American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Planning Your Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Choosing an Academic Program

With so many career options and a great employment outlook, embarking on a career in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) can be exciting and challenging. The following steps will serve as a guide to help you choose an academic program that will best meet your needs:

Step 1: Explore your personal interests
Step 2: Learn about academic programs
Step 3: Learn how to navigate the application process

Step 1: Explore your personal interests

What is motivating me to pursue a career in CSD?

Perhaps a friend or loved one has a hearing, balance, communication, or swallowing disorder or you are drawn to the science of the professions. Whatever the motivation, it is important to think about your future career.

What are my professional goals?

There are many career options available in the professions, so having a sense of what your goals are can impact where you choose to study and what degrees will be necessary. Do you envision working with children, adolescents or adults with a particular disorder—such as autism or hearing impairment? Perhaps you will consider clinical administration in health or education settings or choose to pursue a PhD and a career as a faculty-researcher.

How can I find a program that will be a good match for me?

EdFind_LogoGeographic location is a consideration for many students and EdFind, ASHA's online directory, can help you locate academic programs by state, degree level, and program characteristics. Visiting the campus and talking with faculty and students also offers valuable information about the academic program that will help guide your decision. It is recommended that you visit the facilities such as the clinic, classrooms and any research labs.

Learning about a program's faculty, curriculum, research interests, and clinical education opportunities will help you decide which program is best for you. Your CSD program may be in an institution with an established research tradition or be part of a small teaching-focused college. To learn about the different institutional classifications, you can review descriptions on the Carnegie Foundation website.

Step 2: Learn about academic programs

What can I expect from an undergraduate program in CSD?

One objective of a CSD undergraduate program is to prepare students for a graduate degree program in audiology or speech-language pathology. In addition to foundational courses in the biological, physical, and social/behaviorial sciences and humanities, students are likely to take courses in one or more of the following topics

  • normal language development
  • language disorders and phonology
  • linguistics
  • anatomy of hearing and speech mechanism
  • introduction to audiology

What is CAA accreditation?

The Council of Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) is the entity within ASHA that accredits clinical doctoral programs in audiology and master's programs in speech-language pathology. CAA's accreditation program

  • is standards-based
  • promotes excellence in professional preparation by requiring academic programs to participate in continuous program improvement activities
  • provides the full breadth and depth of knowledge to prepare students to work in the full range of practice settings
  • qualifies students for relevant state and national credentials for independent professional practice

Why is it important to consider an accredited graduate program? One must graduate from a CAA-accredited program to be eligible for ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC); in addition, many states require graduation from an accredited program for licensure or teacher credentialing.

The Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA) has posted a video, "The Value of Accreditation," that describes the value of accreditation to help students make informed decisions. 

What is an entry-level degree?

An entry-level degree is required for individuals who seek the necessary credentials to practice in the professions (e.g., ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence, state licensure). To learn more about the specific requirements, visit the ASHA Certification webpages.

  • The entry-level degree to become an ASHA-certified audiologist is a doctoral (e.g., AuD) or other recognized graduate degree for which a minimum of 75 semester credit hours of post-baccalaureate credits have been earned.
  • The entry-level degree to become an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist is a master's degree (e.g., MA, MS).

What is a master's degree in school-based speech-language pathology?

A master's degree program in school-based speech-language pathology prepares graduates solely for employment in a school setting and to qualify for credentialing from a state department of education. It is important to recognize that master's degree programs with such a limited scope of purpose are not eligible for accreditation by the CAA and do not prepare graduates to meet

  • requirements for ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP)
  • state licensure—necessary to practice in a variety of work settings

Students are encouraged to make an informed decision relative to personal career goals and employment objectives by comparing and contrasting

  • master's degree program requirements (see EdFind)
  • accreditation of the graduate academic programs
  • eligibility of program graduates to obtain ASHA certification
  • relevant state licensure and department of education credentialing

What are the differences between a clinical doctoral and a research doctoral degree?

The clinical doctorate (e.g., AuD), comprises a curriculum designed to

  • cover the breadth and depth of clinical practice and may include a research experience or a research requirement (e.g., thesis or capstone project)
  • prepares students for independent clinical practice, administration, and clinical-track faculty positions—but not to automatically qualify for a faculty position at an institutions

The post entry-level clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology (e.g., CScD, SLPD) is an optional degree intended to impart advanced knowledge and skills regarding

  • critical thinking and clinical problem solving
  • depth of knowledge in select areas of clinical practice
  • expertise in interpreting and applying clinical research
  • leadership and advocacy
  • clinical teaching
  • oral and written communication about the clinical enterprise (e.g., differential diagnosis, evaluating evidence, treatment planning, outcomes measurement, clinical decision making, interdisciplinary presentations)
  • interprofessional practice
The clinical doctorate is not an entry-level degree for speech-language pathology.

The research doctorate (e.g., PhD) is designed to prepare students for an academic and research career with the expectation of contributing to the science of the discipline as well as to the preparation of future professionals and scientists. The program of study for a PhD degree is designed to enable the student to

  • extensively study a focused area of interest within the discipline
  • learn the scientific method
  • acquire the skill set necessary to independently pursue a line of research
  • secure funding for research in one's are of interest
  • contribute to the basic and applied knowledge base of the discipline

What degree designator should I look for?

The degree awarded is an institutional prerogative based on consistency with the mission and structure of the college/university. Often the differences between programs/degrees are related to course requirements, thesis requirement, or administrative authority of the program to confer a particular type of degree. It is critical to review the degree program requirements to determine if the program of study results in a research doctoral or clinical doctoral degree in order to pursue the degree that allows you to achieve your personal goals.

Common speech-language pathology master's degree designators are master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS). Other examples include, but are not limited to, the master of education (MEd) and master of health science (MHS). Examples of speech-language pathology clinical degree designators include the doctor of clinical science (CScD) and the doctor of speech-language pathology (SLPD).

The most common degree designator for the entry-level clinical doctorate in audiology is doctor of audiology (AuD). Another audiology degree designator includes the doctor of science (ScD) and the clinical Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is the most common research doctoral degree designator awarded in CSD.

Will I have an opportunity to engage in research activities?

Many undergraduate and graduate programs offer research experiences and/or require that students participate in research activities such as

  • participating in an on-campus summer research program
  • presenting as part of an on-campus research symposium
  • taking an undergraduate research course for credit
  • working in a faculty research lab

Research opportunities may also include individual or collaborative research projects that result in conference presentations, or assisting with research club, literature reviews, data collection, and/or subject selection related to a faculty member's research endeavors. Exposure to research can provide students with valuable tools for future clinical and research practice.

How do I find out about faculty teaching and research interests?

You can review the program's research interests on EdFind or contact the program directly. Another source is conducting a literature review on the topic of interest and learning who the authors are and where they are conducting research and teaching.

Where will I go for clinical externships? Will I have an opportunity to work with different populations and different settings?

Yes, you will be required to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to work with a variety of populations and disorders in various settings. Check with the academic program's clinic director to find out the range of student placements available through the academic program.

Are there distance education options?

Yes, some programs now offer distance education options that range from online courses to online degrees. EdFind includes a list of degree programs that offer distance education options, including prerequisite course work. Students should ensure that the degree program offered through distance learning is CAA-accredited and review the admission requirements carefully as there may be restrictions based on residency. It is also recommended that prospective students inquire about the technology used and consider their personal learning styles when investigating distance education programs. Many institutions offer an online questionnaire or quiz to help students determine if online learning is a good fit.

Are there international study-abroad opportunities?

Some programs offer CSD-related study-abroad opportunities. Go to "Browse EdFind" to learn which institutions offer CSD course work and/or clinic or research-related experiences abroad.

Is financial aid available?

Financial aid is available for graduate education in CSD. You can search for programs offering funding in EdFind. Consult the institution's financial aid office to learn more about offerings and the specific costs they cover such (e.g., tuition and housing). Ask the financial aid counselor or officer about obligations for receipt of funding (e.g., work study, assistantships), enrollment requirements, and funding availability (i.e., by semester, 12 months or multiple years).

Where are the graduates of the program employed?

By evaluating your own career interests and learning about where graduates of a particular program following graduation, you will find the academic program that best matches your personal goals. Inquire about graduates' employment positions and settings. For example, do many graduates choose private practice? Perhaps the graduates go on to pursue a PhD, which may suggest a research focus, or they work in schools, which suggests an emphasis on child and adolescent and school-based issues.

Step 3: Learn about the application process

Do I need an undergraduate degree in CSD to apply?

No, not necessarily. Many audiologists and speech-language pathologists began their educations with undergraduate degrees in majors other than CSD. However, for non-CSD majors, certain prerequisites may be required, which would add to the time involved in attaining the degree. Each graduate program determines the courses that are required for admission to their program. Some may admit students to their program and provide the prerequisite classes, while others may admit students on a conditional basis, pending successful completion of the prerequisite coursework. Some academic programs offer online prerequisite courses and students can use EdFind to find institutions that offer this option.

What are my chances of getting accepted?

Admission to graduate school is competitive. Keep in mind that many programs must turn away well qualified students because the programs do not have the capacity to admit and educate all qualified applicants. EdFind includes average GPA and GRE score ranges for the most recently admitted students. You can also gauge how competitive a program is by reviewing the number of applications received and the number of admissions offered in the "Application and Admission" section of the Program Profile in EdFind. Ask the program director about the percentage of students recruited from the institution's undergraduate program and the percentage of students recruited from other institutions. The admissions profile may guide you in identifying academic programs that are a good fit with your academic goals.

Typically, graduate programs require

  • a minimum 3.00 grade point average (GPA) to be admitted, but an admitted class of students to an audiology or speech-language pathology program in any given year may average a much higher GPA
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores
  • an essay
  • letters of recommendation 

When should I apply and when will I hear if I am accepted?

Search EdFind to review the application deadlines for the academic programs of interest. Some may conduct an annual application and admission protocol, while others may offer rolling admission. Prepare and submit your application well in advance (at least three months prior to the deadline). Some institutions offer a centralized application service similar to the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) Centralized Application Service (CSDCAS).

What if I have more questions?


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