MSOT vs. OTD: What’s the Difference?

MSOT vs OTD what's the difference

Updated May 3, 2019:

Hi friends! I wanted to share an update from AOTA regarding the entry-level mandates for occupational therapy practice, which is VERY important to understand if you are pursing an OT career!

Back in August of 2017, ACOTE announced that a doctorate degree would be required for entry-level practice as an occupational therapist by 2027. This mandate basically meant that after 2027, getting a master’s in OT would be insufficient to become an entry-level OT practitioner. This mandate required all OT schools to develop OTD programs to be approved and accredited, which is why so many schools have recently begun offering doctoral occupational therapy programs.

However, as of April 4 2019, the Representative Assembly decided to reject the doctoral-level mandate and voted instead to allow OTs to earn either a master’s or doctoral level degree for entry level OT practice.

Y’all, this is BIG STUFF! Basically, instead of being forced into the doctorate just to become an entry-level practitioner, you are able to choose between the master’s and the doctorate and will still be eligible to sit for the NBCOT licensing exam to become an official OT practitioner!

Read on to learn more about the pros and cons to choosing the OTD over the master’s and vice versa!

Adapted Original Post:

No doubt one of the MOST confusing choices you have to make as a prospective occupational therapy student is whether to apply to OT programs that offer an MSOT or an OTD. If you’re new to this whole thing, those may just seem like random, confusing letters.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the Master and Doctorate of Occupational Therapy degrees.


First things first, “MSOT” stands for Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. This degree is offered in a shorter amount of time than the doctorate and is geared more towards the person looking for an entry-level degree to practice occupational therapy with.

To confuse you even more (sorry), sometimes a school will offer an MOT or an MAOT degree instead. Nothing to worry about–all of these degrees will still get you the same opportunity to sit for the licensing exam in the end so that you can get your dream job as an occupational therapist. But there are a few slight differences.

“MOT” stands for Master of Occupational Therapy whereas “MAOT” stands for Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy. As mentioned before, each of these degrees are considered equal in value and provide you with the same eligibility for licensing and practicing as an occupational therapist.

The difference between these three degree titles is really just dependent upon the university that is offering the program in accordance with that school’s mission and values. This means that these schools might have slightly different focuses in their curricula, and thus prepare you more for different aspects of working within the field of occupational therapy, depending upon that school’s goals for the program.

For example, a school generally more focused in scientific research will likely offer an MSOT whereas a school offering an MAOT (which isn’t actually all that common of a degree, by the way) may be more focused on the social sciences and humanism. An MOT, on the other hand is typically offered by schools who are still focused on humanism, science, and research, yet this degree is more of an overall general practitioner’s degree, and is typically the most common.

OTD Degree

Now that we’ve clarified the master’s degree, let’s take a look at the Doctorate of Occupational Therapy Degree, or the entry-level OTD. This program is different from the master’s because it is typically longer in length, although usually only about 8 months to 2 years longer, depending on the program and is more focused on research, evidence based practice, leadership, and advocacy.

In addition to these things, a capstone project as well as a 16-week experiential component are required to obtain the doctoral level degree. Usually, this project is completed by working with a professor or group of students on a bigger research paper, the development of a new curriculum or program, or something else along these same lines. Although it may sound daunting at first–relax! You can do anything you put your mind to (and you’ve got to believe in yourself before you can teach your future OT patients to believe in themselves, too).

Let’s also throw in the fact that an OTD is NOT the same thing as a PP-OTD or Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree. This program is more focused on working practitioners who have already obtained their master’s or even bachelor’s degree and would like to build upon their knowledge and skills in the field, sometimes in order to become professors, administrators, or researchers.

However, obtaining a PP-OTD as a working practitioner is often seen as equal in value to obtaining an OTD degree. So if you think you’d like to get a doctorate of occupational therapy but aren’t able to spend 3 years at once to do so, you can certainly get your master’s in OT first, then complete the PP-OTD as a working practitioner.

You could also obtain another post-professional degree, a Doctor of Philosophy in Occupational Therapy (PhD) where you will write a dissertation and focus heavily on research, but this is not an entry-level degree for new OT students.

So really, all of this depends on what you would specifically like to do within the field of occupational therapy. And don’t worry–you’ll have plenty of time to figure these things out along the way.

Entry-Level Degrees

It is important to understand that both the MSOT and OTD degrees prepare graduates for the NBCOT licensing exam as well as entry-level OT practice. However, the OTD builds upon this knowledge and skill set by also preparing graduates for roles as teachers, professors, researchers, and team managers.

So if you think teaching is something you might be interested in eventually, I would suggest going for the entry-level doctorate degree, although you can still teach as an adjunct professor with just a master’s degree.

However, there are plenty of reasons to choose to pursue a master’s instead of the OTD. Since ACOTE is no longer mandating the OTD for entry-level occupational therapy practice (as of April 2019), getting a master’s in occupational therapy is a great plan if you are simply aiming to work as an OT practitioner. Plus, you can always go back to school later if you decide you do want to teach or conduct research!

Keep in mind that whichever program you choose MUST be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) or else you won’t be able to sit for the NBCOT licensing exam!

Also, no two programs are exactly alike, so do your research and choose the program that best suits you.

Consider This

One other thing is worth considering when choosing between the master’s and doctoral occupational therapy degrees: Although this is a hotly debated topic in the OT world (please don’t hate me), consider the fact that the more that people choose to go for the OTD, the less relevant the MSOT will become over time.

Think of it like this: having a bachelor’s degree used to be SO INCREDIBLY VALUABLE because not everyone had one, or even had the means to obtain one. While a bachelor’s degree is obviously still valuable today, consider how much less valuable it is now that these degrees are so much more accessible, and how it has kind of become the norm across most professions to hold a bachelor’s degree.

In the end, YOU are the one deciding your career path, and YOU are the one who gets to choose which degree you’d like to pursue in accordance with your own plans. And in the end, you can always go back to school again if you’d like! So there is no need to feel too much pressure here.

And if you need anything, I’m right here to help! Feel free to contact me! I’d love to hear from you.

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