shutterstock 624961010There is no question that the gift of language is a precious commodity for most of us. The ability to communicate with those we love, make ourselves heard and understood, and work with others is a gift, and it is often language that gives us some of the best means in which to do these things.

A career in speech therapy is going to give you the sweet privilege of being a part of enabling or bettering language in the lives of others. And while there are many paths to becoming a speech therapist, there are some common educational choices one can make if this is the career they desire. If you are still in the process of choosing a direction for your bachelor’s degree, then there are a few different paths worth considering as you work towards your goals.

As you do your research on educational choices and potential careers, know that the terms speech therapist and speech pathologist are often used interchangeably. Speech language pathologist, particularly as the acronym SLP, is also frequently used. Most often, all of these terms are synonymous.

Path to a Speech Therapist Career

The following is a brief overview of the complete educational (and clinical) path to a career as an SLP.

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: There are a variety of bachelor’s degrees that are appropriate for a career as an SLP. They are discussed in further detail below.
  2. Master’s Degree/Doctoral Degree: This degree has to be accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). Currently, the CAA accredits 262 master’s programs (and 22 candidate programs) and 74 doctorate programs (and 3 candidate programs).
  3. Clinical experience: A supervised clinical experience is part of all SLP students’ education. This includes at least 400 hours of supervised clinical practice.
  4. Clinical Fellowship: This season of education is typically referred to as a clinical fellowship year (CFY). This year includes 1260 hours of clinical practice.
  5. Praxis Exam: This is an SLP’s certification exam. A passing score is required for American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) certification and state licensing.

There are additional considerations that individual SLPs will need to make. These will be dependent on the state of practice, the job setting, and hiring requirements. Pay special attention to the requirements of the state you want to practice in, as you may need additional certifications or competencies.

Important Educational Considerations

Because there is no specific degree required for entry into SLP master’s programs, it can be difficult to decide which track to take. Regardless of your undergraduate choice, pay attention to the required coursework of the bachelor’s program you have chosen, as well as the requirements of any master’s programs you are interested in. If you have (or choose to pursue) a bachelor’s degree that is not directly related to speech and language pathology, you may have some additional prerequisites that you will need to complete before you can apply to MS programs.

Most SLP masters’ programs are going to require prerequisite work in biological sciences, physical sciences, statistics, social sciences and behavioral sciences. Visit ASHA’s page here for clarification on appropriate prerequisites.

 Bachelor’s Degrees for a Career in Speech Pathology

Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

An undergraduate CSD degree is the most common path for those who desire to be an SLP. This degree is directly applicable to a career in communication. Coursework will cover the full spectrum of both physical and neurological speech and language disorders. Students will also explore the medical and physiological causes of disorders as well as the affects of environment and psychology on different conditions. A CSD bachelor’s degree should fully prepare a student for MS program applications, without the need for any additional prerequisites or work.

Speech and Hearing Sciences

This degree program is going to look and feel similar to a CSD program. Students will study the normal parts of the communication process, including the anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing, speech and language development and production, and the physical and scientific aspects of speech mechanisms and disorders. Students who complete this degree program should be adequately prepared for MS program application.

Communication

Typically, those desiring a career in media, broadcasting, marketing, journalism, or public relations pursue a bachelor’s degree in communication. However, a bachelor’s in communication program is going to focus extensively on the art and science of language, working to teach the student the rules and social structures that we use to convey, receive, and interpret meaning via language. Students who choose an undergraduate degree in communication will likely need to fulfill many masters’ requirements via their elective courses.

Education

It is not uncommon for education to be a significant part of an SLP’s career. In 2018, 40% of SLPs practiced within a state, private, or local educational setting (like a school), so those who have learned to teach and educate often find the transition between teaching and SLP work relatively seamless. Students who choose to pursue a bachelor’s in education are going to need to make sure that they are choosing elective courses that fulfill the prerequisite requirements for SLP master’s programs.

Nursing

Though not as common of a choice, students can make the transition from a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) to SLP education. A BSN education is going to cover a large majority of the required prerequisite courses. Nursing students will also be able to use their initial two years of BSN education to choose the appropriate elective courses to ensure that SLP prerequisites are going to be met upon graduation.

The Way Forward

Perhaps one of the best things about today’s educational structure is that there is (nearly) always a path to the career you desire. For those who want to be an SLP, there are a variety of tracks and educational choices that can help lead you to that goal. As you make your choices and move forward, pay attention to the requirements of your next step(s). This should help ensure that you make the right choices for your life, your time, and your finances.

Laura Mansfield

Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) | Sacred Heart University

Associate’s Degree of Nursing (ADN) | North Seattle Community College

Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.), Marketing, Sales | University of Washington (Seattle)

January 2020

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