Receiving a speech therapist degree generally requires a person to attend graduate school for a Master of Sciences (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in speech therapy, which also is known as speech-language pathology. These programs generally take about two years to complete after a person has attained a bachelor's degree. It is usually best to attend an accredited institution, because some states won't grant licenses and some organizations won't grant certifications if the school offering the degree is not accredited.
Students working toward a speech therapist degree will learn about specific speech-related diseases, how to diagnose problems, what tools are available and how to use them, how to perform procedures, and different ways to assess patients' progress throughout treatment. In the program, students may develop an interest in working in a specific setting, such as a school, hospital, or private practice. These are the most common paths for speech therapists to take following graduation. Graduates who decide they want to be a professor or researcher often go on to receive a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in speech therapy.
In addition to coursework, a speech therapist degree usually requires from 350 to 400 hours of supervised clinic work. This is often required before a U.S. state will issue a speech therapist license. Almost all states regulate speech therapists through a licensing program. Some states also require that the speech therapist be certified by a professional organization.
Although a master's degree is usually the minimum requirement for speech therapists in most U.S. states, they must first receive a bachelor's degree. Most often, these are received at four-year universities, and most speech therapists receive their bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders. In this plan of study, students take a variety of science courses, including anatomy and biology. While the bachelor of sciences degree (B.S.) isn't enough on its own, it does prepare students to undertake a speech therapist degree, at which time they will become more specialized in the field.
Many times, even a speech therapist degree isn't enough. Continuing education is important in a field where technology can and does impact diagnoses and treatment options. Continuing education also is required if a speech therapist wishes to specialize in a particular area.
A speech therapist degree isn't for everyone; the occupation requires a great deal of patience, because people with speech problems can often require long treatment plans and progress is often slow. Speech therapists sometimes need to know other ways to communicate, such as sign language. They often work with a team of people, depending on the setting in which they are working. For example, if they work in a school, they often work with teachers, families, and counselors. If they work in a hospital setting, they often work with doctors, social workers, psychologists, and families.