Studying speech therapy prepares students to diagnose and treat biological and environmental speech-related problems, including stutters and other cognitive speech deficiencies. Education programs are available from the undergraduate certificate to doctorate levels. Program fields can include speech therapy, speech language pathology, and audiology. A high school diploma is required for admission at the undergraduate level, whereas a bachelor's degree is necessary for the graduate level. There are several career options in this field, and they each have their own education and possibly licensing requirements to obtain employment.
Certificate in Speech Therapy
Pre-professional certificate programs are available mainly through 2-year colleges and generally require completion of 20-35 credit hours in numerous areas of related theoretical inquiry, such as speech disorders, industry ethics and clinical communications. Students enrolled in speech therapy certificate programs are educated in basic concepts of speech and language pathology. They learn the basic tenets of speech disorders and methods of diagnoses and documentation. Particular attention to developmental speech disorders is emphasized for employment in school systems. Core courses in certificate programs include the following:
- Introduction to speech disorders
- Language disorder rehabilitation
- Treating children's speech disorders
- Patient behavior management
- Clinical speech pathology practicum
Associate's Degree in Speech Therapy
Speech language pathology programs at the associate's degree level provide students with theoretical and applied education in diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders. Many programs require students to spend a set number of clinical hours assisting licensed speech therapists. Most programs take 60 credits to complete. Programs in speech therapy educate students in the medical, ethical, clerical and behavioral elements of speech language pathology. Core coursework may include the following:
- Foundations of audiology
- Multicultural communications
- Vocal articulation
- Speech disorders with special-needs children
- Writing speech pathology reports
Bachelor's Degree in Speech Therapy
A speech therapy bachelor's degree program prepares graduates to become speech language pathologists or speech therapists. The programs also prepare graduates for enrollment in a speech therapy master's degree program or for employment as a speech language pathology research assistant. Both Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs are available, and each curriculum type takes 120 credits to complete. Bachelor's degree programs in speech therapy provide students with in-depth insight into the foundations of speech disorders. Students also learn about normal speech communications processes so they can best treat individuals with disordered speech. Most degree programs require completion of clinical lab hours as speech language pathology assistants. Core course work includes the following:
- Speech and hearing science
- Phonetic linguistics
- Rehabilitation of audiologic deficiencies
- Language and vocabulary acquisition
- Speech language pathology evaluations
- Developmental speech disorders
Master's Degree in Speech Therapy
Master's degree programs in speech therapy prepare students for careers as state-licensed speech language pathologists or audiologists. Students are educated fully in all medical, cultural and communicative aspects of language, speech and hearing disorders. They also learn to conduct and analyze relevant theoretical and clinical research. Degree requirements may consist of completion of between 30 and 55 credit hours in core courses.
Speech therapy master's degree programs teach students how to independently diagnose and treat all communicative disorders. Students also learn about the behavioral elements of speech disorders, along with how to best counsel members of various groups suffering from speech, language or hearing problems. Research education is a crucial component of many master's degree programs, most of which require students to complete theses prior to graduation. Some programs also educate students in sign language. Below is a list of topics that may be covered in master's degree programs:
- Communicative neuroanatomy
- Audiology research theory
- Articulation deficiencies
- Developmental linguistics
- Language intervention/ Phonetics and phonemics
- Motor speech disorders
Doctoral Degree in Speech Therapy
Doctoral degree programs for speech therapy train students to become audiologists or to pursue academic careers as professors or researchers within the discipline of speech and hearing sciences. Most programs focus heavily on clinical and research elements. Many institutions offer dual doctoral programs, allowing students to split required credit hours between speech language pathology and a related subject such as audiology or speech and hearing science.
Most doctoral speech therapy degree programs are heavily centered on research and require completion of a dissertation. Students learn how to decipher, analyze and replicate medical and scientific research on speech and hearing disorders. Audiology is a much larger part of doctoral curricula than it is of lower-level speech therapy degree programs; most Ph.D. programs requiring students to complete several hearing science courses. Topics commonly covered in required courses include:
- Speech perception
- Cognitive linguistic science
- Audiologic instrumentation devices
- Speech disorder counseling
- Neurolinguistic disabilities
Popular Career Options
Graduates of speech language pathology bachelor's degree programs may work alongside licensed speech language pathologists. Many states have less stringent licensing requirements for speech therapists and speech therapy assistants working in educational settings; many bachelor degree holders thus pursue employment within school systems. A few popular career choices include clinical speech pathology assistants, research assistants, general audiology or speech pathology assistants.
Employment and Salary Information
Graduation from a speech therapy certificate program can lead to work as a speech language pathology aide. Speech language pathology aides provide assistance and general support to licensed speech language pathologists in a professional setting. The majority of speech language pathology aides work with speech disordered children of various ages in private practice or educational environments. Salary information may be comparable to other health aides with similar education and experience levels. In May 2015, nurse aides earned a mean $12.89 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Occupational therapy aides earned a mean yearly salary of $31,090, while physical therapy aides earned a mean annual wage of $27,440 (www.bls.gov).
Upon completion of a master's degree program in speech therapy, graduates can obtain state licensing as speech language pathologists. According to the BLS, the mean yearly salary for speech language pathologists was $76,900 as of May 2015. It was also predicted that the aging of the baby-boom population will create a strong speech therapy employment market from 2014-2024, with a growth of approximately 21%.
Upon completing a doctoral speech therapy program, graduates may embark upon careers as speech language pathologists, researchers, educators or audiologists. Doctorate holders may obtain state audiology licensure and ASHA certification once they earn their degrees. Completion of a doctoral program also qualifies students for the state licensure necessary to become a speech therapy instructor. According to the BLS, audiologists earned a mean salary of $77,420 in May 2015, while speech language pathologists working in primary and secondary educational settings made a mean annual salary of $68,150.
Most graduates of speech therapy bachelor's degree programs continue on to pursue master's degrees in communication disorders, speech pathology or related subjects. Some students wish to ultimately enter a speech or audiology-related area of another field, such as law or medicine, and thus pursue graduate educations in those areas instead.
Speech language pathology professionals may advance their careers by obtaining certification from the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Certification is available to any state-licensed speech language pathologist. The ASHA also offers continuing education courses, which are required by many states in order to maintain speech language pathology licenses. Master's degree holders also often pursue doctoral degrees in subjects such as speech language pathology or audiology; the latter field often requires a doctorate to attain state licensure.
Speech language pathologists and audiologists can advance their professional standing and keep up-to-date with industry trends by joining the ASHA, the nation's largest and oldest association of speech and hearing professionals. ASHA offers numerous continuing education workshops and conferences to its members. Some institutions that grant doctorates in speech therapy host continuing education programs for their alumni.
Students can take speech therapy programs at the certificate, associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. This educational path can lead to careers in fields such as speech language pathology and audiology.