How to Choose Your Speech Pathologist Career Setting

As a speech pathologist, you’re helping people with speech, communication, language and/or swallowing disorders learn how to communicate more effectively. There are many diverse types of populations that benefit from the work of speech pathologists. The types of SLP work environment possibilities are just as varied.When you’re thinking about how to choose a speech pathologist career setting, you’ll want to consider the types of patients you want to help and the types of communication and/or swallowing disorders you want to address. The good news is, with a quickly growing job outlook for SLP jobs, there’s lots of opportunity for whatever type of work environment you crave.

Sponsored Online Speech Pathology Programs

Sponsored Program

Earn your Online Master’s in Speech Pathology from Emerson College

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • No GRE Required for all 2021 Cohorts
  • 5-term and 9-term study options
  • Now accepting applications

NYU Campus

Sponsored Program

Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

  • Live, online classes of no more than 15 students
  • Prepare for SLP licensure from anywhere in the country using a state-of-the-art online platform
  • Now accepting applications

Sponsored Program

Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Full-time and part-time options available
  • Same standards as the on-campus program, which has 50+ years educating SLPs
  • Now accepting applications

Where Can a Speech Pathologist Work?

Speech pathologists work in all 50 states in a variety of environments. Wherever there are people who need help with communication, swallowing or language skills, there may be speech pathologist jobs.

In 2018, there were 153,700 SLP jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The job outlook is projected to grow 27% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average compared to all positions.

Currently, most SLPs work in educational settings. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) reports 53% of SLPs work in early intervention, preschool and K-12 schools, while 3% work in colleges and universities.

In the next decade, there may be more demand for SLPs who work with aging populations. According to the BLS, the rising job outlook is attributed to the aging of the baby-boom population, which may experience language or speech impairments due to health conditions like dementia or stroke.

This means that in the next decade, more SLPs may be needed in healthcare settings like hospitals and assisted living facilities.

How Many Types of Speech Pathologist Work Settings Are There?

According to ASHA, there are eight main types of speech pathologist work settings after graduating with a master’s in speech pathology and becoming a licensed CCC-SLP:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Residential healthcare facilities
  • Nonresidential healthcare facilities
  • Private practice
  • Corporate
  • Public health
  • Military

Within each of these settings, there are assorted environments and specialties. For example, a speech pathologist in a school setting may specialize in working with preschoolers, middle schoolers or high schoolers. An SLP who works in corporate settings may be a consultant whose environment changes daily.

There are also speech pathologists who volunteer or work for nonprofit organizations. For example, Operation Smile helps kids with cleft palates and cleft lips.

The following is a breakdown of what to expect from working in each of the main types of speech pathologist work settings.

Speech Pathologist in a School Setting

Speech pathologists work in schools at every level, from early intervention to colleges and universities. Speech pathologists screen and diagnose clients who need assistance with speech, language, communication and/or swallowing.

In early intervention, preschool and K-12 schools, SLPs:

  • Work with children and teens with speech, communication and swallowing disorders and disabilities.
  • Collaborate with teachers and parents to facilitate communication skill development.
  • Provide one-on-one, group and classroom interventions.
  • Work on communication strategies in classrooms.

In colleges and universities, experienced SLPS may teach, do research or supervise clinical work. SLPs on college campuses may also work with clients and patients in a university clinical facility or at the college’s affiliated SLP facility.

Speech Pathologist in a Hospital Setting

SLPs work in a variety of hospital settings, including acute care, psychiatric and rehabilitation hospitals. According to ASHA, 13% of SLPs work in hospitals. In a hospital, SLPs:

  • Diagnose and treat communication and language disorders and/or swallowing disorders.
  • Collaborate with physicians to develop patient treatment plans.
  • Educate healthcare staff about language, communication and swallowing disorders
  • Provide counseling to patients and families.

Hospital SLPs work with both inpatient and outpatient clients. Some hospitals specialize in treating a specific population, such as military veterans or children.

Speech Pathologist in a Residential Healthcare Facility Setting

SLPs work in residential healthcare facilities like assisted living facilities and nursing homes. SLPs in these settings provide similar care as SLPs in hospitals, though SLPs in residential healthcare facilities may work with patients on a more long-term basis to help clients become more independent. 

ASHA reports 10% of SLPs currently work in residential healthcare facilities.

Speech Pathologist in a Nonresidential Healthcare Facility Setting

Nonresidential healthcare facilities including patients’ homes and free-standing healthcare providers, such as doctors’ offices and hearing and speech clinics. ASHA reports 16% of SLPs work in nonresidential healthcare facilities.

SLPs who work in nonresidential healthcare facilities may be employed by home health agencies or provide home care through private practice. These SLPs may specialize or treat a variety of clients and patients.

Speech Pathologist in a Private Practice Setting

Around 19% of SLPs choose to work in private practice, ASHA reports, owning their own business and/or employing others in a large practice. SLPs in private practice may work alone and provide services to a special type of population or for a specific type of disorder.

Some SLPs create larger practices that employ a variety of medical professionals, where patients can get comprehensive treatment. Other SLP private practice owners may create large private practices that have SLPs who treat a variety of populations/disorders.

For SLPs who don’t want to be business owners but who want to work in private practice, they might seek employment with a private practice employer.

Speech Pathologist in a Corporate Setting

Speech pathologist work in a corporate setting can take many paths. SLPs might work as a consultant to businesses to provide services like:

  • Training customer service representatives for how to work with clients who have hearing loss.
  • Teaching communication skills like presentations and public speaking, accent modification and business communication.
  • Providing assessments and training for speech sound production, language, fluency and voice.

Some SLPs in the corporate world work for large companies and travel to different offices to provide training. Others work as independent consultants who provide services to a large number of diverse businesses.

Speech Pathologist in a Public Health Setting

Local, state and federal government agencies employ SLPs in clinical and administrative settings. In public health departments, SLPs provide speech, communication, language and swallowing disorder services to patients depending on state needs.

Speech Pathologist in a Military Setting

In military branches like the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy, speech pathologists may work on base or may provide SLP treatments to veteran populations who have re-entered civilian life.

Clinical Specialty Areas

With clinical certification, speech pathologists can advance their SLP career and provide services to a specific population or work on a specific type of speech, language, communication or swallowing disorder. Within clinical speech pathology, there are three main areas of clinical specialty certification

The first step to becoming clinically certified is to hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), which is the nationally recognized credential representing excellence in speech-language pathology. From there, an SLP can pursue additional clinical specialty certifications.

With clinical specialty certification, an SLP can add credentials to their title. Some employers will require that job candidates possess a certain clinical specialty certification. Some specialized SLPs open up a private practice focusing on their specialty. Others work with patients who can benefit from the SLP’s specialized knowledge.

SLPs might also pursue additional training in audiology, which is the study of hearing and balance. Audiologists can diagnose, prevent and treat hearing and balance disorders. The clinical certification for audiology is the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A). The American Audiology Board of Intraoperative Monitoring provides the Specialty Board Certification in Intraoperative Monitoring (AABIOM).

To receive one of the SPL clinical specialties, an SPL will need to have a certain amount of years of clinical experience in the specialized area they’re pursuing certification in. The following are three main clinical specialty areas SLPs might pursue: child language and language disorders, fluency and fluency disorders, and swallowing and swallowing disorders.

Child language and language disorders

The American Board of Child Language & Language Disorders provides the Board Certified Specialist in Child Language (BCS-CL) credential. Applicants must have at least 5 years of full-time clinical experience after obtaining the CCC with an emphasis on child language.

Fluency and fluency disorders

The American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders provides the Board Certified Specialist-Fluency (BCS-F) (PDF, 202 KB) credential. Applicants must have at least 5 years of full-time clinical experience after obtaining the CCC with an emphasis on fluency and fluency disorders.

Swallowing and swallowing disorders

The American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders provides the Board Certified Specialist-Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (BCS-S) credential. Applicants must have at least 3 years of full-time clinical experience after obtaining the CCC with an emphasis on dysphagia.

Which Skills Fit Your Target Speech Pathologist Career?

Matching up your skills with your SLP career and salary aspirations can make your career more enjoyable and meaningful. According to Gallup, employees who use their strengths at work every day are three times more likely to report an excellent quality of life. They’re also 15% less likely to quit their jobs, 8% more productive and 6 times more likely to be engaged at work.

If you’re unsure of your skills, ask those close to you what they’d identify—you might be surprised at what you learn. You can also take a personality test to uncover strengths and consider how to apply those to an SLP job.

There are other special skills, like knowing another language, that can benefit you in an SLP career. Think about the following skills as you consider the SLP setting you want to work in.

Interpersonal skills

Speech pathology is a very social career. You’ll have to communicate effectively with your clients and collaborate with other professionals in your work setting, like doctors or teachers.

Consider who you relate to and who you work best with. That may influence the type of clients you want to work with and the type of role and work setting you want to have as an SLP.

Multilingual skills

It’s increasingly common to work with clients who don’t speak English as a first language. A 2018 report by the Migration Policy Institute found in 2016 in the U.S., about 22% of the population ages 5 and older spoke a language other than English at home.

Knowing another language can help you connect with more clients and provide more effective treatment. It may also open more doors to bilingual speech pathologist jobs in certain environments, such as a bilingual private practice or in specializing in working with non-English speakers in certain settings like hospitals or schools.

Managerial skills

If you love to lead and can effectively manage others, opening up your own SLP private practice may be appealing. As an SLP private practice owner, you’ll have to inspire and motivate teams, manage interpersonal conflicts among employees and keep SLPs engaged so they provide effective work at your practice.

Research skills

If you love research, you might be interested in an SLP career as a researcher or instructor who facilitates learning and research. SLPs might pursue higher education in the form of a clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology so they can perform research and advance the field of speech pathology.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Speech Pathology School

  • Is the program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation? You’ll want to attend an accredited SLP school, because that may affect employment or your ability to further your education in a doctoral program or become certified.
  • Where would you be happy doing your clinical practicum? Some schools will offer flexibility in where you can do your practicum, while others may place you in certain settings. Research this as you’re comparing programs.
  • What’s the quality of instruction and student outcomes? Research the credentials of professors to ensure you’d be confident learning from them. Ask about student outcomes for employment.
  • What’s the program and class structure like? Will classes be small and intimate? What will interaction with other students be like? You might also be interested in flexible online programs that work with your lifestyle.
  • What alumni and career support does the school offer? This can have an impact on your employment after graduation.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Preferred SLP Career Setting

  • What type of population do you want to work with? If it’s specialized, like children, veterans or senior citizens, that may narrow down the settings you’re interested in.
  • What kind of work schedule do you crave? A 9-to-5 versus a nights-and-weekends schedule will affect your work environment options.
  • Do you crave stability or flexibility? That may influence your decision to work for one employer versus being an SLP consultant and working in many settings.
  • Are you comfortable in medical settings? If the answer is no, you’ll want to eliminate hospitals and other healthcare settings from what you consider.
  • Do you have entrepreneurial aspirations? If the answer is yes, you may be interested in starting your own private practice.

What Kind of Speech Therapist Do You Want to Become?

If you’re interested in working as a speech therapist, you have many pathways to a fulfilling career, with lots of different speech pathologist settings to choose from. While schools are a large employer today, there are also ample opportunities in healthcare settings and private practice, plus government and corporate jobs. As you consider SLP schools, think about the setting you want to work in to find a program that aligns with your career goals.

Information last updated August 2020

Sponsored Online Speech Pathology Programs

Sponsored Program

Earn your Online Master’s in Speech Pathology from Emerson College

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • No GRE Required for all 2021 Cohorts
  • 5-term and 9-term study options
  • Now accepting applications

NYU Campus

Sponsored Program

Earn Your Master’s in Communicative Sciences and Disorders Online at NYU Steinhardt

  • Live, online classes of no more than 15 students
  • Prepare for SLP licensure from anywhere in the country using a state-of-the-art online platform
  • Now accepting applications

Sponsored Program

Earn your Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders Online from Baylor University

  • Complete degree in as few as 20 months
  • Full-time and part-time options available
  • Same standards as the on-campus program, which has 50+ years educating SLPs
  • Now accepting applications