

Speech pathology graduate programs include courses in many subjects, including:

  • physiology
  • electrophysiology
  • auditory processing
  • speech (articulation and phonology), language, literacy, and fluency
  • audiologic assessment and (re)habilitation and psychoacoustics
  • hearing, hearing aids, and assistive listening technology
  • implants (brainstem and cochlear)
  • augmentative and alternative communication
  • learning disabilities and autism

Many programs offer these subjects and allow students to specialize or focus in various areas such as infant, child, adult, or elderly evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment; multicultural or bilingual evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment; and academic or clinical research and application.

Each speech pathology program may require different prerequisite work. Contact the programs of your choice and design your pre-graduate work accordingly. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree, and have not met the required prerequisites, you should probably plan on taking the prerequisite courses prior to entering the graduate program.

Graduate School Requirements for Speech Pathology Programs

Speech pathology programs are highly competitive. Most graduate schools offering speech pathology programs require students to have a minimum 3.5 grade point average. They must also pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with scores above 400 in Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning, and scores above 4.0 for Analytical Writing. These requirements vary by institute, so be sure to inquire of each institute’s GPA and GRE requirements. In many cases students will also be required to have completed pre requisite courses, and demonstrate a serious interest in the field.

The website of the American Speech Language Hearing Association has this to say about admission to speech language graduate programs: "[a]dmission to graduate school is competitive but keep in mind that many programs must turn away well qualified students because the programs do not have the capacity to accept all qualified students." (www.asha.org).

ASHA's study of admission rates for the 2009-2010 academic year yielded the following data:

  • Number of Speech Language Pathology Master’s Programs: 264
  • Number of SLP Programs Responding to Survey: 235
  • Number of Applications: 37,067
  • Number Approved for Admission: 11,789

enrollment rates on how to become a speech pathologist
The same data set also shows statistics for speech language pathology Ph.D. programs; application rates are significantly lower. Therefore, a limited number of students are obtaining Ph.D.s in this particular field of study, leading to a lack of qualified professors at the graduate level. This in turn limits the number of students that can be accepted into graduate programs.

If you’re set on pursuing speech pathology as a career, your best bet for admission to a graduate program is to build the best application possible. That means excelling in your coursework, as well as earning a high GPA and high GRE scores. Great letters of recommendation, in addition to relevant work or volunteer experience, could also enhance your resume and help you to stand out as a candidate.

Volunteer and Internship Opportunities for Speech Pathologists

It is wise to gain as much administrative and clinical experience as possible during your undergraduate and graduate career. Check with your graduate school to see if it has a committee or association devoted to placing students in speech pathology internships. Also check with local employment offices and agencies offering career services in your field appropriate to your level of education and experience. Speech and language pathology jobs have been growing at a healthy rate. Research practicing speech pathologists in your local area to contact them regarding opportunities for shadowing. Purusing an internship or job in your field is a great way to earn money doing something meaningful, gain experience in your field, and “scout” a location for your clinical.

So do you still want to become a speech pathologist? The pursuit of becoming a speech pathologist requires passion and some advanced planning. Focus on your academic and professional development to get into a great speech pathology program.

Browse Speech and Language Pathology Masters Programs

Find Schools