A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a trained professional who works to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults. SLPs work in many different research, education, and health care settings with varying roles, levels of responsibility, and client populations.
Entering the field requires academic and clinical coursework and the successful completion of a master’s degree at an institution accredited by the American Speech-Hearing Association (ASHA). Here’s what the path to a career as a speech-language pathologist can look like.
1. Know Yourself
Before you even ask how to become a speech-language pathologist, the first question is whether you have the right interests and skills to enter this field. SLPs must be able to perform a set of Essential Functions, which include strong communication abilities as well as motor skills, intellectual and cognitive skills, professional behavior and social abilities, and sensory and observational skills. You must also have the desire to be an advocate for persons with communication disorders.
2. Start with a Bachelor’s Degree
Ideally, you’d begin the journey with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders or a related field. But if you already have a bachelor’s degree in something else, that’s okay. You don’t have to have a specific degree in order to move on to your master’s degree in this field; it’s really all about having the key prerequisite courses.
Start by researching the master’s programs you’re interested in and comparing their prerequisites to courses you may have already taken. You may need to go back and take classes, but you won’t need to go back for a whole new degree. Many universities offer a sequence of prerequisite courses that can be taken over a one to two year period. You’ll also need to observe 25 clinical hours with a certified SLP.
3. Earn Your Master’s Degree
The next step in how to become a speech-language pathologist is to earn a master’s degree in SLP. Here, you’ll gain in-depth knowledge of the principles and methods of prevention, assessment, and intervention for people with communication and swallowing disorders—in other words, the fundamental skills that you’ll need to be a clinician. You’ll complete academic and clinical coursework and also acquire 375 clinical hours working directly with clients.
Make sure to look for a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). There are currently 265 CAA-accredited programs in the United States, including Loyola’s graduate program in speech-language pathology, where our mission is for you to become an effective and compassionate advocate for persons with communication disorders. Check out our F.A.Q. to learn more about what we offer.
5. Complete a Clinical Fellowship
Once you graduate with your master’s degree, you’ll start your first job, called a clinical fellowship. This one-year position is the transition period between being a student and becoming an independent clinician. During the fellowship, you’ll be mentored by a certified SLP in order to develop and refine your knowledge and skills.
6. Rock the Praxis Exam
To become certified in speech-language pathology, you must pass the Praxis exam. This is a requirement for obtaining the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).
When choosing a master’s program, you may want to look at how many of their students successfully pass the Praxis exam each year. At Loyola, our graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016 have all had a 100% pass rate – check out our student outcome data.
7. Obtain a Certificate of Clinical Competence
After successfully completing a master’s degree, passing the Praxis exam, and completing your clinical fellowship, you’ll apply for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). This certification is required to work in the field. If you plan to work in a school, you’ll need to apply for state licensure as well.
8. And You’re Done! Well, Almost.
After all the classroom education, clinical training, tests, tests, and more tests, you finally have your certification and are ready to score one of those speech-language pathology jobs! But once you’re working, you have to keep your license and certification up-to-date, and that means taking a number of continuing education units (CEUs) throughout your career.
How many? That’ll depend on the state where you work. But don’t worry—CEU’s can be fun, and are always a good way to stay current with industry trends.