Speech-Language Pathology SLP

| 13 June 2024

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

How To Become A Speech Pathologist: 6 Meaningful Career Steps


Communication is key to our existence as human beings. So, who do we turn to when our body or mind creates roadblocks to successful communication? Speech-language pathologists (SLPs). These specialists can address speech disorders and improve communication techniques for patients of all ages.


A speech-language pathologist assists and guides patients to improve their quality of life through better social interaction, educational growth and career opportunities.

Review this step-by-step guide for how to become a speech pathologist. You’ll learn the answers to questions such as:

  1. How do I become a speech pathologist?
  2. What does a speech pathologist do?
  3. Who do speech pathologists help?
  4. What degree do you need to be a speech pathologist?
  5. How many years of speech pathologist schooling are needed?

How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) diagnose and treat patients who struggle with speech disorders and communication issues related to speech and language, whether on the physical or cognitive level. They also address problems with swallowing and hearing. Also commonly referred to as speech therapists, these healthcare professionals work with patients across every stage of their lives, from early childhood through older adulthood.

Communication and swallowing disorders are associated with medical conditions such as developmental issues, cleft palate, autism, stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, Parkinson’s disease and more. These disorders manifest as language delays, voice issues, articulation disorders, fluency challenges, social communication difficulties, and reading and writing challenges.10

This can be rewarding work. Reflecting on experiences with stroke survivors, Meghan Savage, CCC-SLP, PhD, noted, “This population is so motivated, and I’m drawn to that. They look at you like you’re the only person who’s really trying to communicate with them.”

Step 1: Undergraduate Degree

In the process of how to become a speech pathologist, obtaining your bachelor’s degree is a critical first step. If possible, choose an undergraduate major related to your career goals, such as communication sciences and disorders (CSD), psychology, education, linguistics, English or language development.

Step 2: SLP Master’s Degree

Next, earn a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) from a program that’s accredited or in accreditation candidacy status by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), like USAHS’ MS-SLP program – depending on state requirements.1 The benefit of earning a speech pathologist degree from a speech therapist school is that it usually blends an academic course load with practical clinical exposure.

MS-SLP programs incorporate 400 hours of clinical experience through clinical practica so speech-language pathology graduates meet the national certification requirements mandated by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).2 Per ASHA guidelines, of the 400 clinical hours required, 25 of those hours must be in the form of guided clinical observation, often best achieved in the classroom setting. The remaining 375 hours must involve direct client/patient contact.3

Speech pathologist degree requirements may vary. For example, MS-SLP admissions requirements typically include the following:

  • Transcript of all coursework completed
  • Minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Two letters of professional recommendation
  • A statement of purpose or essay
  • Resume
  • Completion of these prerequisite courses:
    • Biology
    • Chemistry or physics
    • Statistics
    • Behavioral or social science
  • Interview, as needed
  • A minimum of 25 guided observation hours in a speech-language pathology setting

Related undergraduate majors, such as CSD, generally incorporate the required core classes to advance to graduate school. However, if you don’t meet the speech pathologist requirements, take SLP leveling courses before beginning your master’s degree.

Step 3: Clinical Fellowship

After completing an advanced speech pathologist degree program, you must complete 1,260 hours of clinical experience and a minimum of 36 weeks of full-time experience (or its part-time equivalent) working under the guidance of a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) certified mentor within four years.4  This transitional work experience is critical in the process of how to become a speech pathologist because it helps candidates progress from supervised to independent practice.

To gain this valuable clinical experience, you may be required to obtain a temporary license, referred to as a limited license or intern license, from the board of speech-language pathology and audiology in your state.5,6 Speech pathologist requirements include a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited CAA program and a mentor-approved plan for your clinical fellowship.

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Step 4: The Praxis Exam

During your clinical fellowship,  register to take the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).7 Students must score at least 162 points to pass the exam and move forward toward certification as an SLP.8 Achieving this goal is a requirement to be eligible for the final steps in the process of how to become a speech therapist.

Step 5: National ASHA Certification And State Licensing

Perhaps the most important step in this journey of how to become a speech pathologist is securing your official credentials. ASHA, which oversees the certification process, lists four requirements that you must meet to obtain your Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP):9

  1. An official transcript from your graduate school verifying your graduation date and degree
  2. Your official Praxis score (sent directly from ETS)
  3. A Speech-Language Pathology Clinical Fellowship (SLPCF) report documenting your completion of 1,260 hours of mentored clinical experience and 36 weeks of full-time experience (or the equivalent)
  4. Documentation of 400 hours of supervised clinical experience, composed of 375 hours of direct patient/client contact and 25 hours of clinical observation

Each state has its own guidelines for licensure. Certain states require fewer hours of clinical experience than others. Some state-specific requirements may depend on the setting you plan to work in, such as education, telemedicine or early intervention. Check the ASHA State-by-State resource page for more information.6

Step 6: Continuing Education Courses

Like all healthcare professionals, speech therapists can continue to learn and grow professionally throughout their health science careers. Some states may require SLPs to refresh and advance their skills by completing a minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs) of speech pathologist schooling. Check the state licensing information for clarification.6

Who Do Speech-Language Pathologists Help?

According to the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO), “about one in six Americans have disabling (moderate-or-worse) impairments of hearing and/or other sensory or communication disorders.”11 These disorders can be present from birth, develop over time or be brought on by sudden physiological changes. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that more than 7% of American children ages 3-17 have experienced some form of communication disorder in the past 12 months.12

With such a spectrum of potential patients, SLPs often work directly with both children and adults, with 42% working in schools, 25% in specialist offices (e.g., with occupational therapists, physical therapists, audiologists and other speech therapists), 14% in hospitals, 4% in skilled nursing facilities and 3% in a self-employment capacity, for example as a consultant or practice owner.13

What Does a Speech Pathologist Do?

Speech-language pathologists learn strategies for working with patients whose communication abilities may vary. Patients may not be able to speak at all; they may speak with difficulty (such as stuttering); they may have comprehension challenges, or they could have voice issues (such as inappropriate pitch).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies some of the typical daily duties of speech-language pathologists as:14

  • Evaluate levels of speech, language and swallowing difficulties
  • Develop treatment plans to manage patient needs
  • Teach patients how to improve their voice quality and create challenging sounds
  • Help patients develop and strengthen the muscles needed for swallowing
  • Counsel patients and their families on ways to cope with their disorders

SLPs use specialized tools and techniques to help patients recover or repair their communication capabilities.


FAQs About How to Become a Speech Therapist

There is a lot to consider before dedicating years of study and preparation to pursue a career in speech-language pathology. Here are some of the most common questions for anyone wondering how to become a speech pathologist.

What is a typical salary for a speech therapist?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for speech therapists is $89,290 annually, or $42.93 per hour, as of April 2024.15  The top 10% took home more than $129,930 annually.16 Potential income for an SLP often depends on geographic location, experience and if they work in a specialty field.

How long does it take to become a speech-language pathologist?

With the amount of speech pathologist schooling and clinical hours of experience required to attain SLP certification, the effort to get there can take some time. Let’s break down the number of speech pathologist schooling years you can expect en route to your career (all times are approximate):

  • Four years: Undergraduate degree
  • Two years: Graduate degree (including 400 hours of supervised clinical experience)
  • four years: Clinical fellowship (at least 1,260 hours of mentored clinical experience over 36 weeks. A minimum of 5 hours per week is necessary, and the fellowship experience must be completed within 4 years from the date you begin)17
  • Eight years: total time to SLP certification

Do you need a degree to become a speech-language pathology assistant?

If diving into an eight-year commitment toward a career in speech-language pathology is intimidating, you can test the waters as a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA). As the title implies, SLPAs provide clerical and clinical support to SLPs.

Their tasks may include maintaining medical records, preparing diagnostic equipment and implementing therapeutic programs as determined by the speech therapist. Aspiring SLPAs can take three pathways towards certification.18 One, for example, includes completing at least a two-year SLPA program degree with relevant coursework from a community college or technical training program and 100 hours of clinical care experience.18

State regulations may vary; not all states allow speech-language pathology support staff.19


Career Outlook

Speech-language pathology is a promising healthcare career with job security and growth potential. As of May 2024, it ranks #3 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of best healthcare jobs.20

The national shortage of speech pathologists

Increasing awareness of communication disorders, such as stuttering and autism, continues to raise the demand for SLPs who treat young patients. However, the field has suffered from an SLP shortage for years, “and there’s really no single answer“, according to Susan Karr, who served as ASHA’s associate director of school services for 27 years.21,22

If you are an aspiring SLP, consider being open to relocating for a great job opportunity.

The Demand For Speech Therapists

With aging baby boomers living longer than previous generations, the number of seniors with sensory and communication disorders is also on the rise. There is a need for more practicing speech-language pathologists.

The projected employment rate of job openings for SLPs between 2022 and 2032 is 19%.23 Approximately 13,200 openings for speech-language pathologists are projected each year over the next decade.23

As the U.S. population simultaneously ages and becomes more educated about the impact of communication disorders, the need for speech therapists will continue to increase. From job security to an impressive salary and tremendous resources, a career in speech-language pathology is rewarding. Plus, empower others to communicate better, increase self-confidence and gain agency.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program. The MS-SLP is an online program with four required on-campus residencies on the USAHS San Marcos, Austin, or Dallas campus. The program offers three intakes per year (Note: San Marcos campus only offers start dates in January and September until 2026), in January, May and September. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Prepare to make a difference in the lives of clients across the lifespan with a meaningful career in speech therapy!

 The Master of Science (M.S.) education program in Speech-Language Pathology {residential Austin, TX; satellite Dallas, TX; satellite San Marcos; all distance education} at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2200 Research Boulevard, #310, Rockville, MD 20850, 800-498-2071 or 301-296-5700.


  1. “Council on Academic Accreditation,” CAA, https://caa.asha.org.
  2. “American Speech-Language-Hearing Association,” ASHA, https://www.asha.org.
  3. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “2020 Standards and Implementation Procedures for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology,” ASHA, January 2020, https://www.asha.org/certification/2020-slp-certification-standards.
  4. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “A Guide to the ASHA Clinical Fellowship Experience,” ASHA, https://www.asha.org/certification/clinical-fellowship.
  5. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “New York Licensing Requirements for Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology,” ASHA, 2024, https://www.asha.org/advocacy/state/info/ny/licensure/
  6. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “ASHA State-by-State,” ASHA, https://www.asha.org/advocacy/state.
  7. “Praxis,” Praxis, https://praxis.ets.org.
  8. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “Praxis Scores and Score Reports,” ASHA, https://www.asha.org/certification/praxis/praxis_scores.
  9. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “SLP Certification,” ASHA, https://www.asha.org/certification/slpcertification/ .
  10. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “Speech, Language, and Swallowing,” ASHA, 2024, https://www.asha.org/public/speech.
  11. Association for Research in Otolaryngology, “42nd Annual MidWinter Meeting,” ARO, 2019, https://aro.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2019-ARO-MWM-Abstracts-FINAL.pdf.
  12. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “Quick Statistics About Voice, Speech, Language,” NICD, March 4, 2024,
  13. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Speech-Language Pathologists: Work Environment,” BLS, April 17, 2024, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-3.
  14. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Speech-Language Pathologists: What Speech-Language Pathologists Do,” BLS, April 17, 2024, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-2.
  15. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Speech-Language Pathologists: Summary,” BLS, April 17, 2024: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm.
  16. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Speech-Language Pathologists: Pay,” BLS, April 17, 2024: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-5
  17. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Assistants Program, “A Guide to the ASHA Clinical Fellowship Experience,” ASHA, 2024, https://www.asha.org/certification/clinical-fellowship/.
  18. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Assistants Program, “Become a Certified Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA),” ASHA, 2024, https://www.ashaassistants.org/pathways-speech-language-pathology-assistant.
  19. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “Frequently Asked Questions: Speech-Language Pathology Assistants (SLPA),” ASHA,  https://www.asha.org/assistants-certification-program/slpa-faqs/#how-states-credential.
  20. U.S. News & World Report, “Best Health Care Jobs,” U.S. News & World Report, 2024, https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/best-healthcare-jobs.
  21. AMN Healthcare, “What’s Driving the Demand for Speech-Language Pathologists?,” AMN Healthcare, October 18, 2022, https://www.amnhealthcare.com/amn-insights/news/speech-language-pathologists.
  22. The ASHA Leader, “Retired,” ASHA, April 1, 2019, https://leader.pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/leader.PPL.24042019.22.
  23. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Speech-Language Pathologists: Job Outlook,” BLS, April 17, 2024, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/speech-language-pathologists.htm#tab-6


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