How to Get into Occupational Therapy School
What Degree Do You Need for Occupational Therapy (OT)?
Guide to Occupational Therapy School Requirements
5 Steps to Get into Occupational Therapy School
Getting into an occupational therapy graduate program takes planning and work. There are several steps you must take to be well-informed, eligible and competitive.
- Complete a bachelor’s degree
Before you can obtain a master’s degree or doctorate in occupational therapy, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. For most graduate programs, your bachelor’s degree can be in any discipline or a wide range of subjects. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) does not require a specific major.
This is a profession you can choose to go into after completing a bachelor’s degree in a different field. However, if you know early on you are interested in occupational therapy, you can choose a relevant bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, biology, psychology, sociology, education or business.
OT schools have academic eligibility requirements to apply, such as a minimum GPA and prerequisite courses, according to an Occupational Therapy Admissions Guideby The Student Doctor Network. Prerequisites usually include courses in biology, anatomy and physiology, human development, psychology, sociology, statistics and medical terminology. Other courses may be recommended.
By obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree, you are more likely to cover these course requirements. However, you also can take these courses as a post-grad at a university or community college.
- Take the GRE
Occupational therapy schools typically require a GRE score. Do not take the GRE lightly. There are many study materials available. You can and should study over a couple of months before scheduling your exam. If you are worried about the test or have trouble with standardized tests, you may want to consider a structured study or training program.
You can retake the GRE up to five times within a 12-month period, according to the Educational Testing Service. While you likely don’t want to take it repeatedly, do not be afraid to take the GRE a second or third time. After the first exam, you will better understand what taking the test is like. You can spend additional months studying and come back with an advantage.
Taking the GRE multiple times won’t hurt your chance of getting into a graduate program. You have the option to decide which GRE score is sent to the OT schools.
- Complete OT observation hours
Most occupational therapy schools require 30 occupational therapy observation hours. This is referred to as shadowing. If you decide to apply to an OT school online program, earning observation hours is also recommended.
You need to connect with active, licensed occupational therapists about shadowing them. An advisor at your university may be able to help you. However, you may need to search for and reach out to occupational therapists at hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, schools and rehabilitation clinics in your area. You also can consider occupational therapists who work in mental health care, worker rehabilitation, horse therapy, burn care and low vision practices.
When you call or email an occupational therapist, be sure to tell them you are a prospective OT student looking to shadow a professional. Some facilities do not accept students. Others accept students for limited hours or opportunities.
The more hours you can get, the better. Obtaining observational hours in two or more settings can be beneficial to your education. Additional hours make you a more competitive applicant. There will likely be applicants with more than 100 hours in several settings. This should be your goal. The hours also help you determine a specialty and career goals. They may also help to prepare you to write a great personal statement and answer questions at your admission interview.
- Explore occupational therapy specialties
You do not have to pick a specialty before applying to OT school. This can be challenging when your knowledge of the field is limited. However, doing your research and considering a specialty can be helpful during the application process. Choosing a specialty can help you craft your personal statement and answer interview questions about your goals.
Some Specialty Certifications from AOTA are:
Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A)
Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A)
Feeding, Eating and Swallowing (SCFES or SCFES-A)
Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A)
School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A)
AOTA Board Certifications include:
Mental Health (BCMH)
Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
Other occupational therapy specialties include:
Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)
Physical Agent Modalities (CPAM)
Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT and CLT-LANA)
Lee Silverman Voice Training – Big (LSVT)
Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)
Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP)
Various organizations offer certification in some of these specialties, including the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), the Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists, and the American Stroke Association.
Some of these specialties may be too specific to choose early on, but learning more about them can help you decide who you would like to work with as an occupational therapist.
- Write an impressive personal statement
Becoming a top candidate for OT school is about doing more than meeting the minimum prerequisites. It is not enough to have a decent GPA and GRE score and the minimum number of observational hours. You want the OT school administrators to be impressed with your entire application, from additional shadowing hours in several settings to a great personal essay.
At this point, you should have a strong understanding of the occupational therapy field and how you want to use your education and training in the future. You might have a good idea of a specialty you’d like to focus on in school. You will want to use all of this in your personal essay to show the school you are knowledgeable and driven to excel in their program.
You should get started on your personal statement early. You might need to go through multiple drafts and revise your essay more than once. You should have one or two other people proofread the essay for typos, grammatical errors, style and tone.
You want your essay to be sincere, easy to read, and demonstrate why you want to be an occupational therapist.
You should talk about your experience in the field, including your observational experience and any other volunteer and work experience you have. This also gives you the opportunity to talk about what makes you unique. Talk about any skills, qualities and personal experiences that set you apart from other applicants and would make you a great occupational therapist.