Being a speech pathologist is a very rewarding job that allows close interaction with patients of all ages. If you’ve ever wondered how to become a speech pathologist (AKA speech-language pathologist or SLP), read on for schooling requirements, steps to obtaining licensure, and additional information.

What is a Speech Pathologist?

Before diving into a degree in speech-language pathology, ensure you understand the job expectations of a speech pathologist. You can read all about the profession in the post What is a Speech Pathologist and What Do They Do?

A speech pathologist is a therapist who is trained in the prevention, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of communication disorders. They work with clients from birth to old age in a variety of settings and are ranked as the #3 best health care job by U.S. News.

Speech Pathologist Schooling

Licensed speech-language pathologists hold at least a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. This schooling often takes between 6-8 years of post-high school education.

Speech technicians (SLTs) or speech therapy assistants often have a bachelor’s degree in a communication disorders field. They are not fully licensed, and they cannot manage a caseload like that of a speech pathologist.

How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Once you’ve decided to enter the profession of speech-language pathology, you’re ready to dive into how to become a speech pathologist. There are 6 steps to complete before you obtain your license and can begin practicing.

1. Earn Bachelor’s Degree in CSD or Related Field

The first step in becoming a speech-language pathologist is to complete an undergraduate program in communication sciences (CSD) or a related field. Students must complete all prerequisite undergraduate courses in order to apply to a graduate program. Most universities that provide an undergraduate degree that feeds into a master’s program in speech-language pathology will provide a BS or BA degree in the following:

  • Communication Sciences and Disorders / Communication Disorders
  • Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences
  • Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology

Other degrees that may provide you with the prerequisites for becoming a speech pathologist include the following. (Keep in mind that you may need to take additional courses before or during grad school.)

  • Deaf studies
  • Linguistics
  • Human communication sciences

Each university will require a set list of courses you need to complete before or during your graduate program. If you know you want to become an SLP, look at the undergraduate programs provided at each university to help streamline the process. You can find a list at this site for SLP Degrees and Programs, or contact an academic advisor to get you on the right track.

Quick Note: If you don’t have a bachelor’s in a communications-related field, you must complete all prerequisite coursework or pursue a secondary bachelor’s degree before applying to graduate school.

Speech pathologist student holding books on a campus.

2. Complete Master’s Program in Speech-Language Pathology

After you have completed your bachelor’s degree and all prerequisite coursework, you are ready to apply to a graduate program in Speech-Language Pathology.

To apply to a Master’s Program in Speech-Language Pathology, you’ll likely need to have a minimum 3.00 GPA, letters of recommendation, and completed GRE scores (the minimum requirements for GRE scores vary across each graduate program).

A master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology usually takes 2 years to complete with many programs running through the summer months. In-person or online programs are both available and depend on the university providing the degree.

In addition to regular coursework, students will receive on- and off-campus clinical training throughout their program.

3. Pass the Praxis® Exam

Towards the end of the master’s program, students must take and pass the Praxis exam in Speech-Language Pathology from the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

The Praxis exam tests students on their knowledge of all areas of speech pathology, including information on various disorders; communication theory; screening, assessment, and treatment of patients; and more. A passing score of 162 on the Praxis is a requirement for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Certificate of Clinical Competence. It is also often required to be employed during your Clinical Fellowship.

The Praxis can be taken anytime you meet the requirements and is usually taken during the last semester of your graduate program. Students may retake the Praxis if they do not get a passing score, and it is recommended this is done before they graduate.

Student taking a test.

4. Complete Clinical Fellowship (CF)

After graduating from graduate school, and prior to becoming independent practitioners, speech pathologists must complete a clinical fellowship (CF). This clinical fellowship can only be started after all coursework and clinical practicum have been completed.

Like a passing score on the Praxis, a clinical fellowship is required for ASHA certification. A clinical fellowship is part-time or full-time employment in a school, hospital, clinic, or related facility working directly with patients. According to ASHA, a clinical fellowship “allow[s] the Clinical Fellow to transition between being a student enrolled in a communication sciences and disorders (CSD) program and being an independent provider of speech-language pathology clinical services.”

In order to apply for speech-language pathology certification, graduates must complete a minimum of 1,260 hours AND 36 weeks of full-time (35 hours per week) experience under the supervision of a licensed SLP. Clinicians can choose to work part-time during their CF, but it will take longer to reach the required 1,260 hours.

Quick note: Clinical Fellows MUST complete their 1,260 hours within 48 months (4 years) of graduation.

5. Obtain Licensure and Certification of Clinical Competence (CCC)

Once you have completed your clinical fellowship, you are able to apply for state licensure and your certification from ASHA. Most employers will require both of these to be a practicing speech pathologist.

State Professional Licensure

Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it is recommended you contact your state’s professional licensure department or website for specific instructions on applying for and receiving a license.

If you plan on practicing in multiple states, you will need a separate license in each state.

Certification of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP)

The ASHA certification of clinical competence is considered the gold standard certification for speech-language pathologists, and certification is renewed yearly. Those with their “CCCs” have met rigorous academic and professional standards for practicing speech pathology. They are considered ethical and highly competent clinicians.

Applicants need to provide the following for certification:

  • Official graduate transcript
  • Passing score on the Praxis Exam
  • Speech-Language Pathology Clinical Fellowship (SLPCF) Report and Rating Form.

Quick note: Cerfticiation standards were recently updated in 2020, and it is recommended that students and recent graduates closely examine these changes to ensure they meet all the standards to apply for their CCCs.

6. Maintain License and Complete Continuing Education

All speech-language pathologists must maintain their licensure to practice. Clinicians must renew state licenses regularly (often every 2 years), and renew their ASHA certification annually.

In addition to keeping your license and certification current, ASHA requires that speech pathologists complete 30 professional development hours (PDHs) every 3 years. There are many ways clinicians can obtain these hours, including online and in-person courses. PDHs provide a great way to stay up to date on current research.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Speech Pathologist?

Now that you know all the steps involved in becoming a speech pathologist, let’s talk about how long it takes to become a speech pathologist.

For most students, it will take a minimum of 7 years to become a speech pathologist.

  • Undergraduate Program (4 years)
  • Graduate Program (2 years)
  • Clinical Fellowship (1 year)

It may take up to 10 years or more to become a speech pathologist if your bachelor’s degree takes longer than 4 years. Additionally, if you work part-time during your CF, you may need to add extra years to this total timeline.

Becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist

Being a speech-language pathologist is a rewarding and fulfilling job. Speech pathologists can work in a variety of settings and often enjoy a good work-life balance.

Interested in becoming a speech-language pathologist? Feel free to browse around this site or check out our post on What is Speech Therapy to get a feel for speech therapy and what it entails. You can also contact us for more insight on how to become a speech pathologist.

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