Occupational therapists (OTs) are integral to 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 information.2
If this resonates with you, you may be curious about the specific occupational therapy degree requirements, including prerequisite courses and the application process. Ready to learn more about this exciting, growing profession?
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
Occupational therapists 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
- Have dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Have experienced a stroke
- Are recovering from an operation or another significant medical event
- Have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy
- Experience 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 of 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 The two advanced degree options are7:
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.9 However, the AOTA asserts that some OT programs are willing to accept students who are in the process of completing their undergraduate degrees.7
Common Undergraduate Degrees
- Occupational science
- Health science
During the admissions process, you’ll be asked to provide proof of your undergraduate education in the form of an official transcript submitted by your college or university You may also be asked to provide the name of the OT program to which you’re applying.8,9
Here are a few of the typical admissions requirements11:
- 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
- Observation hours
- Personal statement
- Supplemental questions
This is standard practice for most graduate healthcare programs, though OT degree requirements are a bit more extensive.8
- Observations hours (though highly recommended)
- Applicant interview
USAHS does require the following:
- Personal statement
- Supplemental questions
- Two letters of recommendation
Let’s examine a few more OT school requirements.
The GRE is a standardized exam that some graduate schools use to evaluate applicants’ ability and readiness to handle graduate-level coursework. You can retake the test every 21 days up to five times within a yearlong period.13
Graduate schools that use the GRE provide a minimum score requirement for applications to be considered. However, some schools, including USAHS, don’t require the GRE.11
USAHS MOT course requirements
|Semester hours||Quarterly hours|
|Anatomy and Physiology with Lab||8||12|
|Sociology or Anthropology||3||4.5|
|Human Growth and Development||3||4.5|
Aspiring occupational therapists are generally required to complete key prerequisite courses (with a 2.0 or higher GPA in each).8,9 The specific prerequisites will depend on the OT school you choose, but a few of the most common include8,9:
- General Human Anatomy
- Human Anatomy and 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 required classes for occupational therapists (depending on the specific school’s OT degree requirements) may include11:
- General Biology with Lab
- General Chemistry with Lab
While this may sound demanding, 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, often 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 required prerequisites.12
- Occupations of interest: OTs frequently help people return to normal life and 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 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.
In general, schools that require observational shadowing will ask for between 20 and 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.11
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 as11:
- Private clinics
- Nursing homes
When contacting one of these facilities, make it clear that you’re a student looking to shadow an OT professional. Some facilities may take students for minimal hours, and others may not take students at all.
Creating a great application isn’t just about meeting educational requirements, but also provides the opportunity to showcase your personality and passion for the field. Your personal statement is a chance to talk about your observational experiences, volunteer work and career goals. Include any relevant personal experiences and skill sets.
Start your personal statement early to allow time for revision. We recommend having multiple people review your statement for grammatical and spelling errors.
Occupational Therapy Specialties
It’s not required to pick your specialty before applying to a graduate program. However, knowing which specialties interest you can help shape your personal statement.
Here are a few occupational therapy specialties you can choose from:
- Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
- Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
- Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
- Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)
- Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)
- Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
- Specialty Certification in Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM)
You’ll likely add a specialty after completing your MOT and begin working in that area of practice, earning a certificate from AOTA.14
How To Master Your OT Program Interview
Below are a few tips to help prepare you for a successful interview experience.
1. Prepare for Interview Questions
Run through potential questions you may be asked in your interview. Have classmates, friends or family members ask you these questions in a formal setting.
Practice questions such as:
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you want to become an occupational therapist?
- Why are you interested in our OT program?
- What are your career goals?
Visualize these practices as the real interview so you can feel more comfortable when you actually have it. We recommend recording an interview to evaluate your body language and make corrections if necessary.
2. Prepare Your Own Questions
Like most job interviews, the interviewer will likely ask you if you have any questions. You should have 3–5 questions prepared to ask them.
Ask questions about:
- Clinical opportunities in the OT program
- What makes the OT program unique in the interviewer’s eyes
- Day-to-day coursework
- Community involvement in the OT program
Coming to the interview with a set of questions will show the interviewer that you’re prepared and have researched the program.
3. Practice Stress Relief Techniques
It’s normal to feel nervous or overwhelmed when preparing for an important interview, but it’s important to find ways to relieve stress and nerves so that you can answer questions confidently.
Before the interview, you can:
- Listen to calming music
- Practice positive self-talk and mantras
- Go for a walk
- Call a family member or friend for a pep talk
If you start to feel nervous or anxious during the interview, the best thing to do is be honest about it with the interviewer. The interviewer will likely appreciate the transparency and you may feel more comfortable being honest during the interview.
How Does an Occupational Therapist Become Licensed to Practice?
Whether you choose an MOT or OTD, occupational therapy programs are designed to prepare graduates for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.1
Supervised fieldwork and hands-on practice with clients are also required to obtain licensure. OTs continue their education throughout their careers to maintain their state licensure.6
Occupational Therapy School Requirements FAQ
Below are commonly asked questions about occupational therapy school requirements and types of occupational therapy degrees.
What’s the Difference Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are both rehabilitative sciences. However, physical therapy is used to manage pain and improve range of motion, while occupational therapy is used to help regain the ability to perform daily tasks.
What Is Fieldwork Education?
Fieldwork education embeds real-world experiences in classroom instruction. Fieldwork allows students to take what they’ve learned in coursework and apply it to a clinical setting.
At USAHS, the occupational therapy programs include a hybrid blend of online coursework and fieldwork experiences, so students can gain hands-on experience and better prepare themselves to enter the field after graduation.
What’s the Difference Between MOT, MS and MA Degrees?
MOT, MS and MA degrees are entirely different educational paths. Below are key differences between the three:
- MOT: A Master of Occupational Therapy is a graduate-level degree in occupational therapy.
- MA: A Master of Arts is a graduate-level degree in arts, social sciences and humanities. Common MA subjects include international relations, political science and psychology.
USAHS offers graduate programs in rehabilitative and health sciences.
What’s the NBCOT Exam?
After earning your master’s degree, you must pass the NBCOT exam to become a certified occupational therapist. The NBCOT exam is reviewed and assessed by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. To take the NBCOT exam, you must graduate from an accredited MOT program and share your official transcript.
The NBCOT exam ensures individuals have the proper skills and knowledge required to safely practice occupational therapy.
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
USAHS is a leading choice for aspiring OTs. We offer two graduate occupational therapy programs: a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD). 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.
The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929; telephone: 301-652-AOTA; email: www.acoteonline.org accredits the Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences on a campus-by-campus basis.
USAHS is institutionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). In terms of programmatic accreditation, the DPT program is accredited on five campuses.. The MOT, OTD, MS-SLP, MSN and DNP programs, as well as the Post-Graduate Nursing Certificate program with role specialties in Family Nurse Practitioner and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care are accredited.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) has applied for Accreditation-Provisional from the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA). USAHS anticipates matriculating its first PA class in January 2024, pending achieving Accreditation-Provisional status at the September 2023 ARC-PA meeting. Accreditation-Provisional is an accreditation status granted when the plans and resource allocation, if fully implemented as planned, of a proposed program that has not yet enrolled students appear to demonstrate the program’s ability to meet the ARC-PA Standards or when a program holding Accreditation-Provisional status appears to demonstrate continued progress in complying with the Standards as it prepares for the graduation of the first class (cohort) of students. Accreditation-Provisional does not ensure any subsequent accreditation status. It is limited to no more than five years from matriculation of the first class.
|The entry-level occupational therapy master’s degree program at the Dallas, Texas, campus has applied for accreditation and has been granted Candidacy Status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its web address is www.acoteonline.org. The program must have a preaccreditation review, complete an on-site evaluation and be granted Accreditation Status before its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be an Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). In addition, all states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.
Students must complete 24 weeks of Level II fieldwork within 24 months following completion of the didactic portion of the program.
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