Why Become an SLP?

Speech-language pathology is a master’s-level career field offering myriad opportunities to serve people of all ages in a variety of settings. Practitioners help children, adolescents, and adults manage and overcome a range of challenges, often leading to a better quality of life long after treatment ends.

Could this fulfilling field be a match for your career goals?

What is speech-language pathology?

Speech-language pathology is the practice of evaluating and treating speech, language, voice, and swallowing disorders. Communication is central to human interaction, and the work of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) can have a transformative impact on the quality of life for clients in need. SLPs are trained to provide an array of services to people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

What do SLPs do?

SLPs work in various settings including schools; home health agencies; skilled nursing facilities; early intervention services; hospitals; offices of ear, nose, and throat doctors; outpatient clinics; rehabilitation centers; and private practices. Client populations vary with the setting, but SLPs work with people across the entire life span — from swallowing with premature infants in the NICU to memory care with geriatric populations in skilled nursing settings. SLPs work with people with acquired conditions such as brain injuries and strokes, congenital conditions such as cerebral palsy and cleft lip and palate disorders, and developmental anomalies in speech and language. Swallowing and speech use the same musculature, and SLPs are considered to be the preferred providers for swallowing disorders. 

Clinicians also work with people with speech differences, rather than just speech disorders, in areas such as accent modification and transgender voice and communication therapy. The specialized skillset of SLPs is also at times sought by the corporate world to enhance or improve aspects of employee communication, including public speaking skills, general communication etiquette, foreign or regional accents, and cross-cultural communication competence. Teletherapy is a growing area in speech-language pathology in which SLPs deliver services to clients over the internet. Many SLPs take advantage of the variety inherent in the field, working in multiple settings over the course of their careers.

Speech-language pathology vs. audiology: What is the difference? 

While speech-language pathology and audiology are related fields that share a professional licensing organization, they differ in their focus. Audiologists evaluate and rehabilitate people with disorders related to hearing and balance, while speech-language pathologists often work with the same people on aspects of oral communication. SLPs receive some training in audiology, as they need to understand hearing disorders to rule out their presence when evaluating clients for speech and language disorders. 

Which careers are available in speech-language pathology?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that careers in speech-language pathology will grow much faster than the average job growth rate, increasing by 21 percent from 2014 to 2024, compared to 7 percent for all occupations during that same time period. Job growth projections are particularly strong with an aging baby boomer generation in need of SLPs’ services as well as increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities in children, particularly Autism Spectrum Disorders.

BLS data for 2015 reveals that the median annual wage for SLPs was $73,410, with an hourly median pay of $35.29 per hour. Compensation varies both by state and setting, with settings such as nursing and residential care facilities typically paying the highest wages (median of $91,070) and positions in educational services providing the lowest compensation (median of $64,040). 

A career in speech-language pathology comes with a good deal of flexibility in terms of schedule, with about one out of four SLPs working part time in 2014. SLPs also have opportunities for short-term local or travel assignments and PRN or “as needed” assignments.

SLPs have shown a high level of job satisfaction, with the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) 2015 membership survey data indicating that 89.2 percent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their career choice, and 83.3 percent reporting that they planned to continue working in the field as long as they are able or until they are eligible for retirement. Unemployment rates from 2005 to 2015 for SLPs stayed steady at 1 percent, considerably lower than the national average of 5 to 10 percent over this time period. 

How do I become an SLP?

To become a speech-language pathologist, a master’s degree is required. Master’s programs in speech-language pathology consist of both course work and clinical practicum work in which graduate students gain hours working directly with clients. Some master’s programs also require that students complete a thesis or research project.

To obtain full licensure as a speech-language pathologist, ASHA requires the applicant to earn a graduate degree from an accredited university, pass the Praxis examination in speech-language pathology, and complete a Clinical Fellowship experience. The Clinical Fellowship (CF) is a mentored professional experience that must be completed before a graduate can practice independently. The CF experience is typically completed in 36 weeks of full-time employment, but it can be completed on a part-time basis until equivalent hours are met. State licensure is also required for practice. Requirements vary by state but typically do not exceed ASHA’s minimum requirements.

Speech-language pathology is a research-driven field that is constantly evolving, and SLPs must be lifelong learners. Continuing education is required by both ASHA and state licensing boards to maintain a certification, ensuring that practitioners are staying up to date with advances in the field and taking an evidence-based approach to care.

Several English-speaking countries participate alongside the United States in the Mutual Recognition Agreement with ASHA, making it possible for ASHA-certified SLPs to obtain equivalent licensure to work in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.

Is speech-language pathology right for me?

Speech-language pathology could be a fit for you if you want to spend your career helping others while continually advancing your knowledge and skills. Ask yourself these questions to determine your interest in the field:

  • Do you want to treat a diverse range of clients facing a variety of disorders?
  • Are you comfortable working with people one-on-one and in small-group settings?
  • Does the thought of collaborating with physicians, social workers, occupational therapists, and other healthcare workers appeal to you?
  • Would you like to have the flexibility to work in a variety of professional settings throughout your career, including schools, hospitals, treatment facilities, nursing homes, and private practices?

If you think speech-language pathology is right for you, take the next step and request information about our online MS program in Communicative Sciences and Disorders.


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Citation for this content: Speech@NYU, the online masters in speech pathology from NYU Steinhardt.