Student's Say: Craft a Stand-Out Application With applications far outnumbering available spots in graduate speech-language pathology programs, how can you make sure yours has a fighting chance? Admissions officials offer advice. Student's Say
Student's Say  |   January 2014
Student's Say: Craft a Stand-Out Application
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy
    Carol Polovoy is the assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader. ·
  • © 2014 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   January 2014
Student's Say: Craft a Stand-Out Application
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 54-55. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19012014.54
The ASHA Leader, January 2014, Vol. 19, 54-55. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.19012014.54
Craft a Stand-Out Application
Communication sciences and disorders undergraduates often hear the grim prognosis: Competition for spots in speech-language pathology master’s programs is intense. So, how can you increase your chances of securing a spot?
For applicants who have all the required prerequisite courses, test scores and grades are most important, according to admissions officials at several programs. Montclair (N.J.) State University, for example, received 541 speech-language pathology program applications and accepted 38 (7 percent) for the 2011–2012 year. “In order for an application packet to receive a complete review by the admissions committee, the applicant must meet the minimum entry requirements,” says Janet Koehnke, chair of Montclair’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department.
Graduate programs at the University of Pittsburgh and University of South Carolina also cite GPA and GRE scores as the most important aspects of an application. At Pitt, applicants whose GPA is less than 3.3 “will not get a full committee review initially,” reports Barbara Vento, communication sciences and disorders admissions director. Vento may choose individual applications with lower GPAs for committee review, but “students with a total GPA of less than 3.0 will have a very difficult time being accepted.” Pitt received 339 applications for 2011– 2012, and offered admission to 94 (27.7 percent).
But what do programs look for beyond scores? And why is it so hard to get in?
It’s all in the numbers
For a number of reasons—from a shortage of PhDs to teach classes to the need for more facilities to supervise student clinicians— graduate programs can’t accept all qualified applicants. ASHA tracks admissions data in its annual survey of higher education programs. In the most recent survey—for academic year 2011–2012—the 224 responding speech-language pathology graduate programs received more than 50,000 applications, and accepted 12,844 for about 7,000 slots ( In the previous year, 222 programs received 45,790 applications and accepted 11,866.
The number of applications does not, of course, equal the number of applicants. Most students apply to several—if not a dozen or more— programs, a strategy applauded by Kenn Apel, chairman of USC’s communication sciences and disorders program. “Apply to more than one school, no matter how badly you want a specific program,” he advises. USC received 348 applications to its full- and part-time programs for the 2012-2013 year, and accepted 93 (26.7 percent).
Beyond the alphabet soup
So you’ve studied hard, and your work has paid off: You have a GPA and GRE scores that fit nicely into a program’s posted ranges. What will make you stand out?
Essays and recommendations take center stage after scores and grades. Some programs favor one over the other, but make sure both are strong—if your scores and grades are similar to those of another applicant, the essay and recommendations can break the tie.
  • Your personal statement can make or break an application, “particularly if there are spelling and/or grammatical errors,” Apel says. Vento concurs, indicating that “a poorly written essay, with grammar and spelling errors,” could easily deep-six an otherwise strong application. “Not spelling the name of the university correctly leaves a very poor impression,” she adds.

  • In your essay, you can explain any “bumps” in your academic record or highlight specific successes: an undergraduate research project, work in a professor’s research lab, challenges you overcame.

  • Get to know your undergraduate professors—you will need their recommendations. If you want a letter to stand out, it needs to include more than your grade and that you are “a pleasant, highly motivated person.” Offer to help a professor on a project, Koehnke suggests—and do a good job.

  • CSD-related volunteer and work experience, student organization involvement, and work on research projects are all helpful to your overall application package, but are valuable only

if your grades, scores, essay and recommendations can stand on their own.
Second time around?
Those who are applying a second time—because they weren’t accepted on their first try—are treated no differently from first-time applicants, according to the program officials. “If they [second-time applicants] are going to reapply to our program, I suggest that they try to improve” whatever kept them out, Vento said. “For instance, raise your GRE scores, or if you got a ‘C’ in speech science, try to improve that grade by retaking the class.”
She also suggests that if the applicant’s grades and GREs are good, working as a speech assistant would be helpful to a second try.
Koehnke’s program views second-time applicants similarly. “Applicants who apply to our program for a second time are typically rejected or placed on the wait list if they have not made any changes to their application,” she explains. “In other words, if their GRE scores have not improved and/ or they resubmit the same personal essay and letters of recommendation, more than likely their application will be rejected, again.”
‘Ideal’ application
There is no sure-fire formula for a winning application, but the program officials do offer descriptions of an “ideal” student.
  • Montclair looks for “a high GPA and GRE scores, a well-written essay and exceptional letters of recommendation,” Koehnke says.

  • Pitt would like to see “students with good grades and GRE scores who have participated in activities that will enhance their understanding of their chosen profession,” Vento advises. But she cautions that “each [admissions] committee member may prioritize something more than another and, in truth, it is the total picture that the applicant presents.”

  • South Carolina looks for a student who “wishes to learn about the profession so he or she can be the best speech-language pathologist, a true clinical scientist, as he

or she can be,” Apel says. “The student is coming to learn rather than to get good grades.”
Not for everyone
Speech-language pathology is no different from other competitive specialized programs—law, medicine, physical therapy, social work, to name only a few—and some master’s applicants will not get in to a program. Then what? A CSD bachelor’s degree may serve as solid preparation for other graduate programs—in reading, special education, rehabilitation counseling, ESL, deaf education and other fields. In some states, the bachelor’s degree allows you to work as a speech-language pathology assistant.
And if you don’t want to try another graduate program? As with other undergraduate majors— psychology, sociology, history, English and communications—the nature of the degree, including the general education requirements, provides a foundation for jobs in a number of areas: marketing, insurance, real estate, business, sales, management, public relations and more.
The bottom line? If you want to be an SLP, keep up your GPA (especially in those all-important CSD-related prerequisites), prepare thoroughly for the GRE, get to know professors who will write informative recommendations, and make sure your personal statement is cogent, well-written and error-free. And remember that no matter what, your education and personal strengths can lead you to success in other fields or courses of study—avenues that can lead to a fulfilling career and opportunities for meaningful contributions. Good luck! Image Not Available
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Comment Title

This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
January 2014
Volume 19, Issue 1