How to Become a Speech Pathologist

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 04, 2022
4 min read

Speech pathology is a growing field for people who want to help others speak and communicate more effectively. Speech pathologists are experts in the physical and cognitive elements of spoken language. They work with people of all ages who need assistance speaking more clearly. They can help children with speech delays, adults recovering from illness or injury, or individuals with special needs. 

Learn more about what a speech pathologist does and how to become a speech pathologist. 

A speech pathologist, or speech-language pathologist, is a trained professional who diagnoses and treats people who have difficulty with speech, language, social communication, and cognitive communication. Speech pathologists can also assess and treat swallowing disorders in children and adults.

Speech pathologists are trained in multiple areas of speech and communication, including:

  • Speech sounds: How people make sounds and put sounds together into words. Conditions that cause difficulty with making speech sounds include articulation or phonological disorders, apraxia of speech, or dysarthria.
  • Language: How people comprehend written and spoken language, as well as using spoken language for communication. Difficulty finding words while speaking is called aphasia.
  • Literacy: using language to read and write. Speech and language disorders may be combined with challenges in reading, spelling, and writing.
  • Voice: The sound of your voice. Some people may have conditions that lead to a hoarse voice, losing their voice easily, talking too loudly, or having a nasal voice. Some people are unable to make some or all kinds of sounds.
  • Fluency: How well spoken language flows. Stuttering is a common fluency disorder. 
  • Cognitive communication: How well your mind manages language, speech, and communication. This may include problems with memory, attention, problem-solving, organization, and other thinking skills.
  • Feeding and swallowing: The same physical structures of the mouth that allow speech also affect how you suck, chew, and swallow food and liquid. A swallowing disorder such as dysphagia may co-occur with speech disorders. 

Some speech pathologists also have some training in audiology. Audiology is a separate but related field that addresses hearing and balance issues.  Audiology is particularly helpful for speech pathologists who assist people with hearing loss.

You may think of speech pathologists as people who work with children who have speech impairments, speech delays, or difficulty pronouncing words. That is one role speech pathologists play, but there are a variety of other therapies they provide. Speech pathologists perform comprehensive assessments to diagnose the reason for communication difficulties. They may work with clients who have speech delays and pronunciation problems. Speech pathologists assist clients with hearing loss who are trying to improve verbal communication. Some speech pathologists work with clients who have speech difficulties due to medical conditions such as stroke or injuries to the face and neck. Once they assess the cause of communication problems, they create a treatment plan that addresses the challenges an individual has.

Some of the services speech pathologists offer include: 

  • Helping clients form sounds
  • Teaching clients strategies to speak clearly and easily
  • Prescribing exercises to strengthen muscles used to speak or swallow
  • Helping clients say and understand new words
  • Helping clients improve their ability to speak in sentences
  • Training clients in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems 
  • Working with clients' families to address daily challenges from communication or swallowing problems
  • Providing aural rehabilitation for people with hearing loss

Becoming a speech pathologist takes years of training. There are multiple levels of education involved in learning the field of speech and language, followed by clinical training. The training to become a certified speech pathologist includes: 

  • Earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field: Speech pathologists can start training by majoring in a subject like speech-language pathology, education, psychology, or linguistics.
  • Earn a master's degree at an accredited program: You must attend a post-graduate program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) to complete your education.  
  • Pass the Praxis examination: Many states require you to pass the Praxis 2 Examination in Speech-Language Pathology to become licensed. The test includes speech-language pathology, screening and assessment of patients, etiology, planning, and implementation of treatment.
  • Complete a clinical fellowship: Most states require a clinical fellowship before you can be fully licensed. The rules vary, but many states follow guidance for the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC-SLP) credential. Your fellowship will include the following:
    • Oversight and mentoring from a speech pathologist who is currently certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
    • 1,260 hours of clinical work, typically accrued over 36 weeks
    • 80% percent of your clinical experience involving direct patient care
  • Obtain licensure and certification: Once you have completed training, you can apply for a license to practice. Each state sets its speech pathologist license requirements. Many states' requirements are similar to the certification standards for ASHA. You may also apply for certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is a professional organization for speech pathologists.

Once you are fully licensed, there are a variety of career options for a practicing speech pathologist, including: 

  • Private practice: Seeing clients in your own office or visiting them in their homes.
  • Local government: Many counties and cities provide speech therapy services for children
  • Schools: School systems either hire speech pathologists or contract with speech pathologists in private practice to provide services to students. 
  • Hospitals and rehabilitation facilities: Healthcare facilities may provide speech therapy as part of comprehensive rehabilitation services for people recovering from illness or injury.
  • College and universities: Speech pathologists may work in higher education, training future professionals in the field. 
  • Research: Some speech pathologists engage in research to deepen the understanding of speech and language or innovate new therapies for people in need. 

The median speech pathologist salary was $79,060 per year in 2021. The field is expected to grow by 21% in the next few years, making it one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States. There are no geographic limitations to where speech pathologists can live and practice.