10 Things Speech Students Should Do Before They Graduate

Is speech language pathology right for you? If you’re interested in helping children and adults with communication, speech or dysphagia (swallowing disorders) and seeking a graduate-level learning opportunity, then yes, a master’s degree in speech pathology may be an excellent educational choice. Even if speech language pathology was not your undergraduate major, you can enter a speech language pathology school after meeting a program’s prerequisites.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment for speech language pathologists (SLPs) is projected to grow 27%, which is faster than the average job growth rate. Typical work environments for speech pathology graduates include schools, both private and public health care facilities and hospitals. In 2019, the average salary was $79,120 a year or $38.04 per hour.

As you prepare for speech pathology school, you may have many questions regarding the SLP program, such as what you should do before you begin your studies, what you learn in speech pathology school, and what you should have completed before you graduate. Here’s a guide to help answer some of your questions.

What Do You Learn in Speech Language Pathology School?

Listening, communication and critical thinking are key skills speech language therapists must possess to properly assess, diagnosis and treat individuals who have hearing and speech problems. While often innate, you can acquire and foster these skills while in speech pathology school.

What else do you learn in speech pathology school? According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), your studies should encompass a wide range of subjects such as anatomy, physiology, audiology, communication and phonetics disorders, which combined, could help you develop the core competencies of a speech pathologist.

Through advanced coursework, you will learn how to identify communication disorders in both children and adults. Topics covered in a speech pathology program curriculum might include:

  • Language pathology
  • Neuromotor speech disorders
  • Syndromes and craniofacial anomalies
  • Geriatric dysphagia and airway management
  • Aphasia rehabilitation

Additional education requirements might include the completion of a thesis or capstone project, practicum and an externship.

5 Things Students Should Do Before Starting a Speech Pathology Program

Before you enter an SLP master’s program, there are several things that could help you stand out as an applicant and have a successful first semester. Here’s five things you should do to prepare for speech pathology school:

1. Volunteer

Donate your time at local schools, hospitals, speech and hearing clinics or nursing homes. Regardless of the setting you choose, this involvement will provide real-world experience and help you determine which setting you prefer.

Volunteering may also provide health benefits. A study by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch found participants who volunteer feel healthier and happier. In the study, 79% of adults reported volunteering reduces their stress level, while 85% stated giving back increased their self-esteem, both of which could prove beneficial as you face the demands of a speech pathology program.

2. Shadow an experienced speech pathologist

Similar to volunteer work, shadowing will offer insight into what work would be like as a speech therapist. In addition to learning the field through observation, you could use the opportunity to build a relationship with your supervising SLP and accumulate hours to include on your resume.

3. Participate in research

Volunteer at a research facility, or take on a position as an assistant. Early participation in research will help you comprehend the study of speech pathology and prepare you for studies later in the SLP program. Your research hours may even merit elective course credits.

4. Network with SLP professionals

Get to know your educators, mentors and fellow SLP professionals. Networking with others in the speech pathology field will allow you to build strong, long-lasting career relationships.

Furthermore, professional connections could prove advantageous when you need letters of recommendation or work references. Building a network of professionals can help you prepare for speech pathology school and build your career after graduation.

5. Create a portfolio

As an SLP professional, you should create an education and work portfolio that contains documentation of treatment plans, SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) notes, and other relevant papers.

This compilation of work samples and accomplishments is a vital career asset whether you are currently job seeking or not. A portfolio could substantiate your skills and abilities to a potential client or employer or support promotion or salary increase at your existing place of employment. If you are still preparing for speech pathology school, consider documenting your volunteer work or other experiences. 

5 Things Speech Therapy Students Should Learn Before They Graduate

While it is essential you gain knowledge from your speech pathologist coursework; there are a few skills you should acquire during your time in the program. The following are fundamental to your success before you are a master’s in speech pathology graduate and move forward as a speech therapist. ;there are a few skills, listed below, that you can expect to learn from your program.

1. Time management

Some things, like time management, are best taught through practice and experience, not books. As a speech therapist, you will find it necessary to devote time to evaluations, record keeping, data collection and lesson planning. Implementing a few steps during your SLP program could help you navigate your responsibilities more efficiently.

  • Set goals
  • Prioritize
  • Keep a task list
  • Focus on one task at a time
  • Minimize distractions

2. Collaboration

Speech pathologists work with colleagues daily in addition to speaking and connecting with medical doctors, social workers, parents, and occupational and physical therapists. This team-based approach to treatment and therapy allows you the opportunity to obtain input and perspectives from others.

Whether you work in a group to complete class assignments, projects or conduct research, collaboration could be a valuable tool outside the classroom.

3. Public speaking

Experts believe that some level of glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, affects up to 75% of the population. If you are uncomfortable speaking in front of others, the SLP program is an ideal opportunity to work through this fear. Building your confidence could help you speak to a group of associates, clients or provide training to colleagues without issue.

4. Evidence-based practice

Because clinicians need to provide high-quality services that reflect the interests, needs, values and choices of clients with communication disorders, it can be important that you learn how to utilize evidence-based practice (EBP) before you graduate.

What is the foundation of sound evidence-based practice? As defined by the American speech language-Hearing Association (ASHA), an EBP is “the integration of clinical expertise/expert opinion, external and internal evidence, and client/patient/caregiver perspectives.

5. How to select the proper evaluation tools

In the field of speech pathology, there is not a single generic test, but a host of assessment batteries designed to help you determine your client’s strengths and weaknesses. Understanding and using these evaluation tools before you graduate could provide the ability to diagnose and treat the individual properly.

Speech Pathology Student Resources

To help foster continued professional development during the speech pathologist program and throughout your career as a speech pathologist, there are several organizations that offer additional resources. These resources can help you prepare for speech pathology school or after you are a master’s in speech pathology graduate. 

American Academy of Private Practice in Speech Pathology and Audiology —The AAPPSPA helps speech pathologists run their private practices better. It hosts an annual conference for its members.

American speech language-Hearing Association —ASHA is the national credentialing association for speech language pathologists; speech language pathology support personnel; and students. Membership includes networking and continuing education opportunities.

International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication —ISAAC is an organization focused on improving the lives of individuals with communication needs. It holds an international conference for members.

National Black Association for Speech Language and Hearing —NBASLH is a professional and scientific association that promotes an increase in the number of black speech pathologists and improve the quality of services provided to black individuals with communication differences and disorders. This organization hosts an annual professional development convention for black speech language pathologists, scientists and students.

SpeechPathology.com —This site offers a host of continuing education courses that include dysphagia, apraxia and autism, in addition to a job board and state-by-state professional association listings.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics —The BLS provides important occupational information that includes a summary of the average salary for a speech language pathologist, job outlook, along with state and area data.

Books you may find interesting as an SLP student and professional:

Evaluating+Enhancing Children’s Phonological Systems by Barbara Williams Hodson. This book is for experienced speech language pathologists and beginning students in the field of communications sciences and disorders, alike. Its goal is to help clinicians better serve the unique needs of children with a highly unintelligible speech by bridging the gap between phonological approaches and evidence-based treatment.

Terminology of Communication Disorders: Speech Language-Hearing by Lucille Nicolosi, Elizabeth Harryman and Janet Kresheck. This dictionary of terms may be required in one or more of your classes. However, you might find it useful as a quick reference once you are practicing.

Treatment Resource Manual for Speech Language Pathology by Froma P. Roth and Colleen K. Worthington. This book may be required as part of your classwork, however, you may find it handy your first few years after graduation.

Hegde’s PocketGuide to Assessment in Speech Language Pathology and Hegde’s PocketGuide to Treatment in Speech Language Pathology by M.N. Hedge. These companion books are both handy quick reference guides for all things speech language pathology. They cover topics that range from strokes to stuttering.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Dr. Oliver Sacks. This is a collection of case histories of patients lost in the world of neurological disorders.

Launch your career in speech language pathology by visiting Teach.com

Last Updated June 2020