Whether you’re a senior in high school, a sophomore in college, or an established medical assistant, you may be drawn to occupational therapy (OT)—a rewarding and promising profession. 1
Occupational therapists (OTs) are an integral part of the healthcare system. They assist individuals with a diverse range of tasks, from helping children learn essential skills to providing seniors with fall prevention and safety. 2
If this resonates with you, you may be curious about the specific OT educational requirements, including prerequisite courses. Ready to learn more about this exciting, growing profession?
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
Occupational therapists, or OTs, meet clients where they’re at to encourage health, well-being, and a higher quality of life. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) defines the profession as a vehicle to “enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness or disability.” 3
More specifically, OTs help to improve clients’ skills to perform daily tasks, like eating, dressing, and bathing, and grander activities, like feeling prepared to return to work, school, or social settings after an injury or illness. 2 The people who OTs help are diverse and may include individuals such as: 4, 5
- Individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s clients
- Those who have experienced a stroke
- Clients recovering from an operation or another significant medical event
- Clients with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy
- Clients with chronic pain
With the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, such as mental health clinics, government agencies, home healthcare, hospitals, and nursing homes, and the chance to earn a promising salary, it’s easy to see why occupational therapy has been ranked one of the top 72 in 100 jobs across all industries by U.S. News & World Report. 6
How Do You Become an Occupational Therapist?
In addition to state licensure, OTs are required to hold an advanced degree in occupational therapy from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).6 This may either be a: 7
A Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (PPOTD) program is also an option, but these degrees are typically pursued by OTs who are already established in their careers and want to pursue leadership, advocacy, and higher education roles. 8
Fortunately, both the MOT 9 and OTD 10 programs can be completed in a few years, to ensure you gain the experience and knowledge you need and enter the workforce in a reasonable amount of time.
What Are OT School Requirements?
To gain admission to an occupational therapy program, you must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, typically with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. 10 The American Occupational Therapy Association asserts that some OT programs are willing to accept students who are in the process of completing their undergraduate degrees. 7
Following are a few of the most common majors for OT school candidates: 11
- Occupational science
- Health science
During the admissions process, you will be asked to provide proof of your undergraduate education in the form of an official transcript submitted by your college or university. 10, 9 You may also be asked to provide the name of the OT program to which you’re applying.
Following are a few of the typical admissions requirements: 12
- A personal statement outlining why you want to become an occupational therapist
- An essay on a predetermined topic related to occupational therapy
- Letters of recommendation, usually from a mentor, college supervisor, university instructor or an OT clinician with whom you have interned, shadowed or worked
- CV/resume detailing your experience
- GRE based on a specific school’s score requirement, though some schools, including USAHS, do not require the GRE 12
This is standard practice for most graduate healthcare programs. OT degree requirements are a bit more extensive, though in an achievable way. 9 Let’s examine a few more OT school requirements.
Supplemental questions give OT program boards the opportunity to gain more insight into your experience, knowledge and professional goals. These may include questions about your: 9, 10
- Occupations of interest – OTs frequently help people return to normal life and to the workforce; as such, they work with a variety of clients. The occupation of interest question gives an OT program a better understanding of how you might engage with people from different professions and lifestyles.
- Personal attributes – OTs are required to earn an MOT or OTD, but they also need strong interpersonal skills, adaptability and compassion.1 An OT school may ask you to list the traits that you have that would make you an excellent addition to the field.
- Volunteer experience – In many ways, occupational therapists are ambassadors of their communities, striving to improve the overall health and wellness of the collective. Some OT schools may ask prospective candidates to share their volunteer experience.
Observation hours aren’t always required for OT program consideration. 9, 10 That said, they may help you stand out from the competition and demonstrate that you have an understanding of the profession.
Observation involves shadowing an occupational therapist in a clinical environment. 12 In general, schools that require observational shadowing will ask for between 20 to 50 hours, but others may require more. Even if your chosen school doesn’t require shadowing, some experts recommend striving for at least 20 hours to demonstrate a more thorough understanding of what occupational therapists do. 12
To boost your appeal and help you identify the type of client and clinical setting that speaks to you, you may want to perform your observation hours in a range of facilities, such as: 12
- Private clinics
- Nursing homes
Aspiring occupational therapists are generally required to have completed key prerequisite courses (with a 2.0 or higher GPA in each). 9, 10The specific prerequisites will depend on the OT school that you choose. However, a few of the most common include: 9, 10
- General Human Anatomy
- Human Anatomy & Human Physiology
- Anatomy and Physiology with Lab
- General Human Physiology
- Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan
- Abnormal Psychology
- Medical Terminology
- Sociology or Anthropology courses, such as:
- Sociocultural Anthropology
- Biological Anthropology
Other prerequisites (depending on the specific school’s OT degree requirements) may include: 12
Does this sound demanding? It may to some—and yet these courses, along with others, will equip you with the foundational knowledge to excel at the graduate level. Many hopeful occupational therapists start planning for their careers early, in their first or second year of college.
It’s also never too late. If you majored in something radically different, you may still be accepted, as long as you have completed your prerequisites. 13
How Does an Occupational Therapist Become Licensed to Practice?
Whether you choose an MOT, OTD or a PPOTD, occupational therapy programs are designed to prepare graduates for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).1
Supervised fieldwork, hands-on work with clients, is also required to obtain licensure. OTs continue their education throughout their careers to maintain their state licensure. 6
One of the benefits of becoming an OT is that you can also choose a specialty of interest. 6 This might be leadership for some or teaching at the graduate level for others. Others still may want to select a “clinical” niche, such as: 6
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Mental health, such as anxiety and depression 5
- Developmental conditions, such as autism and learning disabilities 5
- Hand complications, including trigger finger and carpal tunnel syndrome 5
Explore the Field of Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists enjoy some of the greatest perks in healthcare, from the chance to enhance clients’ lives to the ability to work in a variety of rewarding settings. Consider the potential for a promising salary and excellent job growth, and you have much to look forward to as an OT candidate. 6
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is a leading choice for aspiring OTs. We offer three graduate occupational therapy programs: a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD), and a Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (PPOTD). Expert faculty practitioners, compassionate support, cutting-edge technology, progressive learning models, and a flexible curriculum are a few of our outstanding traits. Our enrollment team is here to help you determine which degree fits your lifestyle, preferences, and personal and professional goals.
Request information about our OT programs and apply now to launch a rewarding OT career.
- S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Therapists: Occupational Outlook Handbook,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified September 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm
- American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., “What is Occupational Therapy?”, AOTA, last modified 2023, https://www.aota.org/about/what-is-ot
- University of St. Augustine for Health Services, “What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?”, USAHS, last modified October 2022, https://www.usa.edu/blog/what-does-an-occupational-therapist-do/
- A Barrel, “Occupational Therapy: What it is, who it treats, and more,” Medical News Today, last modified April 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-is-occupational-therapy
- J Seladi-Schulman, “Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: How Do They Differ?”, Healthline, last modified March 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/occupational-therapy-vs-physical-therapy#about-occupational-therapy
- S News Best Jobs, “Occupational Therapist–Career Rankings, Salary, Reviews and Advice,” U.S. News & World Report, last modified 2023, https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/occupational-therapist
- American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., “Program Admissions and Formats,” AOTA, last modified 2023, https://www.aota.org/career/become-an-ot-ota/start-your-career-journey/program-admissions-and-formats
- K Hoyt and S Lyon, “Which OT Degree? (OT, OTD, PPOTD & More!),” OT Potential/Occupational Therapy Resources, last modified August 2022, https://otpotential.com/blog/occupational-therapy-degree
- University of St. Augustine for Health Services, “Masters of Occupational Therapy (MOT) Degree,” USAHS, last modified 2023. https://www.usa.edu/college-of-rehabilitative-sciences/master-of-occupational-therapy-mot/
- University of St. Augustine for Health Services, “Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Degree,” USAHS, last modified 2023. https://www.usa.edu/college-of-rehabilitative-sciences/doctor-occupational-therapy/
- Indeed, “8 Best Majors for Occupational Therapists,” Indeed, last modified August 2022. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/major-occupational-therapy
- The Student Doctor Network, “How to Get Into Occupational Therapy School,” The Student Doctor Network, https://www.studentdoctor.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/OTAdmissionsGuide.V2.pdf
- J Mielke, “Getting Into Occupational Therapy School: An Admissions Guide,” EDUMED, last modified 2021, https://www.edumed.org/online-schools/occupational-therapy-programs/admissions/
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