Should I consider a career in Speech Language Pathology?
August 15, 2014 7:31 AM   Subscribe

Trying to decide if Speech Language Pathology is a career I should consider at 39, and would love to hear from SLPs who work in a school setting. I want to engage my creativity, work with kids on a smaller scale than a whole classroom, have a good work/life balance, and do work that feels like it MEANS something. Am I barking up the right tree?

In my last question, I asked for help in figuring out how to make a shift away from the corporate instructional design job that’s currently wearing me down, and I got a LOT of great answers. Per many folks’ suggestions, I am currently searching for a new ID job in a university or other non-corporate setting, but I’d also like to consider a larger career change. Wolfster brought up SLP as something to investigate, and I’m intrigued. I also think that my background (BS in psychology with an emphasis on applied behavior analysis, Masters degrees in linguistics and instructional design) would mesh well with such a career … I hope?

At this point I’ve looked around online – browsed ASHA’s website, perused some of the posts in the SLP subreddit, read what ‘day in the life of an SLP’ posts I could find online, reviewed the admission requirements at a couple of universities, etc. I’ve also read these two AskMe questions; I’m a little intimidated at the thought of long, stressful hours, but it looks like most of the respondents worked in settings other than a school, so I’m having a hard time gauging what working in a school would look like.

Right now I think I’m still getting a shallow look at the field and realize I actually need to TALK to some SLPs, but so far I think I like what I’m seeing. I’d love to hear from people who work as SLP in a school setting – what do you like about your job? What do you dislike? What does the day-to-day look like? What surprised you about your job responsibilities? I’ve read that this is a high-stress field; can you talk about what makes it stressful in a school setting and how you handle that?

As a side question, because my wife works at the University of Pittsburgh I’d get discounted tuition if I got into that program, but I’m more than a little intimidated at what I’ve read about its competitiveness. While of course I still need to research whether their program is even a good fit for me, and while I understand nobody can say for sure if I have a chance of getting in or not, as someone without an undergrad degree in communication disorders, am I setting myself up for failure if I try to get into this program?

Really appreciate any insight you can provide!
posted by DingoMutt to Work & Money (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Check your MeMail - I'd like to try to hook you up with a local SLP who I think can give you insight into the Pitt program and any others around here you're looking at.
posted by Stacey at 7:49 AM on August 15, 2014

Best answer: Hi. I'm currently a doctorate student in Audiology, which is along the same sort of education track as SLPs (we share a building, shared all our undergrad classes, work together frequently, etc.) I considered going the SLP route before deciding to do audiology.

I'm surprised you read that being an SLP is stressful. Most SLPs I know wouldn't really categorize their jobs as stressful so much as challenging and trying at times, because of course if you are working with kids with speech disorders the progress can be slower than you'd like and the suffering of the kids can be real. Most SLPs I know (I say most, but really all) love their jobs. It's rewarding, interesting, challenging and you really get to change individual lives in a profound way. I've honestly never met an SLP who wished they'd done something else.

In a school setting, you don't typically work longer hours than teachers (who do work long hours), but you probably aren't working 60 hours a week either. The hours you do put in though are pretty intense. I mean, you are on. You don't get to take 10 minutes out of the hour every hour to swerve over to MeFi and take a little mental vacation. However, most SLPs I know would say that they have great work/life balance. Your work is in the moment with the kids, so you don't necessarily have a lot of work to take home (though certain times of the year with reports, or if you're doing presentations or working on a study, etc. But mostly).

SLPs in schools often meet with groups of kids these days, but not always. Some school SLPs have one school they work at, some travel around to the whole district. A lot of this depends on the school system, funding, etc. I imagine in Pittsburgh, most schools have a dedicated SLP.

You can also work with kids in a non-school setting, which might be more to your liking. A little less of the school madness, huge meetings with all staff, etc. A lot of SLPs work with kids work in a private clinic. The kids and cases you treat in a private clinic may differ a bit from a public school, in good ways and bad.

The only thing I would make sure to look at is that you've done all the undergraduate pre-reqs. You are unlikely to be admitted to a grad program unless you have most or all of the undergrad Speech and Hearing classes complete - A&P of Speech, Speech Disorders, Language Disorders, Neurology for Speech, Audiology (at least an intro class), Organic Disorders, Phonetics, Speech and Language Development. Most competitive programs also require you to have your requisite 25 observation hours of an SLP completed before you begin the program (ASHA requirement). You probably did your basic science in your BS, but most programs also want you to have your ASHA science requirements complete before you begin (math or stats outside of a Speech Dept., At least one course in physical, biological and social science. You're probably done with that but just make sure).

Getting in to grad programs is competitive. I don't mean to scare you off; having a BS and a masters in linguistics and being an older student with life experience will all work in your favor. But it is competitive. I'm currently at the #1 ranked SLP school in the country (by US News and World Report) and it was cutthroat getting in. Which is to say - if you decide to go this route (and truly, I think you should), you may need to broaden your horizons beyond one school.

If you are interested in seeing SLPs at work from the comfort of your couch, I highly recommend Master Clinician Network. $25, but you get access to a ton of incredible SLP sessions.

There are some SLPs here on MeFi, so hopefully they'll chime in too. But seriously, I think you should go for it. SLP is always ranked among the most satisfying and best jobs, with a great outlook, decent pay, and less than 1% unemployment (i.e. if you want a job you will have one). Good luck, don't hesitate to memail me if I can answer any other questions for you.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:26 AM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Feel free to memail me for more info. I'm an SLP who works in Early Intervention. I did a rotation in the public schools as part of grad school. I enjoyed it, but it is very intense. You are "on" non-stop, with constant clients. The nature of the work is that you have very structured interactions, and you are always planning out several steps ahead ("If Student does X, then I need to respond with Y. If they do A, then maybe B or C"). I wouldn't say it was "stressful" but it was challenging and sometimes draining. I have some friends/classmates who are doing really well in the schools, but I decided it wasn't for me.

I love working in Early Intervention (birth to 3) because it's not as structured. It's more child-led, and I spend a lot of my time talking with parents. It's not a "clinical" approach (which is what those structured interations are), but naturalistic and child-driven. I really love it. I see about 4-6 clients a day, depending on where they live (I do home visits). I see a huge range of families and kids, and although many of my families have similiar goals, the approach can be different for each kid.

And the employment outlook is fantastic! They were 42 people in my graduating class, and three months after graduating,all but one had a job as an SLP (and that one was being super picky about where she worked).
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:39 AM on August 15, 2014

One point - My sister is a SLP. I really don't know anyone else that likes his or her job more than she does.

Another point - our neighborhood bar is owned by a former SLP (she's ~30) so there's some burnout possible.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:58 AM on August 15, 2014

My mom is about to retire and has worked as an SLP in schools or early intervention for ~20 years. She loves working with the kids, planning the activities and doing evaluations. Most of the complaints she has are about the administration and sometimes her workload. I think at one time she was treating 50 kids, some of whom had to be seen more than once per week! That was few years ago and she has moved more into evaluations of the Birth-3 age group.

She has a few friends in the same field and most of their stress and job frustration comes from the administration, too.
posted by soelo at 12:04 PM on August 15, 2014

I am an SLP, but I work in a hospital setting (working with adults only) so I can't comment on working in a school setting.

I can comment on the prereqs and education needed, though. Just want to echo what Lutoslawski mentioned, make sure you have enough prereqs to get into a grad program. I had a Bachelor's in Science (Biology) and went back to school and went through a post-bac program specifically tailored to students interested in SLP who already had a Bachelor's degree but not the necessary requirements. It was a year long program and, though I didn't really need an extra degree, it was really nice to have all the classes laid out for me and I was also provided with ample opportunity to get all my volunteer/observation hours and get to know the faculty . . . which I'm sure helped get into grad school. Admissions to grad school seemed highly competitive when I went, and this was almost 10 years ago.

So, long story short, if you need more prereqs, I highly recommend looking for a post-bac program.
posted by canda at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the info so far, everyone - this has been hugely helpful for me. Canda and Lutoslawski, I was a little surprised at your comments about needing a post-bac program or otherwise fulfilling the pre-reqs before applying to grad school; my (admittedly not fully-informed!) impression was that many programs let you in without those prereqs and that you could take them as part of your course of study, although of course that would add to the amount of time you were in the program. Is that not the case, or is it more that in practice, most programs don't take folks without those prereqs completed even if they technically could?
posted by DingoMutt at 12:55 PM on August 15, 2014

It depents on the program, DingoMutt, but there are so many prerequsites (not just biology and statistics, but specific courses like Anatomy of Speech, Child Language Development, and Hearing Science) that it would be difficult to do while in the master's program. I know that some schools (like U of Minnesota) have two tracks, one of which includes an extra year of these prerequisites. But most programs require that you have these classes filled (or on the way to being filled) before you even apply.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 2:15 PM on August 15, 2014

School SLP here going into my 10th year. I really enjoy my job and rarely have a boring day. The workload and quality of life of a school SLP can vary immensely based on the school district you work in. My school district is fairly high stress in that it is in a high socioeconomic area with demanding parents. I love the school environment and working with teachers but often feel like I can't do enough for some of my kids who could use more of my time. I would not consider it a "high stress field" as you can really make of it what you want to. The hours are great and it's up to you whether you want to take work home with you. Having summers off is great and at least in my district it is easy to work part time if that's what you want.

As far as your question about prerequisites, I attended a program that allowed a few students every year to enter without the required prereqs and to take an extra year to complete the program. Most programs are now so competitive to get into that I believe most require the prereqs to be done before accepting you now though.
posted by scrubbles at 11:05 PM on August 15, 2014

As far as your degree goes, I think the requirements would vary based on where you apply. Where I went to graduate school, they would let qualified applicants in no matter what undergrad degree they had, and they simply made the undergrad courses part of the graduate course of study (that means they'd do a 3.5 year Masters instead of a 2 year, but that was fine). However, one of my colleagues went to another school and she had to take undergrad classes before she was admitted to the graduate program. I think every place does it differently.

As far as my job goes, I've worked for 10 years as a school speech pathologist in high-needs urban areas. I'd definitely say it's stressful, but I love it. I work mostly at the high school level and in any given day I'm meeting with groups of kids who range from kids with autism or cognitive disabilities who are in self-contained special education classes all day to kids who might stutter or have a voice problem, and are headed to college. I love the range and variety. In addition to doing speech therapy I attend meetings (lots!), write reports, create materials for therapy (little money to buy them), and consult with parents and teachers. It's definitely a jam-packed day. I think the work-life balance is good if you can mentally leave work at work...I do work the same hours as a teacher (which is longer than you would think), but I don't take home anything to grade and rarely do work on weekends.

Feel free to Memail me if you have any other questions.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:19 AM on August 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone, for all of your answers - I've really had to hold myself back from marking them ALL as Best Answers. I'm continuing my research (and will be meeting with Stacey's contact in a few weeks!), but your input has me feeling even more certain than ever that this is at least a path worth exploring. Right now I'm scrambling to sign up for a class or two this fall to at least get a few prereqs out of the way - I figure that even if this doesn't turn out to be the path for me after all, having a little more knowledge under my belt is never a bad thing.

I'm not sure if a follow-up question is okay at this point or not, but in the hopes that it is (and that someone's still reading!): one thing that concerns me so far is reading that most(?) MA/MS programs don't accept part-time students, and few offer any sort of financial assistance. I'm hoping not to go into ridiculous debt for my degree - how do people (or how did you) pay for their program? I had been hoping to work part-time, either at my current (work-from-home) job or something else - is this feasible, feasible for the first year but maybe not the second, etc.? I know that while I was getting my linguistics degree I also worked (first as a TA, then as an adjunct) teaching undergrad classes, but I'm not sure how the work-load differs between full-time linguistics grad student and full-time SLP grad student ...

I would hate to have to give up on this potential career because of funding issues, but I know I need to be realistic here. Hoping there's something I'm not considering, or that working part-time is at least a potentially non-horrible option. Thanks again!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2014

I cannot recall if anyone I know in my grad program received any funding or not, though I think as the years go buy it likely is less and less common. I believe most of my colleagues took out loans. I took out loans (that I'm still paying back) but I also was able to work 10-20 hours per week at a part time job on campus. It was a fairly easy job though, and at times I was able to fit in some course-related reading during my down-time. That being said, I believe most of my colleagues worked at least 10 hours per week in addition to full-time classes - and it was a fairly intensive grad program.

In the second year it wasn't quite as easy to fit work hours in simply because I had a lot of off-site practicums, but it's still doable.

Good luck! Even though I don't work in the schools or with kids, I really enjoy being an SLP. Every day is interesting, it's never boring, and I can see myself working for a very long time (and have the option to change my setting if I ever get bored with hospitals).
posted by canda at 1:02 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just thought I'd post another follow-up for posterity. It's been about six months since I asked this question and I'm still working on pursuing SLP - I just finished up ~13 hours of observation at a local clinic, and I loved it. I could absolutely see a lot of what everyone here was saying in action - the SLPs were definitely on pretty much all the time, and progress with individual kids seemed to go in fits (I got to observe the same children several times, and it was interesting to see how some days they seemed to struggle, but on others they'd be firing on all cylinders), but I loved the environment, and there really was a sense that everyone was working on something truly important that was making a difference on an individual level - which is EXACTLY what I want. I've also been taking some of the very basic pre-reqs this semester (basic physics is kicking my butt a little more than I was expecting, but I'm hanging in there!), and will be enrolling, probably part-time, in Pitt's post-bacc program starting this fall.

I know I've still got a long road ahead of me, and things still might not turn out like I plan right now, but nonetheless I'm so flipping excited - this field feels like exactly what I was wishing for, and I never would have been here were it not for AskMe. Once again, thank you all!
posted by DingoMutt at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2015

Thanks for the update, DingoMutt. I was just thinking about this the other day and hoping it was going well for you, but then completely forgot to check back in. Best of luck exploring this path!
posted by Stacey at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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