Specialists in communication disorders can make a dramatic difference in the lives of struggling children and adults by helping them overcome language and speech impediments. Although it’s possible to work as a speech-language pathology assistant with an undergraduate degree, the bachelor’s degree in communication disorders is primarily a pre-professional program for graduate studies in speech pathology or audiology. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, an entry-level job as a speech pathologist requires ASHA certification and a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology.
As a foundation for rigorous upper-division courses in communication disorders, aspiring majors must take challenging prerequisite courses, such as biology, physics, statistics, communication and sociology. For example, admission to Florida State University’s communication disorders major requires 12 credits from physical science, biology, social and behavioral science and statistics. FSU requires a minimum 3.0 GPA to be considered for admission, and general education requirements must be completed before starting courses in the major. Like most communication disorders programs, FSU is selective, and the number of students accepted is capped.
Communication disorders majors acquire extensive theoretical and applied knowledge of speech, language and hearing. A standard communication disorders curriculum introduces students to communication studies, phonetics, sound perception and the mechanisms and neurology of speech and hearing. At schools accredited by ASHA, students take classes in language acquisition, linguistics and speech disorders, for example. Additionally, students learn strategies, methods and techniques for evaluating and treating communication disorders. At some schools, such as State University of New York Plattsburgh, communication disorders majors also study autism, deafness and sign language.
Many undergraduate programs in communication disorders offer or require undergraduate research experience. Students involved in research projects can gain valuable skills applicable to clinical practice, according to the ASHA website. Examples of research opportunities include enrolling in a research methods class, working with professors on important research projects, conducting your own research study supervised by a faculty mentor, assisting professors with literature reviews or data collection, or presenting a paper at an undergraduate research conference. Research experience may be advantageous when applying to competitive graduate schools.
Observation and direct patient care in real-world settings helps students gain confidence and hands-on skills. The type of clinical training offered to undergraduates varies by school. Communication disorders majors at colleges like the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have access to clinical facilities where students directly observe client sessions and view videotapes of clients being treated for communicative difficulties. A select group of seniors at SUNY-Plattsburgh is provided advanced training and allowed to work with clients in the on-campus Speech and Hearing Center.