Speech therapists, also known as speech language pathologists, work with patients to diagnose and treat speech disorders, including developmental delays, speech impediments and poor articulation. Speech therapists can work with patients of all ages, from very young children to the elderly. To become a speech therapist, you will have to complete a master's degree, which takes two years on average but may take longer depending on your research interests and whether you require a slower academic pace to suit your learning style or your family needs.
The Role of the Speech Therapist
Speech therapists work in a variety of settings with a variety of patients. They may treat patients who are unable to articulate words properly -- such as those who have suffered a stroke or some other health problems that affect language production. Some of their patients are children who experience development delays and are unable to create the proper rhythm and fluency of language. Speech therapists may work with patients in a private setting, or they may serve in schools, elderly care facilities, community clinics and hospitals. There is a wide variety of career options for those interested in becoming a speech therapist.
Your undergraduate classes should provide a strong academic foundation before you move to your master's degree program in speech pathology. The American Speech-Hearing Language Association, or ASHA, recommends that coursework include linguistics, math, biology, anatomy, psychology and behavioral science. There is no specific major required at the undergraduate level to apply for a master's degree program in speech therapy. However, it is recommended that students choose a related degree, such as communications.
Completing the Master's Degree
Most master's degree programs take two years to complete, including the required coursework and thesis. However, some programs, such as the one at the University of Northern Colorado, last three years. Since completion of the thesis is based on independent research, this component may last longer for some students, lengthening the time to finish the degree. Graduate coursework for speech therapy includes linguistics, phonetics, phonology, behavioral science, anatomy, biology and scientific methodology. Clinical internships may be required to complement the concepts being learned in these courses.
Though a master's degree is required for most speech therapy positions, it is not the final step before employment. Most states require that speech therapists receive certification from the ASHA and/or licencing in their state of residence. Requirements to become licensed vary by state, but they typically include a passing score on the Praxis exam -- in Florida, a minimum score of 600 is required -- and the completion of a graduate degree. In some states, like Arizona, some post-graduate work may be required, as well as some supervised clinical experience. The ASHA has the requirements listed for licensing in each state on its website.