How Many Years of School to Become a Speech Therapist?

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A speech therapist, also called a speech-language pathologist, helps people who have speaking difficulties because of physical or mental problems. They work with children with developmental delays and physical impairment, and with adults who have experienced a speech-affecting injury or illness. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts favorable job opportunities for speech therapists through at least 2018. Requirements to become a speech therapist vary by state and by place of employment, but you will most likely need to complete a master's degree.

Job Features

Speech therapists diagnose and treat disorders involving voice, speech, language and swallowing. Their patients might have difficulty producing certain sounds properly, or they might stutter or have a voice disorder. They sometimes have cognitive impairment involving communication abilities, or they have difficulty swallowing. These disorders can be caused by injury, stroke, developmental delay, physical disabilities, learning disabilities and hearing loss. Speech therapists develop individualized plans of care for each patient and help patients develop or recover their communication abilities.

Undergraduate Degree

An appropriate bachelor's degree is the first step toward becoming a speech therapist, and this degree traditionally takes four years to complete. Binghamton University in New York lists common course requirements for an undergraduate to gain admission to a master's program in speech therapy. General courses include human anatomy and physiology, physical sciences, statistics and upper-level psychology. An undergraduate major in speech therapy should include anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing, clinical audiology, communication disorders, fluency disorders, dysphasia, language development, principles of acoustics, psychological aspects of communication, speech science and rehabilitation techniques.

Master's Degree

Most speech therapist positions require a master's degree, advises the BLS. A master's degree in speech-language pathology requires many hours of supervised clinical practice and intensive related coursework. Programs vary in length. Binghamton University offers a two-year program, for instance, while the program at the University of Northern Colorado requires six semesters. The final two semesters there are full-time internships in educational or medical facilities. This school also offers an online distance option lasting nine semesters, with the final semester as a full-time internship. Some courses for the master's degree include phonetics, phonology, linguistics and scientific methodology.

Licensing Requirements

Nearly all states require speech therapists to be licensed, and requirements vary by state, as reported by the BLS. Requirements can include a master’s degree from an accredited program, a passing score on the speech-language pathology national exam, 300 to 375 hours of supervised clinical experience and at least nine months of professional clinical experience after graduation from the master's program. In addition, most states have continuing education requirements for license renewal.