Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with all ages, from crawling babies to grown-ups with aging-associated diseases. They specialize in treating conditions that relate to speech, language, fluency, and even swallowing! Money-wise, it’s among the highest-paying jobs with an average of $77,000 per year.
Stating the steps on how to become a speech pathologist may vary between different states. However, the general requirements are similar. You’ll need to have a post-bachelor’s degree with a pre-licensure professional experience.
Steps To Become a Speech Pathologist
Step 1: Get an Undergraduate Degree in CSD (Optional)
Technically speaking, you can get a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) without a bachelor’s. However, getting a bachelor’s will eliminate the need for taking any prerequisites before the graduate studies. Plus, you’ll be more familiar with the needed topics, thereby making your mission a lot easier.
Undergraduate curriculums can slightly differ between colleges. Nevertheless, you’ll probably study the following courses:
- Social/behavioral, physical and biological sciences
- Normal language development
- Language disorders and phonology
- Anatomy of hearing and speech mechanisms
If possible, try to find an undergraduate program that engages the students in research activities. This experience will be more than helpful when you try to get your license.
Step 2: Get a CAA-Accredited Master’s Degree in SLP or CSD
Like I said earlier, you won’t be licensed to practice SLP without getting a graduate degree. To avoid getting disapproved, make sure the program you’ll pursue is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA).
Thankfully, you can find suitable programs in many colleges. Start searching in departments of public health, education, healthcare sciences, audiology, behavioral and communication sciences, etc. Here are some of the most common titles that you’ll probably find:
- MS Communicative Sciences and Disorders
- MS Speech-Language Pathology
- MS Communication Sciences and Disorders, specialization in speech-language pathology
The Clinical Requirements
Nearly all programs will offer supervised clinical trials with patients to help you apply the things you learned in an effective way. However, the actual hours vary between states.
For instance, Texas tops the list with a total of 400 hours. Pennsylvania and Illinois rank second with about 375 hours. Florida goes easy on its students with only 300 hours. Some states, like Arizona, follow the ASHA recommendation of 350 hours.
As stated earlier, you can get a master’s degree in SLP or CSD even if you have a bachelor’s in an unrelated major. But in that case, you must complete some prerequisite courses in order to get your degree.
Some colleges won’t admit you before completely passing their specified prerequisites. However, some will allow you to complete the outstanding prerequisites after getting admitted.
Either way, you’ll probably study the following:
- Biological science
- Physical science
- Behavioral science
- Social Science
Step 3: Complete a Post-Graduate Fellowship
To be prepared for the actual clinical practice, you have to complete a post-graduate fellowship from a licensed supervisor.
But before that, you’re required by law to get a temporary SLP license (aka limited or intern license) from your state’s board of speech-language pathology and audiology. These licenses usually last for one year, which is just a tad longer than most fellowship programs.
Just like the graduate studies, the required fellowship duration is determined by each state. Most of them ask for 1,260 hours with an average of 35 hours per week (36 weeks).
Step 4: Pass a National Exam in Speech-Language Pathology
To be eligible for state licensure, you’ll need to pass the Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology.
This test is exclusively organized by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). You’ll have to directly register with them in order to pick your favorite date and venue.
Since this test verifies your academic competency, you can take it anytime after getting your master’s. Generally speaking, most students take it during their fellowship programs.
According to the ASHA’s standards, you’ll need to get a score higher than 162 (out of 200) in order to be eligible for a license. However, your state may have a higher or lower baseline.
To guarantee the best score, it’s a good idea to check the Praxis SLP Study Companion.
Step 5: Get Your License
Here comes the moment you’ve worked so hard to reach! You’ll have to apply the following documents to the state’s board of speech-language pathology and audiology:
- Graduate degree transcripts (sent directly from your college)
- Praxis exam scores (sent directly from ETS)
- Results from a criminal background check
- Jurisprudence examination (according to the state)
- HIV/AIDS (according to the state)
- Application fee (variable)
As you may already know, license renewal requirements vary between states. Tennessee, for instance, will need you to complete 10 hours of continuing education to renew your license each year. California, on the other hand, asks for 24 hours with a two-year renewal period.
Step 6: National Certification
At this point, you can legally work as a speech and language pathologist within your state. But at some point in the career, almost all professionals seek a national certification for better chances in:
- Career advancement
- Salary supplements
- Professional credibility
- Job mobility
For this matter, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (AHSA) is the only legal institution capable of certifying you.
To qualify for their program, the Speech-Language Pathology Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP), you’ll need:
- A master’s or doctoral degree from a CAA-accredited institution
- A clinical fellowship of at least 36 weeks that is mentored by an ASHA-certified speech-language pathology professional
- To pass the Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology
- To pay a $461 fee for membership and certification
- To fill the official application
Certification and membership will be renewed every three years. To be eligible, you must get a minimum of 30 professional development hours.
To Sum Up
I hope I was able to explain how to become a speech pathologist in a clear, informative way. To sum up the process, you need three things to get your state’s license:
- A Graduate degree
- Fellowship program
- Praxis test
Getting an undergraduate degree isn’t mandatory, but it’ll cover all the required prerequisites, which should make the process easier.
If you want to expand your career options, you should pursue a national certification from AHSA.