If you’ve found my little corner of the internet here, odds are that you’re a prospective occupational therapy student looking for some guidance on all things OT–all about different OT programs, information on grad school, tips on applying to graduate school, and encouragement along the way to make your journey to becoming an OT just a little bit easier.
Because doing something that really matters, like becoming an occupational therapist, takes a lot of work, time, and effort. But all things worth doing take a good amount of investment, right?
In order to start that journey and make that big investment, you need a roadmap of steps you’ll have to take in order to get to your goal of becoming an occupational therapist (or an occupational therapy assistant).
That’s what I’m here for today, friend: to give you a clear roadmap for what it takes to become an occupational therapist including all the requirements typically needed for admission to an MSOT, OTD, or OTA program. Let’s dive right in!
+ Becoming a COTA
If you’re thinking about becoming an occupational therapist but aren’t too sure about committing 4 years or more towards school in order to start practicing, why not consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant?
COTAs, or certified occupational therapy assistants, do a lot of the same work that OTRs, or registered occupational therapists, do but with less responsibility and ability to perform assessments, create treatment plans, and update patients’ goals. The COTA works directly with clients under the supervision of the OTR to work towards accomplishing the goals set in the OTR’s treatment plan.
+ Typical OTA Program Admissions Requirements
While I cannot speak on behalf of any specific OTA programs out there, I have compiled a list of the typical admissions requirements for a general OTA program as a starting point for your reference. But please be sure to check with your specific school in order to fully understand their specific OTA program admissions requirements.
Admission into an OTA program typically requires the following:
- Graduation from high school, or completion of GED/HSED, or completion of an associate’s degree or higher learning degree
- Application to the specific OTA program — this is typically done through your school’s website under the admissions tab. You may also be able to apply through the Occupational Therapy Assistant Centralized Application System (OTACAS) in order to apply to multiple programs at once. Check with your program for their application preference.
- Submission of official academic transcripts from your high school or prior college or university. This is typically done by calling your previous school and requesting your transcripts to be faxed or mailed to the OTA program’s admissions department.
- Earn at least the minimum GPA requirement — you’ll have to check your school’s OTA program website for detailed information on this, but the general GPA requirement is around at least a 2.75 on a 4.0 scale.
- Completion of required prerequisite coursework — this usually includes English Composition I and Beginning Algebra, or the equivalents. You may be able to take certain assessments in order to test out of these requirements. Check with your OTA program for more details.
Keep in mind that completing an OTA program will allow you to begin working within the field of occupational therapy sooner, since the program only takes 2 years to complete when pursued full time, and it does not require a bachelor’s degree for admission. There are also many bridge programs available to help COTAs become OTRs by going to class in the evenings or on weekends while working, should you choose to advance your degree afterwards.
+ Becoming an OTR
There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing the right program for you to start working in the field of occupational therapy. If you already have a bachelor’s degree or higher and are ready for the journey of graduate school, then becoming an OTR is probably the best choice for you!
However, there are two different options of programs that will earn you the OTR qualification: MSOT programs and OTD programs. If you’re confused about the difference between these two, check out this article for a look at the similarities and differences.
Thankfully, application requirements for both the master’s of occupational therapy program and the entry-level doctorate occupational therapy program are usually the same:
+ MSOT/MOT and OTD Programs
If you decide to pursue a master’s of occupational therapy, or an entry-level doctorate of occupational therapy, you’ll need to meet all of the following typically admissions requirements, although please do remember to check with your specific school’s OT program for a complete look at requirements:
- Completion of a bachelor’s degree or comparable undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited program. This degree must be completed by the time you are to start classes for your OT master’s program (check out this article for help choosing a major)
- Completion of the OTCAS application — the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application System (OTCAS) is the main system for application to OT graduate programs accepted and preferred by the majority of schools. It allows you to complete one application to send to multiple schools for consideration. You may also have to apply separately to your specific OT program’s university. Check with your OT program for more details.
- Submit required transcripts — although many schools will not require you to send transcripts directly to them as you are required to submit transcripts on your OTCAS application, you may still need to send your transcripts to the OT program depending on their preferences.
- Earn at least the minimum GPA requirement — while this number may vary depending on the specific OT program you are applying to, you can expect to need a GPA of at least 3.0 or higher for consideration for admission.
- Completion of all prerequisite courses — these are classes that you must have taken either during your undergraduate degree or afterward through a community college or other institution for admission to the OT program. For details on the classes typically required, check out this article.
- Submission of GRE scores — this is a standardized exam similar to the SAT that is often required for admission to graduate school. While not all schools require the GRE for admission, many do, so it’s good to be prepared to take the GRE if necessary. Check with your specific program of choice to see if they require it.
- Letters of recommendation — most schools require at least two or three letters of recommendation for admission into the program from professors, registered occupational therapists, and/or other appropriate professionals. These are typically submitted through OTCAS, although you should check with your school in case their requirements differ, or in case their website mentions specific qualities they are looking for in OT student candidates.
- Submit essay(s) — many schools will require you to submit a ‘statement of purpose’ or other essay stating why you are pursuing OT, why you believe you are a good candidate, etc. This is usually around 7500 words or so and is submitted via the OTCAS, although your program may require an additional essay as well. Check your school’s website for more details.
- OT Experience — keep and submit a log of all OT observation, volunteer, or applicable work hours gained before application. Many schools want a minimum of 40 hours in at least 2 different settings with 2 different populations, although these numbers vary by school. This is where you can really make your application stand out, by going above and beyond on observation hours in various settings.
- Interview — there will likely be an in-person or online interview portion to your application to the OT program, however, invitations to interview are typically offered after you have submitted all prior requirements.
Looking at this long list, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed…but don’t worry, friend. Just take it all one step at a time, and find a way to stay organized as you go throughout this process.
And remember that the majority of the work typically goes through the OTCAS anyways, which you will do one time for application to multiple schools.
+ Stay Positive and Keep Working Hard!
Like I said in the beginning, all things worth doing take quite a bit of effort, strength, and perseverance, so don’t give up! Although it certainly takes a lot to become and occupational therapist and it can get overwhelming at times, it will all be well worth it in the end if a career in occupational therapy is truly right for you.
So best of luck to you, my friend. And if you need any help along the way, you can always contact me! I would be honored to help you along your OT journey.