How to Become a Speech Pathologist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Speech pathologists help adults and or children who have speech, communication, swallowing, and language disorders by evaluating, diagnosing, and treating these disorders. A speech pathologist may specialize in certain types of speech disorders or help people with a wide variety of speech and communication issues. For example, some work exclusively with children in the school setting, helping with speech and language development, while others work at medical facilities helping those with swallowing disorders or aphasia. Still others open up a private practice, offering a wide variety of speech and communication services. Whatever they choose to do, speech-language pathologists always help improve others’ ability to communicate.

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Steps to Becoming a Speech Pathologist

Becoming a speech pathologist requires navigating master’s in speech language pathology (SLP) programs, examinations, licensure, and more. To help make the process easier, we have compiled a resource to help guide you through these steps. Below, you will learn what you need to do to complete the following:

       Step 1: Meet Requirements for a Speech Pathology Program Application

       Step 2: Earn your Speech Pathologist Graduate Degree

       Step 3: Apply for Temporary Licensure in your State (if required)

       Step 4: Complete your Clinical Fellowship Year

       Step 5: Pass the Praxis Exam

       Step 6: Apply for Licensure and Certification (if needed)

       Step 7: Maintain Licensure and Certification

Step 1: Meet Requirements for Speech Pathology Program Application

Prerequisite Coursework for Speech Pathology Degree Programs

If your bachelor’s degree was in an area other than Communicative Science and Disorders (CSD), you may need to take CSD-related prerequisites before applying to graduate speech-language pathology programs. A few online master’s in speech pathology programs offer these as optional courses that can be taken during the student’s first semesters, but many speech pathology master’s programs require the completion of this coursework before applying to a graduate program. Schools with fully online master’s in speech programs often offer prerequisite programs, so you can get these requirements completed before applying to a speech pathology program.

Additionally, before applying to an online speech pathology graduate program, it is required that you complete undergraduate coursework in biology, physics, chemistry, statistics, social sciences and behavioral sciences if you haven’t already. This is always a requirement for schools accredited by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), according to their course content standards. Check with the schools that you are applying to and see how many credits of these prerequisites you will need. Many schools include this coursework in their prerequisite programs.

Some programs also require 25 ASHA-Certified observation hours before applying, though typically these hours will be part of your master’s in SLP curriculum.

Speech Pathology Program Application Requirements

Speech Pathology graduate programs will often have the following application requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Completion of necessary prerequisites
  • Strong GPA: many online programs require a 3.0 GPA, and are competitive even if the requirement is less
  • GRE test scores
  • Transcripts
  • Resume
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Personal Statement

Once you are ready to fulfill these requirements, you can apply to programs and work on completing your master’s in speech pathology.


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Step 2: Earn your Master’s in Speech Pathology Degree

A graduate degree in speech pathology will typically take 3 or so years to complete, though some can be completed in less time. There are two main components of SLP programs: coursework and practicum or fieldwork requirements.

Coursework

Speech pathology graduate programs typically cover the following topics:

  • Fluency
  • Voice and resonance
  • Articulation
  • Receptive and expressive language
  • Swallowing
  • Hearing and its impact on language
  • Cognitive and social aspects of communication
  • Augmentative and alternative methods of communication

Your program may also require you to take other courses or a selection of electives.

Speech Pathology Master’s Programs Clinical Practicum and Field Placement Components

All ASHA accredited programs require 400 hours of supervised clinical experience, according to ASHA’s clinical practicum information. Three hundred and seventy-five hours must be dedicated to direct client contact, and the other 25 must be clinical observation hours. Of the 400 hours, 325 must be completed at the graduate level. Supervision must occur at least 25% of the time that you work with each client or patient. At times, programs will require that observation hours are completed before applying to the program.

Most speech pathology master’s programs will spread clinical experience out over several semesters. While many programs allow you to work while in school, you must have availability for various practicum requirements. Some programs will require you to be on campus to complete clinical hours, other programs will place you in clinical settings near to where you are located. Some programs will have you complete practicum hours for several weeks straight, others will require you to complete hours over a couple of days each week. Depending on the program, you may be required to spread hours out across a certain number of sites or a variety of populations.

Once you have your speech pathology degree and have completed the practicum, you are ready to complete your clinical fellowship year. To find ways to finance your education, check out our scholarships page.

Step 3: Apply for Temporary Licensure in your State (if required)

After earning your master’s in speech pathology, your state will most likely require you to complete a clinical fellowship year. In some states, you may need to apply for a temporary or intern license to do this. Check your state’s requirements to see if this is a step you need to complete.

Step 4: Complete your Clinical Fellowship Year

You will need to complete a clinical fellowship year if your state requires you to do so. Although state requirements may vary, we will refer to the ASHA requirements since they are the basis of many state requirements. You will also need to meet these requirements if you decide to apply for an ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence– Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). A table further on in this page will specify licensure requirements on a state by state basis, so check that out to see if you need to meet a different set of requirements.

The fellowship typically consists of at least 1260 hours of professional experience (35 hours per week over 36 weeks or equivalent), completed under a supervisor holding an ASHA CCC. Specific requirements will vary in some states. At least 80% of your major responsibilities as a fellow should involve direct client contact and relate to the management of communication and swallowing disorders. Weeks where you work 5 or fewer hours will not contribute to the experience requirement in states that defer to ASHA requirements, and for ASHA certification you must complete your fellowship within 4 years of starting.

As a speech pathology fellow, you must continue to receive mentoring and evaluation throughout the speech pathology fellowship. Your mentor must complete at least 36 supervisory activities, including 18 one hour on-site observations (a maximum of 6 may be completed in one day). Six must be completed during each third of the fellowship experience. The other 18 monitoring activities are divided throughout the experience in the same fashion, and include evaluating reports that you write, holding conferences with you, or holding conferences with your colleagues.

At the end of the clinical fellowship, a report and rating form is submitted by your mentor that confirms that necessary skills have been acquired. This form will be submitted to ASHA if you decide to apply for your CCC.

Step 5: Pass the Praxis Exam

It is recommended by ASHA that you take the exam during your clinical fellowship, or within a year of beginning postgraduate clinical experience. A passing score is a 162 or above and is the score required by most states for licensure. Testing windows occur every month of the year.

Step 6: Apply for Licensure and Certification

All states require licensure to practice as a speech pathologist, but requirements for licensure will vary from state to state.

In many states, proof of ASHA CCC replaces many of the requirements for becoming a speech pathologist, since requirements are met when obtaining that certification. Often times, the same criteria as a CCC are the standard for state licensure, but a CCC is usually not needed to obtain state licensure. Requirements for state licensure may change if an applicant possesses a higher degree in the field. Also, there are sometimes exceptions for certain requirements and at times states will waive requirements for physicians, federal employees, and other types of professionals. You should always go to the state department website or talk to someone at the department to ensure that you meet all requirements or available exceptions.

Additionally, some states may require those for whom English is a second language to demonstrate proficiency.

If you need or want to obtain your CCC-SLP, you must submit an application with the following to ASHA:

  • Passing praxis exam scores
  • Graduate transcript
  • Clinical fellowship report and rating form
  • Disclosure documents
  • Fees

Fees by applicant type:

  • NSSLHA Conversion: $286
  • Recent Graduate: $461
  • Certification and ASHA Membership: $511
  • Certification without ASHA Membership: $455
  • Dual Certification: $256

Data from ASHA, Last Updated 1/10/2020

Step 7: Maintain Speech Pathology Licensure and Certification

Once you are certified and licensed, you will need to maintain these credentials through continued education and renewal fees. You can look into state requirements for licensure maintenance on ASHA’s state overviews page. Below are the requirements for maintaining a CCC-SLP:

  • 30 hours of certification maintenance each 3 year cycle, submitted via a compliance form, including 1 hour in ethics
  • Continue to abide by the ASHA code of ethics
  • Pay the annual dues, as shown below:

Annual Dues by Member Type

  • Certified Member: $225
  • Graduate Student Certified Member: $135
  • Member without Certification: $84
  • Certified Nonmember: $199
  • Life Member: $64
  • International Affiliate: $75
  • Associate: $75

Data from ASHA, last updated 1/10/20