Speech-language pathologists (SLP) are in demand to diagnose and treat a wide range of communication disorders and conditions in patients of all ages. Working with individuals to improve their ability to communicate is a rewarding and empowering role, and it starts with the right education.
If you’re considering a career in this field, finding and completing a reputable speech therapy master’s degree program is necessary to obtain SLP licensure.1 We’ll take a look at several factors to help you choose a speech-language pathology program that’s right for you.
How to Become a Speech Pathologist
Before you print your business cards, you’ll need to complete the educational and licensure requirements to work as a certified SLP:
- Step One: Bachelor’s degree – To be a certified speech pathologist, a bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) or speech-language pathology (SLP) is recommended.
- Step Two: Prerequisites – If you earned an undergraduate degree in another science field, you’ll likely need to complete specific prerequisite courses. If your bachelor’s was in liberal arts or other non-science degrees, you might also need to complete general undergraduate science coursework.3 Learn how these leveling courses can prepare you for the next step in your journey toward becoming an SLP.
- Step Three: Master’s degree – Successful completion of a speech-language pathologist master’s degree program is the next step. Depending on the school, speech-language pathology programs may be structured as a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS) or Master of Education (MEd), and the degree title may be different, such as communicative sciences and disorders rather than speech-language pathology.4
- Step Four: Praxis exam – Next, you’ll need to pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology, developed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Even states that do not explicitly require a CCC-SLP certification still look for a passing Praxis exam score.5
- Step Five: Certification – Depending on where you practice, you may need to hold the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) to obtain a license. While not required in every state, it’s still considered the top credential for practicing speech-language pathologists.6
- Step Six: State licensure – Finally, you’ll need to apply for and receive a license in your state of practice. State board requirements differ. Depending on location, you may need to either be certified via the CCC-SLP or meet qualifications similar to the CCC-SLP requirements.7
Elements of a Successful MS-SLP Program
Earning a graduate degree is a challenge and an investment that equips you with knowledge, expertise, and professional opportunities.
To choose the right speech-language pathology program for you, look for the following qualifications:
When selecting an academic program, ensure the institution is properly accredited.
An MS-SLP program receives academic accreditation by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of ASHA.8
#2: Program Completion Rates
One measurement of an academic program is its completion rate. A high rate indicates that the coursework is effective.9 It also reveals that the program:
- Used wise decision-making to determine who was accepted
- Offered structure and guidance to facilitate graduate student involvement
- Developed cohesive goals and cooperation between instructors and leadership
#3: Praxis Exam Pass Rates
After your last university final is turned in, you’re still not quite done. For many healthcare professions, you need to pass an exam that measures your readiness to enter the field as a practitioner.
With the right program behind you, you and your fellow graduate students will be well-prepared to pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology.
#4: Employment Rates
One of the most practical measurements of a graduate program’s success is if it leads to job placement for its graduates.11 This helps to measure:
- The rigor of clinical preparation coursework and a variety of hands-on skills training
- Reputation of the graduate school and program
- The practicality of student career guidance and other program elements
#5: Student Support and Engagement
To achieve higher student achievement, schools should create opportunities to support graduate student needs and engagement. Look for programs that include:
- Career development networking and events
- A cohort structure that enhances peer collaboration and support
- Self-care and counseling services
- Social and community service events and celebrations
- Effective technology that facilitates access, contact, and connection
- Individual or group tutoring
- Faculty mentorship opportunities
- Writing and editing services for academic projects and employment preparation
#6: Clinical Practicum Hours
A good way to consider program standards is to look at the requirements of the related professional certification—in this case, the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).
Per the CCC-SLP, you should complete a supervised clinical practicum totaling 400 clock hours within a graduate program.12
#7: Simulation and Clinical Practicum Types
You’ll also want to investigate the type of practicums offered by the MS-SLP program. Clinical simulation provides prospective students with opportunities to learn core SLP concepts, practice professional and clinical skills and apply critical thinking when working with clients.13
Depending on the program, clinical time may include the following:
- Addressing diverse patient needs, conditions, and disorders
- Conducting patient consultations on speech, language, and swallowing considerations
- Caring for patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly
- Managing EdTech tools, including the use of tables
- Using medical equipment, including oral endoscopes and nasopharyngoscopes
#9: Hybrid Flexibility
Although you’ll need to complete clinical immersion and practicum in person, many programs provide some or all of the didactic coursework online. Look for synchronous courses to allow for scheduling flexibility.
#10: Interprofessional Opportunities
Speech pathology schooling doesn’t work in a vacuum—you’ll often be part of a patient’s interdisciplinary team, working alongside occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs) and other specialists.
Look for an MS-SLP program that incorporates this approach into simulation and practicum coursework in order to:
- Work together on patient plans
- Communicate on overlapping goals, activities, and monitoring
- Develop timelines that are realistic across the patient’s overall needs
#11: Admission Requirements
Programs differ in terms of admission requirements. Many universities or states require:16
- GRE or other graduate preparatory test scores
- Specific undergraduate programs
- Limit on the number of years since prerequisite coursework was completed
- A 3.0–4.0 GPA
There are also programs that don’t require test scores and offer more flexibility. Look for programs that align with your background and experience.
#12: Travel Experiences
Some programs offer out-of-the-country experiences through mission work, exchange programs or specialty tracks.
If you want to work with orofacial reconstruction, communication issues of foreign-born adoptees or patients with complex swallowing or speech difficulties due to HIV/AIDS, consider a program with a travel component.
The demand for speech-language pathologists is expected to grow 21% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.17
Compared to the 5% average growth rate across all occupations, speech-language pathology is a promising career.18
The SLP expected growth rate is calculated based on the 159,800 SLP jobs in 2021, leading to 193,800 jobs expected in 2031—about 14,000 job openings per year.19
Reasons for the expected growth may include:
- Higher instances of strokes and dementia due to aging baby boomers
- Increased awareness and treatment of children for conditions such as stuttering
- Growing need to treat communication and socialization in children with autism
- Higher survival rates of trauma, strokes, and premature birth due to medical advances
The Right Program for You
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of ASHA.
Our immersive and hybrid MS-SLP program is primarily online, supplemented by four on-campus residencies of clinical skills training at the USAHS Austin or Dallas campuses. There are three intakes per year—choose to begin in September, January or May. You’ll join a collaborative peer cohort that studies alongside expert faculty-practitioners and receive hands-on training in the treatment of patients across the lifespan.
Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree, but if you received a health science degree in a field other than CSD or speech-language pathology, we offer SLP leveling courses to help you catch up on prerequisites.
- “Speech Language Pathologist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm
- “Prerequisite Course Content Areas Related to SLP Certification Standards,” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, last modified 2017, https://www.asha.org/certification/course-content-areas-for-slp-standards/
- “Planning Your Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders,” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, last modified 2015, https://www.asha.org/students/planning-your-education-in-csd/
- “Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology: What to Expect,” SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org, n.d., https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/masters-in-speech-language-pathology/
- “State Licensure for Speech Language Pathology: What to Know,” SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org, n.d., https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/state-licensing-overview/
- “2020 Standards and Implementation Procedures for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology,” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, last modified 2020, https://www.asha.org/certification/2020-slp-certification-standards/
- “Calculating Program Completion Rates,” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, last modified 2017, https://caa.asha.org/ask-the-caa/calculating-program-completion-rates/
- “The Best Accredited SLP Master’s Programs for 2022,” SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org, last modified 2022, https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/top-slp-masters-programs/
- “Student’s Guide To Choosing A Graduate Program,” Go Grad, last modified 2022, https://www.gograd.org/resources/choosing-graduate-program/
- “Speech Pathologist Certification (CCC-SLP) Exam & Requirements,” SpeechPathologyGraduatePrograms.org, n.d., https://www.speechpathologygraduateprograms.org/speech-language-pathology-certification/
- “Certification Standards for Speech-Language Pathology Frequently Asked Questions: Clinical Simulation,” American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, n.d., https://www.asha.org/certification/certification-standards-for-slp-clinical-simulation/
- “Farran Powell, Emma Kerr, and Sarah Wood, “Understanding Financial Aid for College: A Guide,” U.S. News, last modified 2022, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/an-ultimate-guide-to-understanding-college-financial-aid
- “Data At-A-Glance for Speech-Language Pathology Master’s Programs for Academic Year 2020–2021,” CSD Education Survey, last modified 2021, https://www.asha.org/siteassets/surveys/csd-data-at-a-glance-for-slp-masters-programs.pdf.
- “Speech-Language Pathologists,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified September 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm
- Madison Hoff, “20 jobs of the future that will take off when the pandemic is finally over,” Business Insider, last modified 2021, https://www.businessinsider.com/jobs-expected-to-grow-the-most-future-employment-projections-salaries-2021-9