How Do I Start a Career in Speech Pathology?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Speech pathology is the study of problems in oral communications. To start a career as a speech pathologist, an individual must obtain a master's degree, followed by a doctorate if desired. Clinical experience is part of most programs and also is expected at the post-graduate level. Completing a certification exam is the final step. It shows the individual has met the minimum educational and experience requirements for the jurisdiction and therefore is qualified to work as a speech pathologist.

A master's or doctoral degree is usually necessary in a speech pathology career.
A master's or doctoral degree is usually necessary in a speech pathology career.

A career in speech pathology starts with checking out the website for the credentialing organization in the jurisdiction the aspiring pathologist lives. In the United States, for example, the credentialing organization is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), which offers certification through the Council on Academic Accreditation. These organizations provide outlines of the industry and educational standards required to become a speech pathologist.

Obtaining a graduate-level degree in speech pathology typically requires taking the GRE.
Obtaining a graduate-level degree in speech pathology typically requires taking the GRE.

Graduate level education is considered the norm for speech pathology. Thus, the next step to becoming a speech pathologist is to investigate the schools that offer speech and language programs. If it is not clear whether an academic institution is accredited, ask the credentialing organization for the jurisdiction in which the pathologist lives for a list of schools. This is advantageous because most credentialing organizations update their accreditation lists on an ongoing basis, providing verification of accreditation even if an institution has not yet updated their website or promotional materials.

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Individuals ideally should obtain a bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders. Courses in linguistics, behavioral science, anatomy, psychology, sociology, physiology and general science are standard. Following completion of the bachelor's degree, take the standardized graduate school entrance or qualifying exam such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and enroll in a master's program for speech pathology. A doctorate is required for most professorships, research and private practice opportunities.

Hands-on work is critical to success in speech pathology. Most speech pathology programs therefore require students to acquire a specified number of clinical experience hours, normally during the last year of study. The American standard is a minimum of 300 hours. Following this, the speech pathologist usually must acquire post-graduate clinical experience, such as the nine month requirement of ASHA.

Once a speech pathologist has met the minimum educational and clinical experience requirements of the credentialing organization for his jurisdiction, he can apply through the organization to take the certification exam. The exam sometimes is made up of more than one part, in which case the pathologist usually has to pass all sections in order to get certified.

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