There are a million things about the Speech-Language Pathology profession that I love, yet there remains this small inkling of disappointment when it comes to SLP graduate schools. There just are not enough schools with too few spots for some amazing would-be-SLPs out there (I know they are out there). I won’t delve into the reasons for shortages in this post, but one of the ways Universities have started to expand their reach is by offering completely online Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Programs.
For more information about these programs, Christie over at “38 Things…An SLP Graduate Student’s Ramblings” has written a very helpful post on searching for accredited universities, including a comprehensive list of current SLP online programs, so check it out and head on back for more!
I wanted to gain a first-hand experience with these programs since they have become increasingly popular among other SLP2B students. To do this, I have enlisted the help of current graduate students or recent graduates to answer some common questions regarding online SLP Graduate Students. My first interview is with Heather from Indiana; this is Part 1 in a multi-part series over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
She is 37 years old and SLP is her first career. She completed her undergrad in SLP in 1997, and worked as an assistant for 4 years before taking an 8-½ year “maternity leave” to be home with her kids. She has 3 wonderful kids—now 11, 8 ½, and 5. She is a recent graduate from Western Kentucky University with her Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology.
What state do you currently live in, how far away is the nearest on-campus program, and was this a factor?
I live in Indiana. The closest graduate program is Western Michigan University, which is 75 miles away. I have a family and we couldn’t easily move. I was also the only source of income for my family—I needed to keep working. 75 miles is not an easily commutable distance when you have a family.
What online program are you currently in and why did you select this format?
I recently graduated (August 2012) from Western Kentucky University. My reasons were the ability to stay where I was currently located and keep working to support my family.
What was the application process like? How did you find online programs?
I applied to just one school, because I decided to apply after I’d missed the deadline for other online programs. If I had not been accepted, I would have done a more comprehensive review of available distance programs and applied for the following year.
I wished there had been a complete list of online programs. At the time, ASHA’s EdFind did allow me to search for programs that offered some or all classes in a distance format. However, there were other programs that weren’t listed. Currently on EdFind, it is not possible to search by the same criteria, making it even more difficult to find the online programs available.
How long from applying to getting accepted did it take? Did they notify you via email, mail, smoke signal?
I applied right before the deadline of February 15th, and received an email on March 9th offering me a place in the cohort. There was a condition that I complete two course deficiencies before Fall 2010. I had to provide a plan for how I would complete them.
Did you ever contact the school/department directly for help? How helpful were they during the process?
Yes, I was in contact with the Distance Learning Program Adviser. She first alerted me to a missing piece of my application (the department application, in addition to the general graduate school application). When I received the acceptance, I communicated with her in order to find out which of my undergraduate classes (my undergraduate degree is in SLP) met the requirements for the prerequisite classes. When I was unable to meet two of them, she helped me to put a plan into place to take those prerequisites. She was very helpful and responded quickly to my questions.
Does the program find placements and supervisors for you? How does that work?
It is the responsibility of the student to find placements and supervisors. There are many given parameters to meet, all explained in an externship manual. This manual is also reviewed in person during the on-campus clinical portion of the program.
Are there assigned times to log-on for courses or is it open at all times?
The courses can be logged into at any time, but there are also live class meetings each week. During the class, the professor/instructor is online and communicating via webcam and/or audio. This is done through Adobe Connect. This is a class just for the Online Cohort, not a simulcast or recording of an on-campus class. The professor interacts with the class directly, by answering questions asked in the chat (most often by students with typing, but microphones are used, too). Professors all have different styles of teaching —some of them called on us directly by name, while others presented their PowerPoint fully, then took time for questions. Some professors had us watch a recorded lecture before the class, then used the class time for discussion and interaction about the lecture.
How do you interact with other students? Do you feel like you are getting to know your classmates?
We interacted during class with in-class chats. We could ask “private” questions, too—kind of like passing a note. We had a private Facebook group to ask questions, clarify assignments, or “study” together. We also corresponded via email or scheduled chats for group projects. Because my program had an on-campus component, we also got to know each other in the first summer. We spent 5 weeks together, many of us as roommates with people we’d never met. We definitely got to know each other quite well.
How long is it going to take you to complete the program? Was this a factor when selecting programs?
I completed the program in 2 years—started in August, 2010, and finished in August, 2012. This was definitely a factor for me. Some programs were 3 years, and I didn’t want to wait that long.
Can you describe a time when you wished you were in an on-campus, face-to-face program?
I missed having the opportunity to complete a research project. However, this year the distance students do have an opportunity to complete a distance learning independent study class with the possibility of completing some research, so it is now an option. It would have been nice to go see a professor when there was a problem, as sometimes face-to-face can be easier to effectively communicate. However, we all learned how best to communicate with each professor.
My fourth semester (out of 6) was my most difficult. I had three challenging classes, all three with professors we hadn’t previously had, and had started my first externship placement. I was stressed and tired, and a perceived bad grade on an exam had me crying. I wanted to be able to go see a professor, but instead I emailed her. It still worked out, she helped me to see the big picture, and I made it through.
How does the cost compare to on-campus programs? Do you feel it is worth the cost?
The cost at Western Kentucky University was a nice perk—it is very reasonably priced per credit hour. It was worth the cost to me, as I now have a Master’s Degree!
What are your favorite parts of being in an online program? Why? What are your least favorite? Why?
My favorite part was being able to get my graduate degree while still providing for my family. I appreciated that most live weekly classes were at 8pm in my time zone. This meant I could still spend time with my kids before studying and going to class. I appreciated that I could still work full time (as an SLP Assistant).
My least favorite part, by far, was being in charge of securing my own externships.
What is unique about the program you are in?
I think the on-campus boot camp is unique—at least, it was when I was applying. It may be part of more programs now. I also think that the live class feature is unique. The professors often teach the same class to the on-campus cohort, but we still have our own class sessions—we weren’t just observers of the on-campus program. This live chat also kept me very accountable to complete assignments on time. If I hadn’t read the assigned material, I wouldn’t be able to answer the questions asked during class.
How often do you go to your internship while you are taking classes?
The first two semesters (Fall and Spring) are classes only. In the first Summer semester, we had 2 classes plus our on-campus clinical internship. This internship was 5 weeks, and included orientation to clinical record keeping and report writing, orientation to how the process of externships worked, and 4 weeks of intense clinical therapy in the school’s clinic. They worked hard to assign us to clients that would meet our individual needs.
During the second year of the program, we completed 3 separate externships in our own location, while still taking classes. We had to have three different and distinct placements: school, medical, and other (has to be distinct! So, can’t do two hospital placements, but can do hospital and SNF). The externship schedule depends on the placement, which is set up with student and supervising SLP input. A part-time placement is possible, but requires a certain number of hours a day, and must be completed in a 16-week timeframe. All externships have to be at least 40 full-time days or the equivalent (2 half days=1 full day, obviously), and the placement can include both half days and full days. I did all three of my placements full time.
What would you change, if anything, about the way you obtain clinical hours?
I wish I had the opportunity to have a placement in a private clinic, as well. However, because of my need to stay employed, my “other” placement was with preschool in the district where I was employed as an Assistant and where I completed my School placement.
Finding the externships is a challenge for most people. The lack of established connections makes it difficult, and the process of getting a contract actually prevented many people’s placements. I wanted a hospital placement, but the positions at the local hospital were filled far before I even had the knowledge to know what I needed. I also wished that the SNF medical placement could have been longer than 40 days—I would have liked another month there.
What are 3 things it takes to keep you organized and on-track given the online format?
I never mastered organization, though any attempt at organization that I made definitely helped me out! What helped me was:
- Google Calendar—at the beginning of the semester, I put in the due dates of all assignments, and then scheduled out all reading and tried to break down each assignment into sections, assigning myself due dates for individual sections.
- Keeping a high standard for what I wanted to learn—Trying to keep myself accountable to learning as much as possible helped me make sure I actually completed all the reading assignments. I know the professors assigned the textbook readings for our benefit, so I wanted to make sure I read it in order to fully learn. My goal was to learn what I needed to be a competent SLP. Keeping that perspective helped me focus on the reading, even when I got behind.
- Writing down my hours somewhere, even if it wasn’t the perfect system—I knew I needed to be more organized with how I kept track of hours, but this was very hard for me. So I made myself jot it down somewhere, even if it was just in a notebook with notes from the session.
Did you work while you were in the program? How did you fit it in?
I did stay employed throughout graduate school. This only worked because my job was as an SLP Assistant. In the first year, many of my classmates stayed employed in other careers. However, in order to complete the externships, one must either be an Assistant in a district with enough flexibility to provide for 2 placements, or work part-time outside of the hours when the externship will be completed.
Even though it was possible, it wasn’t easy! I worked until 4pm most days, came home and cooked dinner, spent time with the family, and managed bedtime for the younger two most days. Starting at 8pm, I turned on “student mode”, and spent the next 3-5 hours in class and completing reading, assignments, and projects. Depending on the workload and the time in the semester, I went to bed between 11pm-1am. On the weekends, I would spend at least 5 hours a day on work, up to 8 or even 10 when there were several projects due or right before finals.
If you would like more information about the program or to ask Heather a direct question, feel free to contact me via email at ladyecho88 at gmail .com.