Those interested in entry-level work as an audiologist assistant can pursue a bachelor's degree in speech and hearing science. Master's and doctoral studies explore more advanced topics, such as hearing physiology, acoustics, auditory neurology and audiology clinical practices. Clinical doctoral degree programs prepare students for licensure and professional certifications. Practical experiences are a common aspect of studies at every level. People who work in the field diagnose and treat issues like hearing loss and run tests to assess patients' ability to hear sounds of all frequencies.
Bachelor's programs prefer applicants with a strong background in math, science and English; master's programs admit students with a bachelor's degree and require them to submit GRE scores. Clinical doctorate programs require previous coursework in speech and hearing science and an undergraduate degree, as well submission of GRE scores, and PhD programs expect students to have a master's degree in a related field. Online courses and programs are available.
Bachelor's Degree in Speech and Hearing Science
While earning a bachelor's degree in a subject like speech and hearing science isn't adequate preparation for a career as an audiologist, it is preparation for a graduate degree program in the subject. Bachelor's degree programs in speech and hearing science teach students concepts related to hearing, language, speaking and swallowing. Students learn to recognize the symptoms of various disorders and pathologies that affect people ability to speak or hear.
Students in speech and hearing science bachelor's degree programs take classes in speech and language, language disorders, and hearing. Some offer classes with clinical components, giving students hands-on experience working with patients. The topics noted below are often offered:
- American sign language
- Pediatric speech disorders
- Communication disorder statistics
- Voice disorders
Master's Degree in Speech and Hearing Science
Master's degree programs in speech and hearing science combine advanced theoretical discussion with basic clinical instruction. Programs emphasize concepts in speech language pathology and audiology. Students can often choose between clinical and non-clinical tracks, depending on their career goals after graduation. Additionally, some programs offer students the option of either completing a thesis or extra coursework.
The coursework in speech and hearing science master's degree programs varies depending on the track a student chooses. People interested in becoming audiologists usually take more hands-on courses than those who want to enter more theoretical areas of the field. Students often take courses in the subjects mentioned below:
- Cultural communication differences
- Neurological aspects of oral communication
- Biology of oral communication
- Hearing physiology
- Language acquisition
Clinical Doctorate Degree in Audiology
People interested in working with patients as audiologists earn a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) degree. Au.D. programs build on students' previous coursework in speech and hearing science to teach advanced concepts related to assessing and assisting people with aural and communication disorders. Programs take four years to complete and usually include a clinical internship in the final year.
Au.D. program coursework emphasizes practical methods used to assist patients. Some programs allow students to choose an emphasis in particular areas of audiology. Students are exposed to the topics below:
- Human auditory electrophysiology
- Peripheral hearing studies
- Vestibular disorders
- Auditory system physiology
Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Audiology
People interested in the theoretical aspects of audiology often earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in the subject. Ph.D. programs in audiology emphasize the research methodology and statistical analyses used to gather and interpret data related to hearing. Students in audiology Ph.D. programs are required to complete a dissertation before earning their degree.
The coursework in audiology Ph.D. programs emphasizes a theoretical approach to hearing science through applied research and data analysis. Students conduct extensive work investigating the causes and symptoms of hearing disorders. The following subjects are often covered:
- Neurology of auditory perception
- Audiology research methods
- Statistics for audiology
- Audiology theory
- Clinical techniques in audiology
Popular Career Options
People who enter the workforce after earning a bachelor's degree in speech and hearing science are qualified for a number of entry-level jobs in the field. In addition, people who earn a master's degree in speech and hearing science often continue their education at the doctorate level. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov, notes that all new audiologists must earn an Au.D. to practice, which is the doctoral degree in audiology. Audiology Ph.D. programs provide students with a knowledge base applicable to many advanced careers in the field. Graduates of these programs often choose the careers listed below:
- University professor
- Audiology researcher or consultant
- Speech language pathologist assistant or hearing assessment specialist
- Audiologist assistant
- Direct care staff
- Licensed speech language pathologist
Professional Licensure and Continuing Education Info
All new audiologists must hold a doctoral degree in audiology to become licensed audiologists. Requirements vary by state, but most ask that audiologists pass a written exam, complete a supervised internship and participate in continuing education classes periodically.
In addition to state licensure, audiologists can earn a voluntary Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The American Board of Audiology also offers professional credentials.
Employment Outlook and Earnings Information
The BLS predicts job growth of about 29% for audiologists between 2014 and 2024, partly due to the increase in the number of people reaching old age during that time. The BLS notes that the median annual salary for audiologists in 2015 was $74,890.
Students interested in getting into the audiology field should keep in mind the level of education that they want to obtain. Going for undergraduate education would get students an entry-level position in the audiology field, while an Au.D. would give graduates the chance to become full audiologists.