What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist?

If you have exceptional listening and communication skills and the patience to help patients of all ages cope with speech disorders, there’s a rewarding career waiting for you in the healthcare industry. Speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat communication and swallowing disorders in patients of various ages who suffer from a wide range of conditions. To become a speech-language pathologist, you will need a graduate-level education.

The Fulfilling Work of a Speech-Language Pathologist

The use of language, both spoken and written, is an essential skill in our society. Yet countless conditions can compromise an individual’s language skills, including strokes, brain injuries, speech and hearing impairments, developmental delays and dyslexia. Speech-language pathologists are the healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat patients with communication and swallowing disorders. More than 40 percent of all speech-language pathologists work in a school setting, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Others work in private medical offices, hospitals and nursing homes.

A Master’s Degree and Beyond

Aspiring speech-language pathologists must earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. During your graduate education, you should expect to study age-specific speech disorders, swallowing disorders and alternative methods of communication, the BLS reported. The classroom education is only one part of your career preparation. You will also spend a good deal of time gaining real-world experience through supervised clinical practice.

After graduation, you will need to earn a license. Often, this requires a passing score on the Praxis exam. Speech-language pathologists can also seek certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which though voluntary, is considered a requirement for employment by many employers.

Choosing a Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Program

How do you know which speech-language pathology program is right for you? For one thing, you want to choose one of the more than 300 communication sciences and disorders programs accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. You should also research both graduation and Praxis exam rates to determine how successful a program’s graduates are, according to U.S. News & World Report. Other factors to consider when choosing a program include student-to-faculty ratio and the qualifications of your instructors.

Speech-language pathologists earn a median salary of $69,870 per year, according to the BLS. Like other professionals who make the major decision to pursue a career in the healthcare industry, they stand to earn upwards of $2.6 million over their work-lives. Opportunities in the field are growing at a faster than average rate, with the BLS predicting a 19 percent increase in speech-language pathologist jobs over just a decade. Factors including the low 1.2 percent unemployment rate have led U.S. News & World Report to rank the career second on its Best Social Services Jobs list and 30th on its 100 Best Jobs list. Of course, the work of making a difference in the lives of people struggling with communication and swallowing disorders is fulfilling in and of itself.

Ben Karleen

Brenda Rufener

Laura Kilmartin