If you have ever considered becoming a speech-language pathologist, chances are that you also heard a thing or two about pay rates for SLPs. Depending on who you are speaking with about pay, it could be a highly positive or negative conversation. To cut to the chase, many people considering speech-language pathology as a career want to know if and how to make $100K. Is it even possible to make 6-figures as an SLP?
Short answer: Yes. It is 100% possible to make $100K as an SLP. Long answer: Those opportunities are few and far between and something that you shouldn’t count on when entering the field.
However, if you are willing to step outside of the box, there are ways to make $100K or more in this field. Personally, I’ve been a 6-figure earning SLP for many years. In this blog, I am sharing some of my personal tips and strategies with you here.
What is an SLP and How Do I Become One?
To be brief, a speech pathologist works in evaluating and treating all areas of speech, language, cognition, and swallowing disorders. They can be employed by schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), clinics, the government, and more.
A master’s degree is required to practice as an SLP along with 400 hours of supervised clinical hours, and a 9-month supervised clinical fellowship.
To learn more about becoming an SLP read this article: SLP Basics
Average SLP Salary
First let’s talk about what is an average salary for an SLP. Making $100K as an SLP is not considered average by any means, it is absolutely above average (but not impossible!)
Determining an average SLP salary depends on so many factors. Two of the biggest factors are geographic location and setting type (e.g. schools vs SNF). We will talk about those two factors in this piece and how they can hopefully help you to cross that $100K line to become a high-earning SLP.
In this blog, I’m going to reference two sources quite frequently. The ASHA 2022 Schools Survery and the ASHA 2021 SLP in Health Care Survey. These two sources have, in my opinion, the best and most comprehensive data available regarding SLP pay rates.
From these reports, the median SLP school salary for a 9-month year is reported to be $64,000 per year and the median school salary for 11-12 months is $80,000.
The median salary for SLPs working in the clinical setting is reported to be $78,000/year. SNFs have the highest paying clinical setting with an average salary of $91,000/year.
Of note: this data is self-reported and we don’t exactly know how many hours people work when reporting their salary. e.g. is overtime or PRN factoring into these rates at all? I acknowledge that when I report my SLP income I include all of the PRN and SLP-related side hustles. People like me could potentially skew the data.
While $100K is not typical SLP pay, let’s talk about how to get there.
How to Make $100K as an SLP
Negotiate Your SLP Pay
First and foremost, as an SLP you can and should absolutely negotiate your pay. I’ll be honest and say this is hard when you are starting out as a clinical fellow, but see below (job hop every 1 to 3 years). This is why we job hop: negotiating gets a lot easier with a few years of experience.
Tips for Negotiating Your SLP Pay:
- Research average SLP pay for your area and setting, and have an appropriate pay rate set to start negotiations.
- Research how long the job was sitting open for and if a traveler was needed to fill the position while it was open (you are in a better place to negotiate if the position was sitting open longer).
- Understand the supply and demand of the area. If there are more SLP job openings than SLPs in the area, you have the upper hand in negotiating.
- Set talking points based on how you will help the facility by being on staff. Make the negotiation about the facility and their needs, versus you and your needs. Highlight the value that having you will bring to them.
- Sometimes you just have to say no. Don’t be afraid to say no to a bad offer. Sometimes they might turn around to meet your offer, other times not.
Job Hop Every 1-3 years if in Healthcare
This advice is somewhat controversial but I’m going to say it. If you’re an SLP, especially in healthcare, you need to job hop. Raises are low to non-existent in healthcare and most SLPs do not make more money through loyalty. We make more money by leaving a job and negotiating a higher pay rate at our next job.
A simple example of this is when I was a CF in a SNF in 2009; I earned $30/hour. My first annual raise I got a pay increase of 25 cents an hour to make a whopping $30.25/hour. When I left to travel, my pay immediately doubled in rate and I went from making $750/week take home to $1,550/week take home. Then, when I settled down in a permanent job two years later, I negotiated to start at $40/hour.
I tell this story to say that it benefits you to job hop. Had I stayed at that first SNF job, I would probably barely be making $33/hour, more than 10 years later. Because I left the job and took a new position, I was able to significantly increase my pay.
Can you job hop to 100K? This is going to depend mostly on your location and setting. In the SNF setting, with a couple of years’ experience, across most states, I see it completely reasonable to ask for and receive $50/hour. This comes out to a job above $100K for the year.
Relocate to a Higher Demand Area that Pays Higher
As mentioned above, supply and demand is everything when it comes to SLP pay. Certain states and geographic areas just pay us higher. Traditionally, the Pacific West Coast pays SLPs the best, with California being the highest.
According to ASHA’s School Survey data, SLPs in the Pacific states made a median of $99,437/year working in the schools while SLPs in the schools of Louisiana made $51,000/year. That’s a huge difference!
According to the ASHA Healthcare survey data, in 2021 SLPs on the West Coast in healthcare averaged $90,000/year while SLPs in the northeast averaged $79,830.
Since I’ve been an acute care SLP, hospitals have paid as much as $97/hour to have me in the facility as an SLP and have paid as little as $40/hour.
So what’s the difference between $97 and $40? Supply and demand.
The hospital that paid $97/hour to have me in-house did it during COVID when there was an extreme shortage of staff to begin with. Plus, they were in a very rural area of California (which is already a high paying state) that had a hard time attracting talent. While that $97 is high and a contracted rate (so my agency took 25% of it), I will add that I’ve been regularly offered between $60-$70/hour to work permanently in the hospitals across California.
The $40/hour was in the greater Boston area where four grad schools produce some of the nation’s best SLPs each year and the talent pool is extremely large.
I share my personal data to reinforce that supply and demand and geographic area are everything in our jobs. Unfortunately, while we all have the same education and licenses, some places just pay higher for us than others. Boston and California have similar costs of living, but as you can see, the place that was more desperate for SLPs paid significantly higher.
Take Travel Speech Therapy Contracts
By landing on this website, you likely noticed it is about all things travel therapy. Travel therapy is when you take short-term 13-week to 9-month contracts to fill staffing shortages. Travel therapy contracts tend to be high risk, high reward, meaning they can pay very well, but you take on the risk of being an at-will employee, being canceled at any time, and moving to a new place to start a new job every few months.
If this kind of lifestyle excites you, then read on.
Travel pay varies, but you can typically make a take home pay of anywhere from $1,600/week after taxes to $2,200/week after taxes as a traveler. These numbers can easily put your take home at over $100K a year. However, it is important to note that not all of the travel pay rate is your actual wage.
Travel pay packages are a combination of 3 things
- Your taxable hourly wage (usually something like $25-$35/hour)
- A non-taxable housing stipend
- A non-taxable meals and incidentals stipend
So, while you might be actually banking over $100K a year, you will have to use that money to pay for expenses as you travel the country. Also, since only your taxable hourly wage is reported to the government, your income will be lower and this could be an issue if you are trying to maximize your pay for things like securing a mortgage, loan, or Social Security.
Open a Private Practice or Independently Contract
Perhaps the most lucrative SLP setting is to be your own boss as a private practice owner or independent contractor. As an independent contractor you can contract directly with schools or clinics to utilize your services.
As a private practice business owner, with considerations to what is allowed by insurance, you can bill insurance directly and/or take cash-based clients and set your own rates. You could also potentially run groups, do tele therapy, or do home-based visits.
I could not find any current information suggesting what SLP private practice owners make. An ASHA wire report from 2015 reported that median private practice salary pay was $77,240/year. I expect that number has increased since then.
The only SLPs I know personally who make multiple six-figures a year are private practice owners or they own an SLP-related business. While owning a business comes with a lot of risks, it also comes with the opportunity to set rates and scale your business to earn greater income.
Advance to a Full-Time Management Position
While most SLPs don’t go into the field to manage others, create and maintain budgets, write schedules, and then shuffle the schedule around when a clinician calls out at 5am, management might be an option for some SLPs. The ASHA Health Care survey reports that the median salary for full-time management positions is $105,000/year.
My advice is to take that number with caution. Go into management if you want to be in management and enjoy the tasks of being a manager. Don’t go into it for the money. Most managers are salaried and end up working far more than you would as a treating clinician. If your only goal is to make more money – especially if you are in a SNF – then consider the next point.
Work Multiple SLP Clinical Jobs (not the answer that most want to hear)
This definitely is not the answer that most people want to hear, but if your goal is to top $100K/year, this is one solid way to do it. I’ve exceeded 100K a year as an SLP working permanently and with a side PRN job.
One of the reasons why working multiple SLP jobs can be so lucrative is because you only need to get benefits from one job. The other job(s) are per diem or part-time. Because you don’t need benefits, you can negotiate a higher hourly rate. For example, if your perm SLP job pays $45/hour, you could negotiate $55 to $65+/hour as a per diem employee.
If you work a full 9-5 SLP job and then pick up two extra shifts a month on the weekend, you could make an extra $800-950/month doing per diem work. That is around an extra $10K/year. If you pick up more time at night, you can increase from there. If you make $45/hour from your perm job, which brings in around $93,000/year, that extra 10K from working PRN can move you over that 100K mark.
You could also work a permanent job and see patients independently on the side, which can be some better side income.
Become an Expert in the Field
The more that you invest in yourself and your skills, the more valuable that you can be to an employer. I say this with some caution because, of course, not all employers see the value in increasing skills. But, for example, the more specific skills you have that will help a facility fill their staffing needs, and increase the caseload of clients that they are able to take on, the more that you could negotiate with them to pay you a higher salary.
As an expert in the field, you could also find lucrative, non-clinical opportunities such as paid speaking opportunities, creating continuing education courses, guest lecturing at universities, paid podcast and writing opportunities, and paid consulting.
Create Income from a Side Hustle
Speech therapists tend to be intelligent, driven, and creative people by nature. It’s no surprise that many SLPs create lucrative side hustles outside of their clinical practice. The side hustles could be SLP related (such as making materials to sell on Etsy or Teachers Pay Teachers), or they could be completely non SLP related.
One of the nice things about being an SLP is that there is an abundance of jobs available and those jobs range anywhere from a few hours a week up to over 40 hours a week. If you get started on a side hustle and want to grow it out to something bigger, SLP is a great job for you to scale down your hours with.
Personally, I’ve almost fully left SLP to pursue a career in digital marketing. My time as a digital marketer started out as a very small side hustle in 2014. Next, I started cutting my hours from 40 to 32 a week as the workload that I was taking on grew. Then I was down to 20. Now, I pick up a few SLP shifts a month or occasionally take a travel assignment.
Work 25+ years at a job
Last but not least, there is the longest, most time consuming way to make six figures. That is to find a job with a pay scale that increases every year that will eventually get you to that coveted 100K mark. While this isn’t for everybody, it can be a solid choice if you want stability in a job and don’t want to job hop or work outside of your 40-hour work week.
Again, the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) of this piece is that you can make 100K a year as an SLP. While this is not the norm for 2022, it is something that you can accomplish with some long-term goal planning. Whether you move geographic regions, take on extra PRN work, start a business, a side hustle, or go into management, there are ways to increase your salary to over 100K.