Speech Pathology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degree and PhD programs in speech pathology can lead to careers at schools, universities, government agencies and specialized speech and hearing centers. Learn more about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Speech Pathology: Degrees at a Glance

Speech pathologists work closely with patients in various settings - including schools, medical facilities and corporate environments - to diagnose and treat speech communication disorders. Typical job duties may include teaching people to communicate more effectively, researching and developing treatment techniques and/or creating and monitoring individual treatment plans for patients.

Like most jobs in the healthcare industry, speech pathology is a growing field with promising career options. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a jump in employment prospects for speech pathologists (23% from 2010-2020), largely due to the speech needs of an aging population and the increased diagnosis and treatment of childhood speech disorders.

A master's degree is a common baseline requirement for a career in speech pathology. If you plan to specialize in academic research or teach speech pathology at the university level, you will likely need to obtain a doctoral degree.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals interested in diagnosing and treating speech, language and communication disorders in an educational or medical setting Individuals who want to teach in an academic setting
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners ($84,000)*
- Speech-Language Pathologists ($69,000)*
- Health Specialties Teacher Postsecondary (80,000)*
- Speech and Language Pathology Director ($94,000)**
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 3-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Complete 40+ graduate-level credit hours
- Complete 375+ hours in a supervised clinical setting
- Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Complete 48-78 doctorate-level credit hours, depending on institution
- Pass PhD qualifier exams
- Research, write and deliver dissertation
Prerequisites
- Bachelor's degree in speech communications or related field
- Certain prerequisite courses may be required, depending on the institution
- Meet minimum GRE score requirements

- Master's degree in speech communications or related field
- Meet minimum GPA and GRE score requirements
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures).

Master's in Speech-Language Pathology

Master's degree programs in speech-language pathology focus on preparing you for clinical practice in the field through the completion of coursework, clinical rotations and practical research. You'll learn to assess and consult individuals with speaking disorders, such as stuttering, or those with voice and swallowing disorders. Practicum experiences are intensive and require a large time commitment. Within practicum experiences, you'll work alongside experienced professionals observing, evaluating and treating children and adults. Depending on the academic institution, admission into a speech pathology master's program may be highly competitive.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's degrees are considered standard for employment
  • Master's degrees are required for state licensure and certification
  • Clinical experiences allow you to gain hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced professionals

Cons

  • Master's programs may require completion of certain prerequisite courses prior to admission
  • Clinical requirements may be rigorous (typically including 375+ hours)
  • A higher degree (doctorate) may be necessary to distinguish yourself from in the field

Common Courses and Requirements

To graduate with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, you will likely need to complete academic coursework and perform clinical experiences. A speech pathology master's candidate can expect a varied curriculum with courses such as:

  • Phonetics
  • Voice and swallowing disorders
  • Speech and hearing science
  • Language disorders

The clinical experiences provide an opportunity to apply your academic knowledge to real-life situations. Clinical requirements vary depending on the institution, but you will likely need to pass a criminal background investigation before you can begin working on-site.

Online Degree Options

There are online speech pathology master's degree programs; however, they are not very common at this time. Generally, the curriculum and admission requirements of online programs are similar to their campus-based counterparts, with the coursework taking place online and other portions taking place in a clinical setting. Online learning programs are asynchronous and require a high-speed internet connection to stream lectures and access assignments. Like most distance-learning options, online degree programs may work best for individuals who have previous work experience or a bachelor's degree in speech pathology.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Some states and employers require that speech pathologists become certified by the ASHA. To become certified, you need to complete 400+ hours of supervised clinical experiences. Since most programs only require a minimum of 375 hours, this may mean that you'll need to go above and beyond what is required by your curriculum. Therefore, you may want to take advantage of additional clinical experiences that are offered during your program duration. Students holding more experience working one-on-one with patients may be more fully prepared for the clinical fellowship, which is a 1,260-hour experience designed to help students transition into independent providers. Additionally, you may want to consider becoming fluent in an additional language. Bilingual speech pathologists have expanded career opportunities, as they can service various demographics.

PhD in Speech-Language Pathology

PhD programs in speech-language pathology are research-intensive programs that examine speech-language pathology through directed research and coursework. The curricula are typically flexible allowing you to focus your program in your desired area of interest, such as specific language impairments or alternative communication. However, students may be required to participate in a research apprenticeship, which can occupy several hours per week. A good portion of the program is focused on the proposal and presentation of a dissertation.

Most PhD programs require applicants to have completed a master's degree (including academic coursework and clinical practicum experiences), and some require you to have completed your clinical fellowship and obtained the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Your scholarly research may contribute to the identification and treatment of current speech pathology issues
  • Opens the door to academic teaching and research positions
  • PhD programs provide you with the opportunity to complete research, which can be published in peer-reviewed journals

Cons

  • The job outlook for postsecondary education is not growing as fast as related fields (17% projected growth for professors compared to 23% growth for speech-language pathologists)*
  • PhD programs will only qualify you for academic or research positions within the field
  • Postsecondary teaching jobs are typically tied to government funding (when state and federal budgets experience cuts, layoffs and hiring freezes may occur)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs provide students with the opportunity to specialize in a particular area of interest in speech pathology, such as early childhood diagnosis and treatment. Coursework may include research and statistics, neuroscience, linguistics and experimental design.

In addition to completing academic coursework, most PhD programs will require doctoral candidates to research, write, present and defend a dissertation before graduating. Many doctoral programs require that students complete a residency or a full-time study of coursework and/or research activities. Details will vary depending on the institution, but generally, residencies last several semesters. Additionally, some programs require students to partake in a teaching internship, in order to gain teaching experience under a faculty member's supervision.

Online Degree Options

Online PhDs in speech pathology aren't typically available at this level due to residency and research requirements. If you do find an online PhD program that suits you, be sure to research whether the institution is accredited. If you think that you may want to become a professor of speech pathology, attending a traditional campus program is typically the best way to go.

Stand Out With This Degree

You may find that there is competition for doctoral programs and PhD-required jobs. Here are some ways to stand out from the crowd with your PhD in speech-language pathology:

  • Apply for research/teaching assistant positions - as a research assistant, you may be responsible for assisting faculty with their literary research for grant proposals or industry publications.
  • Specialize in underrepresented treatment options or disorders - you'll have a better chance of standing out as an expert in your field if you choose a specialization that is new or not as popular.
  • Consider publishing articles in professional and medical journals to get your name out there and boost your portfolio.
  • Study additional communications courses - by studying additional communications courses outside of your required curriculum, such as corporate communications, you can broaden your employment horizons.

Alternate Degrees

If you're more interested in obtaining a clinical doctorate degree than an academic doctorate, you may want to consider a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree. AuD programs train you to work one-on-one with patients to deliver clinical care as an audiologist, while PhD programs teach you to instruct future clinicians. AuD programs are clinically based programs and give you with the experience to provide services to individuals with communication disorders. According to the BLS, audiologists are projected to see a 37% growth in employment from 2010-2020. This is much faster-than-average for all occupations, as well as more growth than both speech pathologists and professors are projected to experience.

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