Making a decision to become something is hard.  I made a choice to become a speech-language pathologist almost two decades ago as a junior in high school.  Though my daily SLP-shenanigans could not exist without my educational journey, I forget all of the thoughts, angst and work that went into choosing my career path.  Recently, a few of our blog readers have asked important and meaningful questions related to the field of speech-language pathology.  Is speech-language pathology right for me?  How does it compare to occupational therapy, teaching, accounting?  Are you constantly stressed as an SLP?

Let’s take some time today to tackle some of these big questions:

Are you happy in your job as a speech-language pathologist?

Speech-language pathology has a high career retention rate (11-35 years) and routinely has a job satisfaction rate of 85% while other professions work towards 60%. Other great aspects of the field are that 1) it is relatively new and is exciting to be part of an unfolding profession,  2) you can dive into a niche such as stuttering, 3) spend your entire life learning and working with great people, and 4) will never be in need of work.

ASHA, our national organization has great information on their careers page.

 I did not get my undergraduate degree in speech-language pathology.  Do you have any advice on how I can make myself more marketable to graduate schools and better prepare me for the SLP field?

Your application for graduate school will include various factors: GPA, GRE score, personal essays and extracurricular/volunteer experience. Your personal essays and extracurricular experience would be areas that could potentially show the admissions committee why you want to be an SLP. You can definitely find ways to gain experience in the field:

1. Shadow/interview speech-language pathologists–I recall a former principal asking me if her niece, a high school senior, could come talk to me about the field. We chatted. Years later, I interviewed her for a position in my district. If she would have asked to shadow me for a day, I would have also complied. Personally, I feel this step shows gumption for the profession.

2. Volunteer and/or work with people–The field of speech-language pathology is about interacting and helping others. Any effort and heart put towards this will complement your graduate studies as an SLP. This past year I supervised a graduate student. When she was interacting with the students in my high school life skills classroom, she demonstrated great composure, superb communication and quickly developed natural rapport. When I complimented her on her skills, she reported that she worked at a camp for young adults with intellectual disabilities as a high school student.

3. When completing your personal essays, find ways to convey WHY you want to be a part of this profession. If you speak to any speech-language pathologist, she will tell you it’s the WHY that keeps her going. In my book, this is such an honorable profession, and we are lucky to be advocates for our clients and students. Side note: Please be sure to edit, edit and edit your essays. High-quality and grammatically correct writing goes a long way.

I whole-heartedly believe that the admissions process is not based on finding people with the most experience in the field. Rather, it is about finding the best folks for the profession: those who want to help others, those who can effectively diagnose and provide evidenced-based therapy, those who can effectively work on interdisciplinary teams and those who have a passion for the field.

Here is a thought-provoking video by Simon Senek. He discussess the importance of our WHY:

Last, as a graduate student in Communicative Disorders without an undergraduate background in speech-language pathology, you will need to take leveling courses. Typically, this adds an additional year to the program.

I am considering a career in speech-language pathology, and I want to work in the schools.  Do you mostly interact with special education students? If you work in a school, and assuming you have summers off, what do you then do?

As a school-based speech-language pathologist, students on the SLP caseload qualify as a student in special education.  Caseload consists of students with expressive and receptive language disorders, articulations disorders, fluency disorders and social/pragmatic needs.  SLPs serve students with autism, cognitive disabilities and other specialized needs. Bottom line, they are all people FIRST, and we are the lucky ones who gets to work on their functional communication skills.

From the perspective of one SLP:  As a school-based SLP, I did have two months off in the summer, a spring break and two weeks off for the winter break. I have spent summer months working for the Extended School Year program for our students who require continual therapy to prevent regression, worked at a private speech and language clinic and saw my own private clients. I must admit that I have also spent the summer resting and recouping. I am an advocate of taking the time to refuel. It takes much energy and much heart to provide support for others, and it is vital to invest in myself to be a good therapist. Now, I spend my summer with my own children.

Stay tuned for another installment of Is Speech-Language Pathology Right For Me?

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