The 2020 Speech Pathology Career Guide

If you’re considering a career in speech pathology, there are many factors to consider. For those exploring speech pathology careers, this guide serves as a helpful tool to help you understand the roles, responsibilities, educational requirements, and job opportunities the field presents. A career in speech and language therapy can encompass several specializations and work settings, which this guide will discuss in more detail below. This guide will also cover career outlook, salary, and career path alternatives. 

Speech Pathologist Job Description

Pursuing a speech therapist career means working with patients on a variety of communication skills and issues. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), speech language pathologist jobs require working to, “prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.”

Speech pathologists work with individuals as well as their families, though specific duties may vary across different speech therapy jobs and clientele. 

Speech Therapist Career Duties and Required Education

There are specific educational requirements necessary to pursue a speech therapist career. One of the requirements for becoming a certified speech pathologist, is obtaining a master’s in speech therapy that has been accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, which is a part of ASHA. 

There are several different types of accredited programs. Some schools offer a Master of Speech Pathology in the form of an MA (Master of Arts) or an MS (Master of Science). Regardless of what kind of program you’re drawn to and settle on, it’s important to ensure that it is accredited. Accredited programs will offer coursework and clinical experience that provides students with key skills and competencies needed in the field of speech pathology. 

Once you have completed your graduate education in the field, you’ll need to take the Praxis Exam, complete a clinical fellowship, and obtain certification before you can start applying for speech therapist jobs. As you continue working in the field, you’ll need to keep up with continuing education requirements, which vary by state. 

Once you’ve obtained the necessary education, training, and certification, you’ll have a host of new responsibilities while working in the field. Speech language pathologists (SLPs) work with patients who have communication disorders related to speech, language, fluency, voice and cognitive communication. They may also see patients with feeding and swallowing problems. 

SLPs typically provide rehabilitation services, develop alternative communication channels for people suffering from severe communicative disorders, or work with people who want to improve their overall communication skills and abilities. Though in many cases SLPs work with individuals who have medical-related problems or disorders, they may also work with individuals who wish to address other non-medical issues, such as accent modification. 

Speech pathologists work both independently and as part of a team of professionals that may include audiologists, physicians, occupational therapists, and other health care support personnel. In addition to working with individuals, they can work with their patients’ families and caregivers. 

The field offers part-time, full-time, and as-needed work positions depending on location, the specific role, and employment needs. Explore the breadth of speech-language pathologist jobs available to you, to find one that best suits your needs.

Speech Pathologist Job Specializations

As you consider different speech pathology jobs, keep in mind that there are a variety of speech therapist specializations. These specializations focus on different aspects of speech pathology and may require specific knowledge and training. 

Choosing a specialization may open up specific career opportunities, some of which are described below:  

Speech Disorder Jobs

SLPs in these roles help people who struggle with speech-related issues such as producing speech sounds, fluency, or voice resonance. They may also see patients who stutter, which is a form of disfluency.  

Language Disorder Jobs

SLPs in these roles work with people who struggle with language disorders, which may be spoken or written. Their patients might come to them because of issues with receptive language (understanding others), expressive language (communicating with others), and using language in a socially appropriate and functionally relevant manner. SLPs who focus on language disorders help patients with elements of language such as syntax, morphology, phonology, and pragmatics. 

Social Communication Disorder Jobs

SLPs in these roles work with people who struggle with the social aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication. Their goal is to help patients understand the social elements of communication such as adjusting speech to suit the listener and setting, understanding conventions for conversation and storytelling, and understanding appropriate speech behavior in different social settings. They often work with people across the autism spectrum disorder as well as with people who have experienced trauma such as a brain injury. 

Swallowing Disorder Jobs

SLPs in these roles work with patients who struggle with feeding and swallowing, which is a condition called dysphagia. Dysphagia may be a result of an event such as an illness, stroke, or injury. Many swallowing disorder jobs are in hospital or rehabilitation settings. 

Cognitive Communication Disorder Jobs

SLPs in these roles work with people struggling with cognitive communication disorders, which may result in them having difficulty connecting thoughts, planning, and problem solving. Their patients may have experienced a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or an illness such as dementia. 

Deafness and Hearing Disability Jobs

SLPs in these roles work with individuals who have hearing loss or deafness. These SLPs work with both the individual and their families, and often work closely with audiologists to provide the best care to patients. SLPs who work in these roles may work with children or adults.

Bilingual Speech Pathology Jobs

SLPs in these roles are able to practice in their primary language as well as in an additional language. They must have the linguistic ability to speak or sign in native or near-native proficiency in a second language. To become a bilingual speech pathologist, you must obtain certification from your jurisdiction. Requirements vary between states, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the process in your area if you are exploring this specialized speech pathologist career. Some graduate programs offer degrees that specialize in bilingual speech pathology.  

Speech Pathology Assistant Jobs

If you’re interested in speech pathology but don’t want to obtain a master’s degree, becoming a speech pathology assistant may be a good option for you. While speech-language pathologists are not allowed to practice independently, they are able to provide support to certified speech pathologists—taking on duties like administrative work. Speech pathology assistant careers include two main levels—aides and assistants. The difference between these levels is based on training and responsibilities, with aides generally requiring less training. The terminology used to describe support personnel in the speech pathology field varies by state.

Where Do Speech Therapists Work?

SLPs work in a wide range of settings. A speech therapist job may entail working in education, health care, or institutional settings. Examples of workplace environments include schools, hospitals, nursing homes, residential healthcare facilities, health departments, private practices, and universities. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following settings employ the largest numbers of SLPs. 

Educational services; state, local, and private: 40%
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: 23%
Hospitals; state, local, and private: 14%
Nursing and residential care facilities: 5%
Self-employed workers: 3%

Most speech pathologists are employed in full-time positions, and some may need to travel between various locations, such as schools, to perform their roles. 

Can You Switch Speech Language Pathology Job Settings?

As you progress in the field of speech pathology, you may want to change job settings—and it’s possible to do so. Even if you begin your career working in a particular environment, you can transition to work in another setting down the line. Your education and training can provide you with skills that translate to different settings, making speech pathology a field that offers flexibility. 

Speech Pathology Career FAQ

The following section will provide answers to frequently asked questions about careers in speech pathology—discussing salary, job outlook, alternative career options, and changing careers. Understanding these factors may help you decide if a career in speech pathology is right for you. 

How Can You Make a Career Change to Speech Pathology?

Though majoring in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) at the undergraduate level is a common pathway to obtaining a master’s in speech pathology, it is not a formal requirement to become a speech pathologist. If you’re interested in a speech pathologist career and your background is in a different field, it’s still possible to work toward that goal. Obtaining a master’s degree is necessary to become a speech pathologist, but programs don’t require students to have a background in the field to apply. Some prerequisite coursework may be required.

What is the Speech Pathology Career Outlook?

According to the BLS, jobs in the speech-language pathology field are projected to grow 27% in the decade spanning 2018-2028. This rate represents a much higher than average level of projected job growth for all occupations—nearly six times higher. The growing demand for speech pathologists can be attributed to factors such as the Baby Boomer generation growing older and therefore experiencing health conditions that may require the special care of SLPs, increased awareness of communication and speech disorders, and advancements in medical knowledge and technology. 

What is the SLP Salary Outlook?

Salary outlook is an important aspect to consider if you are debating becoming a speech pathologist. Speech pathologist salary varies widely but the BLS puts the median salary for a certified speech pathologist at $79,120 per year, based on data from 2019. For SLPs who have completed a higher level of clinical training to earn the designation of CCC-SLP (Certificate of Clinical Competence for Speech-Language Pathologists), earning potential may be higher. 

What are Speech Language Pathology Alternative Careers?

If you decide not to pursue speech language pathology but are interested in similar careers, there are several options to consider. Career alternatives may require different education and even licensing—and lead to different responsibilities—but they may be  similar in their practices and approaches.

Some alternatives to becoming a speech pathologist include becoming a voice coach, researcher, professor, interpreter or translator. You can also become an occupational therapist, focusing on a wider range of issues than SLPs.

Information last updated September 2020