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What we bring to the table…

June 27, 2013

The last two entries were about the MSc-SLP Class of 2014’s first steps into the clinical realm.  Very soon we are going to see fresh faces around Corbett Hall, and the admission committee is just finalizing who will actually get into the program.  For those of you who were not lucky this year and those who are applying this fall, here are some recommendations from Dr Melanie Cambell, the Vice Chair of the department and a long-time part of the admission process.

The admission process for the University of Alberta’s MSc-SLP program is outlined at http://www.speechpathologyandaudiology.ualberta.ca/en/ProspectiveStudents/Admissions.aspx

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The applicant to the Master’s program in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology at the University of Alberta should keep in mind that his/her file will be judged across several parameters by an Admissions Committee made up of faculty members in the department.

How important is my GPA?

One of the parameters is the Grade Point Average (GPA) across the most recent 60 credits (usually the most recent twenty 3-credit courses). This method of calculation benefits most students, because it typically averages grades over the last two or three years of university education, not over the first year or two of post-secondary education when some students major in partying and beer-drinking, or are adjusting to the demands of university competition, or are trying to find themselves and their strengths and interests. We typically advise applicants that they should strive for an average between B+ and A- (3.5) to have a competitive file, but the competition is always pretty tough. For example, the average GPA across people admitted for Fall 2013 was 3.78 – pretty well a straight A-minus average! The Admissions Committee definitely looks for scholars, so a steady record of high achievement impresses most.

[Editor’s tip for converting your GPA from letters or percentages:  I have usually used the conversion table from the Ontario Rehabilitation Program Admission Service at http://www.ouac.on.ca/docs/orpas/c_orpas_b.pdf]

Does my undergraduate major matter?

We invite individuals from all sorts of backgrounds. The most typical majors of our applicants are linguistics or psychology, but a growing number are from a background of elementary or secondary education. Some of the majors less frequently encountered have been engineering, astrophysics, journalism, music, drama, biology, English and film, but it is clear that there is no preferred major. Some applicants make the mistaken assumption that we prefer applicants who have taken speech-language disorders courses or speech-language pathology preparation programs or speech-language-pathology assistant programs. In actual fact, we are looking for individuals who have taken courses about typical or normal processes of language or speech or cognitive development, not disorders. Furthermore, courses in SLP assistant programs are often not transferable credits if they were taken in a program leading to a diploma or certificate.

[Lyall: we have a lot of linguistics and psychology graduates in my year, though there seem to be rows of teachers too!  And one guy from sociology… good on him.]

Which courses matter more?

The Admissions Committee is keenly interested in performance in the eight prerequisite courses, because they are considered good predictors of how well a student might do within our program. The courses are highly related to the subject matter of courses taken within Master’s study here. Equally important, these courses help applicants learn about themselves. That is, by taking the eight courses they find out if they ENJOY studying about language and speech and how people learn to use them. The average for individuals admitted for Fall 2013 was 3.74 across eight courses – thus an A- average.

The admission requirements also list Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).  How much do they matter?

The median verbal score of admitted students for 2013 was 73. The median quantitative score of admitted students was 52. The median analytical writing score of admitted students was 63. The median “average” score across all three subtests for admitted students was 63.02. We care about performance across all three subtests: verbal (vocabulary and comprehension), quantitative (numbers), and analytical writing. There is no absolute cutoff score designated by the Admissions Committee, but it is important to study and do well because low GRE scores can be viewed as “red flags”. Your local bookstore may carry books related to preparation for the GRE. One may also go online to learn about preparation courses http://www.oxfordseminars.ca/GRE/gre_about.php.

[Lyall: Thank goodness for me that they average across the three tests!  I studied daily for vocabulary and comprehension with apps on my phone and re-learned some high school math in the prep books.  However, I didn’t prep at all for the analytical writing section, and I ended up with a dismal mark.  Even if you write well and can extract information from a passage quickly, if you can’t do it fast you’ll have trouble here!]

I haven’t completed all of the prerequisites.  Is it still okay to apply?

Students with all prerequisites completed are advantaged. These eight courses mean a great deal to members of the Admissions Committee. They are required because the applicant will need the concepts and foundation taught within them to be prepared to take courses here. Those candidates who have all eight courses finished, having earned high grades in all, almost always have an advantage. Applicants who have some prerequisite courses underway in the winter semester in which they apply must submit transcripts proving that they are enrolled. Even so, such applicants are often disadvantaged because the whole story is not there – the Admissions Committee cannot see their final grades. Those applicants should submit their grades as soon as they obtain them, with the hope that they may still be chosen later in the process or be invited to a waiting list. Students who have not completed all of the courses and are not enrolled in such during the winter term of application are at greatest disadvantage. They should indicate their plan in their application package – how, when and where they can complete the courses by July 31st of the application year. Neglect in doing so will not be convincing to the Admissions Committee that the application has been undertaken seriously.

[Lyall: If you’re having trouble finding all the courses at your university, check out Athabasca University.  I completed my final prerequisite through them the term I applied to the program.  Other online courses might be accepted, but make sure to check first!]

What type of references should I look for?

You will need two letters from academic sources (former professors) and one other. The most helpful letters are from individuals who can speak personally and supportively about the candidate with respect to intelligence, problem solving, work ethic, reliability, ability to relate well with others, and/or specific personality attributes that equip a person well for the speech-language pathology profession.

What should I include in my letter of intent?

The essays of admitted students are clearly written, with no spelling or grammatical errors, to address why students have come to a decision to apply to the program. The essays should tell the applicant’s story of what brought him/her to apply to this program at this point in time. Resist writing an essay about what speech-language pathology is; remember that you are writing to professors in speech-language pathology. They already know what it is, but they don’t know YOUR story.

[Lyall: I had minimal observation and volunteering experience when I applied, so I really needed to sell the value of my experience in leadership roles and involvement in health care.  Don’t just sit on a waiting list to volunteer with an SLP; get out and do something to enrich yourself!]

The final parameter is whether or not the applicant has had relevant volunteer experience, research assistance, and/or work experience.

The experiences should be documented clearly and chronologically on the resumé. Such experiences are one indication of the seriousness of the application. They are also important to the applicant himself/herself. The experiences place the applicant within the “culture” of the profession, letting the applicant “try on” the profession for a period of time. This is important to self-knowledge; is the profession a good fit for you? Do you have attributes suited to the profession? We want happy students – we want to avoid having individuals discover after they enter the program that it is not a good fit. [Lyall:  I definitely agree with this; I see a lot of new things during the program, but at least I’m not totally surprised about my expectations daily.]  Strive for a reasonable balance: thousands of hours are too many, but shadowing a professional for two hours one afternoon is not enough.

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Special thanks to Dr Campbell for her contribution!  Please pass this entry on to any of your friends or classmates who are interested in applying this fall.  If you have your own application stories or suggestions, please leave a comment.

-Lyall Pacey

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jaynie permalink
    August 15, 2013 11:16 am

    Hello! My first comment here on this site 🙂
    I’m just curious if the GRE scores mentioned in this post are typos? I confirmed the score scale on the GRE site here:

    http://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/scores/

    Or maybe there is a different score scale that I totally missed out on… Clarification would be appreciated! Thanks.

  2. Cynthia permalink
    November 21, 2014 10:07 pm

    Hi, thankyou so much for this – it is extremely helpful. I just have one question regarding the “steady scholars” comment. During my undergraduate career I struggled greatly with mental illness, and this definitely is reflected in my academic record. However, when I started receiving consistent and longterm treatment, my academics improved greatly, and has been pretty well ever since. Will my past record harm my application? What if I included a document/letter of some sort from my psychiatrist explaining my medical history?

    • January 15, 2015 2:58 pm

      This is something that is best answered by the admissions committee. From what I remember, they only take the last 10 credits of school.

      The UofA admissions committee is extremely friendly and helpful; in all honesty, I lost count with how many emails I sent them about concerns during my application process. Don’t be shy to voice a concern with them!

      Good luck!

  3. Amy permalink
    January 1, 2016 12:08 am

    Recently I noticed that the recommended GPA moved from 3.5 to 3.7 on the University of Alberta’s SLP page. Would a 3.6 GPA be considered low in this case?

    • January 22, 2016 8:05 pm

      The Department would be best able to answer this question–we would recommend starting with Ms. Vicki Trombley: vicki.trombley@ualberta.ca
      She is as kind as she is knowledgeable, and if she can’t answer your question she will know who can!

      Best of luck!

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