How do I become a Speech & Language Therapist?

A good place to start if you are thinking about a career in speech & language therapy in the UK is the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists (RCSLT). On the website you will find a careers page where you can download the RCSLT Careers Guide. That said, here are a few pointers, hints and tips to help you along the way…

What training do I need to be a speech & language therapist?

Training to be a speech & language therapist means completing (and passing!) an approved, degree level qualification. The training takes 4 years as an undergraduate in both England and Scotland. If you already have a related degree like Linguistics, English Language or Psychology, you may be able to gain entry to one of the 2 year postgraduate masters courses on offer. If you are coming straight from school or don’t already have a degree, most institutions are asking for 3 A-Levels or 5 Highers for entry to speech & language therapy training at the time of writing. It’s best to check with each institution what the current requirements are as they do vary. Most places will insist on English and at least one science. Speech and language therapy training is an eclectic mix of academic topics from across arts, humanities and sciences. You will study language-based subject areas like linguistics and psychology alongside more traditionally science-based subjects like anatomy and physiology. For this reason, a broad range of subjects at A-Level/Higher is typically required.

What sort of things do I need to think about when I’m deciding where to study?

When you are searching for institutions that provide courses that qualify you to be a speech & language therapist, you should also be aware that the courses are not always titled ‘Speech & Language Therapy’! I trained as a postgraduate at Newcastle University and the course at that time was called ‘Language Pathology’. I’d also applied to Queen Margaret University where the course was (and still is!) unambiguously called ‘Speech & Language Therapy’, as well as to Sheffield University where the course title at the time was ‘Human Communication Sciences’.

When you are choosing Universities to apply to, some useful things to consider are:

  • Does the institution and the department you are applying to have an open day that you can attend? It’s definitely worth a visit if you can as it will give you a feel for the department, institution and the city. You may also be able to chat to some current students which is very useful to get a ‘users view’ of the course.
  • Consider the academic facilities – is there a good, well stocked library? Does the department have its own library? There is nothing worse that having to compete with 60-80 colleagues for the 3 copies of the set text available in the library!
  • Are there well organised arrangements for clinical placements? You will have to do these as part of your training and they can be quite stressful at the best of times as you will be nervous and out of your comfort zone. The last thing you need is disorganised placement organisers who leave it to the last minute to find & allocate placements or to find yourself working with a clinician who hasn’t been sent the relevant information about what is expected of you on placement. Some institutions, like Newcastle University, have on-site clinics that can be used for placements as well as external placements in NHS departments. This is handy but not an essential requirement as many universities like Queen Margaret have excellent links with their local NHS teams and have no trouble placing students.
  • Is there a good student support system within the department? Can you get support easily from the teaching staff and indeed the other students? Speech & language therapy training is intense, hard work and at times very stressful! At some stage during your training, you will probably need some support from an approachable member of the teaching team and/or your fellow students. It’s important to know that you can access that easily.

Do I need work experience with a speech & language therapist?

Before you apply, if you can get some work (voluntary or paid) with the client group you are interested in, so much the better. This doesn’t have to be as an SLT assistant as these jobs are few and far between. Neither does your experience have to be directly with a speech & language therapist. You could consider working as a teaching assistant, care assistant or working with one of the charities that support communication disabled people. If you have a family member with a communication disability, make sure you get some wider experience as well to increase your breadth of knowledge about that and other communication disorders. Have a look at my post called Finding Speech & Language Therapy Work Experience for more ideas.