Skip to main content

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

July 15, 2019

The popular movie The King’s Speech dramatized the relationship between King George VI of England and Lionel Logue, an early speech pathologist who helped the monarch work through a debilitating stutter. The story highlights the invaluable services of these professionals, who go beyond merely treating speech impediments. Instead, they address all kinds of speech, mouth, and tongue disorders and play a key role in our education system.

For people interested in how to become a speech pathologist, a good first step is learning more about what speech pathologists do and the types of positions they can hold.

What Is Speech Pathology?

Speech pathology is the study and treatment of speech and language difficulties. It encompasses treatment for patients of all ages who experience problems talking or swallowing. Speech pathologists work with patients struggling with speech sounds, command of language, social communication, and other related issues.

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Speech pathologists 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, speech pathologists typically work one-on-one with individuals over several sessions, using exercises and tools to achieve treatment goals.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), speech-language pathologists may treat and manage disorders and communication concerns including:

  • Feeding and swallowing disorders (dysphagia)
  • Speech disorders (such as stuttering)
  • Language disorders
  • Literacy issues
  • Autism spectrum communication disorders
  • Stroke and traumatic brain injury recovery

Their skills support students in classroom learning environments who need assistance with social and cognitive communication disorders, such as difficulty paying attention or following accepted storytelling conventions.

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

Types of Speech Pathologists

Speech pathologists may work in education, research, or health care settings. This inspiring profession offers specific career paths to choose from.

  • Pediatric speech pathologists work exclusively with children, often addressing speech impediments that are common in childhood, or coaching children who need help learning to verbalize.
  • Adult speech pathologists often work with patients who have lost the ability to speak due to a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
  • Travel speech pathologists go from one rehabilitation or nursing facility to the next, usually taking short assignments at each.

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 call for preparation, training, and education. Anyone interested in how to become a speech pathologist should know the necessary steps to take, bearing in mind that requirements can vary by location and setting.

Earn a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree

To get certified, aspiring speech pathologists need to earn a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, communication disorders, or a closely related field. 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 the ASHA.

Become Licensed in Speech-Language Pathology

After earning their advanced degree, graduates must follow the licensing procedure of the state in which they plan 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

Although it is not required in any state, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many employers require a national certificate of clinical competence in speech-language pathology (CCC-SLP), an ASHA-endorsed certification.

Some speech pathologists spend two or three years earning a clinical doctoral degree in speech-language pathology (for example, a Doctor of Clinical Science, CScD, in Speech-Language Pathology, or a 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.

Can You Earn a Speech Pathology Degree?

Multiple degree options are available for prospective speech pathologists. Some universities offer master’s degrees in speech pathology, which focus on the skills and knowledge base needed for success in this field.

Alternatively, or additionally, students may seek a doctoral-level education degree, such as the Doctor of Education (EdD) degree, to gain a deeper understanding of what speech pathologists do in educational contexts. Additionally, with an emphasis on educational policy and leadership, an EdD can provide aspiring educational leaders with information about using speech pathologists in schools to serve their students.

Salary of Speech-Language Pathologists

The median annual salary for speech-language pathologists was $79,060 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Those in the upper 10 percent of the salary range earned more than $125,560 annually.

Professionals who work in nursing and residential care facilities earn an average of $99,340, while those who work in educational settings earn an average of $75,270. The highest-paying positions for speech pathologists are in California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Washington, DC.

Explore the Future Speech Pathologist Job Market

The job market for speech pathologists is growing rapidly. The BLS projects employers will add an additional 45,400 jobs to the existing 158,100 positions between 2020 and 2030, a growth rate of 29 percent. This rate is more than triple the projected national average (8 percent) during that time frame.

Much of this expected job growth is attributed to aging baby boomers who will suffer illnesses that require help with speech or language impairments and increased awareness of these impairments in children.

Learn More About Speech Pathologists in Educational Settings

Thousands of speech pathologists work in elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States, with thousands more working in other educational services and hundreds working in colleges and universities. These professionals are vital resources for students with speech-language and hearing disorders or impairments.

By earning your online EdD in Education Policy and Leadership from American University, you can better understand what speech pathologists do. In addition, you can help education professionals learn how to best utilize speech pathologists in their district. This can help students receive the maximum benefit from the considerable expertise they provide, helping students manage developmental delays, hearing impairments, articulation problems, and more. Explore the curriculum and find out how you can make a difference as an educational leader.