Direct admission aims to increase speech-language pathologists

Emily Fordham, Sherrill Morris, chair of the NIU School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, and Hannah Secor, a communicative disorders student.

Now is an excellent time to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The demand is high for professionals who assess, diagnose, treat and help prevent communication and swallowing disorders. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for SLPs is expected to grow 27% by 2028.

To help meet that demand, Northern Illinois University is offering select students direct admission to the M.A. in Communicative Disorders, Speech-Language Pathology specialization. A limited number of seats in the master’s program are exclusively reserved for freshman University Honors students who declare communicative disorders as their major.

Students who want to receive spots must earn their B.S. in communicative disorders degrees within four years and complete full University Honors. Full University Honors includes a minimum 3.30 overall GPA, honors course work, a research capstone project and engaged experiences.

“We want to attract high-achieving students,” said Janet Olson, coordinator for NIU’s SLP program. “This program can reduce the stress level for students and their families, as they will have a guaranteed spot in our grad program.”

Entrance to speech-language pathology graduate programs is extremely competitive. Programs are intensive and require much practical instruction and one-on-one mentoring, so universities are limited in how many students they can accept.

NIU’s freshman direct admission program allows the faculty to engage with potential SLP students earlier to make sure they are on the right academic track.

Fall 2019 is the first semester the program has been available. Shannon McKewin, a freshman from Wheeling, Ill., is in the program. While the opportunity to have a space in graduate school waiting for her was a plus, it was only one of the reasons why she chose NIU.

“NIU is close to home for me, but it also still has the right feel. It’s a big-enough school, but I’m still getting individualized attention from my professors,” McKewin said.

That individualized attention started before classes began. McKewin attended an event at the home of Sherrill Morris, chair of the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.

“We got to speak with different professors that we’d have, and meet other students including   juniors or seniors. It was a good opportunity to talk to them and hear about their experiences,” McKewin said.

Emily Fordham, a freshman from Manlius, Ill., is also in the SLP direct admission program. Fordham said she chose NIU and the SLP program because she felt it was personalized.

Fordham also has gotten involved with several organizations and clubs. She joined the Communicative Disorders Student Association and the NIU Best Buddies program, and participated in the Hustle for Hearing fundraiser.

Fordham decided on speech-language pathology because she was interested in hospitals and health care. “But I’m terrified of blood. I was looking for other things to do that don’t involve blood,” she said. She shadowed a speech-language pathologist at the school where her mom works, and she discovered she was interested in the profession.

McKewin had a similar experience in selecting her major. She shadowed a speech pathologist as well. “I realized it was something that fascinated me,” she said, adding that she benefitted from having a speech-language pathologist when she was a child. “Speaking to her was really helpful. I had a personal connection.”

This article originally appeared on, Dec. 11, 2019.

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