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How to Become a Speech Pathologist

A speech-language pathologist practices sounding out the letter “S” with a child.

One of the major motion picture releases of 2010, The King’s Speech, starred Colin Firth as the soon to be British monarch King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist Lionel Logue. The film dramatized the relationship between the two as Logue helped George VI––then known as Albert––work through a debilitating stutter before he ascended to the throne in 1936. And it showcased the early days of a job now known as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and highlighted the invaluable assistance an SLP can provide a patient. But SLPs do far more than treat speech impediments; they’re able to handle a wide variety of speech, mouth, and tongue disorders brought on by various causes. And SLPs play an extremely useful role in the modern education system.

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

SLPs treat a wide variety of disorders that affect how people speak and process language. They work with patients of all ages and ability levels, in settings that include schools, hospitals, and private practices. Like Logue and his royal patient, SLPs typically work one-on-one with individuals over a number of sessions, using exercises and tools to achieve treatment goals.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), disorders and communication concerns that SLPs treat and manage include feeding and swallowing disorders (dysphagia), speech disorders (such as stuttering), language disorders, literacy issues, autism-spectrum communication disorders, stroke and traumatic brain injury recovery, and more. Their skills often translate to creating success in classroom learning environments by assisting with social and cognitive communication disorders, such as difficulties with paying attention or following accepted storytelling conventions.

Speech pathologists treat patients by first assessing their condition and then establishing a course of treatment. This might include language intervention through play (for young children), articulation therapy (which may include physical demonstration of how to make sounds, as well as repetition for practice), or oral-motor or swallowing therapy.

Discover the Steps to Become a Speech Pathologist

Since it is a health-related field, practicing speech-language pathology in any environment requires a state license. Those licenses take years of preparation, training, and education to acquire. Anyone interested in how to become a speech pathologist should know there are certain necessary steps to take, though the requirements can vary by location and setting.

Earn a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree

In order to become a certified SLP, students must first earn a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, communication disorders, or a closely related program. The qualifying candidate’s bachelor’s degree does not necessarily have to be in communication disorders, but most master’s programs will require certain prerequisite courses, according to ASHA.

Become Licensed in Speech-Language Pathology

After earning their advanced degree, graduates must undergo the licensing procedure of the state in which they’d like to practice. Many states also require a minimum number of hours of supervised clinical experience in order to earn licensure.

Earn Additional Credentials and Gain Experience

Though it is not required by any state, many employers, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), require a national Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), an ASHA endorsed certification. Some SLPs spend two or three years earning a clinical doctoral degree in speech-language pathology (for example, doctor of clinical science in speech-language pathology, CScD, or clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology, SLPD), which is not necessary to practice in the field but is important for those who want to become clinical educators or specialize in a particular area of clinical research.

Discover the Salary of Speech Pathologists

The median salary of speech pathologists is $77,510 per year, according to the BLS, with those whose salaries are in the bottom 10 percent of the range earning less than $48,000 and those in the top 10 percent earning more than $120,000. The pay depends on work environment; SLPs operating in nursing and residential care facilities earn a median salary of $94,680. Individuals working in SLP offices and hospitals have a median salary of around $84,000, and those who work in educational services have a median salary of $68,000.

SLPs who want to seek out the highest-paying jobs should consider positions in New Jersey, the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, and Colorado, all of which have mean salaries above $90,000. Education level, geographic location, and workplace setting all impact an SLP’s earning power.

Explore the Future Speech Pathologist Job Market

The job market for SLPs is growing rapidly. The BLS projects employers will add an additional 25,900 jobs to the existing 145,000 positions between 2016 and 2026, a growth rate of 18 percent. This rate is more than double the national jobs average (7 percent) during that time frame. Of those 25,900 jobs, the BLS projects more than 19,700 will exist in the health care and social assistance sector, which as of 2016 made up only 48 percent of total SLP jobs but by 2026 will constitute 52 percent of SLP jobs. While health care will see the largest jump in the number of new positions, other industries like education and government are also projected to see an increase in job opportunities over that 10-year span.

Learn More about Speech Pathologists and How to Support Their Work in Educational Settings

More than 58,000 SLPs work in elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States, with thousands working in other educational services and hundreds working in colleges and universities. By earning your EdD online from American University, you can come to a better understanding of what speech pathologists do. In addition, you can help education professionals learn how to best use SLPs in their district so students can receive the maximum benefit from the considerable expertise they provide, helping students manage developmental delays, hearing impairments, articulation problems, and more.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, About Speech-Language Pathology

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, General Information About ASHA Certification

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Planning Your Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Who Are Speech-Language Pathologists, and What Do They Do?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Speech-Language Pathologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: Speech-Language Pathologists

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