Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech and language skills seem natural and universal, but they’re complex. For example, a person might struggle with motor speech disorders like stuttering or cognitive-communication problems like apraxia.


For people with communication challenges, a speech-language pathologist can help. To become a speech-language pathologist, you’ll need a master’s degree and clinical experience. Visit to learn more.

The first step to becoming a speech-language pathologist is earning an undergraduate degree. Choose a major that relates to your career goals, such as communication sciences and disorders, or a more general degree like psychology, education, linguistics or English. You may also need to complete prerequisite courses, such as anatomy and physiology. Many master’s programs in communication sciences and disorders accept students with an undergraduate degree in a related field.

Then, you can start your post-graduate clinical fellowship, which is a mandatory part of a speech pathology graduate program. The fellowship provides hands-on experience under the supervision of a certified speech pathologist, and allows you to apply what you’ve learned in your classes. You may need to obtain a temporary license, often referred to as an intern or limited license, to begin your clinical fellowship. This is usually available to graduates from CAA-accredited programs who have a mentor-approved plan for their clinical fellowship.

Following your graduate program, you can earn your professional certification, known as a CCC-SLP, by passing an exam. This credential satisfies some state licensure requirements, and it’s required by many employers.

Once you’re a CCC-SLP, you can pursue specialty certifications to advance your career or help clients in particular areas. For example, a speech-language pathologist can become certified in PROMPTS, which stands for “Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets.” This approach to treatment addresses motor development and focuses on a physical-sensory, social-emotional and cognitive-linguistic perspective.

In addition, there are board certified specialists in various areas, including child language and language disorders, fluency and fluency disorders, articulation and phonological disorders and swallowing disorders. However, the certification process is time-consuming and can require a substantial investment of money. Also, some states’ licensure processes differ from one another, which can make it difficult to transfer your professional certification between states if you need to relocate.

Graduate Degree

Speech-language pathologists work in the health care industry, assisting people who are suffering from conditions that impact their ability to communicate, swallow or speak. These professionals are highly educated and possess a deep level of understanding of the human body.

Earning a graduate degree in the field of speech-language pathology, or SLP, is one of the most important steps aspiring speech-language pathologists must take to obtain this prestigious career title. While many undergraduate degrees may qualify you for entry into a graduate program, admissions officers will want to see that you have the passion and commitment to succeed in the field before they approve your application. During the application process, you will be asked to submit personal essays and letters of recommendation in addition to your GPA and test scores. In some cases, you will also be interviewed in-person by the admissions committee.

The specific requirements for graduate programs in the field of CSD vary by school, but most programs require a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, or CS&D, as a minimum for entry. Some graduate schools require that students complete certain prerequisite undergraduate courses before admission, while others have a more flexible policy in this area and will accept applicants with a variety of undergraduate majors.

During your graduate studies, you will take rigorous academic courses and gain clinical experience under the guidance of experienced SLPs in a range of settings. These include community speech, language and hearing centers, hospitals, rehabilitative agencies, and schools, as well as private practice. Some grad programs also offer the opportunity to travel abroad and immerse yourself in another culture to learn about communication disorders from a cross-cultural perspective.

Once you have completed your grad program, you will be eligible to apply for ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, or CCC-SLP. ASHA recommends you take this exam during your clinical fellowship year or within a year of beginning postgraduate clinical experience, and it is required in most states for licensure as a speech-language pathologist.

While the process of becoming a speech-language pathologist takes time and dedication, it is possible for any individual who has the right qualities to achieve this career milestone. Speak with an adviser to find out what specific steps you need to take to secure your future in this rewarding field.

Clinical Fellowship

The clinical fellowship, or CF, is a required step that bridges the gap between being a student enrolled in a graduate speech-language pathology program and becoming a licensed practitioner. While most master’s programs include extensive clinical practicum, it takes additional experience and on-the-job training to acquire all the skills necessary to become a fully-fledged SLP. The CF is one of the steps that leads to earning a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP).

SLPs can complete their CF at many different sites including schools, hospitals, private clinics, long-term care facilities and rehabilitation agencies. The CF allows SLPs to develop professional networks, learn from seasoned practitioners and gain a variety of clinical experiences.

Full-time SLPs typically work 35 hours per week during their CF. SLPs can choose to work part-time for their CF as well, but it is important to verify that the number of hours worked meets state regulations for CCC-SLP. Some CFs also choose to participate in research or quality improvement projects as part of their CF.

It’s not unusual for SLPs to be hired as clinicians at their CF site after completing their CF. This is an excellent way to increase employment options and gain the experience necessary to be a productive SLP.

Some SLPs decide to use their CF as an opportunity to specialize in a particular area of communication sciences and disorders, such as pediatric speech therapy, adult neurogenic disease, voice treatment or tracheostomy management. SLPs that specialize in a specific area can often find better job opportunities as well as a higher salary.

Regardless of the setting in which SLPs choose to complete their CF, they must adhere to professional and ethical standards for practicing as a CCC-SLP. This includes establishing and maintaining client rapport, designing evidence-based treatment plans and documenting all clinical procedures. In addition, SLPs must communicate clearly with clients and other professionals to ensure effective communication. If a CCC-SLP encounters problems with these responsibilities, they must report it to their mentor or school for corrective action. If they are unable to correct these problems, they may be at risk of losing their licensure.


Speech-language pathologists can have a profound impact on the lives of their clients. The work is meaningful, challenging and rewarding. Many SLPs report high levels of job satisfaction1.

The field has numerous career paths, depending on a person’s interests, expertise and desired level of responsibility. For example, a speech-language pathologist who is particularly interested in research may choose to focus on clinical innovation and developing new equipment or treatment strategies that advance the field. Alternatively, an SLP may wish to focus on working in a specific setting, such as schools with children or hospitals and nursing homes with people who are suffering from neurological disorders.

A successful career as an SLP requires that the individual fulfills certain educational requirements, including earning a graduate degree from a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) and completing 400 clock hours of clinical experience. A speech-language pathologist also must successfully complete a Clinical Fellowship (CF). A CF is a mentored internship experience that provides new graduates with the hands-on training they need to become licensed as speech-language pathologists. Many states require a CF to gain licensure, and many board-certified specialty certifications also require a CF.

While it can be difficult to find a good CF, the experience can help guide the trajectory of an SLP’s career. It’s important to find a CF mentor who works in the type of environment that best matches the SLP’s future career plans. This can be a school-based clinical experience or a clinical placement in a hospital, a community health clinic or even a private practice.

Some individuals also choose to become certified as speech-language pathologists, which can be helpful in advancing their careers. The CCC-SLP credential demonstrates the individual has met the highest professional standards for this practice. In addition, there are voluntary certifications for individuals who want to specialize in specific types of communication disorders. For example, there are specialized certifications for individuals with Parkinson’s disease or those who have difficulty swallowing.