Speech-language pathology can be an incredibly rewarding career path. Not only do speech therapists earn a competitive salary, but they also enjoy increasing demand as the U.S. population ages and a larger percentage of the population requires their services. Many also consider speech pathology to be personally gratifying because it offers the opportunity to make a real and lasting impact on the quality of life for patients.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist, you’ll need to know how long it will take for you to complete your training and break into the field.
Below, we take a look at the different steps involved in becoming a speech-language pathologist and how long it typically takes to complete each so that you will have a better understanding of the time investment required to pursue this career.
How long does it take to become a speech-language pathologist?
To become a speech-language pathologist (SLP), you will need to:
- Earn an undergraduate degree
- Complete a master’s degree
- Pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology
- Complete your post-graduate clinical fellowship
- Apply for state licensure and ASHA certification
In total, this means it will take anywhere from six to nine years to become an SLP. If you take time off to work in between earning your undergraduate degree and your master’s degree, this will, of course, add to your timeline.
1. Earn an undergraduate degree.
Time commitment: 3-4 years
The first step to becoming a speech-language pathologist is to earn an undergraduate degree. Ideally, this will be in a field of study related to speech-language pathology, such as a Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology or a Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders. However, some SLPs will earn an undergraduate degree in a field unrelated to speech-language pathology. In these cases, they may need to complete a certain number of prerequisite courses before enrolling in a master’s program.
Depending on how aggressive your plan of study is and whether you are learning part-time or full-time, earning your undergraduate degree will take an average of three to four years.
2. Complete a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.
Time commitment: 2-4 years
The next step to becoming a speech-language pathologist is to earn your Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology or a related degree. Your master’s program must be accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). How long this step takes will depend on your plan of study. Full-time programs will typically take approximately two years to complete. Part-time programs can take up to four years to complete.
While some programs allow for part-time study, many only admit full-time students, so it is important to find the right program for your specific needs.
Additionally, it is worth noting that some universities offer a 5-year combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program, which allows students to complete their education in an accelerated manner. At Northeastern, for example, students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Speech-Language and Audiology can continue into the MS in SLP so long as they meet the program’s requirements.
3. Pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology.
Time commitment: Concurrent with master’s degree
To qualify for state licensure, you will need to take and pass the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology, which tests your proficiency and understanding of the field. This exam is typically completed concurrently with your master’s degree program, often in the final semester of your program or shortly after graduation. If you do not pass the exam on the first try, you can retake it, though this will increase your time to becoming an SLP.
4. Complete your post-graduate clinical fellowship.
Time commitment: 9 months
Upon completing your master’s degree and passing the Praxis Examination, you must complete a total of 1,260 clinical hours overseen by an ASHA-certified SLP. This work is referred to as a post-graduate clinical fellowship and is a crucial step in your journey to becoming an SLP.
These hours are typically completed over the course of 36 weeks (at 35 hours per week) or roughly nine months from start to finish.
5. Obtain state licensure and ASHA certification.
Time commitment: 2-4 weeks
The final step to becoming an SLP is to apply for state licensure and ASHA certification. While each state will have its own requirements and processes for applying for licensure, it will typically take between two and four weeks for your application to be processed after you submit it. It, therefore, makes sense to submit your application as soon as possible once you meet the requirements so that you can receive your license and begin practicing.
Not Necessarily a Straight Path
It’s worth noting that the path to becoming a speech-language pathologist is not always a straight one. Many aspiring SLPs choose to work between their undergraduate and graduate degrees, for example, or while earning their graduate degree. Additionally, it is not uncommon for an individual to earn an undergraduate degree in a field unrelated to SLP and then decide that they would like to enter the field.
“Some students, for example, will earn an undergraduate degree in communication sciences and then work as a speech-language pathology assistant for a number of years,” says Lorraine Book, department chair and associate clinical professor at Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. “Others might work in education before deciding to make a career change. So long as they’ve completed the prerequisite coursework, there’s no reason that they cannot enroll in a master’s degree program and move into speech-language pathology.”
Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University.