If you’re considering a career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), you’ll need to complete a graduate program, such as a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, in order to practice. An advanced degree will provide you with both the foundational knowledge and hands-on experience you’ll need when working with patients.
With this in mind, below are eight tips to help you prepare for an SLP graduate program.
Tips for Getting Into a Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Program
1. Think carefully about your undergraduate degree.
If you know that you are interested in becoming an SLP as an undergraduate, it will be helpful to major in a field related to SLP. Two common choices include a Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and a Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders.
While not a requirement, earning a degree in a related field will provide you with foundational knowledge that will help you succeed in your graduate courses. Most related undergraduate programs also include hands-on clinical hours, which you must typically complete anyway before enrolling in a graduate program. Additionally, having a related undergraduate degree can help your application stand out among your peers and increase your chance of admission.
If you have already completed your undergraduate degree in a field outside of speech-language pathology, that’s fine! Just know that you will likely need to complete several prerequisite courses before you begin your graduate program.
2. Apply to multiple programs.
Speech-language pathology graduate programs tend to be highly competitive, typically admitting relatively few students in each cohort. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to apply to multiple programs to improve your chances of being admitted to at least one.
“Because of the competitive nature of the admissions process, it makes sense to apply to multiple programs—even if you have a dream school in mind,” says Lorraine Book, department chair and associate clinical professor at Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program.
3. Maintain your grades.
While this tip likely goes without saying, it’s important to maintain your grades and earn as high a GPA as possible in your undergraduate courses. GPA is a key piece of information admissions officers consider when reviewing applications, and it can be the difference between getting into a program or not.
“Admissions counselors pay special attention to the GPA you earned in any prerequisite courses, so at a minimum, you should be mindful of those,” Book says.
The good news is that most programs will list their minimum required GPA on their program pages. With this information, you can retake courses if you are falling below the threshold or find other ways to boost your score.
4. Complete the GREs.
Many programs waived their GRE requirements in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19. Those programs may decide they do not need GREs to adequately evaluate applicants, in which case they may permanently no longer require test scores. On the other hand, GREs may become necessary again in the future. As such, Book recommends that all students prepare for and take their GREs to be ready for either scenario.
“You want to study and do well on those exams because those scores are closely evaluated in the admissions process,” Book says. “If you don’t do well the first time, you should try again until you have achieved a score that is at least the minimum required by the university, if not higher.”
5. Think critically about your letters of recommendation.
According to Book, the letters of recommendation you submit with your application are critical pieces of information for admissions officers to evaluate. Therefore, you must be thoughtful about the people that you ask to write your letters of recommendation.
“Most programs look for letters of recommendation written by a professor or course instructor that knows the student well,” Book says. “You don’t just want a letter that says you attended class or earned a certain grade. The letter should be written by somebody who knows you beyond simply the coursework that you took.”
Book recommends that students take the time to develop authentic relationships with their professors and advisors during their undergraduate studies. This way, they’ll have multiple people that can write a strong letter of recommendation. If you have lab experience, research experience, or have completed an independent study, those individuals can all offer powerful recommendations as well.
6. Take the time to write a meaningful personal statement.
In writing your personal statement, Book offers the following pieces of advice:
- Be very mindful of spelling and grammar.
- Tailor your message to the university and program that you are applying to by mentioning certain professors or recent research completed by faculty members.
- Write as genuinely as possible.
“The personal statement is your opportunity to speak directly to an admissions officer,” Book says. “Use that space to tell them about your dreams, your goals, and why you want to be a speech-language pathologist.”
7. Be thorough in your application.
While students may think admissions counselors don’t much consider extracurricular activities at the undergraduate level, Book confirms that they are, in fact, an important part of the process and are something that counselors actively seek.
“Volunteer experience, leadership experience, and research experience are all important,” Book says. “They help the admissions team get a fuller picture of who you are and how you would engage in their programs.”
8. Choose the right program.
Finally, Book mentions the importance of choosing the right program for your interests. For example, if you are interested in working with a specific patient population or within a particular branch of SLP, Book recommends looking for programs that will allow you to explore those interests.
Some programs offer concentrations or learning tracks, while others may offer specialized courses that can be just as helpful.
An Important Part of Your Speech-Language Pathology Journey
Earning your MS in Speech-Language Pathology is one of the most important steps you will complete in beginning your career. By following the tips above, you’ll increase your chances not only of getting into a program but of achieving success once you enroll.
Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University.