Transitioning into speech-language pathology can feel like a long, arduous process, especially if you've been out of school for a few years already. While the road can be long for some, the process doesn't have to be a mystery or challenging to navigate. 

This post is written with the second-career future-SLPs in mind. Those of you who have been working for a few years and realized the field of speech-language pathology has a lot to offer. Read below for a step-by-step guide on what you'll need to get into grad school. 

STEP 1: Identify the master's programs

First things first, you need to identify which speech-language pathology master's programs you're interested in applying to. Some schools will accept you into their program without completing pre-requisite coursework--instead, you'll complete this coursework in the process of completing your master's. For example, Vanderbilt University has a track in their master's program designed for students without a background in SLP that allows you to finish in 6 semesters (two full years including 2 summer terms). If you're only applying to master's programs that accept students without a background, then you can skip down to Step 4: preparing applications and securing your letters of recommendation. 

If you want to apply to programs that require pre-requisite coursework, read on...

STEP 2: Out-of-field pre-requisites

You'll likely need some out-of-field pre-requisite coursework. These are courses required by the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) as a sort of general education. You can read about them here. These include one course in each of the following areas:

  • Physical Science (physics or chemistry--e.g., physicals of sound, physics for non-majors, organic chemistry)
  • Biological Science (e.g., biology, cytology, physiology, genetic science)
  • Statistics--this must be a stand-alone statistics course, not one directly related to CSD and not a general research methods class
  • Social Science or Behavioral Science (e.g., anthropology, economics, political science, psychology)
These are placed high on the to-do list because it's likely that you'll have completed some or all of these requirements as part of your undergraduate coursework, so check your undergraduate transcripts to see which boxes you can check off. If you completed your degree in the last 5 years, most schools will accept that. If you completed your degree longer than 5 years ago, contact the master's programs that you'd like to apply to and see if they'll accept your coursework. 

For the remaining out-of-field requirements, consider taking them at your local community college. These classes do not have to be completed at a 4-year institution, and so this is one area where you can save some money. Many community colleges also offer online or evening classes, meaning you can complete the courses while working. 

STEP 3: In-field pre-requisites

Since you're transitioning from a different field, you'll likely need leveling courses to be eligible for acceptance into an SLP master's program. Most master's programs require you to have core undergraduate coursework related to field completed. These are typically the following: 

  • Introduction to Communication Science and Disorders
  • Anatomy and Physiology of the Speech Mechanism
  • Phonetics
  • Language Acquisition
  • Introduction to Audiology
  • Introduction to Aural Rehab
  • Psycholinguistics

Be sure to check the individual programs because some will require more or fewer courses. 

To complete the coursework, many students find leveling programs helpful as they are designed to prepare you for graduate school by providing all of the relevant coursework. You can find leveling programs in person or online. These often take 1-2 years to complete depending on how much time you're able to dedicate to classes each term. 

STEP 4: Prepare your application and secure LORs

This process alone deserves it's own blog post, but I'll provide some basics here. Most schools have similar pre-reqs: personal statement, GRE, LORs, CV. And many schools use the centralized application system for Communication Science and Disorders program, CSDCAS. From there you'll be able to upload required documents. If the master's program requires the GRE, be sure to sign up for the GRE well ahead of the deadline in case you'd like to take the test a second time; your GRE scores are sent directly from ETS and do not need to uploaded separately into the application. 

Most students who have been out of university for a few years express concern about finding recommenders for their applications. If you previously had a good relationship with a professor or a graduate student, it's likely that they remember you. Try reaching out with a warm email reminding them how they know you, explaining your graduate schools plans, and asking if they'd be able to write you a strong recommendation letter. I highly recommend following Professor Will Styler's letter of recommendation guide

You can also consider asking a boss or supervisor to write a letter if you have been your position for a number of years, and that person can speak to your professionalism, how collaborative you are, and your openness to learning. They might not be able to speak to your academic achievements, but professional skills are needed in the field of speech-language pathology and are highly valuable in your day-to-day interactions with clients and colleagues. Having a boss or supervisor who can speak to that will help your application stand out. 

Expect the entire process to take 2-3 years from deciding to change careers to starting graduate school. The road feels long, but it's over before you know it! 

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