From One Future Audiologist to Another

When I first started working with DeafandHoH.com, I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. I was working on getting a certificate in ASL, which is how I found out about the site. I worked mainly on the audiologist directory, finding and adding audiologist information state by state. Little did I know at that time that I would move onto graduate school to become an audiologist myself.

The first step of studying to become anything is to decide where you want to go. I searched for programs based on geographical location and ranking, and I would recommend this as a good way to start. Look for places you’d be willing to spend a few years of your life so that way you at least won’t be miserable because you hate where you live. As I said, I was also looking at each program’s national ranking only because I had no other information to base my decisions on. For example, if you know other people on an Au.D. track, you can ask advice about what schools to apply to. Once I had found several prospective programs, I began to compare them based on a few criteria that were important to me: cost, length of the program, and applicant requirements. Graduate school is expensive no matter what, so for me it became an issue of how much debt I was willing to accrue. I found that most out-of-state schools cost approximately the same amount, so if I wanted to save I would need to stay in-state. I also realized that Northwestern University offered a three-year program, which would not only get me my Au.D. a year faster, it would cost one year’s tuition less than anywhere else. All other programs that I know of are the standard four years. As far as applicant requirements go, my concern while applying was that since I was majoring in Biology rather than Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), I might not have taken certain prerequisites. Fortunately, for most places it seemed like they would accept any major but just may require you take a few extra courses once you’re enrolled. I guess my overall point for looking at programs is to make sure you know what you want: where you want to live, how long you want to be in school, how much you’re willing to pay, and how many extra courses you are willing to add to your curriculum. Based on these criteria, you should be able to determine what programs will fit your needs.

In my opinion, the next part is the exciting part: finding out where you got accepted and making your final decision. I don’t necessarily think that visiting prior to applying is necessary, but I strongly recommend visiting once you’ve found out that you’ve been accepted. I did not have to visit all of the schools I was accepted to because I fell in love with one of the others before I had seen them all. That feeling is one that you’ll need to experience on your own, but I knew immediately I had found the right place. I came to Chicago to visit Northwestern, and it was a fateful visit. In an effort not to come off as a recruiter for Northwestern, I will just say that in visiting schools I was paying attention to a few specific things: how helpful and enthusiastic the faculty were, the school’s facilities (the clinic, classrooms, student areas, etc.), and the area surrounding the school. I knew immediately how I felt about each school I visited, and I think everyone would have a gut feeling like that. My advice is to go with your gut! When it comes right down to it, regardless of cost, you need to be happy where you are, so pick the program that gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling!

After you’ve made your big decision, it’s time to start working hard! Coursework won’t be easy, but you’ll be a doctor at the end of it, so just remember it will be worth it. As I’ve mentioned, Northwestern is a three-year program, so everything moves incredibly quickly. I’m not able to say how a four-year program works, since I’m not in one, but I’d imagine a longer program would be more slowly paced. In an accelerated program your classes last ten weeks. You learn a lot, and you learn it fast. I like the fast pace, though, because it helps you keep on top of your work. Professors make it very hard for you to fall behind! That said, a graduate program requires self-discipline and time management—ultimately, how well you do comes down to how motivated you are to succeed. You’ll discover quickly whether an Au.D. program is where you want to be.

In addition to your course requirements, there of course will be a clinical aspect to whatever program you choose. Different programs get you in the clinic at different times throughout the duration of the program. At Northwestern, for example, you start observing in the clinic your first quarter. Other programs might not start you until your second year—it really all depends. This is something else you may want to consider when you’re deciding what school to go to. Observing first, though, is common practice, followed by assisting an audiologist and working up to conducting appointments all on your own. Clinic is really your time to shine because that is what you will be doing when you graduate. You will be graded on your ability to perform a hearing test as well as how you interact with patients. Most of my classmates enjoy getting the clinical experience much more than taking classes, and so enjoy getting into the clinic as early as possible.

I have found that most of my Au.D. classmates were CSD majors at their undergraduate institutions. As I mentioned, I was a Biology major, and at first, I was looking at this as a disadvantage. I thought that my classmates would all be ahead of me both clinically and academically. I had taken no courses relevant to audiology while I was an undergrad. I had briefly volunteered in the audiology department at a local hospital, and while I valued the experience, I had no real grasp of what was going on at the time. Overall, I entered Northwestern feeling behind. As it turned out, my worries were unfounded. You should not be intimidated if you are also coming in with a different academic background than your peers. The coursework in our first quarter put us all on an equal playing field rather quickly, and I think that would be the same wherever you go. As far as clinic goes, since you begin with observations, you will have time to figure out what an audiologist does and how an appointment works before you need to do anything yourself. If a program accepts majors besides CSD, then there will be adjustments made to ensure everyone in the program begins on the same page.

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