Danielle Garrett is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech and is currently a first-year graduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. Below is her interview:
- What led to your interest in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP)?
When I arrived at Virginia Tech, I honestly had no idea what profession I wanted to pursue. I knew that I loved the healthcare and education fields, but I thought I would have to pick one or the other to find a career. I remember calling my sister fall semester of my freshman year panicking, having no idea what I was doing with my degree. She arranged for me to talk to one of her best friends who was working as a Speech Pathologist so I could gain perspective on a career field I had never considered. That simple conversation catapulted my career path into motion. I will never forget her talking with abundant joy and unyielding positively about working as an SLP, and I have to this date still never encountered a Speech Pathologist that spoke negatively about their work. Knowing there was a career out there that allowed me to work in a wide range of settings, either healthcare or education based, and with a wide range of clients sparked my interest. I knew this was a career path to investigate, and after shadowing a SLP for myself that summer I knew this was what I was meant to do with my life.
- What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for graduate school?
Since Virginia Tech does not have a Communication Sciences and Disorders undergraduate degree, I felt like my options for preparing for a career in Speech Pathology were limited. Rest assured: that is not the case! There is no “cookie cutter student” that programs are looking to accept. In fact, diverse backgrounds are encouraged and beneficial. I spent my time at Virginia Tech heavily involved in Hokie Ambassadors and doing research for Dr. Bower’s lab in the School of Neuroscience. Other VT alum that are now in school to become Speech Pathologists spent their time in college working part time jobs, babysitting, volunteering with clubs that focus on kids (e.g. College Mentors for Kids or Best Buddies), and investing in service initiatives that mean the most to them (e.g. Relay for Life, The Big Event, or Greek Life). Graduate schools want to see you are able to connect your experiences to skills that will make you a better professional. Since Speech Pathologist are focused on communication and interpersonal skills, these can be obtained through practically any involvement. My best advice is to use your spare time in undergrad to focus on your genuine passions and personal development, and not feel obligated to build a perfect resume.
- How did you prepare for the graduate school application process?
When I made a list of the schools I was going to apply to, I made a master excel sheet with helpful information about each program like location, length of study, tuition cost, available scholarships/GA positions, and application deadlines. This was the best organizational tool throughout the whole application process! I also took the time to make an info packet about myself to send to those I asked to write my letters of recommendation. Although the people I asked to write letters for me knew me well enough to not need the extra information, all my references told me how convenient it was to know about all aspects of my application (resume, transcripts, cover letters, etc.) when drafting my recommendation.
- What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying to SLP programs?
Although there are some schools in the country that have programs designed for students without an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), they are not the majority. Therefore, my list of potential schools was limited to programs that offered a leveling program or postbaccalaureate option. I wish I had known that there are numerous colleges across the country that offer online prerequisites for students to take prior to applying for graduate school. The main reason I went to UVA was that it had an entire curriculum designed for students without a bachelor’s degree in CSD, but the downside to this program is it will extend my time in graduate school by two semesters. Had I taken these prerequisite classes online over the summer in college, I could have finished my master’s degree sooner and saved some money in the long run.
- What do you enjoy most about graduate school?
I love that I get to work in clinical settings with real clients! Putting your knowledge to the test with a real case is invaluable experience. By the time I graduate, I will have accumulated clock hours working with a diverse range of patients and disorders in clinic, school, and medical settings.
- What was your favorite undergraduate class that prepped you for a career in Speech Language Pathology?
Neuroscience of Language and Communication Disorders was definitely the most valuable course I took in undergrad. I would also recommend taking Introduction to Linguistics through the English Department and Language Development offered through the Psychology department, as these classes were great foundations for studying Speech Pathology.
- What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in Speech Language Pathology?
Gain shadowing experience before applying to schools! Incoming SLP students must have 25 hours of shadowing before they are able to start clinic work, so it was nice to have that out of my way before starting the program. Additionally, shadowing in numerous different settings gave me a better idea at what being a Speech Pathologist was all about and helped me solidify my decision to pursue it as a career.
- If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential SLP student, what would you tell them?
Being a Speech Pathologist is easily one of the most rewarding professions out there. Making an impact on patient’s ability to communicate with loved ones, helping them express their needs and wants, aiding their academic growth, preventing them from choking, and fostering self-confidence is just the tip of the iceberg of what a Speech Pathologist does for their patients. You won’t regret making the decision to pursue Speech Language Pathology!