Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology: What to Expect

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. Such a unique level of commitment to both patients and the larger professional community requires a remarkable depth of knowledge that can only be gained through a quality education program that includes foundational principles of SLP and critical clinical experience.

For this reason, 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. Not only do you benefit from a robust education to treat your patients, but a master’s in speech pathology 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.

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Whether you’re already searching for an online SLP master’s program or you’re just beginning to consider a career as an SLP, there are plenty of quality speech pathology programs that will help you step into this incredibly worthy field. Let’s look at how to earn your master’s in speech pathology and what you can do with your degree.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Speech Pathology?

Before dedicating years of effort toward a master’s in speech-language pathology, you may be wondering what you can do with a master’s in SLP. The most common settings for SLPs to work in are schools or educational environments as well as clinical settings. These include:

  • Special education classrooms: Working in a school setting with special needs students allows you to offer early intervention for several treatable issues. You’ll work with students of all grades with disorders that affect their learning and communication capabilities, including kids with articulation issues, swallowing disorders, language challenges, and more.
  • Hospitals: In a hospital setting, you’ll work with patients that have suffered injuries or stroke, or those with an undiagnosed medical issue that needs diagnosis and treatment. You’ll work as part of a larger care team offering speech therapy in conjunction with other medical treatments, often continuing patient care on an outpatient basis after discharge.
  • Residential care facilities: Speech-language pathologists are in high demand within residential care facilities. Patients in these settings may have transitioned from an inpatient hospital setting to continue their recovery at an assisted living or skilled nursing facilities, or they may be long-term residents with cognitive disorders, like dementia.
  • Rehab centers: Much like those in residential care facilities, many patients in outpatient rehab facilities have transitioned from hospital care and therefore will have had many of the same initial issues or injuries. Speech pathologists at rehab facilities will continue the patient’s treatment plan with the goal of being able to reestablish their full skills and faculties.

There are also many non-traditional ways to apply your SLP education outside of just schools or medical facilities. A few alternative speech pathology careers include:

  • Vocal coach: Their expertise in vocal mechanics makes an SLP perfect for coaching actors, orators, and businesspeople on using their voices properly. This could include dialect and accent coaching, vocal projection, and injury prevention or healing.
  • Translator or interpreter: Speech-language pathologists who speak multiple languages can find dynamic work interpreting for clients or offering written translation services. You may find yourself working for government agencies, multinational corporations, or private clients (often in business or the entertainment industry). Additionally, your responsibilities may also include coaching said client on speaking additional languages properly. If this is appealing, you may wish to look into bilingual speech pathology programs.
  • Social worker: Using your speech-language pathology education for a career in social work allows you to make a huge difference in the lives of those typically underprivileged and underserved, including children and adults that have been victims of trauma, neglect, and/or abuse. You may be able to help diagnose and treat individuals that haven’t had access to quality medical care or offer therapy to patients working through physical injuries.

How to Get a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology

Both traditional (in person) and online speech pathology master’s programs can be competitive and have stringent admissions requirements, including:

  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Competitive GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • An admissions essay and personal interview
  • A resume or CV showing work or volunteer hours in SLP settings

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Many students enter a master’s in speech-language pathology program with a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), which allows students to immediately begin their graduate coursework upon being admitted into the program.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in another area of study, you can still apply to master’s speech pathology programs, though you’ll still need to complete the necessary undergraduate courses (called foundational courses) in subjects such as biological science, behavioral science, phonetics, and anatomy. Many master’s programs cater specifically to students with diverse educational backgrounds, allowing incoming students to take the required foundational courses upon admission into the program before transitioning to graduate-level SLP coursework and clinical practicums. Other programs may require you to complete some or all the necessary undergraduate coursework before admission.

Take the GRE

Once you’ve completed your undergraduate work, you’ll need to pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test. There isn’t a standard minimum GRE score across all accredited speech pathology programs; some schools don’t specify a passing score but offer a percentile range within which students generally score, while others specify minimum scores for each of the verbal and written portions of the exam.

You have five attempts to pass the speech pathology GRE within a one-year period, and only your highest score will typically be considered by the schools you’re applying to. To guarantee your best chance at achieving a higher score, consider joining study groups and structured GRE prep programs to help you learn how to approach the test.

Accumulate Work or Volunteer Experience

Though you can’t officially work as an SLP until you’ve completed your master’s in speech pathology and earned your state license, you’ll want to gain some firsthand experience to make your speech pathology program application even more competitive. You can do this by finding entry-level work or volunteering in the speech pathology field. Internships and research assistant opportunities are two of the best ways to get your foot in the door; look into openings at nonprofits, research facilities, and even the college or university where you studied for your bachelor’s degree.

You can also reach out to different organizations and ask if they’ll allow you to shadow one of their SLPs for a period. Not only does this provide practical experience of what your day-to-day tasks might be, but also offers an opportunity to network with professionals in your field—some of whom may be instrumental down the road when you need letters of recommendation to apply to speech pathology programs.

 Research Accredited Speech Pathology Programs

Applying to multiple speech pathology programs takes a lot of work (not to mention the expense of multiple application fees). As such, it’s critical to do your research to find the right program that fits your career goals, whether that’s a traditional master’s degree or an online SLP master’s program.

Your program should be accredited through the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA), the body that provides program-level accreditation for degrees related to the field of communication sciences and disorders. Depending on the school, your master’s in speech pathology may be structured as any of the following degree types:

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.S.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)

Make sure that your school offers the proper program for speech pathology curriculum. These M.A. and M.S. programs go by several titles that include:

  • Communicative Sciences and Disorders
  • Speech-Language Pathology
  • Communication Sciences and Disorders, Specialization in Speech-Language Pathology

Your coursework should be research-oriented and clinically based, grounded in the psychological, linguistic, physiological, and physical science that together make up the field of communication sciences and 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.

Your master’s in speech-language pathology may include courses such as:

  • Speech science
  • Motor speech disorders
  • Fluency disorders
  • Voice disorders
  • Language disorders in children
  • Dysphagia in adults and children

Other Requirements for Getting a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology

As mentioned above, there are usually a few additional requirements to meet to be accepted into an in-person or online SLP master’s program.

  • Letter of recommendation: Many schools will require at least two letters of recommendation, typically from your professors or faculty at your undergraduate program. Some may also accept letters from supervising SLPs whom you shadowed or volunteered with.
  • Essay and/or personal statement: Your program will want to know what drew you to a career in speech pathology, as well as what sets you apart from all the other applicants that wish to study there. Your personal statement or essay is your opportunity to showcase your accomplishments and convince the admissions board that you’re worthy of a place in their program.
  • Personal interview: Depending on your school, you may be asked to meet with faculty for an in-person interview. This is often a good sign, as it shows you’ve met the qualifications for entry and the admissions board thinks you may be a worthy candidate for the program. Make sure to prepare for questions about your undergraduate studies, volunteer work, and career goals.

How Long Is a Master’s in Speech Pathology?

With all the hoops to jump through before admission, it’s natural to wonder how long you’ll then spend studying once you’ve been accepted to a speech pathology program. How many credits is a master’s degree in speech pathology, and what does that equate to in terms of years of study?

Speech-language pathology master’s degree programs generally consist of about 48 academic credits and two years of full-time study. That said, this number can fluctuate based on several factors. For example, online SLP master’sprograms are often self-paced, meaning you can complete them faster or slower than traditional programs that follow a set structure.

Also factor in the clinical component of your master’s in speech-language pathology, which generally totals between 350-400 hours working with a variety of populations. Clinical practicums are comprised of supervised experiences where you provide diagnostic and therapeutic services in at least three different settings, such as hospitals, schools, and rehab centers.

Can I Earn My Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology Online?

Many students have turned to online SLP master’s degrees to better fit their coursework in with their schedule and lifestyle. Online speech pathology master’s programs allow students to complete most or all of the didactic components through interactive, online study. The standards for accreditation are exactly the same as those set for traditional on-campus programs, with the flexibility of being able to study and work around your current schedule. This makes an online master’s in speech pathology ideal for students who may be changing careers and need to study around their current work schedule.

Note that because of the practical requirements of a speech pathology master’s degree, an online SLP master’sprogram won’t be 100% internet-based. You’ll still generally need to complete several campus-based clinical immersion experiences before your clinical practicum experiences. These immersion experiences provide an opportunity to meet your professors and fellow students and engage in informative seminars regarding your future clinical practicum.

Start Your Online SLP Master’s with One Click

Once you’ve earned your master’s in speech pathology, the door to a rewarding career in speech pathology is wide open. You’ll be ready to complete your clinical fellowship, earn your state certification, and begin helping people work through challenging communication barriers that will drastically improve their quality of life.

To do so, it’s important to research speech pathology programs in your area that meet your state’s certification requirements and include the coursework that speaks to the area you wish to specialize in.

Get started today by finding online SLP master’s programs near you that tick all the boxes.

Find a Speech Pathology Master’s Program

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