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How to Become a Speech Therapist in California

The California Department of Managed Health Care has a longstanding agreement in place with United HealthCare of California going back to 2013 in which the insurer agrees to cover speech therapy services for members. That year, thousands of families in California gained access to affordable speech therapy services, and the demand for licensed SLPs in the state has been increasing rapidly ever since. This is part of a wider trend that is seeing these vital services being made more accessible through early intervention at the Pre-K level and in the state’s public schools.

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In fact, the State of California Employment Development Department expects to see a 17% increase in the number of SLPs in the state during the ten-year period leading up to 2024, a rate of growth that will create 470 new SLP careers each year.

SLP licensing in California is handled through the Department of Consumer Affairs Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Aid Dispensers Board. Follow these steps to earn your SLP license and become a speech therapist in California:

Earn a Master’s Degree in Speech Therapy (Speech-Language Pathology)
Gain 36 Weeks of Post-Graduate Experience Through a Clinical Fellowship Program
Pass the Praxis Speech-Language Pathology Examination
Apply for Licensing and Begin Your Career as a Speech-Language Pathologist in California
Keep your License Current and Complete Continuing Education Requirements

 


 

Step 1. Earn a Master’s Degree in Speech Therapy (Speech-Language Pathology)

To meet California Board requirements, your master’s program in Speech-Language Pathology must be through a Board-approved school and consist of no less than 60 semester units and a practicum involving 300 hours of supervised clinical practice.

ASHA-accredited online programs offer a convenient and flexible alternative to campus-based study for working students. These programs are highly respected by employers and licensing authorities nationwide, offering the same level of rigor as campus-based programs, while including the ability to complete practicum hours in approved clinics and hospitals located near you.

As of 2016, there are sixteen accredited SLP graduate programs available at campus locations in California.

Prerequisites and Admissions Requirements

If the bachelor’s degree you hold is in communicative sciences and disorders, you’ll be able to start your graduate coursework directly. However, if you have an unrelated bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to complete prerequisite courses that are fundamental to SLP graduate coursework.

Standard prerequisite courses include:

  • Neuroanatomy and Physiology of Communication
  • Phonetics and Phonemics of American English
  • Introduction to Audiology
  • Speech and Language Development in Children
  • Anatomy and Physiology of Speech and Hearing Mechanism
  • Audiology: Intervention Strategies across the Lifespan
  • Science of Language

Admissions departments may ask you to submit a resume, GRE scores, and two letters of academic reference when applying. SLP graduate programs can be competitive, and admissions departments look for undergraduate GPAs of 3.5 or higher. If you don’t have a background in speech-language pathology, admissions departments also like to see experience in an SLP clinic or volunteer hours with SLP patients.

Coursework and Practicum

A master’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders will involve studying linguistics, psychology, physiology, and physical science.

Core Courses typically include:

  • Speech-Language Screening of Children
  • Clinical Processes
  • Clinical Issues in Aural Rehabilitation
  • Dysphagia
  • Research Methods in Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Voice, Resonance, and Fluency Disorders
  • Phonology and Phonological Disorders
  • Acquired Neuromotor Speech Disorders
  • Language Disorders: Infancy through Preschool
  • Diagnostic Methods in SLP
  • Augmentative Communication
  • Phonological Acquisition
  • Language, Cognition and the Brain

Electives can include:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication
  • Therapeutic Procedures in Speech Pathology: Voice Disorders
  • Craniofacial Anomalies
  • Neurogenic Speech Disorders in Children
  • Language and Communication in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Voices and Listeners
  • Interdisciplinary Case-Based Dysphagia Management
  • Approaches to Natural Language
  • Communicative Science and Disorders Research Colloquium

To be eligible for ASHA’s CCC-SLP certification, you’ll need to complete 12 units of coursework in social/behavioral science, biological science, physical science and statistics, which is covered in the core curriculum listed above.

Your master’s program would also involve supervised clinical experiences through a practicum. The practicum must be completed during your graduate studies and will allow you to gain experience in assessing and treating patients. In California, you’ll need to complete a 300-hours supervised clinical practicum in three different clinical settings to qualify for licensure.

 


 

Step 2. Gain 36 Weeks of Post-Graduate Experience Through a Clinical Fellowship Program

In California, you’ll need to complete 36 weeks of full-time (or 72 weeks of part-time) supervised professional experience under a temporary license issued by the Board.

To apply for a temporary license, you’ll have to fill out the Temporary License Application. With the license application, you’ll need to include:

  • A $60 fee
  • Fingerprints from Livescan
  • Transcripts from your graduate program
  • Proof of completion of clinical practicum hours during your graduate program
  • National exam score
  • Professional experience verification detailing who you will work for

To find an employer through which you can complete the required professional experience, browse opportunities here.

 


 

Step 3. Pass the Praxis Speech-Language Pathology Examination

Next, you’ll register online through Praxis for the Speech-Language Pathology Exam, a requirement for licensure in California

You’ll need to score a 162 to pass the national exam.

For preparation, you may review practice questions in the Speech-Language Pathology Study Companion.

The computer-based test consists of 132 questions that are to be completed over 150 minutes. The questions fall into the following categories:

  • Foundation and professional practice—44 questions
  • Screening, assessment, evaluation, and diagnosis—44 questions
  • Planning, implementation, and evaluation of treatment—44 questions

The questions test knowledge in the areas of:

  • Speech and production
  • Fluency
  • Voice
  • Resonance
  • Motor speech
  • Receptive and expressive language
  • Social aspects of communication, including pragmatics
  • Cognitive aspects of communication
  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • Hearing
  • Feeding and swallowing

In California, there are several Praxis test centers to choose from, located in these cities:

  • Alameda
  • Anaheim
  • Arcata
  • Bakersfield
  • Camarillo
  • Chico
  • Culver City
  • Diamond Bar
  • Fair Oaks
  • Fresno
  • Gardena
  • Glendale
  • Lake Forest
  • Ranchero Cucamonga
  • Redlands
  • San Bruno
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Santa Maria
  • Santa Rosa

Voluntary CCC-SLP Credentialing Through ASHA

Once you’ve passed the national exam, you are eligible to apply for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) credential through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). The credential is NOT a requirement for state licensure, but the state of California does recognize those that hold the credential as meeting all state licensing requirements.

It usually takes about six weeks for the application to be processed and to receive your credential. Upon receiving the credential, you can move forward in the licensing process.

 


 

Step 4. Apply for Licensing and Begin Your Career as a Speech-Language Pathologist in California

Once you’ve received your results from the national exam, you’ll be eligible to apply for licensure through the California Board.

You’ll need to fill out the application and include:

  • A $60 fee
  • Fingerprint cards from Livescan

You’ll mail the application to the board at:

Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Aid Dispensers
2005 Evergreen Street, Suite 2100
Sacramento, CA 95815

As a licensed SLP in California, you would begin your career in one of three ways:

Join the Clinic that Provided Your Supervised Professional Experience

As a newly-licensed SLP, you may choose to continue working for the clinic that provided your required professional experience.

You’ll need to contact the supervisor of your clinical fellowship to inquire about job openings. Clinics may choose to hire SLPs who have worked under them through a clinical fellowship because they’ve likely already established relationships with patients, families of patients, and staff members.

Start an Independent Practice or Partnership

In California, you may begin an independent practice once you’re licensed as an SLP. Independent practitioners enjoy a high degree of flexibility and the ability to work with specific patient population groups like children or the elderly.

Pursue Job Openings

Joining the clinic that facilitated your supervised professional experience or starting your own practice aren’t your only options—you may also pursue jobs through hundreds of other employers throughout the state. A few examples include:

  • Thrive and Shine Speech Therapy
  • Innovative Therapy Services
  • Silicon Valley Speech
  • Learning Tree Therapy
  • Connected Speech Therapy
  • Sutter Health
  • Rehab Visions
  • Child Success Center
  • Accredited Home Health Services
  • Redlands Community Hospital
  • Comprehensive Therapy Associates
  • UC Irvine Health
  • Share Speech and Language
  • Oceanside Therapy Group

If you plan on working in the educational system as an SLP in California, you’ll need to earn your Speech Language Pathology Services Credential.

 


 

Step 5. Keep Your License Current and Complete Continuing Education Requirements

You must renew your California SLP license every two years by completing a renewal form and submitting it to the Board.

To renew, you must submit proof of 24 hours of continuing education completed through approved providers, with the exception of your first renewal, during which you will only have to complete 12 hours of CE.

The following restrictions apply to CE hours:

  • Minimum of 20 hours must be directly relevant to the scope of practice of speech-language pathology or audiology.
  • Maximum of 6 hours may be in self-study courses.
  • Maximum of 4 hours may be taken from related courses and/or indirect client care courses.
  • No more than 8 hours may be combined between self-study and related/client care courses

The California Board has approved the following CE providers:

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
  • American Academy of Audiology (AAA)
  • California Medical Association – Institute for Medical Quality (CMA)
  • Accredited Universities
  • Board approved Professional Development Providers

California is home to some of the nation’s most innovative clinics and practitioners, many of which are members of the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Through the Association, SLPs enjoy networking opportunities and the ability to share research and strategies for the assessment and treatment of patients with communicative disorders.


Speech-Language Pathology Salary in California

As of 2020, speech-language pathologists in California earned an average salary of $95,570 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which comes to nearly $46 an hour. More experienced SLPs with salaries in the top 25% earned $112,320 that year, or $54 an hour, while the highest paid SLPs in California in the top 10% earned more than $130,110, which works out to more than $62.50 an hour.

California’s SLPs were counted among the highest paid in the country in 2020, ranking number five nationally for the highest average SLP salary that year.

In addition, six of the state’s cities were among the top ten metro areas in the country in terms of highest average SLP salaries in 2020:

    • #1—Modesto
    • #2—Santa Rosa
    • #3—Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
    • #6—San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
    • #9—Chico
    • #10—Fresno

High Employment Levels and Job Growth for California’s SLPs

The California Employment Development Department expects the number of jobs for speech-language pathologists to increase by 29% in the ten-year period leading up to 2028. This is an almost unheard-of level of growth that is expected to contribute to more 1,400 SLP jobs becoming available in California each year.

California is already home to more than 14,600 SLPs as of 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not surprisingly, that places California in the number on spot with the highest employment level for SLPs in the nation. The Los Angeles area alone is home to nearly 5,900 licensed SLPs, the 3rd highest number of any metropolitan area in the country.

Salaries For Speech-Language Pathologists Throughout California’s Major Cities

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the salaries of speech-language pathologists in the major cities and non-metro regions of California:

Area Name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Bakersfield
230
96170
Chico
60
105860
Fresno
260
104770
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim
5870
90630
Madera
NA
99860
Merced
NA
97670
Modesto
130
128540
Napa
50
96140
North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area
40
107730
North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California nonmetropolitan area
50
90810
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura
210
85840
Redding
NA
85110
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario
1140
95860
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade
640
101240
Salinas
100
96050
San Diego-Carlsbad
1000
89060
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward
3130
103020
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
420
108640
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande
NA
88920
Santa Cruz-Watsonville
70
94040
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara
60
115480
Santa Rosa
80
120920
Stockton-Lodi
340
84990
Vallejo-Fairfield
130
94860
Visalia-Porterville
110
83560

 

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and California Employment Development Department job market trends for Speech Language Pathologists reflect state data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

California EDD job growth projections sourced from ProjectionsCentral, a service of the US Department of Labor.

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