Pro’s and Con’s of SLP Post-Bacc Options

SLP post-bacc certifications, pre-requisites, a 2nd degrees, a leveling program, a three-year masters… WHAT?! There are SO many different options for out-of-fielders to get into the field of Speech Language Pathology that it can feel pretty overwhelming. I’m going to try and break down the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Pro's & Con's of SLP Post-Bacc Options (1)

How I figured it out…

My bachelor’s degree is in Spanish with minors in Linguistics, Business, and Education… a.k.a. not Speech Language Pathology. Frankly, I barely knew the field existed while I was an undergrad. When I finally found SLP and decided I wanted to become one, I was overwhelmed by the fact that each of the 300+ accredited grad programs had different entry requirements and that no single program would allow me to apply to every school.
I didn´t want to spend the time and money on a post-bacc, but I wasn´t sure if I could qualify for a masters. It took me a while to sort out all of the differences and figure out how to approach the task of getting into the field. I’m hoping that this post will help save you some time as you are learning about your options as well.

Terminology

Let’s first make sure we’re all taking about the same things…
  • Pre-requisite (Pre-req): This technically refers to the precise classes you need to be considered for entry into a masters program. Unfortunately, each university will require different pre-reqs. Even if you have a degree in SLP, SHS, or ComD you might still an additional pre-requisite course (or 2). Sometimes schools will require that you have completed all of their listed pre-reqs, others will only ask you to have completed a certain number of them.
  • Post-Bacc (Post-baccalaureate) program: A post-baccalaureate (commonly called a post-bacc) is a set sequence of courses that prepare a student to enter graduate school. Basically, a post-bacc is a program design to meet the necessary pre-reqs. Some programs may confer a degree, but the majority offer a “certificate” (which is another can of worms) or are non-degree programs. Each post-bacc program is different and no one program will prepare you for every graduate program.
    • Important note: just because you complete a post-bacc program at a university does not guarantee you admission into their masters program. In fact, many schools might have 30 or 40 students in the post-bacc program and typically accept only 1 or 2 into their masters program from the post-bacc cohort.
  • 2nd Degree: This is quite literally, a second bachelor’s / undergrad degree. When you complete it, you will be awarded a second degree. It might seem like a daunting option, but can be surprisingly attainable since many of your “general education” requirements are met by your first degree.
  • Three-Year Masters (Leveling Masters): This is a Masters degree (graduate degree) that includes a built in series of courses that get you up to speed (a built in post-bacc). The advantage here is that you do not have to reapply to the masters program after completing the leveling/post-bacc work. Because these programs typically add a year of time to your studies, many people call them three-year masters.

The Pros and Cons of Each

Pre-reqs:

  • Pro:
    • If you know exactly which courses you need, you will have no waste and you can get them done quickly.
  • Con:
    • Taking random pre-reqs is sort of like shooting in the dark. A class might not transfer, might only cover half of a class at another school.
    • You are not guaranteed entry into a masters program

 Post-Bacc:

  • Pro:
    • You will have a predesigned series of courses that are pre sequenced and planned to meet your needs.
    • If you know which schools you want to apply to, you can select a post-bacc program that will permit you to apply there.
  • Con:
    • A post-bacc program might be missing classes that you need to apply to certain schools or the opposite, a set program might have extra classes that you don´t need which could result in wasted time and money.
    • Furthermore, as with taking specific pre-reqs as well, you cannot be sure which classes transfer nor how they transfer. For example, I took Anatomy at USU as part of their 2nd Degree Program. When I was accepted to the University of New Mexico, I was told I still needed to complete anatomy because the UNM anatomy course also included an important section on acoustics and the ear.
    • You are not guaranteed entry into a masters program

2nd Degree

  • Pro: 
    • Finishing this will confer you an actual degree which is the most versatile and powerful educational credential. If you don´t go into SLP, you have a degree that you can use for something else.
    • This will typically open up the greatest number of grad schools that you may apply to.
  • Con:
    • This may be the most expensive and time consuming option
    • Like a post-bacc, you might complete extra courses that you do not need. However, completing those courses earns you a degree as opposed to a “certificate.”
    • It does not guarantee you entry into any masters program

Three-Year Masters

  • Pro:
    • You only complete the exact leveling courses that you need
    • You are already accepted into the masters program and do not need to reapply
    • Probably the shortest route to graduation and your CCC because you can usually mix some graduate coursework with undergraduate coursework
  • Con:
    • If you´ve never taken an SHS class, you may find out that you´re not as interested as you thought in SLP.
    • Can be challenging to get into with low numbers

Which Options is Best For You: A Few Case Studies 

Which option is best is a really tough question to answer because there is no one sizes fits all answer. I’m going to run through a few scenarios and ideas here to help get your thoughts going. In the end, it is something you have to decide based on your individual circumstances.
In-fielder missing a few pre-reqs: If you have a degree in SHS / CommD / SLP (etc, etc) you probably only need one or two pre-requisites for any given school. If you know you want to apply to a certain university that requires a certain class, simply finding a school that offers that pre-req is your best option.
 
Out-of-field candidate with low “numbers”: If you have a low GPA and low GRE scores, you are probably going to need to complete a post-bacc program or a 2nd degree. Why? Three-year masters degrees are risky for graduate schools because they typically can’t measure if the candidate is 1) truly committed to the field or just in love with the idea of the field or 2) ready for graduate level study. An out-of-fielder with low numbers does nothing to lower those risks. Completing a post-bacc or a 2nd degree will give you the opportunity to raise your GPA (if you work your butt off!) and taking all those classes will truly demonstrate your solid interest in the field.
Out-of-field candidate with average+ numbers: If you have a decent GPA (3.5ish) and an okay GRE score (maybe 310ish) you should probably consider a three-year masters degree. Why? You’ll cut out all of the extra headaches. This is the shortest and most affordable option to a masters degree (if you can get in). You don’t need to raise your GPA (aka prove you’re able to succeed in grad school), you simply need to show (with a GREAT SOP) that you can become a good SLP.
In-field-candidate with low GPA: If you already have a degree in SHS but you have a low GPA, I don´t think completing a post-bacc program to raise your GPA is the best option. Retaking courses that you have already completed 1) does not guarantee you a better GPA and 2) might not make much of a difference. I´ve not seen any evidence or heard from any programs that say retaking classes is helpful. In this case, you should focus on two things: 1) improving your GRE score to a strong number and 2) Being very strategic about which schools you apply to

The Winner

I think the best option for out-of-field candidates is definitely the three-year masters program. This is generally the shortest and most cost efficient option.
Unfortunately, it is not attainable for most people given that most of the schools offering three years options are fairly to highly solicited and this highly competitive programs. Despite that, I highly encourage you to consider it as an option before spending a significant amount of time and money on a post-bacc program that you might not need.

How do you manage all the different pre-reqs?

I’ve found that most programs have really different requirements, but after looking long and hard I found some commonalities. Five courses that most schools seem to want students to have taken before entering their masters program. Keep in mind, each of these schools might have a different name for this course or a different way of dividing the content. For example, many schools split Anatomy and Physiology into two courses.
  1. Introduction to Communication Disorders / Speech & Hearing Sciences
  2. Language Development
  3. Anatomy & Physiology of Speech & Hearing System
  4. Phonetics / Developmental Phonetics
  5. Audiology / Introduction to Audiology
Now, as for the management part – I listed these five classes in in a simple google sheet (like excel). On the left you can list the schools your interested in, and across the top are these classes. Add notes in each intersection about if a school requires these courses and where you can take them!

Final Thoughts

Even as I was writing this post I realized that it is easily overwhelming to figure out how to manage pre-requisite classes and post-bacc options. I’m going to sit and think about a better system for managing these, and hopefully come up with something. If someone reading this happens to have a good sheet, or excel document, or any other kind of system to keep track of this feel free to email me and share!
 michael at thespeechblog dot com
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