Communication Disorders Bachelor's and Master's: Degrees at a Glance
Degree programs in communication disorders emphasize speech, language and hearing processes. You can learn how to diagnose patients and administer the proper treatment of various communication disorders. Bachelor's degree programs typically prepare graduates for master's programs, so your career options with just a bachelor's degree are limited to becoming a speech-language pathology assistant (SLPA) or paraprofessional. These workers make 25%-40% less than what professionals earn, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Master's degree programs prepare students for careers in audiology and speech pathology.
Graduates of these degree programs can work in a variety of educational and clinical settings, including schools, hospitals, private practices and health agencies. As the baby boom population ages and communication disorders are diagnosed earlier in children, the demand for specialists was expected to grow. Occupational data varies with each career path. From 2010-2020, employment of speech pathologists was expected to grow by 23%, while audiologists were predicted to see 37% growth during this decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Despite the positive employment outlook, admission into graduate degree programs remains highly competitive.
Many employers require job applicants to be licensed. Licensure requirements typically include transcripts from a graduate degree program, hundreds of hours of supervised clinical experience and a passing score on the national exam.
|Who is this degree for?||People who want to pursue careers in healthcare or education and students who want to pursue graduate studies in speech pathology or audiology||Individuals who want to begin their careers as an audiologist or speech pathologist|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary)||- Speech-language pathology assistants and paraprofessionals (salary unavailable)|| - Speech-language pathologists ($72,000)*|
- Audiologists ($71,000)*
|Time to Completion||Four years (full-time)||Two years (full-time) after obtaining an undergraduate degree|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - General education courses|
- About 15-20 courses in communication disorders and related subjects
- Foreign language courses
- Work experience or internship
|- Approximately 12-15 graduate-level courses on communication disorders|
- Complete practicum/internship
- Complete thesis or portfolio requirements
|Prerequisites|| - High school diploma or GED|
- Complete interview to test language/hearing skills
| - Bachelor's degree (preferably in communication disorders)|
- GRE scores
- Personal statement and/or letters of recommendation
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Bachelor's Degree in Communication Disorders
Bachelor's degree programs in communication disorders are designed as entry-level, pre-professional degrees. Many programs are geared toward students who already possess a strong understanding of the sciences. Some programs require students to complete courses in psychology, science and communication before they can declare a major in communication disorders.
Common degrees are the Bachelor of Health Science (BHS) with a concentration in Communication Disorders and the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Communication Disorders. These degree plans emphasize normal and abnormal speech, hearing and language processes. Students may be required to complete an internship or practicum in addition to coursework requirements.
Pros and Cons
- If you're considering a career in communication disorders but are unsure about specializing in a particular field, a bachelor's degree can provide a sampling of courses and let you test out potential choices
- Admission into to competitive master's degree program requires a bachelor degree (the more relevant you undergraduate program is, the fewer prerequisite course you'll need to take)
- You may be able to skip up to one year of studies in a master's degree program if have a bachelor's in communication disorders
- You'll need further education for most careers in this industry
- Even with a bachelor's in communication disorders, there is no guarantee you'll be admitted to a master's program
- The skills you learn from this program are very specific and aren't usually transferrable to other fields and jobs
Common Courses and Requirements
To graduate with a bachelor's degree in communication disorders, you'll need to satisfy several requirements, including academic coursework and a clinical internship or practicum. You can expect to take courses in applied phonetics and phonemics, language and culture, linguistics, communication disorders, anatomy of speech and history of the English language. You may also be required to take a variety of related courses, such as child psychology, statistics and lifespan development. Most programs also have a foreign language requirement, usually consisting of about two or three courses.
A clinical experience allows students to apply their academic knowledge to real-life situations. Clinical requirements vary, but you may need to pass a criminal background investigation, obtain liability insurance and submit proof of immunizations before you can begin working.
Online Course Info
Online and distance-learning communication disorder courses are available. Some schools may offer a fully online distance learning degree program, while others offer a hybrid option (a combination of online and on-campus courses). Regardless of the program's structure, online courses are generally the same, if not very similar, to traditional on-campus programs. Students considering online courses should be advised that they may need to complete practicum hours in a local clinical setting.
Stand Out with This Degree
Nonprofit and community organizations that assist people affected by communication disorders often rely on volunteers to assist them with their mission. Consider looking outside your campus for volunteer opportunities with a nonprofit or community organization. Volunteering can provide a valuable clinical experience and may open the door for networking opportunities.
Additionally, consider gaining experience in other forms of communication, including American Sign Language or a foreign language, to broaden your employment options after graduation.
Master's Degree in Communication Disorders
Through a mixture of coursework and clinical experience, master's degree programs in communication disorders prepare students for clinical practice. You'll learn to prevent, assess, diagnose and treat various disorders. Graduates are usually eligible for state licensure.
Practicum experiences are intensive and often reserved for summers, while coursework requirements are usually completed in the fall and spring. The practicum experience allows you to work alongside experienced professionals who observe, evaluate and treat children and adults.
Degrees are typically represented as a Master of Science in Communication Disorders (MSCD) or a Master of Arts in Communication Disorders (MACD). Depending on the academic institution, admission into a communication disorders master's program may be highly competitive.
Pros and Cons
- Completion of a graduate program usually satisfies state licensing and certification requirements
- Most communication disorder careers require a master's degree
- Financial assistance or gradate assistantships may be available to some students
- Admission into a master's program can be highly competitive
- Extensive clinical requirements (often taking place during the summer) may require you to work towards your degree year-round
- Master's programs may require additional prerequisite courses (sometimes taking two years to complete), especially if you don't have a bachelor's in communication disorders
Common Courses and Requirements
A typical communication disorders master's program consists of required 'core' courses and an internship or practicum. Core courses may include research in speech communication, neurologic bases of speech and languages, child language disorders, fluency disorders, vocal rehabilitation and articulation and phonological disorders. Elective courses allow students to select courses of interest to them or focus on a particular disorder, such as stuttering or neuromotor disorders. Additionally, some schools may require a student to present a thesis or compile a portfolio of professional development milestones and field experience from the practicum.
Online Course Info
Distance learning programs are available; however, an online master's degree in communication disorders may require some offline components, including exam testing at a regional testing facility and one or more clinical experiences. The clinical experiences may take place during the summer, so you can usually spend the school year taking courses online and only have to worry about travelling for a month or two. Keep in mind that courses offered through distance education may not be self-paced, so you may need to follow a regular course schedule even though you aren't travelling to campus.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
You may find that there is competition among master's degree candidates for jobs. Here are some ways to stand out from the crowd with your degree:
- Because there is such a wide range of communication disorders, professionals in this field have plenty of opportunities to specialize in a field that interests them. For example, if you enjoy working with children, consider a path that allows you to diagnose/treat infants or toddlers.
- You can broaden your employment horizons by studying related courses outside of your required curriculum. Since a master's in communications disorders is so focused, you may appeal to some employers if you have related skills that most other graduates don't have. For example, speech-language pathologists often keep records and do administrative tasks, so taking courses that cover related software programs or office procedures could give you an edge.
- Consider joining a professional organization like the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA) This association assists students as they begin their professional careers. Members can benefit from professional development and networking opportunities, receive discounts on products and gain access to a variety of publications and journals.