What is a speech-language pathologist, and what do they do?
Speech-language pathologists are health care professionals who identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems as well as swallowing disorders. They provide services to clients with disorders in the following areas:
- Speech disorders, including articulation problems, fluency (e.g., stuttering) disorders, and voice problems
- Language disorders, including receptive/expressive language, spoken and written language, and social/pragmatic language
- Swallowing disorders, including pediatric and adult feeding disorders
- Cognitive disorders, including dementia
Speech-language pathologists work with people all throughout the lifespan. Most people already know that speech-language pathologists help children pronounce sounds correctly. But speech-language pathologists do a lot more than that! Speech-language pathologists may also do any of the following jobs:
- Work with toddlers and preschoolers to develop early language skills
- Teach children and adults with autism to use speech devices to communicate their wants and needs
- Help veterans with head injuries recover language comprehension and production skills
Learn more about speech-language pathologists’ full scope of practice or take a closer look at speech-language pathology careers.
Where do speech-language pathologists work?
Early Intervention and K–12 Schools
More than half of speech-language pathologists are employed in educational settings. Speech-language pathologists employed in educational settings may work in infant and toddler programs, preschools, and elementary and secondary schools.
Speech-language pathologists working in early intervention may do any of the following jobs:
- Address feeding disorders in infants and toddlers
- Provide parent education and training for promoting language development in toddlers
- Visit day care centers and other preschool settings to provide services to children with receptive and expressive language delays
Speech-language pathologists working in K–12 schools may do any of the following jobs:
- Provide language therapy to help children follow directions and answer questions
- Collaborate with teachers to develop literacy skills in students, focusing on both letter-sound skills and vocabulary development
- Help students with autism work on job skills to transition to work settings
Health Care Settings
More than a third of speech-language pathologists are employed in health care settings, including nonresidential health care facilities, hospitals, and residential health care facilities. Hospitals may provide services for patients of all ages, whereas some—such as children’s hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and VA or military hospitals—may treat specific populations.
Speech-language pathologists working in health care facilities may do any of the following jobs:
- Diagnose and treat cognitive-communication and language disorders and/or swallowing problems
- Work with premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to develop their ability to drink milk safely and efficiently
- Help patients with Alzheimer’s disease stay oriented and help their families structure their day to help with memory and attention
Nearly one third of SLPs are employed full or part time in private practice. They may be owners, full-time employees, or contractors in a private practice, and they may provide direct clinical services, consultation, or administrative services.
Colleges and Universities
Speech-language pathologists have opportunities for teaching, research, and clinical supervisory positions at colleges and universities. They may work with clients in the university clinical facility or its affiliated health care facility.
Specifically, speech-language pathologists with research doctoral degrees may do any of the following jobs:
- Make new discoveries about speech, language, and swallowing disorders
- Teach courses and mentor students in research, teaching, and clinical practice
- Serve on advisory boards as experts in communication disorders
- Educate the public about communication development and disorders
Speech-language pathologists with a master’s degree may work as clinical supervisors for graduate students in university clinics.
What is the job outlook for speech-language pathologists?
Speech-language pathologists have consistently been in demand, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook predicting much faster than average growth in the projected percent change in employment. Jobs for speech-language pathologists abound across the United States, with positions available in urban, suburban, and rural communities.
According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual wage for speech-language pathologists consistently tops the median annual wage for all workers. In May 2019, the median annual wage for speech-language pathologists was $79,120, almost twice as much as the median annual wage for all workers.
According to ASHA Member surveys, the salaries of speech-language pathologists vary depending on education, experience, work setting, and geographical location, with median salaries ranging from $66,000 to $80,000 in school settings and a median salary of $78,000 for health care settings, with a median salary of $100,000 for administrators or supervisors. For more information about salaries from ASHA Member surveys, visit Salary and Wage Data.
What education do I need to become a speech-language pathologist?
A master’s degree (e.g., MA/MS) is required to work independently as a speech-language pathologist.
- A master’s degree in speech-language pathology requires approximately 2 years of full-time study.
- Degree requirements include both academic coursework and clinical practicum experiences.
A bachelor’s degree is required for admission to graduate school. Some master’s degree programs require that applicants have an undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), whereas other programs require applicants to take prerequisite coursework as part of the graduate program. Students can use EdFind, ASHA’s online search tool, to identify master’s programs in speech-language pathology and their requirements.
What is a speech-language pathologist assistant?
A speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) is a person who, after appropriate training and demonstration of competency, performs delegated tasks that are prescribed, directed, and supervised by a certified and/or licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). SLPAs may provide the following types of services (if permitted by state law and when the SLPA has demonstrated competence):
Assist the SLP with speech, language, and hearing screenings without clinical interpretation
Provide guidance and treatment via telepractice to students, patients, and clients who are selected by the supervising SLP as appropriate for this service delivery model
Serve as an interpreter for patients/clients/students and families who do not speak English
Advocate for individuals and families through community awareness, health literacy, education, and training programs
Read more about this exciting career option through ASHA’s Practice Portal page on speech-language pathology assistants.
Each state has different requirements regarding the regulation of SLPAs. Assistants may be required to be licensed, certified, or registered in order to work in various states. For information about regulations in your specific state, see the ASHA State-by-State information and select the “Support Personnel” subheading after choosing the individual state.
ASHA established the Assistants Certification Program and examination for SLPAs in 2020. This is a voluntary credential that establishes nationwide standards for assistants that will show employers that these standards have been met. To learn more about the Speech-Language Pathology Assistants Certification Program, visit the Assistants Certification site.
How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist
About this section
Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. All states require that speech-language pathologists be licensed. Requirements for licensure vary by state.
Speech-language pathologists typically need at least a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. These programs usually take 2 years of postbaccalaureate study. Although master’s degree programs may not require a particular bachelor’s degree for admission, they frequently require applicants to have completed coursework in biology, social science, or certain healthcare and related fields. Requirements vary by program.
Graduate programs often include courses in speech and language development, age-specific speech disorders, alternative and augmentative communication, and swallowing disorders. These programs also include supervised clinical experience.
Graduation from an accredited program is required for certification and, often, for state licensure. The Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), accredits education programs in speech-language pathology.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require speech-language pathologists to be licensed. Licensure typically requires at least a master’s degree from an accredited program, supervised clinical experience gained both during and after completing the program, and passing an exam. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health licensure board.
Speech-language pathologists may earn the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) offered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Certification typically satisfies some or all of the requirements for state licensure and may be required by some employers. To earn CCC-SLP certification, candidates must graduate from an accredited program, pass an exam, and complete a fellowship that lasts several months and is supervised by a certified speech-language pathologist. To maintain the CCC-SLP credential, speech-language pathologists must complete a specified number of hours of continuing education.
Speech-language pathologists who work in schools may need a teaching certification. For specific requirements, contact your state’s department of education or the school district or private institution in which you are interested.
Speech language pathologists may choose to earn specialty certifications in child language, fluency, or swallowing. Candidates who hold the CCC-SLP, meet work experience requirements, complete continuing education hours, and pass a specialty certification exam may use the title Board Certified Specialist. Three organizations offer specialty certifications: American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders, American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders.
Some employers prefer to hire candidates with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS) certification.
Candidates may gain hands-on experience through supervised clinical work, which is typically referred to as a fellowship. Prospective speech-language pathologists train under the supervision of a certified speech-language pathologist to refine their skills after the completion of the graduate degree.
Analytical skills. Speech-language pathologists must select appropriate diagnostic tools and evaluate results to identify goals and develop a treatment plan.
Communication skills. Speech-language pathologists need to explain test results, diagnoses, and proposed treatments in a way that individuals and their families can understand. They also must be clear and concise in written reports.
Compassion. Speech-language pathologists may work with people who are frustrated by their communication difficulties. They must understand and be supportive of these clients and their families.
Critical-thinking skills. Speech-language pathologists must be deliberate in making assessments to create treatment plans tailored to individual needs.
Detail oriented. Speech-language pathologists must comprehensive notes on clients’ progress to ensure that they continue receiving proper treatment.
Listening skills. Speech-language pathologists must pay attention to hear the clients’ communication difficulties and determine a course of action.