Overview of Online Master's in Speech-Language Pathology Degrees
Speech-language pathologists work with both children and adults to resolve many types of communication disorders. Those who aspire to become speech professionals will need to earn a master's degree in the field, which they can accomplish through on-campus or online grad school for speech pathology.
Most colleges that offer master's degrees for speech pathology online require completing 61-64 credit hours, which typically includes about 18 credit hours of clinical practice courses. Some online SLP master's programs are designed to be completed in one and a half years of full-time study, while others cater to working adults and are meant to be completed in two to three years of part-time study.
The master's degree needed to become a licensed SLP goes by a variety of names. For example, it may be a master's in speech-language pathology or a master's in communicative disorders. Furthermore, if the program is part of your school's health sciences department, you'll probably earn a Master of Science because coursework focuses on physical sciences and math. If the program is delivered through the school's department of special education or human services, on the other hand, the degree may be a Master of Arts because coursework emphasizes the humanities.
Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and Founder
Throughout this guide to online speech-language pathology master's degrees, we've included expert analysis from Carrie Clark, who is the founder and owner of Speech and Language Kids, a website focused on the pediatric side of speech-language pathology. She has worked with children of all ages and ability levels for 13 years and has experience working in early intervention, early childhood education, private practice, and teletherapy. Through her membership program at The SLP Solution, Carrie helps thousands of speech-language pathologists by researching various topics or therapies in the field and creating quick and simple resources that break them down. Carrie and her team of mentors further support members by answering questions in the exclusive member groups and brainstorming ideas and solutions for challenging cases and situations.
To be admitted into most SLP graduate programs, applicants must have earned a bachelor's degree, usually with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The bachelor's degree can be in any subject, but students who did not earn an undergraduate degree in speech pathology or a related field may need to take up to nine prerequisite courses in language development, speech and hearing science, and diagnostics.
When submitting an online application, students may also need to submit GRE or GMAT scores, recommendation letters from previous instructors, a resume of work experience, and a personal statement.
Speech-Language Pathology Courses
In general, SLP master's students learn about anatomy, physiology, and the many types of communication disorders that can affect hearing, swallowing, and speech. Additionally, students learn about early intervention, assessment, diagnosis, and the development and implementation of treatment plans.
Early in an online program, they can expect to take the following core classes:
This course introduces students to normal and disordered speech, hearing, writing, and language among adolescents and adults. Students may examine case studies and complete projects to get a more in-depth overview of the patterns of language disorders.
This course explores the various methods to work with deaf or hard-of-hearing children. In addition, students often learn the history of pediatric audiology and the experts who have contributed to EHDI (Early Hearing Detection and Intervention).
This introductory course provides a basic overview of advanced speech and sound production studies among adolescents. Students also examine articulation disorders' etiology, diagnosis, and treatment.
This course provides real-life examples of what speech therapists and speech pathologists may encounter when providing therapy to patients with voice disorders. Students examine various case studies and learn the proper methods for assisting patients with speech-language disorders.
Evaluation and Diagnosis in Speech Pathology
In this course, students can expect to learn the principles and practices for performing in-depth diagnostic evaluations for patients with speech and language disorders. In addition, students examine intervention methods, diagnostics, and much more.
Later, students take elective courses, such as the following examples:
This comprehensive course provides students with the knowledge and skills to properly assess infants and children showing signs of feeding and swallowing challenges. In addition, students research case studies on pediatric dysphagia and engage in lab practices.
This course gives students an overview of what autism is and how it applies to speech pathology or speech therapy. In addition, students will learn about the latest autism research and practices or interventions to address mental health conditions.
This course allows aspiring speech pathologists to get an overview of augmentative communication. Students can expect to learn about the various communication tools used to provide therapy to adolescents and adults with speech and language disorders. At some schools, students may use this course to obtain the Augmentative and Alternative (AAC) certificate.
The Clinical Practice Requirement
Accredited speech pathology programs online also require students to complete hours of real-world experience. These experiential learning activities — known by different names, including clinical internships, clinical externships, practicums, or field experience — are invaluable opportunities to put theory into practice. In addition, students enhance their listening, diagnostic, and collaboration skills by working with children and adult clients.
Many programs involve a part-time clinical practicum each academic term, plus a one-term, full-time practicum experience, which serves as a capstone to the program. Upon completing their clinical experience, students may be asked to pass an exam or complete a project to document that they have gained the appropriate skill level to become an SLP.
When students complete online master's degrees in speech-language pathology, they'll work with program staff to make arrangements for field placement. The objective is to find a recognized healthcare or educational facility where the student can work under the supervision of licensed speech pathologists.
Students planning to earn a speech pathologist master's degree online will want to enroll in an online program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. The CAA is part of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the leading professional organization for speech-language pathologists and audiologists, so a CAA-accredited SLP program assures students they're enrolled in a credible, quality higher education program. A degree from a CAA-accredited program is also a requirement for licensure in most states, and most employers only consider job candidates who graduated from a CAA-approved program.
Students should also focus on schools that have earned institutional accreditation for the quality of their programs, faculty, and services. For a list of accredited online programs, students can visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.
To work as a licensed speech-language pathologist, you must have a master's degree, which is also a prerequisite for earning a doctorate if you decide to continue your education. To qualify for a doctoral program, you must be familiar with the field so you're prepared for advanced research methodology, cutting-edge issues in speech and language, and organizational leadership.
Doctoral degree programs come in two varieties:
- Clinical doctorates prepare you for a role as an advanced practitioner by requiring more research on a focused specialization than a master's program. Such programs have no standardized title, although "Doctor of Speech-Language Pathology" is common.
- PhD programs are for students who want to become professors of speech-language pathology. If you go this route, you'll write a dissertation based on an original research project.
What to Know Before Entering the Speech-Language Pathology Field
It can be hard to understand an SLP's potential education and career choices outside the field. However, as an experienced practitioner, Carrie Clark offers insight into her journey and those of her classmates and colleagues. Below are a few of the key points that Clark thinks prospective students should consider:
Patience and resilience are the most important skills for an SLP to develop and nurture. Clark notes, "Everyone is so unique. And even if they have the same disability or disorder, they present differently." SLPs may need to attempt multiple interventions before finding one that works, which requires patience and the fortitude not to get discouraged: "It's about trying something and failing and then trying something different and then failing and trying something different."
For a flavor of what speech-language pathology involves, Clark says, "the best thing you can do is get some real-world experience as early as possible." She suggests asking to shadow an SLP or volunteer to work with special needs children and adults. Because the demand for SLPs is outpacing supply, many in the profession are happy to introduce potential SLPs to the job. Clark recommends observing multiple SLPs who work within different settings and populations because "you might find your preferences are actually different from what you thought, and then you can guide your study in terms of which electives you take earlier on."
Speech-language pathology needs more diverse practitioners, starting with recruiting more diverse students to these programs. The field is 92% white and 96% female, which doesn't reflect the potential client pool. Clark offers, "We can't treat diverse populations if we are not a diverse workforce." Students from underrepresented backgrounds can seek support from minority student groups, trusted faculty members, and current practitioners. They can also contact professional groups, such as the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which hosts the Minority Student Leadership Program as a way to diversify the SLP workforce.
"When I see new speech-language pathologists coming into the field, what they struggle with is thinking that they should have all the answers. And you don't, you don't know what that client's going to need when they sit down in front of you. You really have to have patience with yourself and with your clients and then be able to try multiple things and not get discouraged when something doesn't work the way you thought it would right off the bat."
Careers With an Online Master's in Speech-LanguagePathology
Even an entry-level position as an SLP requires a master's degree and some type of state licensure or certification. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the demand in this field is expected to increase by 21% through 2030, a projected growth rate much higher than that of other professions. The median annual income for speech-language pathologists is $79,060, with the highest-paid practitioners earning more than $125,560 annually.
The best-paying opportunities for SLPs are in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals, but there are many additional openings in private practices and schools. Unfortunately, SLPs in schools tend to earn the least. Clark says these SLPs usually earn salaries and raises on the same schedule as a school's teaching staff. "The mean salary for this profession is great," she says. However, addressing the pay variance, she notes that "the medical setting pushes it up because you can work in a nursing home for $90,000 a year right out of the gate, but the schools are going to start you with $30,000 or whatever's the range for your area."
Clark acknowledges the differences in duties among patient care settings, which may influence where students apply for jobs once they graduate. For example, SLPs in hospitals "may be evaluating someone to see if they've had a cognitive change or if they're having language problems. They also may be working with somebody who has hearing loss. So it's very different based on who's in the hospital that day." SLPs generally don't treat hospital patients longer than a few weeks, whereas school SLPs "have the same set of clients for maybe the entire school year. You might have some clients that you even see for multiple school years, so you have much more consistency."
An online speech pathology master's program prepares graduates for many other occupations as well.
- SLPs can work as voice coaches and teach executives, politicians, and entertainers to speak well and use their voices frequently without straining their vocal cords.
- Those who enjoy working with children may want to become special education teachers.
- Graduates willing to pursue doctoral degrees can become academic professors, researchers in university or commercial laboratories, or audiologists, who treat hearing and balance problems.
- ASHA notes that bilingual SLPs are in demand and may find additional job opportunities.
Licensure and Certification
To legally practice as a speech-language clinician, individuals must obtain a license from their state. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include a master's degree or higher in speech-language pathology and 375-400 hours of supervised clinical experience. Some states also require applicants to complete a six- to nine-month full-time, paid clinical internship after earning their master's degree.
The final step in obtaining licensure is to pass the national Praxis exam in speech-language pathology, usually within one year of graduation. The fee for the initial licensing application also varies by state, ranging from about $105 to $220, and the Praxis exam fee is $146.
After earning a master's degree, most SLPs pursue ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP) by taking a standardized Praxis exam. Certification fees vary from $286 to $511, depending on the applicant's circumstances. This certification indicates a deep knowledge of the profession's best practices. Employers typically don't require this credential for new hires, but it can signal your dedication to upholding the latest standards of practice.
You can also obtain one of three Board Certified Specialist (BCS) certifications to show your expertise in fluency disorders, child language disorders, or swallowing disorders. Each of these requires you to first hold the CCC-SLP.
Funding a Speech-Language Pathology Program
Most college and graduate students take out at least some loans to fund their education. Federal and state government loans typically have the best terms and interest rates. But before you begin loan applications, it's a good idea to apply for all available financial aid. The best forms of aid — grants and scholarships — take money off your total expenses without requiring repayment.
Our ranking of the most affordable online speech pathology master's degrees is designed to help students find a low-cost program.
Is a Master's in Speech-Language Pathology Worth It?
For students who want to make a difference in people's lives by becoming licensed speech-language pathologists, a master's degree from an accredited graduate school is essential. But is entering the profession worth the effort? Clark says she thinks it's "so worth it" but advises prospective students to examine the data around SLP education and employment.
For her part, Clark describes therapy breakthroughs as the most rewarding aspect of her work: "I can still remember every time that a child has spoken their first word in my session, because it moves you. I love being able to experience the joy that they experience."
"The breakthroughs make everything worth it because communication is key to life. If you're having trouble with it, or if you can't communicate, it breaks down everything. So being able to help people improve such a big, important part of their life is incredibly rewarding."
The worst part of the job, says Clark, is the tendency for employers to assign too many clients and the hefty workload that comes with this practice. SLPs usually have extra administrative hurdles depending on their care setting. "If you're a school SLP, there's paperwork and the IEP (Individualized Education Program) and bus duty and lunch duty and all of the other things that come along with working in a school setting," most of which don't involve speech therapy at all. "In the medical field, SLPs have certain kinds of paperwork and billing and insurance" along with other administrative tasks. "I typically see that described as the worst part of our profession," she says.
Before choosing a program, particularly an online program in speech-language pathology, prospective students may want to weigh some of the pros and cons of earning a speech pathologist master's degree online:
SLPs earn considerable salaries. Once they've obtained a license to practice, SLPs can expect to earn salaries from approximately $51,310 to upwards of $125,560, which includes the lowest and highest 10% of earners in the field. Depending on where they live, they could earn even more.
SLPs face a bright job outlook. Due primarily to an aging population needing treatment for speech impairments following medical emergencies, like strokes, as well as medical advances improving survival rates, the BLS predicts that about 14,000 openings for SLPs will emerge over the next decade.
Online SLP programs give prospective students more options. By opting to pursue a speech-language pathology degree online, full-time working students can choose from a broader selection of SLP programs and price points without having to relocate and find a new job.
Connecting with peers can be more challenging in online programs. Due to the constraints of the distance learning environment, some online students may find it challenging to build a professional network that can be useful later in their careers.
Completing practicum requirements may require extra effort. Some online SLP students may have to work more diligently with program staff to find appropriate venues for meeting their supervised clinical practice requirements close to home.
SLPs usually don't have one single work environment , as their job often requires daily travel, like going from school to school. This may not be a good fit for those who like stability and their own workspace.
FAQs About Online Master's Degrees in Speech-Language Pathology
Which State Pays Speech Pathologists the Most?
According to the BLS, the state that pays the highest salary for SLPs is California. In this large coastal state, there are currently 14,150 employed speech pathologists, with the median annual wage being $102,650 among these professionals.
Is There a Difference Between a Speech Therapist and a Speech Pathologist?
No, there isn't any difference between speech therapists and speech pathologists. The terms are used interchangeably in this field, as they hold the same job responsibilities. Both speech therapists and speech pathologists require the same educational background and certifications to work. However, some professionals in this field prefer to be called speech therapists, as they provide forms of speech therapy.
Should You Get an MA or MS?
When pursuing speech-language pathology, you may want to consider whether you want your diploma to read as a Master of Arts or a Master of Science. These delineations typically mean that your degree focused more on the humanities or the sciences, respectively. If you want to take more language courses, a Master of Arts may be your best bet. But if you prefer to take more science classes, a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology may be more relevant to your interests. In general, your future employers likely won't be looking at your diploma's official title this closely, so it may not make a difference to them in terms of credibility.
Do I Need a Doctoral Degree to Practice as a Speech Pathologist?
No, graduate students don't need to earn doctoral degrees to practice as speech pathologists. However, depending on their career goals, students who have earned master's degrees may want to consider pursuing one of the two types of doctoral degrees available in speech-language pathology — a clinical doctorate, which prepares speech pathologists for advanced leadership roles in clinical settings such as master clinician or a clinical administrator, or a PhD in speech pathology, which prepares students for research and teaching positions in academia.
An online master's degree in speech pathology is designed to help students develop the skills to become speech therapists or speech pathologists. Each program explores language disorders, audiology, and articulation, to name a few areas. A career in speech pathology is not only a fulfilling role for those who aspire to help patients with communication issues, but it can also be a lucrative profession.