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How do I get experience in undergrad?

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Hello there! I'm a second year undergraduate at Georgetown University. Unfortunately, our school doesn't have a speech language pathology program, so I'm majoring in linguistics but making sure to focus on neurology and phonetics/phonology classes. I had something really terrible happen right at the beginning of my freshman year, so it tanked my GPA and I wasn't involved with anything on campus. Second semester, I got straight A's. I took a semester off for Fall 2020 due to health complications, and am going back for Spring 2021. My dream is to go to George Washington University for the post-bacc, then a master's. However, I'm struggling to find ways to get SLP experience without being in an SLP program for undergrad? Also, does anyone have any other recommendations for how to get more involved? What kind of things are grad schools looking for in an applicant? Thank you in advance!

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If you're seeking experience with kids, I suggest looking into private companies that do related work and/or positions in schools as a classroom aid. When I say "private companies," I'm thinking along the lines of literacy intervention - like Lindamood-Bell (which was founded by a speech pathologist) - or potentially ABA work (although many speech paths reject behaviorist models of intervention these days, and rightly so). These companies typically offer paid role-specific training at an entry-level, so the pay is usually better than minimum but not by much but if you go into it knowing what you're getting out of it professionally it's actually useful. I've had a leg up on many of my cohort members because of the hands-on experience I received when working for one of these companies. 

If you're more interested in working with older populations you can also work or volunteer for retirement communities a lot of the time. You can also reach out to SLPs in your area to see if they have opportunities available beyond the scope of SLPA work (administrative) that would allow you some access to their practice on a day to day basis. 

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In addition to @meadymalarkey's advice, you could also try some of the following ideas!

Jobs/Volunteer Positions:

  • Volunteer or apply at a preschool: this experience will improve your knowledge of child speech and language development
  • Volunteer or work with adults with intellectual disabilities: working with adults with communication differences will ready you for work in the field. In this sort of a position, you will likely gain experience with data tracking and goal setting as well. The process that we use to create and track goals at the company I work for is incredibly similar to the IEP process that SLPs use in school settings. 

Clubs/Student Organizations:

  • Best Buddies
  • Start your own CSD or Pre-SLP club! Nancy over at the Sunshine Speechie podcast had some good tips on how she got a Pre-SLP club going at Clemson University, but I can’t find the exact post.
  • Leadership positions are highly sought-after, but they really do offer you a leg up if you can get one!

Observations/Job Shadowing: 

  • It’s always worth it to cold-call Speech Pathologists in your area to see if they’d be willing to let you job shadow for a day or two. Try to branch out: ask SLPs in medical settings, at schools, and in private practice settings. 
  • You could also sign up for the Master Clinician Network (I think it's $50ish) for informal observations online. I did this during Covid-19, as the observations that I had set up fell apart as soon as the pandemic hit. *keep in mind, these will NOT count towards the 25 guided observation hours required by most programs*

CEUs/Professional Organizations:

  • There are TONS of free and low-cost CEUs available since the start of the pandemic! They usually offer certificates for completion. Doing a couple of these will show your school that you are dedicated to learning more about the field
  • Join the NSSLHA! If you can, ask a local university that does offer an undergraduate CSD program if you can sit in on their meetings.

Undergraduate Research:

  • See if one of your linguistics professors offers volunteer positions in their research labs. Most master's programs really want to see research experience, even if it isn't directly related to Speech Pathology.

I can't speak to the specific things that George Washington University is looking for in applicants, but I'd recommend emailing their admissions office (gwusphr@gwu.edu) and asking! I'd say that most universities are looking for well-rounded individuals, specifically the unique contributions that you’ll make to the incoming class, academic ability, communicative ability, level of professionalism, analytical skills and research experience, and cultural competency.

I'll probably write a full blog post about this soon. 

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