How to Become a Speech Therapist

Most people think of overcoming speech impediments when they think of speech-language pathology, but the profession of speech therapy or, as it’s commonly called, speech language pathology, goes much deeper. Fluency, the ability to express thoughts and ideas, understanding others, or even swallowing properly are all issues that speech therapists might assess, diagnose, and treat.

And they’re not small issues. Trouble communicating makes it difficult to pick up new information or communicate what’s not being understood in the classroom. It makes forming relationships hard, and in the case of swallowing disorders, thwart social situations in which friendships are formed.

Speech therapists help prevent communication disorders early on and identify at-risk students, assess and evaluate communication skills in students, and develop individualized education programs for those students who need it. With how crucial speech language-pathologists are to education, many SLPs opt to purse career opportunities within school systems.

What is a Speech Pathologist?

Speech Pathologists, also referred to as Speech Therapists or SLPs (speech language pathologists), are professionals who work with people of all ages to improve communication techniques and treat swallowing disorders, amongst many other job responsibilities.

Speech Pathologists can be found practicing in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, independent practices, doctor's offices, schools, hospitals, and residential health care facilities like nursing homes.

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Steps to Becoming a Speech Pathologist

There are three major steps that every aspiring speech therapist must follow in order to become a working, competent SLP professional. Below, we have outlined the process that is typically followed to become a speech therapist:

1.) Bachelors Degree Program: First, gain a bachelor’s degree from a reputable higher education institution. Although it is common for speech-language pathologists to come from a wide variety of backgrounds, it doesn’t hurt to demonstrate interest in the field by earning or holding a degree related to the field of speech therapy. A few examples of popular undergraduate majors for future speech-language pathologists are: communication sciences and disorders, linguistics, language development, education, psychology, and english.

2.) SLP Masters Degree Program: A master’s in Speech-Language Pathology that’s accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is a non-negotiable component for a role as a speech therapist in most states, whether you’re working in a clinic or a school setting. Master’s programs typically are paired with clinical or internship experiences to ensure that students are getting a well-rounded and practical learning experience. Common coursework might include language development and anatomy and physiology classes to name just a few of the wide curriculum options. In the modern era, many working professionals are opting to pursue to online speech pathology programs to gain an advanced degree without having to sacrifice location or current income.

3.) Pursue Licensure:SLPs must also be licensed--a process that varies by state, and requires supervised clinical experience. For SLPS who want to work in schools, teaching certification may also be necessary, depending on the state.

Interested in becoming a speech-language pathologist? Read more about earning Masters in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP).

Speech-Language Pathologist Salary Information

According to the BLS, the average salary for a school speech-language pathologist was around $76,610 per year, or $36.83 per hour, in 2017. Also according to BLS reporting, the highest areas for SLP salaries included Redding, CA, Watertown-Fort Drum, NY, Sacramento--Roseville--Arden--Arcade, CA, Fairbanks, AK, and Staunton-Waynesboro, VA. Salary potential for speech therapists depends largely on location they are practicing in, their years of experience in the field, and the work environment in which they operate.

Demand for Speech-Language Pathologists

The job growth for Speech-Language Pathologists from 2014 to 2024 is a predicted 21%, a much higher rate than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest employment of SPLs is mostly big cities—the New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles. But taking population into account, Sherman-Denison, TX, Homosassa Springs FL, Cumberland, MD-WV, and Jonesboro, AR are all big employers of Speech-Language pathologists too.

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Speech-Language Pathologist Shortages in Schools by State

A shortage area is defined by the U.S. Department of Education as a role in which "there is an inadequate supply" of qualified professionals. The Department allows states to identify their own shortage areas, but encourages them to follow a prescribed methodology based on unfilled positions, positions filled by professionals with irregular certifications, and positions filled by professionals certified in other areas. Because the Department allows states to report shortages as they wish, some states only report teacher shortages while others include administrative shortages as well. Please reference each state's department of education to learn more about their particular shortage areas.

The following states reported a shortage in school speech-language pathologists:

  • Alabama
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

SLP Resources