Speech-language pathologists not only care for people with disorders related to language, cognition, communication, swallowing and fluency, they also lend their expertise to patient advocacy, research and education. In a field that requires this kind of unique level of commitment to patients and the larger professional community, the educational standard for entry-level practice remains consistent among all state licensing boards: a master’s degree in speech-language pathology or communicative sciences and disorders.
A master’s degree in speech-language pathology or communicative sciences and disorders also satisfies the educational requirement for the professional Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) through The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the most widely recognized and respected credential in the SLP field.
What to Expect from Accredited Master’s Programs in Speech-Language Pathology
Master’s degrees in speech-language pathology receive accreditation through the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA), the semi-autonomous accrediting arm of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Though schools may hold regional and national accreditation through institution-level accrediting bodies, CAA is the body that provides program-level accreditation for educational programs related to the field of communication sciences and disorders.
Master’s degrees in speech-language pathology prepare students through a research-oriented and clinically based curriculum grounded in the psychological, linguistic, physiological, and physical science that together make up the field of communication sciences and disorders.
Students of these programs gain the knowledge and skills necessary to evaluate, treat, and advocate for individuals with any number of communication and swallowing disorders. CAA-accredited master’s degrees are designed to prepare students to gain valuable, hands-on experience, collaborate with leaders in the field, and integrate research principles in evidence-based clinical practice.
Throughout the program, students gain an understanding of the principles of biological sciences, physical sciences, and the social and behavioral sciences, as well as methods of prevention, assessment, and intervention for people with communication and swallowing disorders.
As of 2016, there were 266 speech-language pathology master’s programs (248 accredited programs and 18 candidate programs), designed as:
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Science (MS)
- Master of Education (MEd)
These MA and MS programs go by a number of titles that include:
- Communicative Sciences and Disorders
- Speech-Language Pathology
- Communication Sciences and Disorders, Specialization in Speech-Language Pathology
Depending on the college or university, master’s degrees in speech-language pathology may be campus-based or distance (online)-based, and they may be located in any number of different university departments:
- Communication Sciences and Disorders
- Speech-Language Pathology
- Audiology and Speech Pathology
- Human Communication Studies
Admissions and Foundational Course Requirements
Admission into a master’s degree program in communicative sciences and disorders/speech language pathology can be competitive, with most programs requiring:
- Minimum 3.0 GPA
- Competitive GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Admissions essay
- Resume or CV
- Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university (not necessarily related to communicative science and disorders)
Many students enter a master’s degree in speech-language pathology with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD). ASHA estimates that there are more than 200 such undergraduate programs in the U.S. An undergraduate CSD degree allows students to immediately begin their graduate coursework upon being admitted into the program.
Students with a bachelor’s degree in another area of study are also welcome and encouraged to apply, though they would be required to complete the necessary undergraduate courses (called foundational courses). Many master’s programs cater specifically to students with diverse educational backgrounds, allowing incoming students to take the required foundational courses upon being admitted into the program before transitioning to graduate-level SLP coursework and clinical practicums. Other programs may require students to complete some or all of the necessary undergraduate coursework prior to being admitted.
Master’s programs that accommodate students without a background in communication sciences and disorders provide all the foundational courses (about 14 credits) necessary to begin master’s-level coursework. These institutions often allow students to satisfy their foundational coursework requirements through online courses.
Undergraduate requirements include courses in:
- Biological Science
- Physical Science
- Behavioral Science
Additional foundational coursework required before beginning graduate studies include:
- Anatomy and Physiology of the Speech and SwallowMechanism
- Language Acquisition
- Neurological Bases of Cognition, Behavior, and Communication
- Introduction to Communication Disorders
- Diagnostic Audiology
- Language Development and Disorders in Children
- Audiology and Aural Rehabilitation
Academic and Clinical Requirements
Speech-language pathology master’s degree programs generally consist of about 48 academic credits and two years of full-time study. Many programs also offer flexible delivery options, including part-time study and online classes. A number of programs even offer study abroad opportunities.
Some of the courses in a master’s degree in speech-language pathology include:
- Speech science
- Critical evaluation of research in speech and hearing sciences and disorders
- Motor speech disorders
- Fluency disorders
- Voice disorders
- Language disorders in children
- Dysphagia in adults and children
- Principles of intervention with speech-language disorders
- Professional issues in communicative sciences and disorders
Clinical experiences are an integral component of master’s degrees in speech-language pathology, as they enhance the knowledge of theory gained in the classroom and prepare students for real-world patient interactions.
Clinical experiences, which are arranged by clinical field placement advisors, provide students with supervised experiences where they provide diagnostic and therapeutic services in a number of settings:
- Rehabilitation centers
- Private practice
- Community clinics
- Skilled nursing facilities
Clinical practicums generally total between 350-400 hours working with a variety of populations in at least three different settings.
Academic and Clinical Requirements for Online Programs
Online master’s degree programs allow students to complete most or all of the didactic components through interactive, online study. Just like their campus-based counterparts, clinical experiences are arranged by clinical field placement advisors.
Students of online programs are generally required to complete a number of campus-based clinical immersion experiences prior to their clinical experiences. These immersion experiences provide an opportunity for students to meet their professors and fellow students and engage in informative seminars regarding their future clinical practicum.