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How Long Does It Take to Become a Speech Pathologist?

The path to becoming a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is rigorous but rewarding. SLPs enjoy a bright career outlook while making a meaningful difference.

Speech-language pathologist is one of the fastest-growing careers in the country. Between 2022 and 2032, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow six times faster than the average for all jobs. Demand is high because of the rising number of speech and language disorders in older adults. Greater awareness of these disorders in children is another factor.

SLPs improve individuals’ quality of life by optimizing their abilities to communicate and swallow. They are licensed to screen, assess, and treat clients across the lifespan and in many work environments, including health care, private practice, and schools.

A speech-language pathologist is the same as a speech pathologist. Speech therapist is an outmoded term for the profession.

If you’re a college student or graduate interested in a speech-language pathology career, you may be wondering—how long does it take to become a speech pathologist? In this blog post, you’ll learn about the education, clinical experiences, and credentials needed to become an SLP.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist?

The time it takes to become an SLP depends on several factors. Your educational background, the type of speech-language pathology graduate program you choose, and the state where you want to practice will affect the length of your journey.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, becoming an SLP generally takes three to five years. The process for how to become a speech pathologist has five components:

  • Graduate-level education
  • Supervised clinical experiences
  • Praxis exam
  • State licensure
  • Optional professional certifications

Keep reading to explore the details of each step.

Step 1: Complete SLP Graduate Education Prerequisites

SLPs have a minimum of a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Completing the prerequisites for master’s degree programs is the first step in how to become a speech pathologist.

Prerequisites vary by program. The typical prerequisites include:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher
  • College-level courses in physics or chemistry, biology, statistics, and social or behavioral science
  • College-level courses in speech and hearing

The standard pathway into speech-language pathology is earning a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders. It can help you complete the math, science, speech, and hearing course prerequisites.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can still become an SLP. You’ll just need to pass the prerequisite courses before applying to a speech-language pathology graduate program.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology

The next step in how to become a speech pathologist is to earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. A master’s degree will prepare you to practice independently as an SLP.

You can graduate from an SLP master’s degree program in approximately two to three years. The timeframe depends on the program prerequisites and format, whether full- or part-time.

You may be curious whether a doctorate is right for you. Consider a research doctorate (PhD) in communication sciences and disorders if you want to pursue a career as a professor, researcher, or administrator. Once you have a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, you can earn a clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology to prepare for advanced roles, such as a master clinician or clinical administrator.

How to Choose a Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Program?

It’s important to choose a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). Most states require a CAA-accredited master’s degree to obtain professional licensure. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has the same requirement for SLP certification.

Aside from CAA accreditation, explore programs that meet your personal preferences. Consider whether you want to be a full-time or part-time student, if you continue working during your education, the number of prerequisites, and if you prefer to complete coursework online or on campus.

Use the ASHA EdFind directory to research CAA-accredited programs.

For example, Ithaca College offers a CAA-accredited online Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program designed for working professionals. The program consists of fully online coursework and prerequisites alongside in-person clinical experiences. Students can complete the program in under three years without prerequisite courses and under four years with prerequisite courses.

How to Apply to Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs?

The application process varies by program. Admission requirements usually include:

  • Minimum GPA, typically 3.0
  • Personal essay
  • Letters of recommendation

What Is the Curriculum for a Speech-Language Pathologist Master’s Degree?

CAA-accredited programs will equip you with the knowledge, skills, and experience to implement the full scope of practice of speech-language pathology.

The curriculum will feature coursework and a clinical practicum that builds competence in five domains of learning:

  • Professional practice competencies
  • Foundations of speech-language pathology practice
  • Identification and prevention of speech, language, and swallowing disorders and differences
  • Assessment of speech, language, and swallowing disorders and differences
  • Intervention to minimize the impact for speech, language, and swallowing disorders and differences

The clinical practicum consists of various clinical experiences that will refine your skills for professional practice. In a CAA-accredited program, you will complete at least 400 hours of supervised clinical practice across different work settings and client populations.

Ithaca College’s online MS-SLP program provides clinical placement services. Students get help finding appropriate clinical experiences in their local area, which saves them time to focus on their studies and continue working if they choose to.

Step 3: Pass the National Speech Language Pathology Exam

In addition to a speech-language pathology master’s degree, you’ll need to pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology to become a licensed SLP.

The Praxis exam will assess your understanding of topics across three areas of speech-language pathology:

  • Foundations and professional practice
  • Screening, assessment, evaluation, and diagnosis
  • Planning, implementation, and evaluation of treatment

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is the Praxis exam administrator. ASHA recommends registering for the exam through ETS after completing your graduate coursework and clinical practicum or during your first year of clinical practice. If you take the test too early in graduate school, you may not have sufficient knowledge to pass it. ETS offers materials that you can use to prepare for the exam.

Each state determines the minimum exam score for SLP professional licensure. Most states use the same score ASHA requires for certification.

Step 4: Complete Post-Graduate Supervised Practice Hours

The next step in becoming an SLP is to complete supervised post-graduate experience in speech-language pathology. ASHA refers to this step as the clinical fellowship.

The clinical fellowship facilitates the transition from a speech-language pathology student to an independent provider of speech-language pathology clinical services. The goals are to:

  • Integrate and apply knowledge gained from your education and clinical training.
  • Identify your strengths and limitations.
  • Develop and refine your clinical skills.
  • Advance from needing constant supervision to being an independent practitioner.

As a clinical fellow, you’ll practice under the supervision of a licensed SLP. ASHA certification requires at least 36 weeks and 1,260 hours of supervised clinical practice. Many states adhere to ASHA guidelines for licensure requirements.

Step 5: Obtain Professional Credentials

All states require SLPs to obtain licensure for independent practice, but the licensure requirements vary. Generally, you’ll be eligible for state licensure after completing the previous steps in how to become a speech pathologist.

Apply for licensure through the speech-language pathology licensing board in the state where you plan to practice.

ASHA Certification

In some states, a licensure requirement is holding the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).

ASHA certification is voluntary. It can benefit your employment opportunities, career mobility and advancement, and professional credibility as an SLP. Applicants must meet academic and professional standards that typically exceed the minimum requirements for state licensure.

You should apply after passing the Praxis exam and before beginning your clinical fellowship. Once you’ve met the clinical fellowship requirements, ASHA will review your application. The review period takes approximately six weeks. Successful applicants become certified SLPs.

Additional Speech-Language Pathologist Certifications

You may need to obtain other certifications for your desired work setting. For example, SLPs who practice in schools may need a teaching certification. Your state department of education will have information about the requirements.

You can also acquire specialty certifications in an area of speech-language pathology practice. Three organizations currently offer them:

Obtaining additional certifications may involve completing other educational and experiential requirements.

No matter what state license or professional certifications you hold as an SLP, you must complete ongoing continuing education to maintain them. You can verify the exact requirements with each credentialing body.

Overview of SLP Preparation Process

Becoming an SLP takes a combination of education and clinical experience. The duration depends on the educational path and individual circumstances. Here is a general outline:

  1. Meet Graduate Education Prerequisites (time varies by student, depending on their educational background)
  2. Earn an SLP Graduate Degree (two to three years)
  3. Prepare for and Pass SLP Praxis Exam (approximately two to three months)
  4. Complete Post-Graduate Clinical Practice Hours (at least 36 weeks)
  5. Obtain Professional Credentials
    • ASHA Certification (6 weeks for review)
    • Board Certifications (time varies by credential)

A student with completed prerequisites could become a licensed speech-language pathologist within three to four years.

Take Ithaca College’s Supportive Online Pathway to a Speech-Language Pathologist Career

With more than 100 years of SLP education, Ithaca College’s online MS-SLP program provides a supportive pathway to a fulfilling career. As a working professional in the program, you will benefit from the convenience of fully online coursework and prerequisites, no travel requirements, and clinical placement services near your home for practicum hours.

Ithaca College developed the online MS-SLP program with the same level of engagement, support, and rigor as a campus program. You’ll learn through immersive virtual simulations, receive dedicated faculty attention, and connect with a diverse community of peers nationwide.

When you’re ready for a meaningful new career as an SLP, visit Ithaca College’s online MS-SLP program to get started.

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