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How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Learn how to become a speech pathologist

A speech disorder impacts more than someone’s ability to speak clearly. The inability to form certain sounds or to speak in a clear, uninterrupted manner will impact someone’s emotional wellbeing, academic performance, and sense of worth. Interactions can suffer, and someone can have difficult with relationships of all types and even avoid talking with people. Read on to find out how you can help and learn how to become a speech pathologist.

How to Become a Speech Language Pathologist

Working as a speech language pathologist requires certification and licensing in most cases. To get licensed, you need to complete a rigorous and extensive education program.

  1. High School Diploma or Equivalency
    This first step is to graduate high school or complete an equivalency diploma program. If you do not have your diploma, there are many excellent online programs available.
  2. Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field
    You’ll next need a bachelor's degree, preferably one in a related field, such as linguistics or phonetics.
  3. Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology
    A master's degree is required before you can become certified for speech language pathology jobs. Make sure the program is properly accredited before enrolling. Every program in GetEducated’s database is screened for proper accreditation before inclusion.
  4. Pass Certification & Licensing
    All states require some form of licensing and certifications. Requirements vary and can change depending on where you work. (Certifications for working in schools, for example.) Once you are certified or licensed, you can being the rewarding work of improving people’s communication skills through speech language pathology.

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Speech Language Pathologist Career Overview

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Speech language pathologists, often called “SLPs,” treat oral communication issues. Basically, they help people talk better, which can take the form of many treatments. For example, a speech language pathologist may help someone with their speech, helping them overcome lisps or trouble with certain sounds, such as the “R” sound. They may help with stuttering, literacy, or simply develop someone’s communication confidence.

The work of a speech language pathologist results in more than just better pronunciation. It improves a client or patient’s confidence, and can literally improve their quality of life by helping them land steady, gainful employment. Talking is something that is often taken for granted, but through the work of a qualified SLP, someone who struggles with speech and communication can overcome this lifelong struggle.

Speech pathologists evaluate someone’s speech, identify treatment options, and create and execute individualized programs. They work with both children and adults, often working with them to make specific sounds, such as the “L” or “R” sounds. They could also help to improve vocabulary, and even direct exercises to strengthen the muscles that make sounds. In some cases, the work can also take the form of counseling, teaching individuals and families to cope with communication and speech issues.

They are employed by hospitals, clinics, schools, and nursing facilities, but some of these professionals have their own practices, allowing them to work independently and define their own career.

What is “Pathology”?

To really understand this profession, it helps to fully understand the terms “pathology” and “pathologist.” (We will take the liberty of assuming you understand the terms “speech” and “language!”)

Pathology is simply the study of cause and effect for diseases and medical conditions. It will generally focus on the four components of a disease: cause, development, alterations, and consequences.

This can obviously be applied to countless areas of the medical field, but the term pathology, in essence, simply refers to the study of a disease’s cause and the resulting effects. By understanding the cause, it’s possible to then develop a solution to the problem.

Speech Language Pathologist vs Speech Therapist

There is a lot of confusion between the terms speech language pathologist and speech therapist. But there should be no confusion, as these are simply two terms used to describe the same profession.

That’s right, a speech therapist is simply a speech language pathologist.

However, there is a slight difference in the connotation and emphasis of these terms. While both are used to describe the same profession, generally people working in the field prefer the term “speech language pathologist” over the term “speech therapist.” “Pathologist” is preferred because it better captures the essence of the profession, implying the medical training and clinical experience that is held by all SLPs. So while people outside of the profession (laypeople, if you will) may use the term “speech therapist,” it’s more common for people in the career field to refer to themselves as “speech language pathologists.”

Speech Pathologist Education

This career can help you become a significant contributor to one of the most rewarding and engaging careers possible. But the educational process can be extensive…

Step 1: Graduate High School of Equivalency Program

The first step to becoming a speech language pathologist is to complete your high school education or equivalency. Obviously if you have already graduated high school (whether recently or decades ago), this step is taken care of. However, if you never graduated, you can still become a SLP. But you’ll have to start your education by first completing a diploma program; one that focuses on health, biology, therapy, or a medical field of some kind would be useful. Penn Foster offers a 100% online high school diploma program with a specialized focus in healthcare careers that is a good option.

Step 2: Bachelor’s Degree

The next phase of your education will be to graduate from a four-year undergraduate program, which will give you a bachelor’s degree in a specific field. There are many different majors you can pursue when working towards a career in speech language pathology, but something that focuses on communication science, disorders, therapy, or general biology will be most beneficial.


Linguistics, which is the study of the structure of language, is an excellent choice for aspiring speech pathologists, as is phonetics, a similar field that studies the sounds of human speech and the physical and mechanical properties that make speech and sound possible. You could also study psychology, math, and general science, all of which will give you a path towards a career in speech language pathology.

A bachelor’s degree generally take about four years to complete, although it could be completed faster if you take on a heavy work load and take classes throughout summer courses.

For busy working professionals, parents, and other types of non-traditional students, there is also an advantage to taking online courses to complete a bachelor’s degree. There are many highly-respected degrees available online, with numerous options from accredited programs. These add to the convenience of pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and many will be accepted by master’s programs in speech language pathology.

If a speech pathologist career is your end goal, you must do your research and be selective with your bachelor’s degree, making certain that is will be accepted by an accredited master’s program. For convenience and assurance, it may be wise to enroll in a bachelor’s program from the same school that offers a master’s degree in speech language pathology.

Step 3: Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology

Once you graduate with a bachelor’s degree, you will be ready to enroll in a master’s degree in speech language pathology. This exciting education will give you a deep understanding of all aspected related to the field, including how speech is formed, the impact of speech disabilities, and training techniques that can help improve speech and communication.


Courses in a master’s program will take many different forms depending on the specific school in which you enroll. However, you can generally expect to start with broad-level courses, such as language development, anatomy, and physiology. You will gain a foundational knowledge of common disorders, studying aspects such as articulation disorders and psychological disorders that may be manifested as poor speech.

As you progress through the program, the courses will become more specific, narrowing down topics to highly specific details. For example, you may complete course that focus entirely on developing speech in public schools, or methods of research related to speech pathology.

These programs allow you to become fully qualified in your field, making you an excellent candidate for this career.

A Doctorate in Speech Language Pathology?

After a master’s, the next level of education is a doctorate, and this is certainly a possibility for an SLP career. While it is not required, you can find greater pay and the chance for a variety of career options if you have a doctorate in the profession. It opens the chance to teach, and it also makes you more qualified to conduct research and train the next generation. You would also be qualified to write scholarly articles, develop research programs, and even direct speech language centers.

Clinical Experience

Part of your education will also include supervised experience in the speech language pathology field. This clinical experience will happen under the guidance of an experienced pathologist who can guide you in the best methods, and will introduce you to direct client or patient contact. This experience is crucial, as it helps you develop important skills that will be used throughout your career.

Once have completed your clinical experience, you can take the exams for licensing and certification. Assuming you pass all the tests, you will be ready to help people develop their oral communication skills.

Speech Language Pathology Licensing

Step 4: Fulfill Licensing Requirements in Your State

An important part of becoming a speech language pathologist is certification and licensing. This is a highly regulated field that requires expert oversight, and anyone who want to work in this career needs to go through the proper channels.

All states are involved in the regulation of SLPs within their borders, and most states will require specific licensing for pathologists. Some states may not require a license but will have registration requirements. To become licensed, you first need to complete a master’s program and supervised clinical experience. After that, you’ll need to pass the appropriate exams.

Speech language pathologists earn their Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech Language Pathology, which is offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In many cases, certification through this organization will satisfy state requirements, but further certifications or testing could be needed depending on your state and your potential employers.

Certification is not a one-and-done situation. You’ll have to maintain certification and complete continued education on a regular basis; usually about 30 hours of education every 3 years.

Many speech language pathologists work for schools. In this case, specific certifications for teaching are likely required. Again, these requirements will vary by state.

Speech Language Pathology Jobs

Benefits of Working As a Speech Therapist

There are numerous benefits to working in this career, including the potential for an outstanding paycheck. But this career has much more to offer than mere salaries; after all, money alone won’t keep you going to work every day.

The largest benefit for working in this career is the chance to improve people’s lives every single day. Speech language pathology has so many benefits; it doesn’t just help people talk better, it helps people gain confidence, improve their job potential, and improve their overall quality of life. As a speech pathologist, you wake up every day motivated by the fact that your work is creating a tangible good for numerous people.

Downsides of Working in SLP

Like any career, there are bound to be frustrations. People working in speech language pathology have to deal with heavy workloads and slow result. The need to work nights, weekends, and holidays can be frustrating and well.

Job Growth for Speech Therapists

Speech language pathologists enjoy a well-paying career that is expected to grow significantly in the near future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected growth for speech language pathologists between 2018 and 2028 is 27%, far outpacing the national average of 5%.

This growth will occur thanks in large part to a new-found awareness of speech impediments and how they disrupt a person’s wellbeing and livelihood. An aging baby-boomer population will also see more health conditions that require speech support, such as dementia and strokes.

Speech Pathologist Salary: Excellent Pay for Important Work

Money should not be the only reason you select a career, as large paychecks won’t help you deal with the stress and challenges of this important, challenging, and rewarding work. However, it should certainly be noted that SLPs stand to earn a sizable income.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median salary for these professionals in May of 2019 was $72,120. This is a strong income, but if you work your way to the top of the profession, you can stand to earn much more. The top 10% of this field earned over $121,000, showing the potential for significant pay.

According to a 2017 report from the BLS, the median pay for holder’s of master’s degrees was $68,090. While this number has likely risen, it seems that the median pay for a speech language pathologist is higher than most careers that require a master’s degree. (It should be noted that the median for all master’s degrees was from a different time period than the median for SLPs, so the gap is probably smaller.)

Clearly this is a rewarding, stable, and high-paying career choice that can lead to an excellent lifestyle and a satisfying work life.

Where Can Your SLP Career Take You?

Working as a speech language pathologist is a wonderful career choice in an of itself, but there is plenty of room for further growth in the medical profession, and if you choose this experience and be applied in many ways to numerous other careers.

There are many ways that you can modify or advance your career long after your first day as an SLP. First of all, there is management in the speech pathologist field. With the right experience, you could be placed in charge of other speech language pathologists, allowing you to set overall goals and use your experience to create better outcomes for more patients.

Specialty certifications can also be used to advance your career. You could work as a pathologist specializing in swallowing, fluency, child language, or many other areas.

There is also the chance to teach. Although this may require a doctorate in speech language pathology, teaching is a great way to contribute to the profession while developing the next generation of high-quality SLPs.

Start the Path Towards Speech Pathologist Job Today!

With dedication and commitment, you can become a speech language pathologist. But you need the right education and experience to make it happen. Whether you have a master’s in a different field or need to complete your SLP education, compare your options in our degree database for the most accurate information!

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