Guide to Applying to Speech Pathology School

Speech language pathology graduate school prepares students to work in a wide field of speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders. Admission to an SLP program can be highly competitive. To help you navigate the application process for master’s in speech language pathology programs, the following guide provides steps for researching and selecting a program, information on what is required of you as an applicant and tips for making your application stand out from the crowd. 

Education and Professional Requirements for Speech Language Pathologists

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), individuals who wish to practice as an SLP are required to earn a master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD). Additional requirements for SLPs may vary by state, such as stipulations regarding the completion of postgraduate professional experiences.

Many aspiring SLPs entering a master’s program have an undergraduate degree in CSD. While it can be helpful to have the foundational knowledge in CSD, students with undergraduate degrees in other subject areas can enter a CSD master’s degree program. Depending on the program, students may be required to complete some CSD coursework, according to ASHA’s guide to educational pathways.

Additionally, SLPs are required to obtain professional licensure in order to begin their practice in the United States. According to the BLS occupational outlook handbook for speech language pathologists, licensure generally requires the completion of a master’s program, supervised clinical experience and passing a licensure exam. 

7 Questions to Ask When Considering Speech Language Pathology Graduate Programs 

In addition to identifying the application requirements for an SLP school, individuals should also consider what type of program may fit their needs. The following questions can help prospective students in their research process.

1

Is the program accredited?

When a program holds accreditation status, it means that it is in compliance with the standards set by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. This ensures that the skills and information you learn meet professional standards for the industry.

To see if a program you are interested in is accredited, prospective students can search the list of CAA accredited programs on the ASHA website.

2

Where is the program located?

Location is another consideration when searching for an SLP program. Having the ability to relocate may provide more options in order to find a school that is a better fit. However, choosing a program that is local may be beneficial for those who are unable to relocate due to cost, family obligations, current employment and other personal factors.

3

Can I become a speech pathologist online?

Having the option to complete some or all coursework online can grant additional flexibility to students who are unable to relocate, have full- or part-time jobs, or are balancing other life responsibilities. When considering online options, it can be helpful to explore how coursework is reviewed, whether classes are synchronous or asynchronous, and what technology is required. Additionally, while courses may be available online, individuals pursuing a career as an SLP are required to complete in-person clinicals.

4

Is the program available full or part time?

Choosing between being a full- and part-time student can allow applicants to find the level of time commitment that is more compatible with their schedule. Studying part time may give a student the ability to work and manage other responsibilities but will take longer to complete a degree. Studying full time can allow a student to complete a program in the traditional time allotment but requires a commitment of more hours per week dedicated to coursework.

5

Is the cost of the program feasible?

When considering the cost of a program — and living expenses if relocation is necessary — prospective students can research what scholarships are available. In addition to seeing what scholarships and grants are available through the program and federal financial aid, the following resources can be utilized:

6

Does the program offer learning experiences with specific populations of interest?

It’s important for aspiring SLPs to research what each program has to offer and how those offerings align with their interests. According to a blog from SLP Toolkit about applying to graduate programs, four components to consider include:

  • Research labs located at the school
  • Teaching assistant positions
  • Areas of focus offered
  • Clinical opportunities
7

Is there student support available?

For graduate students, access to additional support can be a desired resource. Prospective students can research a school’s health center and the mental and physical health benefits available to students on campus and online. If possible, asking current students about their experience receiving mental and physical health care while in the program can also be helpful.

What Do I Need to Apply to Speech Pathology School?

When applying to an SLP program, you may notice that many schools utilize the Communication Sciences and Disorders Centralized Applications Service (CSDCAS).

Jennifer Blake, a regional councilor for The National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA), advised prospective students to make sure they understand the application process for their desired programs in a post about applying to graduate school for the NSSLHA blog.

“I had no idea that some schools use CSDCAS (an online program that allows you to use a single application to apply to multiple programs), while others use their own application processes,” she shared with readers. The admission process to a CSD master’s program typically requires the following from applicants:

Letters of recommendation:

These testimonials can come from previous instructors or professionals you have worked with who can speak to your academic merit.

Prerequisite coursework:

This can include CSD courses taken as part of a program or in addition to your degree coursework if you have a degree in a different field, such as phonology, phonetics, or developmental speech and language disorders.

GPA and GRE scores:

These measurements are used as one metric for your ability to complete challenging coursework. Each program has its own standards for minimum requirements.

An essay or bio:

This element allows you to highlight your qualifications and interest in the program.

A bachelor’s degree:

Students can hold a degree in CSD or another field.

Other formal documentation:

This can include a resume or CV and official transcripts.

It is important to note that requirements will vary for specific programs. ASHA’s EdFind tool is a useful resource for searching for specific program information.

How Do I Make My SLP Graduate School Application Stand Out?      

According to Jean Gordon, PhD, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Iowa, the program’s admissions committee looks for two things in an applicant: the ability to succeed in the program and a commitment to the field.

While an individual’s GPA and GRE scores paired with solid letters of recommendation may account for the former, Gordon often looks to an applicant’s CV or personal statement for the latter.

“We look for evidence that they know what the field involves and have decided that it is what they want to do,” Gordon said.

To help your application stand out, you can:

Explain why you want to become an SLP.

Compile materials that show that you not only want to pursue a helping profession, but also that you are specifically interested in a career in speech language pathology.

Highlight meaningful experiences.

Share your hands-on experiences in speech language pathology, especially as they relate to what you learned about a specific population. “That’s perhaps even more important when we make the judgment for students who are coming from outside of the field,” Gordon said.

Get specific about your involvement.

If possible, describe one deep experience that taught you about SLPs and the clinical process, rather than describing a series of passive interactions. For example, an SLP Toolkit blog post advises writing about long-term commitments to a few key organizations, rather than including every volunteer position.

Budget your time for the writing portions.

Set aside enough time to write the personal statements, and start early as the process will require skills that clinical and research work typically do not. “I never realized how time consuming applying to grad school would be,” said Teffany Ventura, former president of the National NSSLHA in a post for the NSSLHA blog. “But I got so used to writing research papers, I forgot what it was like to write creatively.”

Ask the right people for letters of recommendation.

When looking for a recommendation, make sure you ask someone who not only knows you well but also has the time to write a comprehensive letter.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

The first step to asking for letters of recommendation is to identify professors and professionals you have volunteered or worked with in the field who can speak to your qualifications. While these individuals should know you well enough to write a compelling letter, it can also be helpful to provide an information packet for their reference.

When putting materials together for the people who have agreed to write you a recommendation letter, consider these tips:

  • Provide materials in their preferred format, such as a hard copy or electronic version.
  • Write a note to confirm their offer, and provide important information including:
    • Deadlines for submission
    • Where you are applying
    • Why you chose them to write a letter
    • A “thank you” for their time
  • Verify that they have the information they need to reference when writing a letter. ThoughtCo recommends providing:
    • The correct spelling of your first and last names
    • Relevant work and volunteer experience
    • Honors received
  • You may also include relevant materials from your application, such as your resume and personal statement or essay.
  • Be sure to provide any required materials the individual has to submit with their letter, along with a pre-addressed, stamped envelope to make the submission process easy.

Is Applying to SLP Grad School Worth It?

The demand for speech language pathologists is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for SLPs is expected to grow 27% from 2018 to 2028, which is higher than the average growth rate for all occupations. In the end, it is important to do your own research into which speech pathology graduate program is right for you.  

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