What courses should you take if you're interested in pursuing a career as a speech pathologist/therapist?
What are the requirements to get into a school for speech therapy? Also, are there any high school activities that can benefit a college application to a school for speech therapy?
Becoming a speech language pathologist (SLP) requires a Masters degree in order to be clinically certified. So that means going to a four-year undergraduate university, then applying for graduate school (which takes 2-3 years depending on your undergraduate degree). Many colleges offer an undergraduate degree in speech-language pathology or communication sciences and disorders. This is the fastest track towards moving into graduate school. However, you can also apply to graduate school for speech pathology with a related undergraduate degree such as Linguistics, Cognitive Science, Psychology, Psycholinguistics, Child Development, or Education. Just keep in mind that, should you have a different degree going into it, you may have to take some extra pre-requisite classes upon starting your graduate program, which can impact the overall cost and time it takes to get your graduate degree.
A typical SLP Master's program has these pre-requisite classes: hearing/acoustic science, speech anatomy, language development, aural/hearing rehab, phonetics, syntax, 1 biological science, 1 physical science, 1 social science, and statistics. And undergraduate degree in communication science and disorders should cover all these bases. I, for example, majored in Cognitive Science before going to graduate school, so I had to take some pre-requisite hearing and rehab courses.
Another pathway if graduate school is not a feasible option is becoming a speech language pathologist assistant (SLPA). You can do this by earning your Bachelors degree in communication sciences and disorders at a 4-year college, or by attending a 2-year community college or technical training program for SLPAs. Both of these options also include clinical observation and hands-on clinical hours in order to be certified.
When applying to undergraduate colleges, make sure to research if they have the major your prefer and what their "average" accepted student looks like in terms of GPA, test scores, extracurriculars etc. That way you can have an idea of the likelihood of being accepted. After graduating with your 4-year degree, most graduate schools require the GRE test in addition to a strong GPA and recommendation letters from your professors or other supervisors.
When in high school, it's a good idea to take AP courses that can lighten your college work load and count as credits toward your degree. Try to take classes that give you good foundational knowledge like statistics, biology, psychology, linguistics, and language courses. Since speech therapy is a patient-oriented health care job, doing things in high school that demonstrate strong communication skills and community engagement stand out. You can try: school newspaper, theater, tutoring, volunteering at nursing homes/hospitals/with children with developmental delays, Key Club/Kiwanis Club, chorus or choir.
Briana recommends the following next steps:
Briana’s response below is pretty accurate. In my case, I started with a BA in Elementary Education. I had to take several undergraduate courses and apply for a Dept of Education license to work as a “teacher of speech and hearing impairments.” With this I could work in the schools but not anywhere else. Nevada is the last state to allow this and is in the works to revise.
In Las Vegas we have one very large school district and a huge need for SLPs ; therefore, they had to get creative before our new college/programs were fully underway. Our local state college offers a bachelors in Communication and recently created a Masters in SLP.
As I wanted to further my career and didn’t want to be restricted to only working in the schools, I applied to a masters program, graduated and completed my clinical fellowship in a rehab facility. Getting my masters opened up many doors for me. I was soon introduced to home health and found it very rewarding too. I returned to the schools full time and work part time as a home health SLP. Also, my earning potential has multiplied.
One advice I can give you is to volunteer in our environments. Although it may be hard to find an SLP or setting that will allow this (because of confidentiality/HIPAA laws) there are some who will with the permission of the parents/clients/patients. Also, there are a few abroad/out of our country “communication “ volunteer programs. Volunteering/shadowing is an excellent way to see firsthand if this is what you want to do and it will standout on your resume!
Here is one that I have been a part of and any of the volunteers will take you under their wings: childrenofmex.org (Spanish is not a requirement; you will need to be at least 18.)
You can start by shadowing a few SLPs in your local area. If you don’t have any personal connections, try calling a local school, nursing home, or hospital; explain who you are, that you’re interested in becoming an SLP, and that you would like to shadow for a few hours or a day. As Elena mentioned, most facilities have rules around patient/client privacy, but many also have policies to allow students to shadow. You may just be asked to sign a form guaranteeing that you will keep any patient information you see confidential.
These SLPs will likely have suggestions about how to develop your resume. As them, “What can I do now and in the coming years to help prepare myself for your job?” Ideas might include volunteering (ex. In schools, at summer camps, or with your local hospital), taking specific college coursework, or even pursuing a part-time job (ex. as a medical or nursing assistant).
Again: please don’t feel the pressure to figure it all out now. But having a sense of where you might like to go can make the process feel more exciting, and less overwhelming. I wish you all the best!