When you decided to go into this profession, you probably didn’t do so with dreams of one day touring Robin Leach around your mega-yacht. For you, becoming a speech-language pathologist wasn’t about the money—it was about helping people overcome communication challenges, gain self-confidence, and improve the quality of their lives. And while your heart is definitely in the right place, you still deserve to earn a salary commensurate with the quality of therapy you provide. So, what amounts to a “good” salary? The truth is, SLP salaries depend on a variety of factors, ranging from facility type to geographic location. Here are a few important variables to consider as you contemplate compensation:

1. Setting matters.

In the SLP industry, wages vary drastically based on facility type. According to a May 2012 national salary report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, SLPs working in skilled nursing facilities and home health services earned average annual salaries of $85,610 and $91,220, respectively—well above the overall national average of $72,730. On the other end of the spectrum, SLPs working in elementary and secondary schools—despite making up the vast majority (69%) of all practicing SLPs—received by far the lowest average salary: $66,440. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s (ASHA) 2012 Schools Survey breaks that down even further, reporting that SLPs working in secondary schools had the highest average salary at $63,749, followed by elementary schools at $59,000 and preschools at $56,825.

2. Location plays a leading role.

Regional factors such as cost of living, reimbursement rates, and educational funding levels give way to substantial differences in SLP salary from one area of the country to another. According to the ASHA’s 2011 SLP salary report, SLPs practicing in the Midwest earned the lowest average salary—around $65,000—of all US geographic regions. Those working in the West, on the other hand, earned an average of $80,000. According to the previously cited BLS survey, average salaries in the top five highest-paying states ranged from $81,180 in Maryland to $86,220 in the District of Columbia (other states in the top five were New Jersey, Colorado, and California). That report also shows a slight disparity in average SLP earnings between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, with the top-paying metro area—Sherman-Denison, Texas—coming in at $101,530 and the top-paying nonmetro area—Central Indiana—coming in at $92,020.

3. Education is a factor—sort of.

Of those surveyed as part of the ASHA salary report linked above, 97% of respondents listed a master’s as their highest academic degree. Those SLPs reported an average salary of $69,674. By contrast, the average salary for the small percentage of doctoral degree holders included in the survey was $88,022. However, it is important to note that professionals holding more advanced degrees are more likely to work in administrative positions (e.g., directors or supervisors), which typically come with higher salaries. In fact, the survey went on to report that those working as clinical service providers earned about $65,000 a year, whereas those with administrative job titles made an average salary of around $90,000. Also, according to the ASHA schools survey, many SLPs earn salary supplements or bonuses for having their Certificate of Clinical Competence.

4. More experience equals more money.

In general, the more years you spend in a particular field, the more valuable you are (in monetary terms). Speech-language pathology is no different. Case in point: according to the ASHA salary survey mentioned earlier, SLPs with one to three years of experience earned around $58,000 a year. Those with 31 or more years of experience, on the other hand, averaged about $88,750. 

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These items are just a sampling of things to consider when it comes to salary in the speech-language pathology industry. What factors do you think are most important when it comes to determining a reasonable SLP salary? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.