Is Speech Pathology Right For You? 5 Questions to Ask

Before you put in the time, money, and effort required to earn a degree, it’s important to first consider which careers that degree will prepare you for. In the case of earning a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, your future career is a rather obvious one. The degree prepares students specifically for a career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP). 

If you are unsure of whether this is truly the right career for you, the good news is that there are several questions you can ask yourself to ensure that you’re making the right decision. Below, we explore these questions, tying each back to the field of speech-language pathology, and present some alternative careers you might consider if you decide that this is not the field for you.

1. Do you have a passion for helping others?

Speech-language pathologists play an important role in the healthcare industry by diagnosing and treating speech, language, communication, and swallowing disorders. Treatments, interventions, education, and support provided by SLPs work together to empower patients to become more effective communicators. The end result is a patient who can make more meaningful connections with their loved ones and the broader community. 

It’s for this reason that most SLPs aspire to the career. They have the drive to help others and to make the world a better place.

2. What are your salary requirements?

While salary should not be your only consideration in choosing a career, it is still an important factor influencing your decision. It’s only natural, then, to ask the question: How much does a speech-language pathologist make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), speech-language pathologists make a median annual salary of $80,500 per year, with the highest earners taking home more than $122,750 annually. 

A variety of factors will influence how much you earn, including your level of experience, the location of your work, and the type of facility you are employed in. Generally speaking, those who work in nursing homes or residential care facilities, those who work in the Western states, and those with more years of experience working in the field can all expect higher pay than their counterparts.

The field of speech-language pathology is growing rapidly as the Baby Boomer population ages and the number of individuals suffering age-related diseases that lead to speech and communication problems (such as dementia and stroke) increase. Between 2019 and 2029, the number of SLPs is projected to grow by about 25 percent, compared to job growth of four percent for all occupations as a whole. 

3. What is your career timeline?

Though a career as a speech-language pathologist is a rewarding one, both in terms of pay and your ability to affect real change in the quality of life for your patients, breaking into the field will require an investment of time. To become an SLP, you will need to:

All told, it takes an average of six to eight years from the start of your bachelor’s degree through the end of your fellowship to become an SLP, depending on the speed of your studies. 

4. How much variety and flexibility do you want in your career?

When most people think about speech-language pathology, they commonly envision speech therapists who specialize in working with children in schools. While this is a popular career path for many SLPs, it is far from the only option. In fact, the field offers a large amount of flexibility.

“I feel it’s a limitless career,” says Lorraine Book, department chair and associate clinical professor of Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. “You can really run the gamut of individual ages and disorders that you’re working with, and that can change throughout your career.”

SLPs can work in a variety of settings, playing significantly different roles depending on where they work. For example, while you might work in an educational facility such as a school, you can just as easily pursue a career in a nursing or residential facility, a hospital, a clinic, or private practice.

“As an allied health profession, SLPs are trained to treat across the lifespan, which means birth to death, and we literally have clinicians who do that,” says Susan Fine, director of clinical education at Northeastern’s MS in Speech-Language Pathology program. “So they can work anywhere from inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, to adult geriatric settings in skilled nursing facilities, to schools, early intervention and private practice treating a range of communication and swallowing disorders.”

5. Do you have an interest in science and technology?

Speech-language pathology requires not only a drive to help others but also the ability to understand key medical and scientific concepts and technologies. If health, medicine, science, and technology interest you, then this field allows you to put that interest into action every day of your career. 

“Our profession also involves a basic understanding of science and use of technology,” Book says. “So if you have an interest in or a passion for science and technology and the intersection of that and helping others, this could be a good career for you.”

Alternative Careers to Speech-Language Pathology

If, after asking yourself these questions, you have decided that speech-language pathology is not the right career for you, there is still good news. Many other fulfilling careers provide many of the same rewards. 

If you are primarily motivated by a drive to make a difference in the lives of others, for example, you might pursue a career in counseling, occupational therapy, nursing, other careers in the field of allied health, or education. Each of these career paths will empower you to improve the lives of others, whether they be your patients or your students, while also providing competitive salaries and job stability. 

A Rewarding Career in Speech-Language Pathology

If you instead found yourself agreeing with the discussion points above, then a career in speech-language pathology could be right for you. Such a career will offer you the flexibility to work in various settings and with diverse patient populations while earning competitive pay and making a real difference for your patients. This final piece—a passion for helping others—is often the key determining reason why someone chooses to go into the field. 

Interested in becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist? Learn more about the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northeastern University. 

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