by Claire Swaffield
UWE English Language and Linguistics Graduate 2012
I decided that I wanted to pursue Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) after deciding that I definitely didn’t want to be a teacher. The great thing about SLT is that it combines a love of language with public service, providing very rewarding interaction between client and therapist.
Not many know the true extent of SLT until fully researched. SL therapists can work with people of all ages, and, as an overview, they manage expressive language, receptive language, social skills and communication, and swallowing difficulties. Your clients can include people who stammer, those who may have dyslexia, stroke patients, cancer patients, people with learning difficulties, and transgender people, to name a few. Generally, services are split into paediatric (0-18 years) and adult (18 years +). When you train, you will encounter the majority of these in theory, and most on placement. But as a trained therapist, you will specialise depending on the position you accept.
I had heard a lot of ‘horror stories’ about applying for the Speech and Language Masters programmes, and it definitely wasn’t easy. I had heard that someone’s friend, who had worked on a stroke ward for two years, wasn’t accepted by any university two years running!
Yes, it is a largely oversubscribed programme. To give you an idea: Sheffield had 18 places and 260 applications, while the City had 80 places and 600 applications. To give you the best chance of acceptance, it is recommended that you apply everywhere. There are currently seven NHS-funded courses in the UK, as far as I’m aware: Sheffield, City, UCL, Newcastle, Essex, Reading and Greenwich. I applied for five, minus Greenwich, who begin their course in January rather than September, and Reading which, although very reputable, has just 10 places for over 300 applicants.
It’s worth noting that UCL, Newcastle and Essex provide two-year MSc courses and Sheffield an MMedSci, whereas City and Greenwich provide a two-year PgDip, which can be topped up with an extra six months to then gain an MSc. The Masters courses do not vary dramatically, and employers do not consider one better than the other (though I think a Master of Medical Science sounds pretty great!).
All courses are regulated by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and the Health Care Professionals Council, so no one is better than the other. Among students and professionals, Newcastle is said to be a good course, as is City, due to its history. UCL is considered more academic, and City more practical. But, as stated before, they are all great courses and all up to the standards of the RCSLT and HCPC. It should also be noted that they all have different names:
- Newcastle: MSc Speech Pathology
- Sheffield: MMedSci Clinical Communication Studies
- Essex: MSc Speech and Language Therapy
- UCL: MSc Speech Sciences
- City: PgDip/MSc Speech and Language Therapy
- Greenwich: PgDip Speech and Language Therapy
- Reading: MSc in Speech and Language Therapy
The application process varies at each university, and you have to apply to them individually, which does require a lot of work. Each application is similar, but I still had to adapt my personal statement for each place. My biggest tip is that there is always somewhere to upload your CV with all your relevant experience, leaving you more space to write about personal, detailed experiences rather than listing all your positions in your personal statement. Most universities do not like you to write a personal statement longer than two pages with 12pt text. Do not go over this, as it does not put you in good academic standing; and the academic side, because it is a Masters, is quite important. Most universities require you to have at least a 2:1, but having a First definitely helps.
For those who wish to apply to do the course straight out of university, you can only apply to Sheffield and City; the other universities require you to take a year out to gain some experience and definite grades. Taking a year out allows you to focus yourself and gain experience with a number of client groups, while also allowing time to save some money. Though you do get your fees funded, and can receive some grant money, it might only be enough to pay your rent. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the courses are quite intense, and many universities recommend that you do not have a job while studying.
Regarding work experience, it is best to gain as much experience as possible in varied settings. I personally took a year out to gain more experience. Before I finished my course, I was a conversation partner, organised at Southmead Hospital, and I had worked as a Vocational Mentor with UWE volunteering. I had also spent two days shadowing SL therapists in both paediatric and adult services in the previous year, and two months volunteering at a mainstream school.
This year, I’m spending a morning at a special needs preschool and an afternoon at a special needs school with an SL therapist. I also work with my cousin who has Down’s Syndrome and is not receiving any provision from the Local Authority, as an administrator for an independent educational psychologist, I attend a biweekly stroke group run by an SL therapist, and I see a lady as a conversational partner weekly. I was still told I did not have a lot of experience at the UCL interview. I think she meant directly with an SL therapist; if you apply, you’re up against a lot of people who have spent a year as a Speech and Language Assistant in clinical and school settings.
I was very lucky and was accepted to interview by all four universities (City do not interview due to the high number of applicants). This gave me a great feel for each university and allowed me to decide that I would really like to go to Sheffield. The interviewer really put me at ease and it seemed like a very friendly, supportive department (similar to my UWE tutors). Each interview is very different:
- Newcastle: Group interview with a presentation
- Sheffield: Individual interview with group and written task
- UCL: Individual interview with observation task
- Essex: I don’t know because I didn’t go, but they required you to be there all day (9am-4pm).
The reason why I didn’t attend my Essex interview was because Essex will interview up until May, and I had already been offered a place at Sheffield.
I won’t say much about the interviews because the universities don’t like to give much away, but the best thing is to be relaxed and not compare yourself to others – which is difficult because everyone is constantly comparing each other’s experience. I’m not very good in an interview situation, and find it difficult to organise my thoughts and speak up. This is why it is common for those who have gone through the process one year and have failed to then gain a place on the course the following year, because they know what to expect.
I was initially given low reserve from Newcastle, rejected from UCL and City, and fourth reserve from Sheffield. Luckily, four people dropped out and I was allowed onto the course! The important thing is to not give up. Your passion will show through if you really want it!