Deciding you want to pursue a career in occupational therapy may be easy, but choosing an OT school can be a little more complicated.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) has offered an occupational therapy (OT) program for over 25 years. We’ve learned that each student is different. Discover our list of 15 questions to ask about occupational therapy schools to find the program that fits your needs.
1. Is the School Accredited?
The first thing to check is whether the school is accredited, which indicates the program has been vetted and meets educational quality standards. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Collect and University Commission (WSCUC) accredits hundreds of institutions for multiple programs, including USAHS’s Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Occupational Therapy.
Attending an accredited school is essential for two reasons:
- You can only take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam if you graduate from an ACOTE accredited program. You must take the NBCOT to practice as an occupational therapist.
- You can only market yourself as an Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) on job applications if you pass the NBCOT exam and acquire an OT license in the state in which you intend to practice. To keep your OTR designation current, occupational therapists are required to take continuing education courses throughout their career.
To find out if a school is accredited, search the ACOTE database or the school’s website. If the program is accredited, the school or program website will mention it.
2. What Degrees Are Offered?*
*Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, traditional vs. accelerated pathway, credits transferred and other factors.
Before applying to an occupational therapy school, determine if they offer your desired degree. Check the school’s website or ask one of their admissions counselors.
What it is: A Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program provides training in occupational therapy and is considered an entry-level degree for the field.
Who it’s for: The MOT is suitable for individuals looking to enter the occupational therapy field immediately or those with a preference for roles that don’t mainly focus on leadership or advocacy.
What you can do with it: You can practice occupational therapy in any clinical setting, such as a clinic, rehabilitation center or school. You’ll design and implement patient treatment plans, help patients improve their motor skills and teach them to use adaptive equipment.
Duration: Two years Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, traditional vs. accelerated pathway, credits transferred and other factors.
What it is: A Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program includes the same occupational therapy training as the MOT, as well as OT leadership and advocacy. Most programs require the completion of a research thesis or capstone project.
Who it’s for: The OTD is for those who want to be OT leaders, not just practitioners.
What you can do with it: Occupational therapists (OTs) with an OTD are engaged in:
- Research for new OT treatments
- Administration of OT practices and programs
- Development of OT policy
- Advocacy for OT
- Education of OTs
- Development of occupational therapy theory
Duration: Three years Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, traditional vs. accelerated pathway, credits transferred and other factors.
What it is: A Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (PPOTD) program allows you to earn your OTD while still practicing as an OT.
Who it’s for: The PPOTD program is for practicing occupational therapists who want to learn more about best practices, leadership and advocacy.
What you can do with it: With a PPOTD, you can do anything an occupational therapist with an OTD can do.
Duration: One to four years Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, traditional vs. accelerated pathway, credits transferred and other factors.
3. How Much Will It Cost?
Occupational therapy school costs vary widely. Graduate programs range in price from $65,000 to $200,000. PPOTD programs typically cost $20,500 to $35,200. For both programs, the amount you pay depends on:
- The school’s location (cost of living may be more expensive)
- Whether the school is public or private (public schools tend to be more affordable)
- Whether you attend an in-state or out-of-state school (in-state tuition is generally less than out-of-state)
- The type of program format
4. What Financial Aid Does the School Offer?
Once you know how much the degree costs, learn what financial aid the school offers to give you a better idea of what you’ll pay to earn your degree. Review the financial aid section of the school’s website.
If you don’t qualify for financial aid, explore scholarship opportunities at the school or research outside scholarships from organizations like the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF). You may also qualify for additional scholarships if you are a veteran.
5. How Are Classes Structured?
Next, look at how classes are structured. If you plan on working full-time while you attend school, you’ll need courses offered at night or on weekends. These options aren’t as important if you plan on attending school full-time.
Individual schools may offer unique approaches. For example, USAHS offers three different formats:
- Residential: This type of program is traditional, blended with both online and in-person components and weekday on-campus labs. The MOT and OTD have residential formats.
- Flex: The flex program provides flexibility, allowing students to combine online courses with weekend labs so they can continue to work or care for their families during the week. Both the MOT and OTD have a flex option.
- Hybrid Immersion: If you can’t relocate to attend classes in person at a USAHS campus, you’ll take online coursework and travel to campus for three–five days each trimester to participate in in-person labs. The hybrid immersion format is currently exclusive to the MOT program.
Choose a program with a class structure that works for you so you have the highest chance of success.
6. How Long Is the USAHS Program?
The length of an occupational therapy program depends on what degree you’re seeking and your enrollment options. Most MOT programs take about two years, and most OTD programs depending on the program format you enroll in. Time to completion may vary by student, depending on individual progress, traditional vs. accelerated pathway, credits transferred and other factors.
7. What Are the School’s NBCOT Pass Rates?
Check out the NBCOT database to see how your school compares. While there are many test score factors outside a school’s control—for example, how much a student studies, their state of mind on the day of the test, whether they have strong test-taking skills, etc.—a history of lower pass rates at a particular school may indicate the program is not adequately preparing students.
8. What Is the Campus Like?
Investigate what the school’s campus is like. Look at the buildings and other features of the campus. Is there a library where you can do research? Are the labs updated? Are classrooms clean and well-maintained? What overall vibe do you get from the campus? Get a feel for the campus and imagine yourself there.
The surrounding area is also important since it can impact your fieldwork placements. Oftentimes, schools in or near cities may have more options for fieldwork, while schools in more rural areas may have limited partnerships. Campus location may also impact how much it costs to live in that area while you are enrolled in the program.
9. Where Does the School Stand in National and State Rankings?
Investigate state and national occupational therapy school rankings to see how it compares across the state or country. The reviews will give you a high-level view of the program’s quality, and the rankings often highlight key data all in one place, making it easy to compare schools quickly.
Use national and state rankings to give you an overall picture of the school, but don’t rely on them to make your final choice. It’s better to choose a school that meets your other requirements over a school ranked higher that doesn’t have what you need.
Publications like U.S. News & World Report offer national rankings, and you can explore your local occupational therapy board’s website for state rankings.
10. What Are the Entrance Requirements?
Occupational therapy educational requirements and prerequisites are unique to each school and degree program. However, there are a few typical requirements:
- A bachelor’s degree in a related field
- A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
- Letters of recommendation from at least two practicing occupational therapists or professors
- Documented observation hours with a licensed occupational therapist (usually 20–40 hours)
- Previous coursework, including:
- General, Abnormal and Developmental Psychology
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- A personal statement (for the OTD)
Don’t waste your time applying for a school that has prerequisites you haven’t met. Work on acquiring them before you apply, or look into a different school whose entrance requirements you already meet.
11. What Fieldwork Opportunities Are Available?
Most programs require fieldwork as part of your education. Find out what fieldwork the program requires and the opportunities available. Common fieldwork placements include:
- Rehabilitation centers
- Nursing homes
- Free clinics offered by the school
These fieldwork options cannot be completed online (unless you have a virtual occupational therapy placement, which is important if you want to offer virtual occupational therapy in the future).
Fieldwork experience can often lead to job opportunities, so look for offerings that match your interests.
A school’s social media channels, press releases and blogs are great places to find this information, but you can also ask an enrollment advisor.
12. What Research Opportunities Are Available?
Does the school offer any research opportunities? If so, look to see if any of them interest you. Not every occupational therapy student needs research opportunities (it’s required for OTD students). Adding publication and presentation credits to your resume makes you a more attractive candidate for jobs, especially in leadership positions.
Again, check out the school’s press releases, blogs or social media feeds to discover research opportunities. You can also ask an enrollment advisor.
13. Who Are the Faculty?
Most programs employ a combination of full-time faculty and faculty-practitioners. Full-time faculty are often leaders in their field and focus on research and education, while OT faculty-practitioners teach part-time while practicing as an occupational therapist. Look for a diverse faculty, both in demographics and specialty.
Faculty can make a big difference in the quality of your education. They provide instruction and act as mentors and professional references. They may also have connections to help you land job opportunities after graduation.
14. Can You Transfer Credits?
If you’ve completed some coursework, you may be able to transfer credits to a new degree program. However, this is rare in graduate school unless you’ve taken courses at the same school while enrolled in a different program. For example, USAHS MOT graduates may apply up to six MOT credit hours toward a USAHS PPOTD degree.
Transferring credits you’ve already earned can save you time and money as you pursue your degree.
15. What Is the Job Placement Rate After Graduation?
Job placement rate refers to the number of graduates who find a job after graduation. While not the most critical factor in choosing an occupational therapy school, knowing your school’s job placement rate can help you assess how prepared students are for real-world work and the school’s reputation within the occupational therapy field.
Many schools offer support to current students and recent graduates by providing networking opportunities and hosting job fairs.
4 Tips for Choosing an OT School
Once you’ve done your research and answered these 15 questions, you’ll be left with a few school options. To decide between them, use these four tips.
1. Check Out Student Work
Student work can give you a better sense of the school and the curriculum. It also gives you insight into the type of work the school will ask you to create and the level of quality they expect. Many schools invite students to participate in poster presentations to share their work with the rest of the faculty and student body or keep student research in their library.
Look at the types of work shared and the topics covered. Do they interest you? If so, the school might be a good fit. If not, the school may not cater to your career interests.
2. Take a Tour of Campus
Once you’ve narrowed down your initial list of potential schools, schedule a tour . You’ll interact with students and faculty, see the labs and classrooms and learn more about the school. Sometimes a school that looks great on paper may not be so great in person, or the overall vibe may not be what you’re looking for.
3. Talk to Current Students and Alumni
When you visit campus, talk with current students, especially those enrolled in the program you’re interested in. They’ll offer insight into the program that the school’s website and promotional materials can’t.
If you can, reach out to alumni via email or social media. Ask them if they felt prepared for their current role after they graduated from the program.
4. Explore the Program’s Social Media
If your school is active on social media, you’ll find a treasure trove of information to help you choose an occupational therapy school. You’ll discover examples of student work, pictures of campus life, school news and more. These tidbits can give you insight into the campus culture and student success.
Enroll in One of USAHS’ OT Programs Today
USAHS occupational therapy programs offer flexible formats to fit your needs, whether you’re just getting into the field or are already practicing. Apply now to start your occupational therapy journey.
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, “Certification Activities,” National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, https://www.nbcot.org/certification-activities.
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.