How to Choose an Occupational Therapy Degree

Get the right training to be an occupational therapist.

Start Your Occupational Therapist Education

The road to an occupational therapist career can take many turns and as a student trying to decide where you want to go in your OT career, you’ll have several degree options to consider.

A master’s degree is the minimum standard for becoming a practicing occupational therapist, and admission to occupational therapy degree programs is competitive. The average master’s degree program takes a student two and a half years to complete. The first year and a half is usually devoted to completing required course work in a classroom setting. In the last year, students gain experience in a clinical setting.

To get into the accredited occupational therapy school of your choice, focus on earning a high overall grade point average in your undergraduate work (above a 3.3 GPA) and volunteer or work as an occupational therapy aide. Some schools require up to 150 hours of clinical experience prior to admission.

You’ll also need letters of recommendation from occupational therapists or science teachers. In addition, most schools require a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Occupational Therapist Courses

As an occupational therapy student, your classes will range from medical terminology and physiology, to mental health and gerontology. You’ll also be required to do six months of supervised fieldwork in clinics or community organizations in order to gain hands-on experience before completing their program.

Occupational Therapy Degrees

As you start your occupational therapy school search, there are a number of degree programs to consider. Find the program that makes the most sense for you in the list below:

  • Certificate in Occupational Therapy Assisting – These 1-year programs are rare, and may only prepare you to become an occupational therapist aide, rather than a certified occupational therapist assistant.
  • Associate’s Degree in Occupational Therapy Assisting – These 2-year programs prepare you to take the national certification exam for occupational therapy assistants.
  • Bachelor’s/Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy – Also called 4+2 or 4+1 programs, these joint bachelor’s/master’s programs allow you to earn both degrees on an accelerated schedule.
  • Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) Degree – Direct-entry MOT programs, also called “graduate entry,” “direct entry” or “master’s entry” programs, are designed for students who hold bachelor’s degrees in other fields. These programs credit you for having completed your liberal arts requirements and allow you to complete an abbreviated schedule of undergraduate course work before moving directly into your graduate course work—combining preparation for licensure with advanced training in a graduate-level specialty area.
  • Transitional Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) Degree – Professional entry master’s programs, are for licensed therapists who have a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy and want to upgrade their degree and skills. These programs are usually completed in one year with full-time study. Many schools offer distance learning programs which allow practicing therapists to continue working full-time while completing the program.
  • Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Degree – Entry-level or direct-entry OTD programs prepare graduates with bachelor’s degrees in other fields for entry into the profession of occupational therapy. Most programs can be completed in three years.
  • Transitional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Degree – Transitional OTD degrees were developed specifically for practicing occupational therapists who want to bridge the gap between their certificate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in occupational therapy and earn their Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree. Most students complete these programs in two years.

Occupational Therapy School Accreditation

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the accrediting agency for occupational therapy schools and programs. With their stamp of approval, students can be assured their coursework is in line with the AOTA’s standards.

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