My experience of getting into grad school to become an SLP
Disclaimer: This is going to be a long post & this is my personal experience. The process is going to slightly different for every school you apply for. I am happy to answer questions, but know that things change over time!
Before I start, it's probably important to talk about my background. I'm born & raised in Vancouver and attended UBC since I wanted to be at home to save money. It took my 5 years to complete my undergrad because I didn't take a full course load the last three years so that I could focus on my extra-curriculars. I then attended the University of Alberta to complete my MSc in SLP. Keep this in mind because this is just one experience. Always research multiple sources of information!
Speech-Language Pathology in Canada
Speech-language pathologists are regulated health professionals. We are regulated at a provincial level. In BC, we are regulated by CSHBC. At a federal level, we have SAC who advocates and provides resources for speech-language pathologists.
You need to complete a master's degree in Canada to become a speech-language pathologist. There are only so many universities that offer this specialized degree in Canada. On the west coast, we have UBC and UofA. I have also considered going to Ontario (UofT/UWO), but only ended up applying to UBC/UofA. 7 out of 12 programs teach their programs in English. The other 5 programs are offered in French.
Things you should know (or I wish I knew) before becoming an SLP
Salary. If you work in the public system, how much you get paid varies across provinces. Our rate in private work also varies (sometimes substantially). SAC completed a survey that will answer this question.
Burnout. Honestly, I was too prideful. I really thought I wouldn't be susceptible from burnout even though on the first day of grad school we talked about how self-care is so important because this happens A LOT. Beware, that burnout in this profession is real & with some big caseloads in certain areas of practice, self-care is really important.
Knowing how businesses work, marketing, and related concepts is pretty important, especially if you want to work in private practice. A lot of SLPs are moving to the private sector for various reasons. I really wish I took some undergrad courses in business, but I didn't. If this is something you are considering, it really doesn't hurt to take some courses in your undergrad.
Some areas of practice are really hard to get into. It's really easy to work with children in this field, but a lot harder to find jobs that are adult-related. Even harder if you want to focus on certain specializations (e.g., pediatric feeding, voice, acute, etc.)
Sometimes, the soft skills outweigh the amount of knowledge you have. A big part of what we do involves counselling and working with patients/parent coaching. I wish I took some courses in counselling in my undergrad.
Questions to consider when looking to a masters program
Before I dive into my personal experience, I think it's probably better for me to present with you some questions that you should consider when looking into different grad schools.
What experience is valuable for you? Some schools are considered to be more theoretical and some are more hands-on. As you talk with more SLPs in the field, you will find out what the general vibe of each university is.
Which university has an in-house clinic? This is more relevant for people who really value hands-on experience. Having an in-house clinic means that you get to have that hands-on experience in a smaller setting and work more closely with your clinical educator in a specialized setting. Sometimes, clients with less common diagnoses attend university clinics. Not all the time, but sometimes.
What is the cost of the program? Some programs are more heavily subsidized by the government (e.g., UBC) and some are not. I know that I paid around 12k in tuition a year at UofA while the tuition at UBC was around 4-5k a year.
What scholarships or funding opportunities are available? It's a lot more difficult to secure funding in a professional program than a research based program. A big reason of why I attended UofA was that they had a capstone research project where you could apply for master's level funding (e.g., NSERC, SHHRC, CIHR, etc.). In addition to that, they had an entrance scholarship that was worth quite a bit. UBC also has some entrance scholarships, but not nearly as much as what UofA offered.
Are you able to have a say/choose where your practicums are located or the type of population that you want to work? We definitely had a say in where we were located and what type of population or specialty we completed our placements in at UofA. I know you can put in requests too at UBC, but a lot of it is up to the coordinator and you need to complete a rural placement.
Do they offer a Masters/PhD combined program? Sometimes, you can save a year's time if you complete them together at the same university.
Do you need to complete a GRE/interview/other standardized/behavioural tests? Due to COVID, the entrance requirements are now quite different. I would look at both programs and compare. I had to complete the GRE at the UofA, but not for UBC. Thankfully, they have removed the GRE now.
What prerequisites do I need to take? Almost every university has different prerequisites. A big reason why I didn't apply for schools in Toronto was because I was too lazy to take a human anatomy pre-req course. It may be worth your time to look into what are the pre-reqs for each school. I know there was a spreadsheet somewhere that compared all the pre-reqs...not sure if I'll be able to find it, but if I do, I'll probably link it.
What researchers/SLPs do I want to learn from? Grad school is a great time for you to network and learn from your professors. If you are really into swallowing disorders, you may want to go to a university that has more professors who study swallowing disorders.
How many seats are in the program? UofA almost had 60 spots. UBC has/has around 36?
Now onto my personal experience...
Why did I take 5 years to complete my degree?
I wanted to "boost" my application by getting involved in extra-curriculars. I was able to volunteer at a speech therapy clinic, volunteer in an aphasia rehab group, work as a behavioural interventionist, work at different research groups, and tutor children in phonics. Extra-curriculars do make your application look different, but I think it's really more about finding if speech is really a good fit for you and what population you want to work with. I found out that I like to work with kids more & what areas of practice I like more (i.e., early intervention, autism, social groups, literacy). Another thought...it also makes getting references letters a lot easier!
The extra year gave me some flexibility in choosing courses with specific professors. There were certain professors that I wanted to learn from. I think it's also easier to focus on your courses and do better when you aren't taking a full-course load, but it's also easier to go to your professor's office hours. The flexibility also helps with taking courses that help with your GPA. ;)
The dilemma of UBC vs. UofA
So I only applied to two schools...I know, yikes what a risk, but I didn't want to take the human anatomy pre-req to attend Ontario schools so what can I say. Luckily, I did get into both schools so I had to decide which one I wanted to attend. This decision making process may be helpful for those who are considering west coast schools.
What Uof A had to offer - Like I said, they had a big entrance scholarship that was offered to me, but I still had to compete with others going into professional programs at the UofA to get the scholarship even though they nominated me so that was a risk. But, due to their capstone project, you can apply for Master level research grants. Additionally, they had an in-house clinic and I knew that that was important for me.
Now that I took the program, I also know that you have a say in where you want to be placed and what specialties you want a placement in. Of course, if there are too many people that want the same placement, it becomes a lottery, but typically there's quite a bit of variation in the class. We all got to sit down with the person that was arranging our clinical placements to decide exactly which location we were sending in the request for a placement for. If you want to be in the city, you can probably have all your placements in the city. I was able to do a placement back home in BC.
What UBC had to offer - Their tuition was substantially less. They did offer me a scholarship that would essentially cover my tuition for my first year. It was also closer to home which meant that I would be saving money. There were some researchers at UBC that I would have liked to worked with if I had decided to stay.
From what my friends have told me, you will need to complete some placements in some remote areas in BC.
Another consideration is that you begin to network and meet people in the area that you go to school in. If you are planning to stay in that city/area, that's a great start, but if you want to move back to where you were from (e.g., like me, I moved back to BC after grad school), you have to start networking all over again.
Again, this is only my personal experience. It is always best to talk with an academic advisor at the university that you are applying for to see what they would recommend to help with your application. I think it may also be worthwhile to talk with employers to see if they have a preference for hiring.
**November 2022 Update**
Thanks for the support! Apparently, this has been one of my most successful posts on the blog! And thanks to everybody who has reached out and the ones that I have chatted to over the years. I think a big part of me enjoys mentoring more than actual practice sometimes (but only because burnout is really, really real in our field).
As I am actually trying to grow the practice now, it means I might have some actual opportunities for shadowing and volunteering (PS - we are accepting clients in the Lower Mainland and have a new referral process)! If you are looking for volunteer opportunities Winter/Spring 2023 onwards, there will be in-person opportunities! Feel free to get in touch next year. :)
And good luck to everyone applying this cycle!