The Graduate: Majoring in Speech Pathology

Lauren is a Senior at Southern Illinois University.

Lauren is a Senior at Southern Illinois University.

The Graduate is a new blog feature considering college majors, graduate school, and a look into career options beyond higher ed. Are you a young college or graduate student who wants to be featured next? Tweet us @PetalAndSass or email for more information!

Name: Lauren Graham

College: Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville ’16

Major/Minor: Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology

Did you choose your college based on your desired field of study or career aspirations? No, I actually don’t think it is good to choose an undergraduate college based on your desired field of study or career aspirations unless you are sure what you want to do. It is not at all uncommon to change majors several times throughout college. I originally started my freshman year as a psychology major, before I transferred to SIUE from the University of Missouri (Mizzou). 

What other factors led you to choose the college you attended? I chose my college based on the location – very close to St. Louis and my hometown – and based on size. When I was attending Mizzou, even though I was learning a lot, my classes were huge, and my introversion really held me back. Southern Illinois University made me feel more than just a number.

Did you enter college knowing exactly what you wanted to major in, or did this change for you over time? Not at all. Even now, as I am in the process of applying to graduate schools for speech pathology, I still think sometimes, “I’d love to be an anthropologist” or “I wonder if I would make a good physician’s assistant.” However, it is difficult to find a field as varied as speech-language pathology. A speech pathologist diagnoses and treats speech, language, and swallowing disorders.

How did you decide what to major in? I chose my major based on my intended career. Speech-language pathology is truly an interdisciplinary field, and I am someone who needs to be regularly exposed to new challenges. A common perception is that speech pathologists only teach kids how to say their Rs properly or how to stop them from stuttering, but the field is so much more than that. I can work with a child with autism who needs to work on her eye contact and intonation, a client who suffered a stroke and finds he can no longer name common objects, a patient with dementia who needs therapy to retain his cognitive and linguistic abilities, a transgender woman who wants voice training to make her voice more feminine, a little girl with a cleft palate that has caused a swallowing disorder, etc. The opportunities to help people and learn new things are so abundant within speech pathology.

What do you enjoy most about the classes in your area of concentration? I especially like my biology-related classes. I really like the medical side of things and learning about how the human body works and produces speech, the physics of sound, and the neural mechanisms behind language. There are other people who are passionate about working with kids and doing play-based therapy. Some people really like learning about voice. So, there are many interesting things about this major. 

What type of person would you say excels in your academic field? To succeed in this major, you have to work hard and ask a lot of questions. Be curious and inquisitive about everything. To succeed in a career in speech-language pathology, you need to be all of those things, but it also becomes increasingly important to have empathy, a desire to help people, and a strong sense of ethics. In addition, clients won’t always progress as quickly as you would like or expect, and therapy can be very routine-based, so patience is especially important in this field.

Have you participated in any related internships or summer jobs? Unfortunately, no. During undergraduate studies, it is somewhat common for students to work in a daycare or a center for Applied Behavioral Analysis (a type of therapy for people with autism). We also volunteer and shadow a lot. At SIUE, we have to observe a speech-language pathologist for a minimum of 25 hours before graduation.

What’s next? Do you plan to attend graduate school, or can you enter work in your field straight out of college? I cannot work as a speech pathologist straight out of college. A clinical graduate degree and certification is an absolute must. 

What advice would you give a high school student or college freshman who are considering what to major in? Do not restrict yourself to what you know. Pay attention in your general education courses because you might realize you like economics a lot more than you thought you would when you chose your physics major. Also, do your research – the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great place to start. Pay attention to rate of job growth in the field and annual salary. You don’t need the highest-paying job, but make sure you can support yourself. Know about the requirements necessary for obtaining a job in your field. For example, psychology majors are not underemployed simply because there are no jobs in the field; it is because people often earn only a Bachelor’s degree when a Master’s degree (and sometimes a PhD) is the minimum qualification. Finally, go job shadowing! Make sure your perception of your chosen field is realistic.

What advice would you give younger students about college life in general?

1. If you get depressed, stressed out, or you’re just having some troubles with your roommate, go see a counselor. Your school likely provides counseling services for free. If you get so depressed you can’t function, it’s okay to take a break from school.  Many schools allow you to take a break for personal reasons without having to reapply when you’re ready to go back. 

2. Your college is likely full of specialized equipment and laboratories. After college, you can learn about art, philosophy, etc. in your spare time, but you’ll have a more difficult time teaching yourself chemistry. If you are interested in science, use the resources that you won’t have access to in just a few years and take a technical or scientific class.

3. Grades are important but not at all critical. Pay attention in class, communicate with your professors, think critically about what you’re being taught, but don’t sacrifice your physical or mental health for a grade. 

4. If you are at a party, and it looks like someone might be trying to take advantage of a drunken person, do something about it. No “it’s not my problem” excuses. Furthermore, don’t take advantage of drunk people. Even Austin Powers knew that was wrong. 

5. If you live in the dorms, leave your door open! Future friends will wander in like lost puppies.    

Click here to find more undergrad and graduate programs in Speech Pathology.

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