Setting Personal Goals & Career-Planning for SLPs

As Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs), we often set goals for our clients/patients/students. But, what about setting goals for ourselves?

In grad school, we are not really taught about things like moving up in our SLP careers, creating financial freedom for ourselves and our families, nor how to develop a healthy work-life balance with ourselves and our families at the center of all that we do.

There is no doubt that the field of speech-language pathology is broad, but once we choose an area we are interested in, are we stuck in that one position? Is there room for growth - raises, promotions, leadership?

The answer to both of these questions is, “maybe.”

I know, I know, not exactly what you were hoping for, but the reality is that we as SLPs must seek and/or create certain opportunities for ourselves.

There is no singular path in any setting we choose, and there will not always be an SLP before you who paves the way for what your long-term career goals should/could look like.

Each setting has its own unique roles and potential career paths. You don’t have to decide your long-term career goals immediately upon entering the field. In fact, your goals can change every few years as you gain new experiences and skills.

What’s important, first, is outlining your personal goals. Setting your personal goals and values as your compass will help you determine your SLP career goals, no matter what stage of life/career you are in.

Setting personal goals as an SLP

It’s important to set personal goals that are separate from your career. Personal goal categories may include:

  • Family
  • Relationships / social life
  • Health
  • Mindset
  • Fun / hobbies
  • Spirituality
  • Intellectual

I was recently asked what my hobbies include. I laughed and said that I read, but what I read is almost always business/career related. As I reflected, I realized that I had read one book that wasn’t career related in all of 2022, and I couldn’t name another hobby that I had. For me, I had become way too career-focused, and personal “fun/hobbies” was an area I needed to explore significantly moving forward.

Some of the above areas overlap. I have recently refocused my personal goals and values, and now, fun/hobbies overlaps with health, intellectual, and spirituality. That’s because my fun/hobbies include reading (for entertainment now!) and yoga with the occasional meditation and breathwork.

Everyone’s personal goals and values will differ, but it’s important that we keep them at our center and create habits that allow us to focus on ourselves each week, regardless of what is going on in our professional lives.

Personal goals help you form routines that allow you to focus on what’s most important to you, while giving you space and clarity to create and reach your professional goals.

Creating a flexible outline of your professional goals

Flexibility is a big part of what we learn in grad school as SLPs. We have to learn to be flexible with our time, our patience, and our therapy plans.

Flexibility is also an important life skill. Understanding and adapting when things don’t go according to plan is something we must do or we will be disappointed and frustrated time and time again.

Don’t get me wrong, we can still be disappointed and frustrated about things while understanding and adapting to necessary change, but having flexibility helps keep those negative feelings at bay so that we can move forward more quickly and with things of higher importance (i.e., our personal goals/values) at top of mind.

When outlining your SLP career goals, it’s important to refer back to your personal goals. If your personal goals include spending as much time as possible with your family and friends, you likely wouldn’t choose a professional goal of becoming a travel SLP with back-to-back 13-week assignments in different locations, for example.

To get started in creating flexible career goals, use your personal goals to first outline your ideal week. Include your working hours plus any specific time you want to spend focusing on your personal goals and routines that help you reach them.

If you use the Day Designer planner I recommend, it has one of these ideal week templates at the beginning of the planner. If you don’t use a planner, you can also just find a blank sheet of paper and draw a week-long calendar with times of day (e.g., 6 AM to 10 PM) written down the left side.

Use this to create your ideal week, scheduling personal and professional time, including things like exercise, meditation/breathwork, journaling, reading, date night, time with friends, etc., as well as your working hours.

In my ideal week, I work 8 AM - 5:30 PM with an hour-long lunch break each weekday. I end ~2 hours early on Fridays, which creates a 40-hour work week.

I also schedule in my morning routine of exercising, showering, making coffee and eating breakfast.

In the evening, I schedule time for cooking and eating dinner and spending time with my husband. I also pencil in my hobby of reading along with my nightly skincare and bedtime routine.

My weekends include a date night and a night with friends, with Sundays being completely blank as a rest day to spend how I choose.

Keeping your ideal week in mind can help you determine career-related things like whether certain positions or work schedules are right for you and how many more responsibilities you can take on at work without it interfering with your evening family time.

Now, with your ideal week at top of mind you can also lay out your professional interests and broadly identify potential settings that would allow you to explore those interests.

If you are interested in evaluating and treating aphasia, for example, you might identify that both medical and private practice settings would allow you to work with such a population. You might also know that dysphagia is totally not for you, so you narrow ‘medical settings’ down to outpatient/specialty clinics where you can focus your practice.

On the contrary, if you are interested in dysphagia, medical settings such as acute care and inpatient rehab may still be on your list. Something to keep in mind is that most hospitals with acute care/inpatient rehab have certain weekend/holiday work requirements. If this kind of schedule impacts your ability to carry out your personal goals and values (and if those outweigh the benefits of such a position for your career goals and interests), you might consider other options for settings that would not have this requirement.

As you outline these general career goals related to your interests, start to consider your ideal career several years down the road. Use the following exercise from my blog post Goal-Setting and Calendar Planning for Grad School Applications to do so.

Here’s the exercise:

Envision your future, and work backward to outline the path that will take you there.

Where do you want to be in 30 years? 20 years? 10 years? 5 years?


In 30 years, I aim to be the director of rehabilitation at an inpatient rehabilitation facility at a university medical center. Part of my position will involve assisting with aphasia and brain injury research at the university medical center. (You could get even more specific here by naming that rehabilitation facility/medical center - if you have one in mind, I recommend this!)

In 20 years, I aim to be the head Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) at an inpatient rehabilitation facility, leading continuing education courses, consulting on research studies at our facility, and supporting management in hiring the best incoming staff for our team.

In 10 years, I aim to have completed at least one advanced certification related to treating speech-language disorders resulting from brain injuries, and land my dream job at an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

In 5 years, I aim to work at a medical facility and run a monthly journal club to encourage my team members’ continued interest in evidence-based practices and newly developing research in the field.

Creating these more specific goals after determining your personal goals and ideal week will form a realistic picture of what your ideal future looks like both personally and professionally.

Remember when I mentioned flexibility? The goals you worked on in this exercise are more specific, but it’s okay if they change. Track the actions you are taking to reach your goals, reconsider your goals quarterly, and adjust where needed.

Adjusting your SLP career goals when a setting doesn’t work out

When you choose a setting, you don’t have to be stuck there.

Despite how some Facebook groups/commenters may make you feel about switching settings or populations with minimal prior experience within a new setting, it’s really pretty similar to getting your first position after grad school and clinical fellowships.

Here’s how: You will need to take additional continuing education, refer back to old notes from grad school, identify research articles that can advance your knowledge in specific areas you will be evaluating/treating, and lean on SLPs in your new setting who are more experienced and can help you get accustomed to your new role.

One of the reasons you probably chose this field is because of how vast it is - regardless of what age group/setting/population initially sparked your interest. It’s okay to make a change to something different as long as you prepare yourself and ask questions whenever they arise.

All-in-all, a career in speech-language pathology can be incredibly rewarding, and with the right planning while keeping yourself at your center, you can make both your personal and career goals a reality. Along the way, keep track of your progress toward your personal and professional goals, and make any necessary adjustments to your plans as needed.

Are you feeling unsure of how to set realistic goals for yourself? Sign up for a coaching call, and we will get you on the right track!

As always, contact me with any questions you may have about grad school applications, becoming a speech-language pathologist, or managing work-life balance while keeping SLP career goals in mind. I am so happy to help! You can reach out on instagram at @speechlyss_slp or email me at

Have a wonderful day!