What Can You Do With a Master's in Speech-Language Pathology?
Speech is the most basic form of communication and a critical part of our development — it makes us uniquely human. From infancy to the end of life, we use speech and language to learn, develop our personalities, and communicate our ideas and emotions. Language helps us view and adapt to the world around us.
When speech/language is developmentally delayed or affected by genetics, trauma, or cognitive declines that cause physiological changes in the ability to swallow or speak, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) provide qualified and compassionate support.
If you’re considering speech-language pathology as a career, this blog will guide you along fulfilling career paths to make a considerable and meaningful impact in the lives of many.
What Is a Speech-Language Pathologist?
Speech-language pathologists are licensed, master’s-prepared practitioners who assess and treat speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologist, or SLP, is the correct term, although many people might still use the older, outmoded, term “speech therapist”.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) cites the Big Nine areas that typically require the support of SLPs.
- Voice and resonance (including respiration and phonation)
- Receptive and expressive language
- Hearing (including the impact on speech and language)
- Swallowing (oral, pharyngeal, esophageal, and related functions)
- Cognitive aspects of communication (attention, memory, sequencing, problem-solving, executive functioning)
- Social aspects of communication (challenging behavior, ineffective social skills, lack of communication opportunities)
- Communication modalities (including oral, manual, augmentative, and alternative communication techniques and assistive technologies)
SLPs are licensed to treat pediatric and adult clients across the lifespan. Adults may experience an injury or illness affecting their ability to communicate or swallow. Other adults may have difficulties affecting these abilities that began in childhood, such as cerebral palsy. Many speech-language problems are developmental, meaning that they are evident during childhood; SLP’s may work with infants and children in a wide range of settings, from the NICU to high school.
How Much Do SLPs Earn?
Jobs with a speech-language pathology degree pay well. Different areas of the country with higher living costs will likely pay more, but overall, the 2022 median annual salary of speech-language pathologists was $89,460.
There is a high demand for SLPs nationwide in urban, suburban, and rural communities.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook shows a 21% increase in employment opportunities through 2031, much faster than the average of five percent for all occupations.
Careers in Speech-Language Pathology
Leveraging your bachelor’s degree in any field to earn a master’s degree as a speech-language pathologist affords you a wide variety of career opportunities. If you have strong communication and collaboration skills, empathy, and patience and are looking for a fulfilling new career, becoming an SLP may be the right path.
Let’s take a look at five areas in which you might practice.
More than half (56%) of speech-language pathologists work in education. The majority work in early childhood and K-12 schools, while a small percentage is employed in colleges and universities.
SLPs work with children of all ages with various disorders and disabilities. They provide a full range of services for communication disorders, including those involving language, articulation, fluency, voice/resonance, and swallowing.
In public schools, speech-language pathologists are part of the special education team. They are involved in the evaluation and intervention process by working with children individually and in small groups. SLPs also provide counseling and education to families and serve as consultants to other teachers and education professionals.
SLPs are trained to use evidence-based practice to facilitate students’ academic success and help them meet the performance standards of the school districts and states where they work. Their responsibilities include:
- Prevention — SLPs are integrally involved in preventing a student’s academic failure.
- Assessment — SLPs assess students to identify speech-language-communication disorders.
- Intervention — SLPs provide age-appropriate intervention to the learning needs of each student.
- Program Design — SLPs create schoolwide programs for students with disabilities.
- Outcomes — SLPs use data-based decision-making to measure the results of treatment.
- Compliance – SLPs must meet local, state, and federal policies and mandates.
In coordination with other school professionals, agencies within the community, families, and indeed the students themselves, qualified and determined SLPs can have a significant and lasting impact on a student’s academic and personal life.
Many speech-language pathologists are involved in early intervention — before school age. They help children from birth to three years old who are experiencing delays in development. These professional SLPs are usually from an agency that is affiliated with school districts, but they work with children in the home.
Early intervention looks different for each child depending on his or her needs. Some of the skills SLPs help with include:
- Cognitive skills — thinking, learning, and problem-solving
- Communication skills — gesturing, talking, listening, and understanding
- Physical and sensory skills — crawling, walking, climbing, seeing, and hearing
- Social-emotional skills — playing, understanding feelings, and making friends
- Adaptive or self-help skills —eating, bathing, and dressing
Early intervention is available in every state under federal law. As the name suggests, “early” is the key to a successful outcome for children and families.
Nearly 40% of speech-language pathologists are employed in clinical settings and are generally part of a multidisciplinary team of professionals, including physicians, nurses, case managers, social workers, and other rehabilitation providers.
The role of SLPs in clinical environments includes:
- Diagnosing and treating communication, language, and swallowing disorders
- Counseling patients and their families
- Consulting with and educating other health care staff about specific speech-language disorders
Patients in these health care settings often present with complex medical conditions that can change rapidly.
- Acute care hospitals
- Acute inpatient rehabilitation
- Long-term care facilities
- Military hospitals
- Outpatient clinics
- Pediatric hospitals
- Psychiatric hospitals
Skilled SLPs must be nimble to re-evaluate, problem-solve, and modify treatment plans as their patients move along the continuum of care. Working in these settings can be very rewarding when you see patients return to a higher level of function or stabilize after a decline in health.
We’re all aware of the seismic shift to telehealth during and post-COVID-19. Today, some SLPs are using “telepractice” to conduct therapy remotely. ASHA describes telepractice as “the delivery of services using telecommunication and Internet technology to remotely connect clinicians to clients, other health care providers, and/or educational professionals for screening, assessment, intervention, consultation, and/or education.”
Some of the benefits of telepractice include:
- Convenience — Clients can receive therapy at home without having to travel.
- Technology — Interactive platforms, games, and comprehensive evaluations keep clients, especially children, motivated and engaged throughout the session.
- Broader Access — Telepractice provides access to specialized clinicians and treatments that may not be available locally.
- Supportive Involvement — Telepractice allows parents of children or other caregivers to participate during and/or meet with after each session (this is standard in most settings).
Does telepractice work as well as face-to-face therapy? ASHA’s 2023 systematic review of children on the autism spectrum determined no significant differences in language and social communication outcomes between telepractice and in-person interventions.
State requirements for telepractice vary depending on where you and your clients live. It’s essential to verify your state’s licensure requirements and policies before initiating services.
In 2021, the BLS reported six percent of SLPs were self-employed. Some private practitioners work alone, while others own larger practices that employ additional SLPs and other specialized professionals.
In addition to providing clinical services, SLPs may consult with corporations needing business training, such as presentation and interviewing skills, business writing and grammar, and accent modification.
You may also find private-practice SLPs in administrative, clinical, and consultative capacities within public health departments and local, state, and federal government agencies.
Starting your private speech-language therapy practice isn’t easy, but it can be rewarding. Owning your own business gives you greater freedom to make career decisions that align with your goals, and with that comes higher earning potential.
ASHA has compiled valuable resources to help you establish and manage your private practice. Things you’ll need to consider to build your business include:
- Billing and reimbursement
- Business plan development
- HIPAA and ethical considerations
- Hiring policies
- Liability insurance
- Licensing and regulatory considerations
- Marketing and networking strategies
Research and Academia
Instead of working directly with patients, SLPs may choose a career in academia. They might teach and mentor university students or work as clinical practice supervisors in health care settings.Those interested in a career in higher education will find that there are many opportunities; SLP’s that go on to pursue a doctorate are in high demand at colleges and universities.
Speech-language pathologists with a master’s degree may be invited to serve on advisory boards as subject matter experts and given a forum to educate the public about communication development and disorders.
SLPs in research careers make discoveries about speech, language, and swallowing disorders, or they may develop new assessment and treatment methods that lead to more effective outcomes.
Whether you educate a new generation of practitioners, conduct research, or supervise in clinical settings, you can improve the quality of life for many people in your community as an SLP.
How Do I Become a Speech-Language Pathologist?
To become a speech-language pathologist, you must earn your master’s degree from an institution accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, pass a standardized exam, and get licensed in your state.
With more than 100 years of SLP education, Ithaca College’s online Master’s of Science in Speech-Language Pathology supports your journey to practice through fully online coursework and prerequisites, no travel requirements, and clinical placement services near your home for practicum hours.
When you’re ready to pursue your goal to start a fulfilling and meaningful new career, and you want the same level of engagement and support you’d find in an on-campus program, visit Ithaca College’s online MS-SLP program.