How to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)

Speech-language pathologists offer critical services to a wide variety of individuals.

The primary organization associated with the speech-language pathology profession is the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Guided by a vision of making effective communication accessible and achievable for all people, ASHA supports speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and related scientists by establishing standards, promoting science and professional excellence, and advocating for the patients they serve. ASHA certifies speech-language pathologists. Certification is necessary for those seeking to become practicing speech-language pathologists.

Given the diversity of speech, language, and related disorders within the general population, it is common for professionals to pursue additional specialized training and subsequent certification. A brief summary of additional certifications is provided near the bottom of this page.

This page details how to become a speech-language pathologist, including the necessary education, training, and certifications required in this profession.

What is a Speech-Language Pathologist?

A speech-language pathologist, abbreviated as SLP, is considered a communication expert. Speech-language pathologists are trained to work with people of all ages, including children and babies. SLPs treat several communication and swallowing disorders. Some of the problems SLPs treat include speech sounds, language, social communication, literacy, fluency, and feeding and swallowing.

A person interested in becoming a speech-language pathologist must complete coursework requirements culminating in an academic degree, successfully pass an examination, and complete a clinical fellowship.

Arizona State University

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts continued robust growth in opportunities for speech-language pathologists in the 2020s. Employment of SLPs is predicted to grow 21 percent from 2021 to 2031, with an average of 14,000 new openings expected.

Demand for SLPs is driven by several factors, including workforce attrition due to retirement and job transfer, the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, growing awareness of speech and language disorders that prompt more individuals to seek out treatment, and, finally, medical advances in other fields that allow more individuals to survive incidents such as injury, stroke and trauma and who subsequently need speech therapy as a form of rehabilitative care.

Steps to Become a Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists must complete several steps before having the skills and authorization to work in this discipline. These steps are enumerated below.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree (four years).

Students may study any discipline as an undergraduate but may ultimately be more prepared for the profession if they study communication science and disorders (CSD) or a closely related subject. Those who opt not to study CSD as undergraduates may benefit from accelerated programs to help them develop any critical competencies they might otherwise miss.

Step 2: Complete a master’s degree in speech-language pathology accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (two years).

Full-time students can often complete graduate-level studies in two years. Practicing SLPs must ultimately study from many disciplines, including biology, human anatomy, linguistics, mathematics, neuroscience, and psychology.

Requirements for acceptance into such programs vary by state. For example, California requires applicants to pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test, the California Subject Examination for Teachers and the CSU EAP. Students must thoroughly review all programmatic and prerequisite requirements when applying for admission.

The programs listed below represent only a small fraction of the many programs operating in the United States. Given the large demand for SLPs, prospective students will often have success finding programs operating in their current state of residency.

Boston University

Boston University (BU) offers one of the nation’s top programs in speech-language pathology. BU offers a residential master of science in speech-language pathology designed to meet ASHA certification standards and Massachusetts state licensure. Located in one of America’s vibrant and historical cities, this program offers extensive academic, clinical, and research opportunities.

This 67-credit program can typically be completed within four semesters of full-time study. Students must complete a minimum of 59 credits at BU in order to receive the degree from the university. The program features several requirements, including the completion of a minimum of four credits during a summer term, completion of at least one semester focused on full-time study and successful completion of a comprehensive written examination. Some students may substitute a thesis for the written exam, depending on their qualifications. Each student crafts a study plan with their faculty advisor’s guidance and approval.

This degree program also features a clinical practicum requirement. The practicum is designed to expose students to a variety of patient populations. Given the diverse population of Boston and its neighboring communities, students will find a wealth of potential practicum placements. Students also have the option to offer individual and group treatment at the BU Academic Speech, Language, and Hearing Center or the Aphasia Resource Center. As with other placements, students complete such training under the supervision of an appropriately skilled practitioner.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $30,525 per semester (12-18 credits); $1,908 per credit when taking fewer than 12 credits

Maryville University

Maryville University offers a 57-credit master’s degree in speech-language pathology. The degree can be completed within a 24-month period when students complete approximately nine credit hours in the summer term between two full academic years of study. The curriculum prepares students for both ASHA certification and CCC-SLP status designation. Those seeking licensure in Missouri or another state must also complete a clinical fellowship year after completing the degree program.

The program is designed to prepare students to work in varied workplaces, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, clinics, and early intervention programs. Patient populations may include children experiencing autism, individuals who have speech deficits due to stroke or traumatic brain injury and people who have language delays.

Students will often first gain direct client experience on-campus in the Maryville University Speech and Language Clinic. Other potential practicum placements include the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic for Childhood Language Disorders and within several local medical and educational institutions in the local community. ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists must supervise all practicum experiences.

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $797 per credit or $13,035 per semester

University of Florida

The University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions features an internationally recognized faculty that offers a master of arts program in communication sciences and disorders. The program provides the necessary academic and clinical training to prepare graduates for a career in speech-language pathology. This program cultivates the development of professionals who value competence, ethical conduct, commitment to service, and a dedication to lifelong learning. Successful graduates possess the skills to design and offer effective, evidence-based clinical services that are culturally sensitive and appropriate for varied patient populations.

Students can typically complete the program over five semesters within a period of approximately two years. In addition to traditional classroom coursework, students complete both a practicum and an externship. Students typically complete a practicum valued at two credit hours every semester but the final one. Students select an externship of personal interest and complete this requirement in their final semester. Departmental support is available to students as they identify and apply to a potential externship site.

Students interested in a more research-oriented career can pursue a thesis track option within this program. Such students complete research with the mentorship of a suitable faculty member.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: $530.69 per credit for FL residents; $1,255.41 per credit for non-residents

University of Washington

The University of Washington offers an SLP master of science degree with the option to select one of three specialization tracks. These tracks are educational SLP, medical SLP and clinical research SLP. All three tracks feature foundational coursework that meet ASHA certification requirements and clinical and interprofessional experiences.

Student cohort size, program duration, and total credit requirements vary among the three tracks. The clinical research track features a small cohort and a larger total credit hours requirement. The medical SLP track features the highest total program tuition of the three tracks. A detailed comparison of these track options can be found on the degree program website.

Regardless of track, the curriculum is designed to prepare professionals skilled in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of various speech sound, language, fluency, voice, cognition-communication, social communication, and swallowing disorders. Students learn to work effectively with patients from diverse backgrounds. The educational track also incorporates knowledge of existing and emergent research and technology relevant to treating varied disorders.

Students have several options to fulfill clinical education requirements. These include on-campus sites such as the UW Speech and Hearing Clinic and UW Center of Human Development and Disability and community-based settings, including schools, private practices, and hospitals.

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Accreditation: Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years
  • Estimated Tuition: Quarterly in-state tuition rate ranges from $5,798 to $7,694; out-of-state from $8,300 to $10,098

Step 3: Apply for ASHA certification.

As previously mentioned, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is the national professional association responsible for the certification of speech-language pathologists. Certification is a means of demonstrating professional credibility.

Certified SLPs have successfully completed both a master’s or doctoral program from an accredited academic program and a supervised clinical experience. They have also received a passing score on their national exam. While ASHA certification is not compulsory holding, such certification indicates a practitioner has exceeded the minimum requirements for state licensure.

Certified SLPs may enjoy several benefits. including salary supplements, assurance of service reimbursement, and professional recognition as holding the qualifications to mentor clinical fellows.

Step 4: Successfully pass the Speech-Language Pathology Praxis Exam for ASHA.

Students become eligible to apply for certification when they have completed their academic and clinical training requirements and have been determined to hold the skills and knowledge required by current certification standards. The graduate program typically makes this determination the student has studied within. Applicants must pass the national examination in the area in which they seek a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC). Upon initiation of the certification application, students have a period of 24 months in which they can take and pass the Praxis exam. A passing score is at least 162 on a 100 to 200 scale.

Students seeking to prepare for the exam may consult the Speech-Language Pathology Study Companion to develop familiarity with content typically included in the exam.

Step 5: Obtain a certificate of clinical competence in speech-language pathology (CCC-SLP).

This certification requires graduation from an accredited program, passage of the Praxis Exam, and completion of a clinical fellowship supervised by a certified SLP. The fellowship consists of a minimum of 1,260 hours and a minimum of 36 weeks of full-time experience or its part-time equivalent. The fellowship must be completed within four years.

Upon receipt of this certificate, speech-language pathologists can demonstrate they have met professional and academic standards that are often greater than those required to obtain state licensure. Certification is a testament to professional competence and continued professional development.

The CCC-SLP is only granted to graduates of programs specifically accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. Maintenance of a current CCC-SLP requires SLPs to complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years.

Individuals seeking further study for the purposes of specialization and career advancement may complete a clinical doctoral degree (CScD, SLPD) in another two to three years.

Other Certifications for SLPs

The CCC-SLP certification is considered the primary certification within the speech-language pathology profession. Additional SLP certifications may be earned by those seeking to operate a specialized practice.

For example, certification may be sought to work with individuals experiencing Parkinson’s disease, neurological conditions, or swallowing and fluency disorders. In many cases, an SLP must first have a CCC-SLP certification before seeking a specialized certification. Specializations within these areas of practice can help professionals to advance their careers.

Three organizations offer specialty certifications. These are the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders, the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders, and the American Board of Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders.

A listing of some specialized certifications and training appears below:

  • Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Certification (LSVT LOUD)
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
  • PROMPTS for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (PROMPT)
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Speech Therapy Board Certified Specialists (BCS) – including BCS-F, BCS-S, and BCS-CL

State Licensure for Speech-Language Pathologists

All states have a regulatory framework for the speech-language pathology profession. As previously noted, CCC-SLP certification often meets requirements more rigorous than those established for licensure in many states.

Professionals seeking to practice in a state other than that where they obtain their SLP education should consult the relevant medical or health licensure board to determine what additional requirements they must meet to secure licensure. In addition, practitioners holding specializations like those noted above may find it necessary to fulfill still more requirements to practice within their specialization.

Bernd Geels
Bernd Geels Writer

Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science, and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected].