How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathology is a foundational area of study within the field of communication sciences and disorders (CSD). As a speech-language pathologist, you will be part of a growing number of professionals that focus on the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in a variety of different patient populations– from young children with speech challenges to elderly stroke victims.


Featured Schools:

NYU Steinhardt's online MS in Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Speech@NYU, offers a comprehensive curriculum that combines research and evidence-based clinical practice in a flexible online format. Speech@NYU prepares students across the country to become creative, collaborative, and effective speech-language pathologists. Students of this program will gain the experience needed to provide care to diverse populations across the life span. Request information.

Emerson College offers an online master’s in speech-language pathology with the same curriculum as its top-ranked* on-campus program. Students are prepared to pursue SLP certification in as few as 20 months.
*U.S. News & World Report, 2018

Speech-language pathologists are master’s-educated, state licensed, and often nationally certified through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Although licensing requirements vary slightly from one state to the next, all licensing boards require SLP professional candidates to complete pre-licensure professional experience requirements and hold a post-bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology.

Steps to Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist

Here’s what’s involved in meeting the education, experience and examination requirements to become a speech-language pathologist:

Complete an Undergraduate Program in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)
Complete a CAA-Accredited Graduate Degree in Speech-Language Pathology/Communicative Sciences and Disorders
Complete a Post-Graduate Fellowship
Take a National Exam in Speech-Language Pathology
Apply for State Licensure as a Speech-Language Pathologist
Consider Professional Certification



Step 1. Complete an Undergraduate Program in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), there are more than 200 institutions offering undergraduate degrees (Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science) in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD).

A bachelor’s degree in CSD ensures a seamless transition to a CSD master’s program. Although an undergraduate degree in CSD is not mandatory for entering a CSD graduate program, it may eliminate the need to take certain prerequisites before beginning graduate studies.

CSD undergraduate degree programs include foundational courses in statistics and the social/behavioral, physical and biological sciences, as well as courses related to:

  • Normal language development
  • Language disorders and phonology
  • Linguistics
  • Anatomy of hearing and speech mechanisms

Many undergraduate programs in CSD offer research experiences and many require students to participate in research activities designed to provide students with the skills required for future research and clinical practice.



Step 2. Complete a CAA-Accredited Graduate Degree Program in Speech-Language Pathology/Communicative Sciences and Disorders

To become a speech-language pathologist, you must complete a minimum of an entry-level graduate degree (MA, MS, MEd) from a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA).

Program titles may include:

  • MS Communicative Sciences and Disorders
  • MS Speech-Language Pathology
  • MS Communication Sciences and Disorders, specialization in speech-language pathology

Many CAA graduate programs offer:

  • Part-time/evening programs
  • Partially or fully online delivery
  • Combined degree programs (bachelors/masters)

Graduate programs in speech-language pathology consist of about 48 credits and are located in colleges/departments of education, audiology, healthcare sciences, public health, behavioral and communication sciences, and rehabilitation, to name a few.

They include both academic and clinical coursework, and many students also supplement their program with research-related activities. A number of CAA-accredited programs offer study abroad opportunities.

Clinical Practicum Requirements

All CAA-accredited speech-language programs include supervised clinical experiences, designed to provide students with opportunities to become acquainted with the speech-language pathology profession and apply their newly acquired knowledge.

Clinical practicum requirements for licensure vary slightly depending on the state. For example, Illinois and Pennsylvania require a clinical practicum of at least 375 hours, while in Texas the clinical practicum requirement is 400 hours, and in Florida it is just 300. Some states, like Arizona and Washington State, have no specific clinical practicum requirements, instead deferring to ASHA requirements, which stipulate 350 hours.

Clinical placement advisors work with students to arrange clinical experiences in at least three settings and with a number of populations.

Before commencing their clinical practicum, students of online SLP master’s degree programs would attend a number of on-campus clinical immersion experiences where they would get to engage in practicum seminars with faculty and fellow students.

Prerequisites and Admission Requirements

Admission requirements and processes may differ slightly from one graduate program to the next, but all require incoming students to complete foundational undergraduate coursework that supports studying speech-language pathology at the graduate level. Some programs allow new students who hold an undergraduate degree in an area other than communicative science and disorders to enter the program and then complete outstanding prerequisites prior to moving on to graduate-level courses. Other programs only admit students after they have successfully completed all prerequisite coursework. Some colleges and universities even offer prerequisite courses online, allowing students to complete all necessary courses before starting their graduate program.

Earning an undergraduate degree in communicative sciences and disorders would usually satisfy all undergraduate requirements.

Prerequisite undergraduate courses generally include:

  • Biological science
  • Physical science
  • Statistics
  • Behavioral and social science (2 courses)

Other admission requirements include:

  • Minimum 3.0 GPA
  • GRE scores
  • Admissions essay
  • Letters of recommendation



Step 3. Complete a Post-Graduate Fellowship

You would begin your post-graduate fellowship after the successful completion of your CAA-accredited graduate program.

Before beginning your speech-language clinical fellowship, you may need to apply for a temporary license (also called an intern or limited license) through your state’s board of speech-language pathology and audiology.

To qualify for a temporary license, you must possess a master’s or doctoral degree from a CAA-accredited program and submit a plan for your clinical fellowship, signed by a licensed supervisor.

Temporary licenses are usually valid for a year, just long enough to complete your clinical fellowship.

Practical training through a speech-language pathology clinical fellowship is necessary for state licensure. Speech-language pathology clinical fellowships consist of a period of training completed under the guidance and supervision of a licensed speech-language professional.

Clinical fellowship requirements vary from one state to the next, although most states require fellowships to last 36 weeks (1,260 hours).

Many states mirror the clinical fellowship requirements that must be met to earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) credential through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which requires a clinical fellowship to:

  • Be at least 36 weeks, at 35 hours per week, for a total of 1,260 hours
  • Be mentored by an ASHA-certified speech-language pathology professional
  • Have at least 80 percent direct clinical contact, such as through activities related to assessment, diagnosis, evaluation, screening, counseling, etc.



Step 4. Take a National Exam in Speech-Language Pathology

You must take and pass the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology to earn state licensure. Generally, you may take this examination at any time following the successful completion of your CAA-accredited graduate program. Most students take the Praxis at some point during their clinical fellowship.

You must register directly with ETS for the Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology. The registration process allows you to choose the exam location and date that best meets your needs. There are test centers located throughout the country. You can learn more about available test centers near you here.

Each state has their own passing score requirements for the Praxis exam, although most follow the CCC-SLP certification minimum requirements for a score of 162.

The exam consists of the following topics:

  • Foundations and Professional Practice
    • Foundations
      • Typical development and performance across the lifespan
      • Factors that influence communication, feeding, and swallowing
      • Epidemiology and characteristics of common communication and swallowing disorders
    • Professional Practice
      • Wellness and prevention
      • Culturally and linguistically appropriate service delivery
      • Counseling, collaboration, and teaming
      • Documentation
      • Ethics
      • Legislation and client advocacy
      • Research methodology and evidence-based practice
  • Screening, Assessment, Evaluation, and Diagnosis
    • Screening
      • Communication disorders
      • Feeding and swallowing disorders
    • Assessment and Evaluation
      • Developing case histories
      • Selecting appropriate assessment instruments, procedures, and materials
      • Assessing factors that influence communication and swallowing disorders
      • Assessment of anatomy and physiology
      • Referrals
      • Speech sound production
      • Fluency
      • Voice, resonance, and motor speech
      • Receptive and expressive language
      • Social aspects of communication, including pragmatics
      • Cognitive aspects of communication
      • Augmentative and alternative communication
      • Hearing
      • Feeding and swallowing
    • Etiology
      • Genetic
      • Developmental
      • Disease processes
      • Auditory problems
      • Neurological
      • Structural and functional
      • Psychogenic
  • Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation of Treatment
    • Treatment Planning
      • Evaluating factors that can affect treatment
      • Initiating and prioritizing treatment and developing goals
      • Determining appropriate treatment details
      • Generating a prognosis
      • Communicating recommendations
      • General treatment principles and procedures
    • Treatment Evaluation
      • Establishing methods for monitoring treatment progress and outcomes to evaluate assessment and/or treatment plans
      • Follow-up on post-treatment referrals and recommendations
    • Treatment
      • Speech sound production
      • Fluency
      • Voice, resonance, and motor speech
      • Receptive and expressive language
      • Social aspects of communication, including pragmatics
      • Communication impairments related to cognition
      • Treatment involving augmentative and alternative communication
      • Hearing and aural rehabilitation
      • Swallowing and feeding

You can learn more about the Praxis exam by studying the Speech-Language Pathology Study Companion.



Step 5. Apply for State Licensure as a Speech-Language Pathologist

To apply for state licensure, you must complete an application and submit it to the licensing authority, along with:

  • Application fee
  • Graduate degree transcripts (sent directly from the CAA-accredited institution)
  • Praxis exam scores (sent directly from ETS)
  • Results from a criminal background check

Depending on the state, you may also be required to complete a course on HIV/AIDS and take and pass a state jurisprudence examination.

Continuing Education Requirements

To maintain state licensure as a speech-language pathologist, you must complete the necessary number of continuing education requirements during your renewal period. Continuing education requirements vary.

For example, in Tennessee, speech-language pathologists must complete at least 10 hours of continuing education per calendar year, while in California, speech-language pathologists must complete at least 24 clock hours of continuing education during every two-year renewal period.



Step 6. Consider Professional Certification

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (AHSA) Speech-Language Pathology Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) is a nationally recognized, voluntary designation that increases opportunities for:

  • Salary supplements
  • Career advancement
  • Employment
  • Job mobility
  • Professional credibility

To qualify for CCC-SLP certification, you must:

  • Complete a master’s or doctoral degree from a CAA-accredited institution
  • Complete a clinical fellowship of at least 36 weeks that is mentored by an ASHA-certified speech-language pathology professional
  • Pass the Praxis II: Subject Assessment in Speech-Language Pathology

You may submit an application for CCC-SLP after you have completed your graduate degree from a CAA-accredited academic program. You must complete and submit the Application for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP)-2014 Standards, along with the $461 fee for membership and certification.

To complete the application for certification, you must also submit:

To maintain your CCC-SLP credential, you must complete 30 professional development hours during every three-year certification period, which begins January 1 of the year following your initial certification.

Back to Top