Speech-language pathology is an organized career with an influential professional group. Therefore, there's a well-defined pathway for becoming an SLP:
Even if you're passionate about helping people communicate, you'll want to know whether you can make a living as an SLP before you spend years trying to become one. Read on for data about wages and the job market for SLP work in the U.S.
Speech-Language Pathology Jobs
Within the broad speech-language pathology field, you can take a number of divergent paths that influence your career.
Career Path Considerations
Many factors can change the course of your SLP career, including circumstances relating to your life outside of work, such as family and health. Below, we've listed some of the most important career considerations relating specifically to SLP work.
|Practice Setting || SLPs can work in a variety of environments. An employee who assesses trauma patients' speech at a hospital will have different experiences from someone who treats children in a school office a few days a week over several months. |
As your career progresses, you may choose to apply to jobs in different settings — you're never locked in to one type of SLP role. You might also establish a career as a traveling SLP taking short assignments in different states as long as you hold licenses there. Julia Kuhn, a traveling medical SLP, cites the flexibility of this lifestyle as her favorite thing about her career.
|Patient Population || This factor is often but not always linked to the practice setting. For example, if you work in an elementary school, you're only going to work with children in a certain age range. However, working in a brain trauma rehabilitation center lets you specialize in treating people with specific injuries or disabilities but a range of ages and backgrounds. |
|Specialty Certifications || If you spend the time and effort to earn one of ASHA's specialist certifications, it's likely because you want to focus your career on this area. Securing a credential in fluency, swallowing, or child language disorders may help you market yourself for open positions requiring that expertise. |
|Part-Time or Full-Time || Some employers hire for part-time positions, or you might set up a private practice that allows you more control over your hours. |
Kassie Hanson says, "There is a lot of flexibility in how much you want to work. You can easily work full-time, part-time, or even just a few clients per week if you have your license. It's been nice to have that flexibility as my family grows."
|Further Education || Relatively few SLPs pursue doctoral degrees, but most of those who do end up in academia. After working for a few years, you might also decide that you want to educate the next generation of SLPs. |
|Management Opportunities || SLPs promoted to leadership roles tend to scale back their caseloads, sometimes entirely, in favor of management tasks. This certainly changes the course and complexion of their careers, because they tend to earn higher salaries but do less of the work that got them into the field in the first place. |
Opportunities for Advancement
The first step toward advancement is often ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP), which many employers require of job candidates at the intermediate level, and sometimes even the entry level. To earn this credential, you must pay ASHA's membership fee and pass a comprehensive exam.
Beyond the CCC-SLP, advancing in speech-language pathology is similar to advancing in most other fields. The more experience you gain, the more pay and responsibility you tend to accrue. Once you've earned your supervisors' trust, they might let you handle more complex patient cases or supervise SLPAs or graduate students on clinical placements. If you hold a specialty certificate, your supervisor could make you the go-to employee for handling cases of that type, giving you the chance to achieve results that you can trumpet in future interviews.
You might also apply for open management positions after a few years. Managing people takes a different skill set from managing a caseload, so you can potentially improve your chances by taking leadership or management courses or even earning a certificate or degree in these subjects.
You may be able to specialize in assessing and treating certain disorders or groups of disorders, depending on where you work. We've detailed some of these specializations below.
If you're interested in specializing, you may be able to start in graduate school. Most master's programs feature a packed curriculum with room for only two or three electives, but you can put these toward courses in your preferred subject. You can also petition to serve your clinical rotation at certain locations if your school lets you rank preferences.
Speech disorders involve trouble with producing certain sounds. This group includes relatively common issues with fluency and articulation, such as stuttering and various kinds of lisping. You may be able to further specialize in child speech disorders if you work in early childhood or K-12 education, or in adult speech disorders if you work in healthcare, postsecondary education, or corporate speech-language pathology.
Language disorders denote broad issues with either comprehending or producing written or spoken language. These include cognitive-communication disorders that result from brain injury or stroke and indicate a change in cognition. Language disorders include aphasia — which can impede both language expression and understanding — and word-finding difficulties related to memory loss. As with speech disorders, you can potentially specialize in certain age populations depending on where you work.
Social communication disorder is a diagnosis for people who tend to use language differently from established norms. They may have trouble understanding or reproducing verbal or nonverbal cues, context, nonliteral constructions such as puns, and storytelling conventions.
Swallowing disorder, or dysphagia, affects patients' ability to safely eat and drink. Because swallowing involves most of the same muscular structures as speech, SLPs have gained authority in treating these issues in recent decades. Even nonspecialists may want to stay up to date on dysphagia — Julia Kuhn says, "As a medical SLP, dysphagia is the main subject that I wish I learned more about" in graduate school, because she frequently sees patients with this condition.
Deafness and hearing loss affect speech and language, which are usually taught on the assumption that the speaker can hear their speech. In some cases, the SLP may refer a patient to an audiologist, who is a hearing specialist with different education and training.
Bilingual speech-language pathology refers to services given in a language other than English. Only 8.2% of SLP professionals represented by ASHA in 2021 were able to work in a second language, so these providers tend to have plenty of work. Among multilingual professionals, two-thirds work in Spanish, the most in-demand language. Through ASHA, SLPs can identify as bilingual to pursue potential career benefits in this increasingly multilingual country.
Speech-Language Pathologist Job Satisfaction
According to ASHA's most recent comprehensive numbers, an overwhelming number of SLPs are satisfied with their positions and careers.
More recent workforce surveys can help tease out some specific points. ASHA regularly surveys two broad categories of SLPs: those who work in schools and those in healthcare settings such as hospitals or long-term care facilities. These surveys don't feature direct questions about job contentment, but reveal other points that affect satisfaction. For example:
20% of healthcare SLPs feel that other professionals and administrators don't value their work
70% of school SLPs enjoy working with children and families, but 82% are frustrated by the amount of paperwork they need to do
Speech-language pathology is a unique career: No other professionals can claim to do exactly what SLPs do. However, they tend to share some personal qualities with people in other helping professions, especially those that deal with similar patient populations. These qualities include compassion, clear communication, and engaged listening.
The careers listed here involve helping people to overcome challenges and improve their lives. If you're interested in this goal but unsure about speech-language pathology, one of these occupations may appeal to you more.
Annual Median Salary: $78,950
Job Outlook: 16% growth through 2030
Audiologists are experts on hearing problems, as well as balance concerns related to inner-ear physiology. They evaluate and treat patients with these issues, often in collaboration with SLPs; in fact, ASHA represents both professions. To become an audiologist, you need to earn a Doctor of Audiology degree and pass a licensure test in your state. It's not uncommon for SLPs to get one of these degrees and become dual-licensed practitioners.
Annual Median Salary: $85,570
Job Outlook: 17% growth through 2030
Occupational therapists (OTs) help people relearn how to perform daily activities after major life events such as illness or injury. As with speech-language pathology, this work takes compassion and patience to do well. Many people need a gentle hand in the aftermath of transformative trauma, and they may get frustrated if they can't do simple tasks as easily as before.
The data analytics company Emsi Burning Glass notes that occupational therapy job descriptions call for many of the same aptitudes and skills as speech-language work: treatment planning, patient care, teamwork, and patient education and instruction. OTs need a master's or doctoral degree in the subject to gain a license, and it's helpful to have a science or clinical patient care background for admission to these competitive graduate programs.
Annual Median Salary: $95,620
Job Outlook: 21% growth through 2030
Physical therapists (PTs) help people improve their physical function through targeted, repeated exercises. As with speech and occupational therapy, doctors often give patients PT referrals after injuries or serious illnesses. For this reason, Emsi Burning Glass finds that most PT job posts ask for similar skills to those in SLP and OT ads: patient evaluation, treatment planning, and communication skills.
As with audiology, physical therapy requires a professional doctorate to practice. Of all the occupations discussed here, this is the fastest growing: the BLS expects the field to grow at nearly three times the average rate for U.S. jobs in the 2020-2030 period.