There are few things more frustrating than an inability to communicate effectively. Most people experience it occasionally, but for anyone with a speech or language disorder it's a daily reality. Speech-language pathologists are specialized practitioners who diagnose and treat these disorders, helping patients with problems ranging from a stammer to severe neurological conditions. Careers in the field begin with an undergraduate degree.
Becoming a speech-language pathologist typically takes six to seven years of training. Aspiring pathologists begin by obtaining a bachelor's degree that meets the prerequisites for a graduate program in speech-language pathology, just as doctors begin with a pre-medical degree. Certification as a speech pathologist requires a master's or doctoral degree, which can take an additional two to three years. Each graduate program has its own set of prerequisite coursework, so check each school's requirements before beginning your undergraduate degree.
Communication Sciences and Disorders
If you start school with the intention of becoming a speech-language pathologist, a major in communication sciences and disorders, or CSD, is the obvious choice. It's directly pertinent to a career in speech-language pathology, covering the spectrum of physical speech disorders and neurological language disorders. The coursework explains the medical and physiological causes of both types of disorders, and the psychological and environmental factors that can aggravate them. An undergraduate major in CSD will usually meet the admissions requirements for master's or doctoral programs in the profession.
Although CSD is the obvious choice, it's not the only one. Students can choose any major, though it's best to select a discipline with some relationship to speech-language pathology. For example, linguistics and psychology are pertinent, while a student who plans to work with children might opt for an education degree. Whatever the major, each degree program must include the coursework necessary for admission into a graduate program in speech-language pathology. Those typically include linguistics, phonetics, language development or cognitive development, and anatomy and physiology.
Graduate Degree and Licensure
To work in a clinical setting, obtain a master's degree or doctor of science degree in speech-language pathology. To work primarily in research, a Ph.D. is the better option. In either case, graduates must be licensed by their state before they can practice. Some states require pathologists working with school children to also hold a teacher's license. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association offers a certificate of clinical competence in speech-language pathology, or CCC-SLP, which is optional but fulfils most states' requirements for licensing. Some employers also require the CCC-SLP credential.
Although the training process for speech-language pathologists is lengthy, employment prospects are bright. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 23 percent job growth for speech pathologists between 2010 and 2020, significantly better than the 14 percent average for all occupations. Some of that demand will come from seniors, as the baby boom generation ages and begins to suffer from strokes, hearing loss and other communication disorders.