How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Industry Advice Healthcare

Speech-language pathology (SLP) consistently ranks as one of the most fulfilling and desirable jobs for many reasons. Not only do SLPs enjoy significant job stability, high pay, and a variety of career advancement options, they also play a direct role in improving the lives and wellbeing of their patients. 

If you’re interested in becoming a speech-language pathologist, you should begin by understanding the steps required to start working as an SLP. We define and discuss each of these steps below. 

How to Become an SLP

To become a speech-language pathologist, you will need to:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field
  2. Earn a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology
  3. Pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology
  4. Complete your clinical fellowship 
  5. Obtain licensure and certification

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Steps to Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist

1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

To become a speech-language pathologist, you will ultimately need to complete a graduate degree in the field. But the first step toward starting your career as an SLP will be to complete an undergraduate degree that will prepare you for graduate education.

Two undergraduate degrees closely aligned with the field include the Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and the Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. These programs are an excellent option for anyone who knows early on that they would like to pursue a career in speech-language pathology. 

However, other degrees (such as a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology, or linguistics) can also prepare you for your eventual graduate education, especially if paired with a relevant concentration. At Northeastern, for example, undergraduate students may complete a Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) minor or a Clinical Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology (SLPA) minor. 

2. Complete a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, your next step will be to enroll in a graduate program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). 

Some common program titles include Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology or Master of Science in Communication Science and Disorders. At Northeastern, we offer an MS in Speech-Language Pathology. 

While the exact curriculum will vary from program to program, most graduate programs in speech-language pathology include 60 credit hours of material. This curriculum consists of both academic and clinical work, allowing students to learn about key concepts such as speech-language disorders, articulation, phonology, dysphagia, etc., while also putting those lessons into practice in a clinical setting. 

Each graduate program will have its own prerequisites, which you will need to complete before enrolling. For example, At Northeastern, students must complete five prerequisite undergraduate courses before enrolling in the MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. These include: 

  • Anatomy and Physiology of the Speech and Hearing Mechanism
  • Introduction to Audiology
  • Introduction to Speech and Hearing Science
  • Language Development
  • Phonetics

If you have completed a relevant undergraduate degree, as mentioned above, then you will likely find that you have completed the necessary prerequisite courses. 

3. Pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology.

To earn licensure in many states, you will first need to pass the Praxis 2 Examination in Speech-Language Pathology administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). 

To pass, you must earn a minimum score of at least 162. The test includes material about the foundations of speech-language pathology, screening and assessment of patients, etiology, planning and implementation of treatment, and more. The exam is offered at test centers throughout the country on multiple dates throughout the year. 

You can take the exam at any time that you meet the requirements to do so. Many students will take the Praxis exam in the last semester of their graduate program. Others will take it as soon as they graduate so that, if they were to fail, they would have time to retake the exam. 

It is worth noting that any of the organizations you may apply to for your clinical fellowship (below) may require a passing grade before they will accept your application. 

4. Complete your post-graduate clinical fellowship.

After completing your graduate degree, you need to complete a post-graduate clinical fellowship, which is a requirement for state licensure. As mentioned above, you can complete your clinical fellowship before you have passed the Praxis if you choose. 

Post-graduate fellowship requirements can vary from state to state. However, many states have modeled their clinical fellowship requirements to match the requirements needed to earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) credential through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To qualify for the CCC-SLP, your fellowship must meet the following requirements:

  • Be overseen and mentored by an ASHA-certified SLP for the duration of the fellowship
  • Be at least 1,260 hours in length, typically accrued over at least 36 weeks (35 hours per week)
  • Have at least 80 percent of your clinical experience involving direct clinical contact with patients

Depending on the state in which you wish to complete your fellowship, you may or may not need to apply for a temporary license. Check with your state’s speech-language pathology and audiology board to understand whether or not this will be required.  

5. Obtain state licensure and ASHA certification.

Upon completing your fellowship, you should find yourself eligible to apply for state licensure, which you will need to practice. Licensing requirements and processes will vary by state, sometimes significantly, so it is important to check with your state’s speech-language pathology and audiology board.

It is also important to note that you will need to apply for licensure in any state you wish to practice. This means that if you live in a border region (for example, the Connecticut and Massachusetts border) and wish to practice in both states, you will need to ensure that you meet the requirements for both. 

Many SLPs will also apply for accreditation through ASHA at the same time as they apply for state licensure, specifically, the Speech-Language Pathology Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP). Generally speaking, even if certification is not required, it is recommended that you apply for and maintain it, as it is an important professional achievement.

“This is considered to be the gold standard certification internationally,” says Susan Fine, Director of Clinical Education at Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. “Once you’ve earned your CCC-SLP, it’ll set you up for a number of great work opportunities both domestically and abroad and can open many doors in your career.”

Because many states model their licensing requirements on ASHA’s qualifications, you may find that you qualify for certification at the same time as you earn your license. You may, however, need to complete additional requirements. 

6. Continue to advance.

While it can be tempting to rest on your laurels once you have earned your license, it’s important to continue your education as you advance your career.

Many states require SLPs to complete a certain number of continuing education hours to maintain licensure. ASHA also requires continuing education to be completed in order to keep your certification. 

Even in cases where this is not a requirement, pushing yourself to complete additional coursework will empower you to stay on top of trends and developments in the field. The end result is that you will be more effective in treating your patients.

Choosing the Right Program for Your Needs

Earning your Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology will prove to be one of the most important steps in becoming an SLP. Through this education, you will learn the concepts, skills, and frameworks necessary to perform your job well, and it is also through this education that you will begin to gain hands-on experience that you’ll leverage throughout your career. 

“Our students have the opportunity to gain a wide range of clinical experiences,” Fine says. “We have excellent clinical training settings in our program. Our students get trained across the lifespan. They complete a minimum of four clinical rotations, initially in our state-of-the-art campus clinic, Northeastern University Speech-Language and Hearing Center. Students continue with their clinical training within the greater Boston area in a variety of settings, including schools, early intervention programs, inpatient acute care, rehabilitation hospitals, and specialized outpatient practices.” 

Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University.