Friday, September 18, 2009

What Are You Getting Yourself Into?

I thought I’d take a moment to discuss SPHS career paths and their various requirements so that you can best match your goals and interests. You can rest assured that the job market predictions for SPHS are great, so finding and keeping a job should be relatively stress-free compared to some other fields. I recommend checking out the student page on the ASHA website to get more detailed information:


What: ASHA states that SLPs work to, “evaluate and diagnose speech, language, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders” as well as, “treat speech, language, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly.” There are a variety of settings in which an SLP can work, including hospitals, schools, private clinics, rehab centers, nursing facilities, telepractice, and home-intervention programs. There is also the opportunity to teach at the university level with a Masters (clinical) or PhD.

HowIn order to build a solid educational foundation early on, ASHA recommends starting to take science, math, and psychology classes (among others) even in high school. At the undergraduate level, they recommend taking linguistics, psychology, anatomy, human development, math, and lots of other things. It is not necessary to have an undergrad degree in SPHS to apply for grad school, as many schools accept students with completely unrelated degrees. However, it will take about a year longer to complete your Masters due to KASA standards on education requirements for all practicing SLPs.

You can read my entry on what to do as an undergrad to get a better picture on how to prepare, but I’d venture to say that the bulk of work falls during grad school. To practice as an SLP, most states require state licensure, which may be in addition to national certification from ASHA’s Council for Clinical Certification (CCC). To obtain this, students must graduate with a clinical graduate program from a school accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA), complete a supervised clinical fellowship year (CFY), and pass a national examination (PRAXIS). Clinical Masters degrees focus on preparing students in how to diagnose and treat communication disorders, but that’s not to say that there won’t be research opportunities available as well. If therapy doesn’t interest you as much as research, I would consider pursuing a theoretical Masters in SPHS that may lead more directly into doctoral programs.

MoneyEarnings for SLPs will depend on the setting of employment, geographical location, experience, and position. As reported by ASHA, the median salary for clinicians is $60,000, whereas SLPs in administrative positions pulled in about $70,000. In general, SLPs in skilled nursing facilities and general medical hospitals made more than their colleagues in rehab/pediatric hospitals and home health care. Clinicians’ pay across the country was ranked from high to low as follows: the West, the Northeast, the South, and the Midwest. Visit this Bureau of Labor Statistics link or ASHA’s publication on earnings for more information.


What: As ASHA states, speech and hearing scientists work toward, “providing the research on which clinicians base their methodology.” Similarly to SLPs, SPH scientists have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings including universities, labs, and government.

HowASHA recommends similar education preparations for SPH scientists as for SLPs (see above), however the grad track is significantly different. SPH scientists first apply for theoretical, research-based Masters programs that guide them toward their area of interest. After completing this, they must also complete a doctoral program.

MoneyUnfortunatley, ASHA didn’t provide any specifics on earnings for SPH scientists other than to say pay will depend on employment setting, geographical location, and experience.


WhatSLPAs assist SLPs in their work, but have a more limited scope of practice than licensed SLPs. As ASHA puts it, “Speech-language pathology assistants are support personnel who, following academic and/or on-the-job training, perform tasks prescribed, directed, and supervised by ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists.” If and how much an institution uses SLPAs depends on their needs and the number of licensed SLPs available to supervise them. I've learned that SLPAs often make materials, administer tests, and give therapy under the direction of an SLP, but are not able to interpret test scores, plan treatment, or work with family education.

HowDepending on the state, SLPAs may be required to have an education level anywhere from a high school diploma to a bachelors degree with some graduate work in SPHS. There may also be state-specific requirements for the number of observation and/or clinic hours. ASHA doesn’t regulate SLPAs or offer any certification, so it’s really up to you to figure out what’s required for your state. If this career interests you, spend some time reading over ASHA’s page on it, SLP forums, and education requirements for your state.

Working as an SLPA before training to become an SLP may offer you unique on-the-job experiences and some money. However, be wary of relying on this method because many of the educational requirements of SLPA associates degree may differ from the requirements of bachelors and Masters degrees, so you’ll end up spending more time playing catch up.

MoneyIt’s hard to find info on SLPA earnings, but here’s what I got. SLPAs will make less than SLPs simply out of training and experience (look at above SLP earnings to get an idea). I’ve heard some projections of 60-70% less than SLP earnings, but it will probably depend on your employment setting, geographical location, experience, and position. If you work in a school system, you will most likely make around $30,000-$40,000, which is what beginning teachers make. If you work for a private company, you might have a chance to make more. Area of the country will also play a large role in your pay.

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