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Every week I get multiple emails with questions about what it’s like to be a speech pathologist, how to become an SLP, and how to choose a graduate program. Figuring out which graduate school to attend is a difficult choice. However, there are two very important variables that you must consider when you choose a graduate program. People like to consider programs that are highly ranked or ones that have special programs. But there are two things that you must consider and be very honest with yourself about because they have long-ranging implications in your life.
First, consider where you would like to go to school. It’s important to think about not only where you currently live, but where you would like to work after you graduate. Some people choose programs that are outside of the state in which they live, and that’s great especially if you want to work in another place. However, if you want to be close to family after you graduate, or you might feel ready to start your own family after graduation, consider choosing a graduate program in that location.
Some people are concerned about their resumes and backgrounds Those concerns might be missing coursework in speech therapy and/or low GPA. Those factors may play a part in gaining acceptance to your choice of graduate schools. It may make sense to choose and apply to programs all over the country. Choosing a less competitive program that is far away is one way to get access to masters degree. For reference, I chose Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois to get my masters degree. It is a highly ranked school and it’s one of the best in the country. But the real reason I chose it was that it was the same city where my husband worked. It made sense for us to live and work in the same place. I didn’t even need to own a car! Plus my husband could support me while I was a graduate school. I only needed to take out loans for the cost of tuition. But there’s more to the story and I’ll get to that next…
You must seriously consider the cost of graduate school. You must be realistic about the cost of graduate school and if you will have the financial means to pay for it after graduation. I chose Northwestern because it was a great program and the location was right for my husband and me, but the cost was extremely high. I’m in my 12th year postgraduate school and I’m still paying off my loans! Luckily I have only 25% left and even though I feel very proud of that, it’s still hard having student loan debt.
Sometimes I wish I had gone to a less costly school. Why? You can never anticipate future costs in life. I didn’t know how much childcare would cost (more than a mortgage payment). I didn’t know that the condo we purchased in Evanston would be difficult to sell after the global financial crisis of 2008. Those added expenditures made it hard.
Let’s be frank, the profession of speech language pathology is not highly lucrative. When you read salary charts on the internet from the department of labor statistics, there’s a median salary of around $60,000, depending on the state you live in. But the median does not mean that everybody gets that salary. And a lot of people may get that salary after many years of work – not right away. I believe that good yardstick to measure the cost is not to borrow more than how much your first salary would be. For example, if you think you can make $60,000 your first year out, don’t borrow more than $60,000. Based upon the whims of various presidential administrations, your loan costs could go up or down, be forgiven or go up. So you can’t count on the government to be entirely benevolent about your student loan balance (even though the government should be considering the tremendous shortages in our profession and the lack of qualified candidates). The feeling of being an adult and being weighed down by debt is troubling and difficult.
Location and cost are important things to think about when you choose a graduate program. Sometimes those two variables are intertwined. Here are some thought questions you need to answer while you make this decision:
- Where do you want to practice as a certified speech pathologist after you complete your studies?
- Do you need to apply to a wide range of programs to ensure acceptance?
- How much money would the closest program cost? Or the how much does your favorite program cost?
- Do you have a family member that is able to pay for part of your costs?
- Are you able to live with somebody whether it’s a partner or a family member that can pay your living expenses?
I hope this helps you make the right choice for your future as a speech-language pathologist!