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Planning Your Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Whether you are a high school student, a college student contemplating your first career, or a college graduate thinking of changing careers, the time to start preparing for a career in audiology, speech-language pathology, or the related sciences is right now.

You’ll be making a considerable investment of time and money―as you’d expect from a rewarding career. You want the educational program of your choice as well as all the financial aid you can get. That means finding the information you need and taking action.

On this page:

High School Students

If you are a high school student interested in a career in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), it’s never too early to start your journey by taking classes, gaining experience, and exploring undergraduate and graduate programs.

High School Classes

Consider taking classes that will prepare you for the required coursework in an undergraduate or graduate program. Most CSD undergraduate programs will include courses in biological sciences, social/behavioral sciences, physical sciences (i.e., chemistry or physics), and statistics. You’ll be required to take these courses as prerequisites for the graduate programs, and they’ll help you develop necessary knowledge for clinical work.

Gain Experience in the Professions

A great way to figure out if this is the profession for you is to volunteer or work in jobs that give you experience with the populations and tasks that you might do in your future career.

Some possibilities to gain volunteer or work experience with children include the following:

  • Becoming a teacher’s aide in special education classrooms
  • Becoming a summer camp counselor at camps for children with special needs
  • Providing support services at a hearing and speech-language clinic
  • Volunteering at a children’s hospital
  • Volunteering at a Head Start or other preschool program

Some possibilities to gain volunteer or work experience with adults include the following:

  • Volunteering at a VA hospital or acute care hospital
  • Volunteering at a skilled nursing facility
  • Providing support services at an audiology or speech-language pathology private practice

Undergraduate Programs

An undergraduate degree in CSD is the most common pathway into audiology and speech-language pathology graduate programs. Although there are more than 270 CSD undergraduate programs in the United States, not all institutions have an undergraduate major in CSD, so be sure to check the institution’s program offerings.

Visit EdFind to search institutions and review admission and program requirements for undergraduate CSD programs. EdFind can also help you search for options that are important to you, including the following:

  • Multicultural or bilingual emphasis
  • Study-abroad options
  • Online or distance-learning options
  • Location by state

Individuals with undergraduate degrees in non-CSD majors may be required to complete prerequisite coursework before taking graduate coursework.

  • Many graduate programs accept applications from students who have completed the prerequisite coursework in another degree or through a leveling or post-baccalaureate program.
  • Other graduate programs accept applications from students with no background in CSD and include prerequisite coursework as part of the graduate program.

You can search EdFind for graduate programs that either offer prerequisites online or do not require prerequisites for admission. Contact the individual graduate program to find out details of their process.

You can explore options for financial aid that include scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. Funding sources can include federal grants and loans, scholarships from universities and service organizations, and private foundations.

Learn more about the benefits of an undergraduate degree in CSD.

Undergraduate Students

You already know that you need a graduate degree to work as an audiologist or speech-language pathologist. What are your best options as an undergraduate student? Do you need to major in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), or can you get a graduate degree after earning an undergraduate degree in another major? What courses should you take?

Pathways to a Graduate Degree in Audiology or Speech-Language Pathology

A bachelor’s degree is required for admission to graduate programs in either audiology or speech-language pathology. However, each graduate program determines whether applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in CSD—and, if not, whether prerequisite undergraduate courses are required, either before admission or as part of the graduate program. More information about these pathways to graduate programs is provided below. You can search EdFind for programs that do not require prerequisites for admission.

Pathway 1

The student obtains a bachelor’s degree in a CSD major and applies for admission to graduate school.

Most undergraduate programs in CSD will require prerequisite coursework that includes statistics, biological sciences, social/behavioral sciences, and physical sciences. Each graduate program may establish additional required prerequisite coursework, so be sure to check with the graduate program about requirements before applying.

Pathway 2

The student obtains a bachelor’s degree in a major other than CSD and takes prerequisite coursework before applying for admission to graduate school.

Some institutions offer leveling options to complete prerequisite coursework or second bachelor’s degree programs to prepare students to apply for graduate programs. Other programs offer prerequisites online to students who are not enrolled in the programs.

Pathway 3

The student obtains a bachelor’s degree in a major other than CSD and applies to graduate schools that do not require prerequisite courses for admission.

Students without the required coursework will generally take the courses as part of the graduate program. The graduate program may take longer, depending on the number of prerequisite courses that the student needs to take.

Finding the Right Graduate Program for You

For your future certification by ASHA, you must complete your graduate coursework and clinical practicum at an institution whose program is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). The CAA establishes accreditation standards for both academic coursework and clinical practicum experiences to prepare students to work independently as clinicians.

All CAA-accredited graduate programs in audiology and speech-language pathology must meet the same standards for required coursework and clinical practicum experiences. Each program has flexibility in how they meet those standards and may offer different options for specialty areas. For example, some programs may offer a multicultural or bilingual emphasis or may offer opportunities to carry out research projects as part of the program or as a paid assistantship. 

Visit EdFind to search institutions that have graduate CSD programs. EdFind can help you search for facets that are important to you, including

  • location by state;
  • part-time enrollment;
  • study-abroad opportunities;
  • prerequisites not required for admission or offered online;
  • online options/distance learning; and
  • multicultural or bilingual emphasis.

Contact the individual graduate program to find out details of their program offerings and requirements. Visit the campus to talk with faculty and students to gain 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 research labs.

Establish a personal criteria. ASHA does not rank accredited programs, so think about what is important to you. Establishing your criteria will help you decide which program is best for you. For example, does the program . . .

  • ...offer a clinical internship?
  • ...offer a thesis or clinical research paper option?
  • ...offer interdisciplinary collaboration?
  • ...cultivate an understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity?

Look ahead to your postgraduate plans. Review the ASHA standards for the Certificate of Clinical Competence at www.asha.org/Certification.

Applying to Graduate School

Admission to a graduate program in audiology or speech-language pathology typically requires the following:

  • A minimum 3.00 grade point average (GPA) [average GPA for admission may be much higher]
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores (weighting varies across programs)
  • An essay and/or biosketch
  • Letters of recommendation

Tips for Applying to a Graduate CSD Program

Be aware that admission to graduate school in both audiology and speech-language pathology is highly competitive. Below are other considerations to keep in mind when applying to a graduate program:

  • GPA and GRE scores are important parts of your application, but program faculty take other factors into consideration when making admissions decisions.
  • Each program decides how to weigh each part of the application, so be sure to contact the program to ask what factors go into the admissions decision process.
  • Unlike some other health professions, shadowing a professional is not a requirement for applying to graduate school. Shadowing may help you determine whether you want to pursue a career in the professions, but you should check with the individual graduate program about how they weigh shadowing in the application process.

Resources for Applying to a Graduate CSD Program

Graduate Students: What to Expect

Clinical Doctorate in Audiology

The doctoral degree in audiology (i.e., AuD) prepares the student for entry into independent practice as an audiologist. 

The time-to-degree is generally 3–4 years of full-time study.

Academic Coursework

The curriculum provides academic preparation for patient-centered care in the prevention, identification, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment of hearing, balance, and other auditory disorders for people of all ages. Curriculum topics include foundations of practice, prevention and screening, audiologic evaluation, counseling, audiologic rehabilitation across the life span, and pediatric (re)habilitation. For a full listing of the knowledge and skills topics covered in academic coursework and clinical practicums, see the CFCC Standard II for Audiology.

Clinical Practicum

Clinical practicum generally includes on-campus clinic experiences as well as off-campus externship experiences. Both clinical practicum and academic coursework include foundations of practice, prevention and screening, audiologic evaluation, counseling, audiologic rehabilitation across the life span, and pediatric (re)habilitation. The experiences must meet CAA standards for duration and be sufficient to demonstrate the acquisition of the knowledge and skills identified in the CFCC Standard II for Audiology.

The Council for Clinical Certification in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CFCC) no longer prescribes a specific number of hours of supervised clinical practicum. Applicants and their programs will have to ensure that their experience meets CAA standards for duration as well as for depth and breadth of knowledge.

Comprehensive Exams and Capstone Project or Research Thesis/Dissertation

Graduate students may complete comprehensive exams, a capstone project, and/or a research thesis/dissertation, depending on the requirements of the individual program.

ASHA Certification

Being “ASHA certified” means holding the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), a nationally recognized professional credential that represents a level of excellence in the profession of Audiology (CCC-A) or Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). ASHA certification is voluntary. Employers, regulatory bodies, third party payers, clients, and peers know that you have surpassed the minimum requirement of state licensure and have the knowledge, skills, and experience to provide high-quality clinical services.

Individuals are eligible to apply for certification once they have done all of the following tasks:

  • Completed all graduate-level academic coursework and clinical practicum and been judged by the graduate program as having acquired all of the knowledge and skills mandated by the current standards
  • Completed supervised clinical practicum under an experienced ASHA-certified audiologist who (1) has a minimum of 9 months’ full-time clinical experience and (2) has completed at least 2 hours of professional development in the area of clinical instruction/supervision
  • Received a passing score on the Praxis Examination in Audiology

Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology

The master’s degree in speech-language pathology prepares the student for entry into independent practice as a speech-language pathologist. 

The time-to-degree is generally 2 years of full-time study if the student has an undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD). Additional time may be necessary to complete prerequisites for students without an undergraduate degree in CSD.

Academic Coursework

The curriculum provides academic preparation for patient-centered care in the prevention, identification, diagnosis, and evidence-based treatment of communication and swallowing disorders for people of all ages. For a full listing of the knowledge and skills topics covered in academic coursework and clinical practicum in master’s programs in speech-language pathology, see the CFCC Standard IV for Speech-Language Pathology.

Clinical Practicum

Clinical practicum generally includes on-campus clinic experiences as well as off-campus externship experiences. Clinical practicum knowledge covers the same topics as the academic coursework listed above. The experiences must meet CAA standards for duration and be sufficient to demonstrate the acquisition of the knowledge and skills identified in the CFCC Standard IV for Speech-Language Pathology.

The applicant must complete a minimum of 400 clock hours of supervised clinical experience in the practice of speech-language pathology. Twenty-five hours must be spent in guided clinical observation, and 375 hours must be spent in direct client/patient contact. Up to 20% (i.e., 75 hours) of direct contact hours may be obtained through clinical simulation methods.

Comprehensive Exam and Capstone Project or Research Thesis/Dissertation

Graduate students may complete comprehensive exams and/or a research thesis, depending on the requirements of the individual program.

ASHA Certification

Being “ASHA certified” means holding the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), a nationally recognized professional credential that represents a level of excellence in the profession of Audiology (CCC-A) or Speech-Language Pathology (CCC-SLP). ASHA certification is voluntary. Employers, regulatory bodies, third party payers, clients, and peers know that you have surpassed the minimum requirement of state licensure and have the knowledge, skills, and experience to provide high-quality clinical services.

Individuals are eligible to apply for certification once they have done all of the following tasks:

  • Completed all graduate-level academic course work and clinical practicum and been judged by the graduate program as having acquired all of the knowledge and skills mandated by the current standards
  • Completed supervised clinical practicum under an experienced ASHA-certified audiologist who (1) has a minimum of 9 months’ full-time clinical experience and (2) has completed at least 2 hours of professional development in the area of clinical instruction/supervision
  • Received a passing score on the Praxis Examination in Speech-Language Pathology

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