How to Become a Speech Therapist: Job Description, School & Training

Think about the last time that you had a conversation…how did it go? Did you have any issues with your articulation or stuttering? How about the last time you ate – did you have any issues swallowing? Hopefully you didn’t have any issues, but if you did there is someone that could definitely help you. In fact, the very topic that we are going to discuss with you today is centered around the very person that can help you. We are talking about speech therapists.

Becoming a speech therapist will enable you with the skills that are key to helping those with issues speaking and swallowing to help with gaining those very skills. If you are interested in pursuing this career, keep on reading because we are locked and loaded with all the information that you need to know.

How to Become a Speech Therapist

Once you have decided that a career as a speech therapist is right for you, there are five more steps that you will have to follow to complete the process. Let’s get right to it since we have a lot of ground to cover.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The very first thing that you will have to do to become a speech therapist is to get a bachelor’s degree from a college or university.

You don’t have to a have specific type of undergraduate major to complete your bachelor’s and to move onto the next step. If you are looking for specific degrees that may give you that extra bit of experience, you can achieve an undergraduate degree in communications or speech and hearing sciences.

They are both pretty in line with the knowledge that you will need to become a speech therapist. Those two degrees will also provide you with some of your prerequisite courses that are needed for your graduate degree.

Here are a few good examples of the types of degree programs available in these fields:

Sorry, we could not find any matching schools

Step 2: Get a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology

Each and every state requires that a speech therapist have a master’s degree. During your master’s degree program you will be introduced to interesting and informative topics that will help prepare you to assist your patients. You’ll cover voice articulation, phonology, literacy and neurological substrates. These courses will also help to prepare you for the state required licensing exams as well. One other important thing about your time working towards your master’s degree is that this is the time that you will be able to specialize in certain areas of speech therapy. An example of a great specialization to have would be early intervention where you will provide school aged children and younger that have developmental or neurogenic disorders, the therapy they need. During your schooling for a master’s degree, you will also be required to complete a supervised clinical practicum that you will have to clock 400 hours of time in. During your practicum you will be tasked with diagnosing and treating a variety of patients that have different linguistic needs that are from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Step 3: Earn Your Credentials

Earning your credentials is a pretty important part of becoming a speech therapist. The American Speech – Language – Hearing Association (ASHA) offers the best credentialing for speech therapists in the making in the areas of academic programs, clinical practice, continuing education and clinical specialty recognition. ASHA offers a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech – Language Pathology (CCC – SLP) that will successfully fulfill part if not all of the licensing requirements that are set forth by most states. We’d also like to add that the CCC-SLP is something that a lot of employers require their speech therapists to have before they are hired, so get those required 400 hours of supervised clinical hours out of the way during your master’s degree program.

Step 4: Get Your License

Just as all states require that you have a master’s degree to become a speech therapist, the same can be said for being licensed to practice. The licensing process is relatively simple compared to all the time and effort you have poured into becoming a speech therapist. You will need to have completed a master’s degree program in speech – language pathology completed your required number of supervised clinical practicum hours and once you have done all of those things you can take your examination.

Step 5: Continuing Education Requirements

There are some states that will require their speech therapists to complete some additional educational courses to maintain their license. Some of the continuing education requirements will be completing classes, seminars or workshops. There is also the added benefit of taking these classes to improve your services as a therapist to your patients.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Speech Therapist

This is a good question because who wants to sign up for a career without knowing exactly how long it is going to take to get started actually working…not many, we’re sure.

As we’ve said, a master’s degree is pretty much a standard requirement to become a speech therapist. It will take you roughly 6 years to complete a master’s degree program in speech – language pathology from the time you enter into school as a newbish freshman to the time you are in the final stages of your master’s degree. You will have about an extra nine months to a year added to that to fulfill your required hours of clinical practicum. So you’re looking at about 7 years give or take a few months.

You can squeeze your licensing exam into that time frame as well so no need to reach for a paper bag to hyperventilate into. We know that nearly 7 years sounds like a long time and it totally is. Do remember that all of those long hours spent slaving over your books and computer will be totally worth it in the end. Just go ahead and buy a stock of coffee because you’re going to need it.

What Does a Speech Therapist Do?

As a speech therapist, you will be the key to unlocking a patient’s speech and swallowing issues. You can expect to asses, diagnose, treat and help to prevent further speaking and swallowing issues in a variety of patients. You will encounter patients that have speech and swallowing issues as a result of strokes, brain injuries, hearing issues, developmental delays, facial deformities, birth defects as well as emotional problems.

Your duties will vary from day to day and from patient to patient. Let’s take a look what you can expect to do when it comes to diagnosing your patients:

  • Assess each patient and evaluate the level of difficulty they have with speech and language
  • Determine what the patient’s communication issues are by giving them standardized tests that are age appropriate
  • Determine the different treatment options that are available based upon the client’s needs
  • Draft a treatment plan for the patient and carry it out to ensure that each individual goal is achieved

Now that we know what the process of assessing and diagnosing patients with speech or swallowing issues is, let’s find out what you will do when treating them:

  • Show patients the proper way to make sounds and improve their speech clarity
  • For those patients that have limited or no speaking abilities, you will teach them alternative methods of communicating such as sign language
  • There will be some patients that need assistance with their ability to read and write correctly, which you will teach them coping skills to improve upon these skills
  • Teach patients with swallowing issues how to swallow properly by giving them exercises to develop and strengthen the appropriate muscles
  • Likely the most important thing you will do for you patients during their treatment is to counsel them and their families. This extra bit of TLC will help them learn to cope and may even improve the outcome of therapy

Where Can I Work as a Speech Therapist?

Speech therapists are employed at a great many facilities and as of 2012 held about 134,100 jobs. Nearly half the employed speech therapists are working in schools. The remaining therapist using work in health care facilities, nursing homes and for private facilities. Take a look at a breakdown of the areas where speech therapists work on average:

  • Elementary and secondary schools (this is applicable to both state, local and private): 41%
  • Therapy facilities that specialize in physical, occupational, audiologists and speech therapy: 17%
  • Health care facilities (again this applies to state, local and private): 13%
  • Nursing homes or residential rehab facilities: 5%

Speech Therapist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great source of information when it comes to the expected salaries for many careers and the job of a speech therapist is no exception. How about we see what they have to say about it now, shall we?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual salary of a speech therapist is $70,810 as of May 2013. The therapists that are just starting out may bring in an annual salary of $44,660 a year whereas those that have been around the block for a while may earn as much as $109,800 a year. Of course it goes without saying (but we are totally going to say it anyway), that there will be salary variations depending on the type of facility you are employed at as well as the state and/or city too.


Choosing a School to Become a Speech Therapist

This is something that not many of us think about when enrolling in a school with a particular degree of career in mind. It’s pretty important to know the most important qualities to look for in a school that you will gain your degree in speech and language pathology in. The three things that are the most important are: accreditation, program focus and concentration options and hands on experience opportunities. We are going to break them down for you now.


Currently 47 states require that speech therapists get licensed and have a master’s degree in speech therapy. Attending an accredited college that has the green light from the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) in the areas of Audiology and Speech – Language is going to be your best bet. This will make you eligible for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech – Language Pathology (CCC – SLP) that is awarded by the American – Language – Hearing Association (ASHA).

Program Focus and Concentration Options

Obviously you will want to find a school that has an appropriate speech therapy program at a master’s degree level at the very least. Another thing to consider when selecting a school will be whether it has the specialized areas that you are interested in. There are schools that offer special training in areas of developmental delays, hearing impairments and/or physiological issues.

Hands On Experience Opportunities

The ability to gain some hands on experience is definitely a bonus, but not an absolute requirement. It’s super helpful to have access to research activities in your field as well as a community of fellow peers that are also pursuing degrees in speech therapy that you can set up a volunteer group or similar activity. Having access to research and training facilities, such as labs and clinics will give you tons of opportunities to see what all is possible within your growing field of expertise.

Speech Therapist Schools

You can’t become a speech therapist without going to school, so let’s look at some of the choices out there.

Towson University

There is a Department of Audiology, Speech – Language Pathology and Deaf Studies at the Towson University that is located in Towson, Maryland. There is both a bachelor’s undergraduate degree as well as a master’s graduate degree. Towson University requires that each degree course be completed with a grade of 2.0 or higher, which doesn’t allow for a pass/fail option. A few of the undergraduate courses available are Intro to Psychology, Social/Behavioral Science and Writing for a Liberal Education. For those that are interested in the graduate program, there are some interesting classes available. Some classes available are Hearing Science, Language Disorders in Children and Phonetics in American English.

Florida International University

Florida International University has a Master of Science in Speech – Language Pathology (MS – SLP) program to help prepare students that have completed their undergraduate degrees and intend on going the distance to become a full-fledged speech therapist. This program will help students prepare for the job by teaching them how to identify, assess and manage speech, language as well as cognitive and swallowing disorders. This program also places an emphasis on the needs of bilingual patients. It will help future speech therapists to assist patients that may experience a language barrier.

Alabama A&M University

The Alabama A&M University has a speech and language pathology program that is under their Master of Science degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. This is a nationally accredited university by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) of the American Speech – Language – Hearing Association (ASHA). Another cool thing about Alabama A&M University is that they are one of only eight other Historically Black Institutions that offers a nationally accredited speech and language pathology. There are a great many courses that are offered in the speech and language pathology program and each will be a pretty big help once you are a working pro. You can take classes in Voice Disorders, Swallowing Disorders and Language Disorders in Adults.

Who Will I Help as a Speech Therapist?

Yes, let’s get down to who you will be working with and helping as a speech therapist! While working as a speech therapist, you will work with patients that have a wide variety of communication disorders that may be congenital, developmental or stemmed from emotional issues.  Some of the common issues that your patients may experience are articulation, stuttering, hearing issues, language issues and voice projection. There will also be patients that have physiological issues relating to their ability to swallow that will need treatment as well.

Pop Quiz Time

You may be wondering if a career as a speech therapist is the right one for you, but we totally bombed our ESP 101 course so we can’t tell you answer to that. We can, however, direct you to a fun quiz that will ask you some important questions pertaining to the job as a speech therapist. Take a few minutes to take it even if just for fun! You can click right here to access the quiz! Remember, when in doubt select C as your answer…just kidding!

Career Advice from Speech Therapist, Helen – Take a look!

We tapped into the awesome YouTube video source “icouldstories” to find a great video about being a speech therapist. We feel like we hit the jackpot with the video about Helen, a speech therapist from England. In the video she tells us all about her job and what motivated her to pursue the path to become a speech therapist. She definitely provides a lot of good information that will really help you on your own path to deciding if this is the career for you. Go ahead and watch it! It’s only 4 minutes long and so worth it. Happy watching!

Final Grade

This is a really important section because it gives us a chance to really break down all of the most important elements of this career. Take a close at each of these sections to help you make an informed decision as to whether or not this is the right career path for you.

  • Degree vs. Debt: B

As we know, the salary for speech therapist is quite good, so that’s a definite plus. We also know that you will have to go to school for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but you may be better suited to shoot for a master’s degree. With these four to six year degrees you will have to shell out a pretty penny or get some loans to cover the costs. You’ll likely earn a good enough wage to begin paying some of that loan money back, but you’ll still have to take that initial hit to the wallet.

  • Difficulty of Degree: B

The process for getting a degree as a speech therapist is going to be long, intense and will require a ton of reading and writing. Having said that though, it’s not incredibly difficult and doesn’t require any super hard classes. We’d totally pursue this career path if given the opportunity because it truly seems super interesting and rewarding.

  • Happiness Quotient: A

You can’t go wrong with a job that allows you to help people with one of the most basic human functions – speaking. Our speech is something that we tend to take for granted, but for some people it can be a real challenge to utter the most basic sentence. That’s where speech therapists come in and save the day. It’s a great and relatively stress free job that proves to be very rewarding when one of your patients is able to thank you by speaking to you.

  • Job Outlook: A+

Going into the speech therapy field is an excellent idea if you want a career that has a great job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently projecting that the job growth for speech therapist is expected to be around 19% from 2012 to 2022. This is much faster than the average job growth and bodes very well for those in this field. There are a few contributing factors to the mega growth of this career. The aging baby boomer population is going to encounter health issues that require therapy for speech or language impairments. The other big issue that is impacting the job growth is the increased awareness of speech and language disorders in younger children.

Sources and Recommended Reading

Sources, get your sources here! We wouldn’t be able to get anything done if it wasn’t for all of the amazing information that we’ve gathered from our sources. Click away on these links right below our babbling or on the textual link throughout, either way you click about it, there will be tons of extra info to be had.

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