If you don’t already know, an SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist and I’m a full-time SLP in elementary and middle schools for a public school district. I don’t mention it much here since I focus more on style and wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested. But, I was asked to write a post about it and am more than happy to share about the road to becoming a speech therapist! This post is on the longer side, but I really hope it’s helpful and answers any questions you may have. 🙂
I actually decided on this field when I was a senior in high school. I applied to college to major in Communication Sciences and Disorders and, thankfully, ended up loving it! I chose Speech-Language Pathology for a few reasons. I had thought about being a teacher, but knew that it is not always easy to get a teaching position in your ideal area and many people end up subbing for a long time before getting a full-time position. (I know this is not true for everywhere, but this is how it is where I grew up.) Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I didn’t want to go into a field that may not have a lot of positions available when I was graduating. I also had a bit of interest in nursing, but quickly realized there was no way I would be able to look at blood and needles every day. Although, I later learned that speech pathology is a WAY more medical field than I had initially thought.
A degree in SLP will allow you to work with almost any population, from babies to geriatric patients. It also allows you to work in hospitals, rehab centers, preschools, homes, schools, etc. With a degree in SLP, you can work with stroke patients in hospitals, determining what diet they should be on, with children who have trouble following directions or making sentences, with babies who have swallowing difficulties or with adults who have trouble speaking or understanding language due to a brain injury (just to name a few). Many people who aren’t familiar with the field think that speech therapists help children who can’t say the “r” sound or who have a lisp. This is true, but we also do much, much more than that. When I began grad school, I was sure I wanted to work with adults, but schools have ended up being the perfect place for me. The best thing about this field is that if I decide I want to work with adults or babies in the future, I can!
Applying to grad school: This is a big one. You have to start early and, most importantly, stay super organized! There will be so many things to keep track of- essay questions, fees, transcripts, GRE scores, passwords, etc. I started with a binder and printed all of the application requirements for each school. I then added to each section as I went with my essays, receipts, etc. Make sure you have highlighted each school’s deadline! It’s also a good idea to make a checklist for each school to make sure you don’t miss anything. I applied to a total of 10 schools, so it was a lot to keep track of. If you aren’t familiar with this field, you may not realize how difficult it is to get into grad school, but there is a ton of competition and there will be people who don’t get accepted the first year they apply. Many grad school programs accept only 25 students a year. There were over 300 SLP students in my undergraduate program alone, yet the graduate program at my university only accepted 25 students each year, so that gives you an idea of how competitive it is. I don’t mean to discourage you, but I want to be honest. With a good GPA and GRE scores, as well as personalized essays, it’s likely that you’ll get into at least one graduate program (but probably more)!
I highly recommend taking the GRE during your junior year. You don’t want to be worried about taking it while you’re also in the midst of applying to grad schools. Also, one of my friends was scheduled to take it during the end of our fall semester during senior year and there was an awful snowstorm and she had to push it back even further, which really stressed her out. So schedule it and get it done ASAP!
It’s really sad to say, but I saw a lot of friendships fall apart during this time. Most schools have application deadlines of early January, but some have rolling admissions with earlier deadlines. I saw a ton of competition regarding who was applying where and how many schools you were applying to. You will start to find out if you’ve have been accepted to grad school in February and the next few months will be full of letters, whether they are acceptance, rejection or waitlist letters. The first letter I received was an acceptance letter on February 14th and I didn’t want to bring it up to my friends because I wasn’t sure if they had heard back yet and emotions were pretty high. It’s great to have a few friends and family members to rely on and vent to during this time. It’s very stressful, but getting an acceptance letter makes it all worth it!
Becoming a clinical fellow: As you’re nearing the end of grad school, you’ll start applying for jobs! Finally you can start getting paid to provide the services you’ve been giving all throughout grad school ha! By this point, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea about what population you’d like to work with-babies, adults, children, etc. and in what setting- schools, hospitals, rehab centers, preschools, etc. Thankfully, this part isn’t quite as competitive as applying to grad school was because everyone will be headed to different locations, based on where they’re from or where they’d like to move.
A clinical fellowship (CF) is a period of time when you are providing services, but are working under your supervisor’s license. Finding the right CF will be different for everyone, but you’ll want to consider location, setting, population and, if possible (and most importantly, in my opinion), who your supervisor will be. You may not get a chance to meet your supervisor prior to taking the job, but if you can’t, it would definitely be a good idea to ask about them and their teaching style during an interview. I didn’t get to meet my supervisor prior to taking the job, but I was SO lucky and had an amazing supervisor who I loved and still have a great relationship with! You’ll be spending a lot of time with them and asking a ton of questions, so it helps significantly if you get along. I have a friend who did not get along so well with her supervisor and she had a very different CF experience than I did.
Another thing to ask about is if there is another SLP in the setting where you’ll be. Will you have someone there to quickly ask questions if you need help or will you be more on your own? I ended up being the only SLP in my building, which was a little scary at first, but my mentor was easy to reach whenever I had a question. You’ll also want to ask about the population you’ll be working with. I didn’t realize until I started working that the majority of my students would have autism. I had absolutely no problem with this and loved it, but it may have taken someone else more by surprise if they hadn’t had much experience with this population (not that I’m a pro, but I did get a lot of experience with students with autism in grad school).
I was going to write out a list of questions, but I was able to find the site that I referenced when I was applying. It has a list of great questions to ask during an interview that are really helpful, so I’ve linked it here.
Getting your CCCs!: At the end of your CF, which is usually about 9 months depending on whether you’re full- or part-time, you will apply for your own license! Each state is different, so make sure you review the requirements, application, fees, etc. before this time comes. You want to make sure you have met all of the requirements so that you can begin working under your own license rather than your supervisor’s. You’ll also apply for your CCC’s from ASHA at this point. CCC stands for Certificate of Clinical Competence and it’s a pretty big deal when you finally can say you have your CCC’s and are a certified Speech-Language Pathologist! You’ll need to maintain these by continuously earning continuing education units (CEUs) and paying your ASHA dues at the end of each year. Another good question to ask when you are applying to jobs is whether or not they will pay your dues and licensing fees. Not all employers do, but it’s a nice bonus if they will!
Just a little bit about my job specifically- we have a 6-day school cycle and I work in an elementary school for 5 cycle days and a middle school for one cycle day. This is my third year working in the same district, so I’ve been lucky to work with some of the same students for a few years! It’s a low-income school district, so I have a lot of students who don’t have the best home lives. This has given me a lot of experience with negative behaviors and how to help these students transition more easily throughout their day. But, it’s not always perfect and I have plenty of days, especially at the middle school, where the students refuse to work or won’t even talk to me. So, I definitely have to go with the flow!
My caseload has students who are working on fluency, articulation, phonology and language. I have only had 2 students with voice concerns since I’ve been working, so it isn’t too common for me. My day consists of therapy, planning, writing each student’s billing notes from that day and IEP meetings. Every day is a little different and that is why I love it. My days usually fly by and I know that is something a lot of people wish they could say, so I’m so grateful for that!
I hope this has been helpful, whether you’re currently an undergrad, graduate student or are just thinking about becoming an SLP. Of course, there is way more information to share about each step, but I just shared a quick overview. If you have more specific questions that I didn’t answer here, please feel free to reach out on Instagram or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy to help however I can! 🙂
Thanks so much for reading!