Studying communication disorders will lead to a career in speech-language pathology, through which you'll help evaluate and treat speech disorders and other related communication difficulties. Degrees related to communication disorders are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate level. Coursework will highlight such topics as swallowing disorders, phonetics, fluency disorders and auditory physiology, and a clinical component is a requirement for each degree program.
A graduate degree is typically needed to become a speech-language pathologist, though an undergraduate degree can allow you to serve in an assistant role. In addition to formal educational requirements, speech-language pathologists commonly need to be certified and earn a state license.
Bachelor's Degree in Communication Disorders
Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Communication Disorders programs typically explore contemporary practices, theories and techniques for identifying and treating communication, auditory and language disorders of children and adults. Along with acquiring a comprehensive base of knowledge through lectures and coursework, you'll spend time in supervised clinical practice. The goal of this pre-professional bachelor's degree program is to prepare you for graduate study necessary for employment as a speech-language pathologist. In order to apply to a bachelor's program in communication disorders, you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Along with general education requirements, you might take courses such as:
- Introduction to audiology
- Language disorders
- Aural rehabilitation
- Anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing mechanisms
Master's Degree in Communication Disorders
A master's degree program in communication disorders may lead to a Master of Science, Master of Arts or Master of Education degree. You'll study the physiological structure of the auditory system, as well as psychological aspects of communication disorders. You'll develop the ability to identify and evaluate children and adults with speech and language disorders. You'll also build clinical treatment and assessment abilities as well as interpersonal skills that facilitate working with diverse communities. Classroom learning is combined with group work and supervised clinical experiences.
A bachelor's degree is required for admission to a master's program in communication disorders. That degree may be in communication disorders or a related field. Your undergraduate coursework typically will need to have included language and communication disorders, anatomy and physiology as it relates to communication, phonetics and hearing science.
Programs incorporate both lectures and practical clinical experience. You may be able to participate in internships. A master's thesis is also usually required. Typical course topics include:
- Fluency disorders
- Motor speech disorders
- Diagnostic testing for common speech and language disorders
- Voice and swallowing disorders
- Clinical counseling of communication disorders
Doctorate in Communication Disorders
The terminal degree program in communication disorders is a Doctor of Philosophy in Communication Disorders. Doctoral candidates engage in extensive academic research in preparation for writing a dissertation to be presented for graduation. You'll become familiar with advanced theories and practices related to communication disorders, as well as in the use of modern diagnostic and assessment tools and technologies used in detection and correction of communication disorders. In addition to coursework and lectures, programs also often involve extensive hands-on practice in clinical settings helping children and adults with developmental, neurological or cognitive communication disorders.
You must possess either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree in communication disorders or a closely related field like linguistics, psychology or engineering. In some cases, depending on your previous education, additional preparatory coursework may be required.
You'll engage in extensive academic research and classroom discussion. Some programs also offer teaching experience. Coursework at the doctorate level includes:
- Research procedures for studying communication disorders
- Applied statistics in communication disorders
- Auditory physiology
- The brain mechanism and speech and language
- Scientific writing
Popular Career Options
Career options in the field are limited for those who hold only a bachelor's degree in communication disorders. Most jobs require an education beyond the bachelor's degree level. After graduating from a bachelor's degree program, you may be qualified in some states to apply for a job like a speech-language pathology assistant.
Graduation from a master's degree program in communication disorders typically qualifies you for a speech-language pathologist career.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
An education in communication disorders commonly leads to a career in speech pathology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 21% growth in employment for speech-language pathologists from 2014-2024 and estimated a mean annual salary of $76,900 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Of the 131,450 employed speech-language pathologists in 2015, educational services accounted for around 1.09% of the employment, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
After graduating from a bachelor's degree program in communication disorders, you may apply to a Master of Science in Communication Disorders program if you want to obtain a career as a speech-language pathologist. You may also utilize your bachelor's degree in communication disorders to apply to graduate programs in special education, psychology, education or social work.
In addition to formal educational requirements, 47 states require professional speech pathologists to be licensed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). To obtain a license to practice as a speech pathologist, you must pass a national exam, have a minimum of 300 hours of supervised clinical practice in a clinical care environment and at least nine months of professional employment after graduate school. Often, continuing education classes are needed to renew the license periodically.
If you apply for the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, you may meet some or all of the state licensing requirements through that process.
If you want to become a speech pathologist, you can prepare by earning an undergraduate or graduate degree in communication disorders. These programs generally combine psychology studies with practical clinical training, although the coursework becomes more career-focused at the graduate level.