Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat people with speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders. They work with patients from all stages of life, including newborn babies with nursing difficulties, elementary school children with disabilities, adults with brain damage, and elderly people with dementia.

Job Settings

SLPs practice in many different settings, including K-12 schools, hospitals, private practices, nursing care facilities, and universities. Most work full-time, either in a single location or traveling between multiple schools or healthcare sites.

Daily Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities and patient population of an SLP depend on the setting in which they work. For example, an SLP who works in a public elementary school may see children with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, hearing or vision impairments, genetic syndromes, stuttering, or selective mutism. An SLP who works in a nursing care facility may see elderly patients who have hearing or vision loss, stroke-related brain damage, or dementia-related language and swallowing difficulties. When not seeing patients, SLPs in either setting complete other tasks, including developing treatment plans, documenting patients’ progress, meeting with other healthcare professionals, billing insurance companies, and scheduling patient appointments.

Important Skills

SLPs must have extremely strong communication and interpersonal skills, as much of their day is spent with patients who have difficulty communicating. They must be comfortable working with a wide variety of people, including children, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Strong problem-solving, teaching, reading, and writing skills are essential.


The mean annual salary of an SLP in the United States is $83,240. Salary varies widely by location and job setting. For example, the average SLP in the New York Metropolitan Area makes $107,080, while one in the Houston, TX area makes $74,100. SLPs working in healthcare settings tend to have higher salaries than those working in education.1

Job Outlook

Demand for SLPs is projected to grow rapidly over the next several decades due to the United States’ aging population and increasing awareness of communication disorders. Employment of SLPs is expected to grow 25 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than most health careers and much faster than the average occupation. This will add over 40,000 new jobs.2

Pros and Cons


  • Rewarding: Many SLPs find it very rewarding to help patients be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings
  • Flexibility: Some SLPs can choose their own hours because they schedule their patients’ appointments
  • Work-life balance: Many SLPs work about 40 hours per week and have a standard Monday through Friday schedule
  • Great job outlook: SLPs are in high demand and have good job security


  • High workloads: Some SLPs, particularly those who work in healthcare settings and public schools, can experience high workloads and burnout
  • Paperwork: SLPs must complete paperwork documenting patients’ progress and billing insurance companies, which some may find tedious
  • Repetitive: Some SLPs report feeling that their work can be repetitive

Career Paths

Prospective SLPs must first obtain a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from a graduate school program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). There are over 250 accredited programs in the US, all of which include both academic courses and supervised clinical experience. Many programs allow students to study full-time or part-time, and some offer classes online. Full-time programs often last 2 years, including the summer in between.

After completing graduate school, prospective SLPs must become licensed in the state they wish to practice in. Many states’ licensure requirements include a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). Obtaining a CCC-SLP requires completing a post-graduate fellowship and passing the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology. The post-graduate fellowship must be supervised by a licensed and practicing SLP and last at least 36 weeks. States that do not require a CCC-SLP for licensure often require a similar amount of supervised training. Once an SLP has become licensed in their state, they are able to practice independently. Some SLPs may later choose to become board certified in a specialty, such as child language and language disorders, or swallowing and swallowing disorders. Others may pursue a doctoral degree (SLPD or PhD) in order to work as a master clinician, supervisor, or researcher.

Preparing for Graduate School

Admission to graduate programs requires coursework in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD). Some students major in CSD for their undergraduate degree, but those with other majors can still apply to many graduate programs after completing additional prerequisite courses, such as in biology, general and developmental psychology, physical science (chemistry or physics), writing, and statistics. If a student did not major in CSD, most programs also require them to complete pre-professional courses on the anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing, speech and hearing science, audiology, language development, and phonetics. Some programs require these pre-professional courses to be completed before admission, while others allow them to be completed afterwards. Many graduate schools also require prospective students to submit Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores, 2 or 3 letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement, and short essays about their prior experiences and personal strengths.

Admission is competitive, so prospective students can strengthen their application by maintaining a high GPA, doing relevant volunteer work, networking with practicing SLPs, doing paid work with people with communication disorders, and otherwise expressing enthusiasm for a career as an SLP. Many programs use the Communication Sciences and Disorders Centralized Application Service (CSDCAS) so that applicants can submit their application materials to multiple schools at the same time. Those interested in applying to graduate programs should carefully research the schools that they are interested in attending and take note of their prerequisites, the GPAs and GRE scores of their accepted students, their application requirements and recommendations, and their application deadlines.

Application Timeline

A general application timeline for a program beginning in the fall is shown below, but applicants should carefully check the deadlines for their application year and the programs they wish to apply to.

Pre-Application Maintain high GPA, complete prerequisite courses, take the GRE (depending on schools’ requirements), request letters of recommendation, gain volunteering or work experience, prepare resume, write personal statement, consider answers to essay questions
December to February Deadlines for all application materials to be submitted to CSDCAS and individual programs that do not use CSDCAS
April to June Programs interview applicants
June to July Programs release admission decisions
September Programs begin

Financing Your Education

The total price of speech-language pathology programs varies widely, from under $30,000 for in-state students at some public universities, to over $120,000 at some private universities. Most universities offer scholarships, financial aid, work study opportunities, loans, or other means by which students can reduce the financial burden of getting their degree. Many state universities offer significantly lower tuition for in-state students. Additionally, part-time programs can be more affordable because they allow students to work part-time while in school. Online programs may also have lower tuition fees, offer night classes, and allow students greater financial flexibility. Prospective SPLs should carefully consider their financial situation and the level of debt they are willing to accept when deciding which programs to apply to.

Additional Resources