Occupational Therapy Schools

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Occupational therapy professionals work with clients who are injured, disabled or ill to help them understand and overcome any limitations on their abilities. The field offers three career choices, each requiring a different level of education: occupational therapist, occupational therapy assistant and occupational therapy aide. To help you choose the program that best suits your goals, this guide provides information about educational and employment requirements and insight from those working in the field.

Top 10 Best Occupational Therapy Schools: 2016-2017

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Best Occupational Therapy Schools: 2016-2017

A degree in occupational therapy is a popular choice for students looking to enter a fulfilling career that improves clients’ quality of life. Since most professions in this field require some level of degree completion, it may be beneficial for students to enroll in one of the top programs in this field. To help students find the best schools, we have ranked all of the occupational therapy programs in the nation based on factors such as cost, student-to-teacher ratio and graduation rates. Discover the top occupational therapy programs for 2016-2017 below.

2-Year Schools

  1. Houston Community College
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Houston Community College has a two-year Occupational Therapy Assistant program, in which students will earn an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree. There are very specific requirements for admission to the program, such as documented observation hours, letters of recommendation, and pre-requisite classes. Curriculum includes classroom time along with field experience during the practicum and capstone courses. Upon completion, graduates can work as Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTA), which work directly under the supervision of Registered Occupational Therapists, typically in schools, hospitals and clinic settings. Certification for OTAs can be obtained by passing The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination.

  2. Eastern New Mexico University - Roswell
    Location

    Roswell, NM

    The occupational therapy assistant program at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell (ENMU-R), is an accredited two-year program, with an additional 16 weeks spent in clinical affiliation. Upon completion, students will earn an Associate in Science (AAS) degree, and are prepared to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination to become certified, and can then obtain state licensure. Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) typically work in areas such as schools, clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, and work under the supervision of a Registered Occupational Therapist. ENMU-R students can train at the Rehabilitation Center, one of only a few working hospitals in the U.S. located on a community college campus.

  3. South Arkansas Community College
    Location

    El Dorado, AR

    South Arkansas Community College offers an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree program for Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs). Only 17 students are admitted each year, and during the program must keep a "C" grade or above. Classes are full-time during the day, with possible weekend hours during the fieldwork portion of the program. The curriculum prepares students to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam which is needed to become a COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant), and once certified, state licensure can be obtained. Students in the OTA program can join Omega Theta Alpha (OTA), a club for students of the OTA Program.

  4. Cape Fear Community College
    Location

    Wilmington, NC

    In addition to prerequisites, The Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Program at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) takes five semesters to complete, with fieldwork beginning in the second semester. Graduates of the program will earn an AAS degree, and are qualified to take the national certification exam to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs). A COTA must then obtain North Carolina licensure to practice occupational therapy. Graduates typically work in hospital, clinic or school settings, working with all types of people, including children and the elderly. OTA students have several opportunities for involvement, including the CFCC Student Occupational Therapy Assistant Club, and as graduates can join several professional organizations.

  5. Itawamba Community College
    Location

    Fulton, MS

    Itawamba Community College (ICC) has a couple options for those interested in a career in occupational therapy. ICC offers a university transfer program for students planning to become occupational therapists, and an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program for those planning to work as OTAs. The OTA program curriculum is a combination of classes, lab time and fieldwork, and takes about two-years to complete. OTA students will receive an AAS degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant Technology upon completion. OTA graduates are prepared to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) after passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.

  6. Augusta Technical College
    Location

    Augusta, GA

    The Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program at Augusta Technical College is designed to prepare students to work as Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) under supervision of a registered occupational therapist in a healthcare setting. The OTA program is a two-year program that combines academic courses with clinical experiences, and upon graduation, students are prepared to take the NBCOT exam. Passing the NBCOT exam provides OTA program graduates with professional certification and the title of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). Students of the OTA program at Augusta may be eligible for scholarships funded by the Augusta Technical Institute Foundation, in addition to external scholarships.

  7. Sinclair College
    Location

    Dayton, OH

    The Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Program at Sinclair College is an accredited, full-time, two-year program that prepares students to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs). To become certified, graduates of the program must sit for the NBCOT exam and can then obtain state licensure to work under supervision of a Registered Occupational Therapist. The OTA students at Sinclair College will receive extensive clinical training throughout the program, with specific fieldwork requirements in order to graduate. The curriculum combines technical courses with biological and behavioral sciences, and some transfer courses may be excepted. Upon graduation, students will be eligible to receive an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree.

  8. Central Community College
    Location

    Grand Island, NE

    Central Community College (CCC) offers Nebraska's only two-year Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program, and admittance is capped at 18 students per year. There are very specific requirements once admitted, which include maintaining a "C" grade or above, CPR certification and mandatory American Occupational Therapy Association membership. Upon graduation, students will receive an AAS degree and are prepared to take the national certification examination to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs). Once certified, COTAs can obtain state licensure and begin working under the supervision of a Registered Occupational Therapist in a healthcare setting, typically helping with rehabilitation and life skills.

  9. East Arkansas Community College
    Location

    Forrest City, AR

    Students at East Arkansas Community College (EACC) can earn an Associate in Applied Science degree in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Program. This program is six semesters, in addition to prerequisite classes, and requires a minimum of 40 hours of commitment from students. The curriculum is a combination of academic courses and fieldwork, and prepares students to take the NBCOT exam for assistants. Upon passing the exam, OTA program graduates become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs). Graduates work with people with physical and social challenges, often in clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers and hospitals, under supervision of a Registered Occupational Therapist.

  10. Pitt Community College
    Location

    Winterville, NC

    Pitt Community College offers a full-time Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, with classes and clinical time during the day only. The program is six semesters, with a spring semester start, in addition to prerequisite class time, and has specific admission requirements along with the general college admission requirements. Clinical time and fieldwork are a large part of the program, and will take place in both North and South Carolina, requiring students to travel. Upon graduation, students earn an Associate in Applied Science degree and qualify to sit for the NBCOT exam, which is required to obtain Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credentials.

4-Year Schools

  1. Daytona State College
    Location

    Daytona Beach, FL

    The Daytona State College is dedicated to training occupational therapy assistants as competent healthcare workers in their industry. The occupational therapy assistant program is an associates degree that requires students to complete 70 credit hours within 22 months. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The school is also accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges. Students can either seek entry-level careers as occupational therapy assistants, or pursue higher learning. Classes are only conducted during the day (9:00am to 4:00 pm) on alternating weekdays.

  2. State College of Florida-Manatee-Sarasota
    Location

    Bradenton, FL

    Preparing students to become skilled members of the healthcare industry is a major goal of the State College of Florida. Students attending school at the Manatee and Sarasota campuses are taught the necessary skills that they need to perform their tasks professionally. The occupational therapy assistant program is an associate in science degree which requires the completion of 70 units of coursework and clinical training. Students are encouraged to complete the prerequisite courses including anatomy, physiology, math, and general psychology. Upon graduation, students can pursue a career in occupational therapy or transfer to a university to pursue a bachelor's degree. The school is accepting enrollees for the 2017 Fall semester.

  3. Southwestern Oklahoma State University
    Location

    Weatherford, OK

    Graduates of the occupational therapy assistant program from Southwestern Oklahoma State University have promising employment prospects. Work opportunities are available in clinics, healthcare facilities, and other therapy settings to help people suffering from different forms of impairment. This associate in science degree program is offered at the Weatherford Campus and is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education Graduates. Graduates are eligible to take the national certification examination. Students are required to complete 18 hours of general education, 18 hours of technical occupational support courses and 42 hours of specialty courses which include the clinical fieldwork conducted in an accredited facility.

  4. Florida State College at Jacksonville
    Location

    Jacksonville, FL

    Taking the associate's program in occupational therapy assistant at Florida State College Jacksonville Campus prepares the students to become entry-level healthcare practitioners. Students are required to complete 70 credits consisting of lecture and laboratory coursework plus clinical practice through an affiliated learning facility. During this time, students will be able to learn important theories and skills that will enable them to perform effectively as OT assistants. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Successful completion of the coursework makes graduates eligible for the National Certification Examination.

  5. Lake Washington Institute of Technology
    Location

    Kirkland, WA

    Lake Washington Institute of Technology provides a hands-on teaching approach to students taking the associate in applied science transfer degree program for occupational therapy assistants. Students receive classroom, laboratory, and clinical instruction, giving them the knowledge and skills to pursue careers in occupational therapy assistance. The program offered by LWIT is a full-time curriculum that require students to attend morning and afternoon sessions. Students must finish the program in seven quarters or terms and should complete a total of 90 credit units. Upon completion, students can take National Certification Examination to become licensed occupational therapy assistants, or they can pursue higher learning by achieving a bachelor's degree at a university.

  6. Arkansas Tech University
    Location

    Russellville, AR

    Arkansas Tech University has designed its OTA program to equip students to become successful occupational therapy assistants and aid patients suffering from different disabilities. This associate of applied science degree is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Students are required to complete a total of 71 semester hours which include coursework in general education, allied health and science. The program can be completed within five semesters. In the last semester, students will be required to take Level II Fieldwork, which gives students the opportunity to gain experience in different clinical settings under supervision of a certified occupational therapy assistant.

  7. Cabarrus College of Health Sciences
    Location

    Concord, NC

    With its goal to prepare students to become competent occupational therapy assistants, Cabarrus College of Health Sciences is dedicated to designing curriculums that are relevant to students. Pupils enrolled in the associate in science degree program in OTA are taught patient interaction skills in addition to the standard coursework. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Students must accomplish a total of 73 credit hours consisting of 52 major credits and 21 credits of general education. Most of the classes for this program are conducted during the day, but classes can also be scheduled during early evening or on Saturday to accommodate the student's' schedule.

  8. Goodwin College
    Location

    East Hartford, CT

    Since last year, the Goodwin College has had a high graduation rate of 75% for its occupational therapy assistant program. This two-year associate's degree program trains students to become skilled in providing assistance to people who are living with various of disabilities. Students get hands-on experience as they learn in classrooms and laboratories and receive supervised clinical training. The program is very flexible admitting both fulltime and part-time students. Full-time students can complete the program within 18 months while part-time students can finish it within 36 months. For added convenience, the program also offers evening and weekend classes.

  9. Shawnee State University
    Location

    Portsmouth, OH

    With a 100% passing rate for its master's of occupational therapy, Shawnee State University teaches students coursework that focus on relevant theories and applications, as well as professional leadership skills. The MOT program has a total of 77 credit units for the academic coursework. As part of the fieldwork segment, the program requires students to complete six to nine months of full-time internship, meaning 40 hours per week serving in healthcare facilities. The internship must be completed within 24 months of academic preparation and two months before taking the National Certification Exam. The program is highly selective, accepting only 24-30 students per year.

  10. Middle Georgia State University
    Location

    Macon, GA

    Middle Georgia State University aims to provide a challenging program to occupational therapy students to prepare them for diverse workplace scenarios. Students are taught skills and knowledge that can help them develop the professional competence and attitude necessary to function as occupational therapy assistants. This associate degree program requires students to complete a total of 31 credit units of academic coursework. Students are also required to complete the Level II Fieldwork conducted in various affiliated healthcare facilities like hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other settings. Upon completion, students are eligible to sit for the National Certification Examination.

Occupational Therapist Schools and Programs

The goal of occupational therapy is to provide rehabilitative and support services to clients who have lost certain abilities, for example, through an injury. Occupational therapists also help clients who have a developmental disability or a permanent condition, such as cerebral palsy, learn or re-learn how to perform daily tasks. Industry standards have shifted over the years, making a master’s degree all but required to be an entry-level practicing therapist. Pursuing an associates or bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy is sufficient for a career as an occupational therapist assistant.

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Occupational Therapy Aide

Occupational therapy aides provide support to licensed occupational therapists by cleaning and preparing treatment areas and equipment. Aides may also perform clerical tasks such as scheduling appointments, answering telephones, and help with billing and insurance forms. As of March 2016, aides are not eligible for licensure.

Vocational Schools

Technical institutes and vocational schools offer training for high school graduates who want to study for a limited period of time and then enter the workforce. These programs may offer a certificate or diploma for occupational therapy aides, which can be completed in a matter of months. Such training can help individuals pursue a career as an occupational therapy aide or gain experience before enrolling in a degree program. Vocational schools offer targeted coursework in professional practices, instead of requiring other subjects such as English, math and history.

Community Colleges

Community colleges with occupational therapy programs usually offer either a certificate or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. Students thinking about earning a certificate in occupational therapy should investigate whether they can apply those credits toward an associate degree program. Public colleges may provide non-credit certificates, such as Carroll Community College’s continuing education program for physical and occupational therapy aides.

The AAS degree could pave the way for entry-level employment as an occupational therapy assistant. Compared to vocational schools, community colleges embrace a more well-rounded approach, and students are required to take more classes outside the major in academic subjects like math and history. At some occupational therapist assistant schools, all students have to take program prerequisites including classes as such as composition and reading, introduction to cell biology and medical terminology. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Often referred to as OTA, occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing care to patients. Assistants help patients with therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises. Those who work with children with disabilities use playtime as a time to teach coordination and socialization. In other areas, OTAs teach patients with disabling diseases how to use devices that make eating easier. Required to work under the supervision of an occupational therapist, assistants are required to complete an associate’s degree at minimum and go through the licensure process.

Community Colleges

People of all ages and abilities may need to seek the help of an occupational therapist (OT) someday. Therapists develop treatment plans, identify specific goals and activities to help a patient, and evaluate patients home and/or office space to identify potential improvements to aid a patient’s progress. OTs help kids improve their cognitive, sensory, and motor skills. For adults facing injury or illness, OTs help them with day-to-day tasks like learning how to dress themselves again. To become an entry-level occupational therapist, prospective students must obtain a minimum of a master’s degree in the field from an accredited graduate school.

Community colleges with occupational therapy programs usually offer either a certificate or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. Students thinking about earning a certificate in occupational therapy should investigate whether they can apply those credits toward an associate degree program. Public colleges may provide non-credit certificates, such as Carroll Community College’s continuing education program for physical and occupational therapy aides.

Four-year Schools

Graduates from a four-year school have two options: graduate and become a licensed occupational therapy assistant or pursue a master’s degree and become an entry-level OT. For aspiring OTAS, occupational therapist assistant schools have two main purposes. First, they can provide a competitive edge for graduates in the workplace. Secondly, such programs build a solid foundation for students who plan to continue their education at the graduate level in order to become occupational therapists.

Four-year programs focus on delivering an education that combines a broad knowledge of academic topics with a specialization in occupational therapy. As a result, students may spend the first two years taking classes in English, math and physical sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities, along with occupational therapy classes. The final two years, on the other hand, could be devoted entirely to the pre-professional program.

Aspiring occupational therapists can take advantage of their four-year degree to get a well-rounded education. Many graduates pursue degrees in the sciences. For example, a degree in biology helps students understand the human circulatory, nervous, and organ systems work together. As of February 2016, there are no accredited occupational therapy associates or bachelor’s degree programs. Occupational Therapist

People of all ages and abilities may need to seek the help of an occupational therapist (OT) someday. Therapists develop treatment plans, identify specific goals and activities to help a patient, and evaluate patients home and/or office space to identify potential improvements to aid a patient’s progress. OTs help kids improve their cognitive, sensory, and motor skills. For adults facing injury or illness, OTs help them with day-to-day tasks like learning how to dress themselves again. To become an entry-level occupational therapist, prospective students must obtain a minimum of a master’s degree in the field from an accredited graduate school.

Graduate Schools

Graduate programs award a master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy. Master’s degrees are designed for those planning a career as a practicing occupational therapist, while doctorates can serve a broader range of opportunities, from research to management to education. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree to enter master’s degree programs, and either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree to enter doctoral programs. Experience is often a prerequisite for admission to graduate programs. For example, an online post-professional doctorate from Boston University requires two years of clinical practice.

Occupational Therapists,
Assistants and Aides: What’s the Difference?

Different roles in the profession come with varying levels of qualifications and responsibilities, as shown here.

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Occupational TherapistsOccupational Therapy AssistantsOccupational Therapy Aides
EducationMaster’s degree or doctoral degree in occupational therapyAssociate of Applied Science in Occupational TherapyHigh school diploma, with optional career certificate or diploma
Certification/ExamsOccupational Therapist Registered (OTR) ExamOccupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) ExamNone required
Salary (as of May 2014)Mean annual wage of $78,810Mean annual wage of $56,950Mean annual wage of $26,050
RoleLead therapist and supervisorAssist with occupational therapyAid with pre- and post-treatment tasks
DutiesObserve clients to discover their functioning level, develop treatment plans and goals, demonstrate exercises, provide advice to family members, evaluate progressHelp clients to perform such therapeutic activities as stretching and bending, teach clients how to operate special equipmentSet up therapy equipment, transport patients, help patients fill out paperwork, schedule appointments, file medical records, answer phones

A related question concerns the distinction between occupational and physical therapy. Occupational therapy includes some aspects of counseling, such as helping clients understand their current limitations and develop strategies to overcome them, while physical therapy emphasizes rehabilitation and provision of allied health services. The field of occupational therapy encompasses a greater range of non-medical settings such as the home, school or workplace.

Must-Have List for Occupational Therapy Schools

While occupational therapy programs vary from school to school, certain common traits are desirable. These guidelines can help ensure that students are making the best possible use of their time, money and efforts.

1. Accreditation.

Accreditation for occupational therapy programs is only available to graduate programs. When considering accredited programs, students can look to reputable organizations like the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) for guidance. Programs have to meet certain educational qualifications to be accredited, so this official endorsement is critically important when selecting a program. If the school is not accredited, those students will not be able to apply for federal student loans and other types of federal financial aid. In addition, earned credits may not transfer to another school.

2. Credit Transfer.

Just because a program is accredited does not automatically mean that credits transfer to another occupational therapist school. For example, certificate programs may award continuing education rather than academic credits. Transfer scenarios vary widely — perhaps you are working on an associate degree at one college and want to transfer to another institution to complete this degree. Or, you may have a bachelor’s degree from an occupational therapist assistant school and now you wish to earn a master’s degree at a different university. To be on the safe side, always find out in advance if credits will transfer to another school before you enroll.

3. Quality of Faculty.

Another important factor to consider when choosing an occupational therapy program is the quality of the instructors. The vast majority of the teachers should be professors, adjunct professors and instructors who are occupational therapists and have themselves graduated from programs that are accredited by organizations like ACOTE. The institution should also have an evaluation program that regularly critiques the performance of instructors.

4. Coursework and Fieldwork.

An occupational therapist school should offer relevant courses that provide the type of knowledge and skills necessary. Students should learn such information as the history, practice and philosophy of occupational therapy and the therapeutic process. Other key topics include differences in therapy for pediatric, adult, geriatric and other segments of the population as well as the role of mental health in occupational therapy. Occupational therapist assistant schools build additional skills in areas such as critical thinking and decision making, and programs should incorporate internships or other opportunities for students to gain experience in professional settings.

5. Career Services.

It’s important for the program to have career placement services that can help students look for and find a job when they graduate from occupational therapist school. Some programs even place students before they graduate. Most good programs have forged relationships with employers at physical and occupational therapy facilities, as well as hospitals, nursing and resident care facilities, and other organizations. Additional services provided by career placement programs include helping students with writing cover letters and resumes, mock interviews and so on. Advice From an Occupational Therapist

In order to be an occupational therapist, you have to be passionate about others and helping them problem solve to learn to be independent in daily life.Joy D. Doll, OTD, OTR/L, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at Creighton University

Occupational Therapy Degrees and Certificates

This profession involves several levels of education. Entry-level programs offer certificates or diplomas for occupational therapy aides. A typical occupational therapist assistant school grants an associate or bachelor’s degree based on academic studies and at least 16 weeks of fieldwork. These undergraduate degrees can lead to an occupational therapy assistant position or serve as a basis for further education.

Professional studies for occupational therapists at the graduate level include a master’s degree or doctorate. The master’s degree targets students aiming to work as occupational therapists. The Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree can involve specialized research projects and prepare occupational therapists seeking advanced roles as educators, managers or clinicians.

Occupational Therapy Aide

While the minimum requirement is a high school education, occupational therapy aides can earn a certificate in the field, or sometimes a certificate in physical and occupational therapy. These certificates and diplomas are usually offered at vocational or technical schools and community colleges. Courses are designed to provide a brief overview that prepares students for entry-level positions. Aides work under the supervision of occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants. Introduction to Occupational Therapy

Overview of the history, practice and philosophy of occupational therapy. Documentation Guidelines

Focus on the correct procedures for documenting and reporting occupational therapy services. Occupational Therapy for Adults

Analysis of factors such as injuries, work duties, aging and disease that can result in occupational therapy. Practicing Therapeutic Interventions

Course offers knowledge regarding best practices in the therapeutic process, in addition to an understanding of the structure of physician offices and clinics.

Occupational Therapy Associate Degrees

Although requirements may vary by school, the Associate of Applied Science degree in occupational therapy generally requires 62 credit hours and takes about two years to complete. Occupational therapist assistant school can prepare students to find entry-level positions or continue on the path to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Students in the associate degree program gain more in-depth knowledge of occupational therapy than in a certificate program, and learn how to provide treatment and procedures to clients. In addition to general education requirements such as English and social sciences, courses in associate degree programs could include the following. Physical Dysfunction

Course discusses how to treat clients who are physically and cognitively challenged. Therapeutic Interventions

Studies focus on how to help clients enhance functional ability to perform daily tasks. Applied Neurology

Class explores human anatomy, the nervous system and occupation-related considerations.

Occupational Therapy Bachelor’s Degrees

Baccalaureate programs are offered at four-year colleges and universities. These degrees can serve two goals: building a foundation for occupational therapy assistant careers, or preparing students to continue on to the master’s degree program for occupational therapists.

Students in the bachelor’s degree program gain extensive knowledge in physiology and neurology. They also study how the body works, experiences injury and can be repaired. Standard core requirements for college include courses to enhance communication skills such as English. Fieldwork is also a vital part of the program. It can take four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, or approximately 120 credit hours. Human Physiology

Students learn about the body’s physical, mechanical and biochemical functions. Biomechanics

Course focuses on the body’s musculoskeletal anatomy and mechanics of movement and structure. Neuroscience

Class explore the body’s nervous system, including cognitive development and neurological disorders.

Occupational Therapist Bachelor’s/Master’s Combined Degrees

Occupational therapist school options include combined bachelor’s/master’s degree programs. Students enter as college freshmen and take about five years to complete the program, although it may be less depending on the applicant’s prior experience. These students are awarded both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Another choice is the bridge program for occupational therapy assistants moving to occupational therapist status. Prerequisites for admission vary, but usually include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited occupational therapist assistant school. For most students, the program takes two to three years to complete and culminates in a master’s degree. Anatomy & Kinesiology

Students study how to the nervous system affects human movement as well as the cardiorespiratory system that pumps blood to nourish the bones and muscles. Neurological Rehabilitation

Students learn the latest research and clinically relevant information in the areas of neural plasticity, motor learning, behavioral sciences and cognition Physical Rehabilitation

The course focuses on teaching students strategies and interventions to improve motor function.

Occupational Therapist Master’s Degrees

The master’s degree in occupational therapy generally requires two or two and a half years, or 97 credit hours. This level of education is required for practicing occupational therapists. The degree can also serve individuals who wish to move into more advanced clinical or managerial roles. The program includes two semesters of fieldwork. Subjects cover topics such as systems theory and ethics as well as emerging research and trends relating to professional practice. In most programs, applicants must have a degree in one of the sciences, psychology, sociology or a related field for admittance. Theoretical Foundations of Occupational Therapy

Students learn to analyze theories, along with concepts of application and evaluation. Meaningful Living Through Occupation

Class focuses on understanding the value of occupation in the context of time, daily activities and performance. Adult Learners

This course examines the trends for teaching adult clients and possible learning difficulties.

Occupational Therapy Doctorate Degrees

The occupational therapy doctoral program typically lasts two to three years. This advanced practice degree is for occupational therapists that want to pursue roles in clinical research, education and management. A doctorate is required for teaching and research at the university level. Students have the option of two tracks: Clinical (OTD/Dr OT) and Research (PhD/SciD) doctorate programs.

Admission criteria for some programs specify a master’s degree in occupational therapy, while others accept a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, science, psychology, sociology or a related field. In some programs, additional prerequisites may include classes in anatomy and physiology, abnormal psychology, sociology, physics, statistics, and human growth and development. The total credit hours range from about 42 hours for students who enter with a master’s degree to 60 hours for those who enter with a bachelor’s degree.

Clinical (OTD/Dr OT) Programs

Clinical doctorate programs prepare graduates to be expert clinicians in specialty or emerging practice areas. Students are given the opportunity to specialize in a specific area when working with clients. From mental health to cardiac rehabilitation, to hand therapy, students build their knowledge with evidence-based literature and assessments. Hand Therapy and Physical Agent Modalities

Students learn the role of physical agent modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and light therapy. Therapeutic Communication

Students explore the principles and practice of a variety of therapeutic communication skills to include motivational interviewing, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Ergonomics

Focusing on the interaction between the worker, work tasks, and work environments, students learn how these relationships can be used to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and improve occupational performance.

Research (PhD/SciD) Programs

Doctorate programs with an emphasis in research typically emphasize in occupational science and research methodologies. Students are trained to implement evidence-based studies in clinical settings and collect data. This education prepares students to better bridge research projects and clinical implementation upon graduation. Qualitative and Quantitative Design in Mixed Methods Research

Beginning with an overview of qualitative research traditions, students get a basis for integrating qualitative and quantitative design components in a mixed methods study. Students gain experience with procedures for data collection, analysis, and strategies. Foundations in Team Science and Clinical and Translational Science

This type of course teaches students how to successfully work in a team science setting. They learn to pursue complex science questions and produce high impact research outcomes that results in helping society. Epidemiology for Clinical Research

Epidemiology studies the patterns, causes, and effects of health and diseases in society. OT students study how to improve the health of populations with research tactics.

Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Explained

Similar to fellowships and internships in other industries, fieldwork is where occupational therapy students observe and then apply the theoretical apply theoretical and scientific principles learned in the classroom to address actual client needs. It is a chance for students to develop a professional identity as an occupational therapy practitioner. Divided into Level I and Level II, the number of hours spent in the field prior to licensure varies on one’s goals, their academic institution and state requirements. This is true for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. Discover the differences between level I and level II fieldwork.

Level I

Level I fieldwork is an introduction to occupational therapy in the real world where students meet with clients for the first time. During this time, students spend time observing and participating in select aspects of the process. While this level is not intended to allow students to work independently with clients, students have the opportunity to work in day care centers, schools, hospice, and homeless shelters among others. They may also have exposure to services management and administrative experiences while working with the disabled or well; age-specific or diagnosis-specific clients.

Geared for new students, participants are not required to have prior fieldwork experience. The length of time spent observing is determined by the academic program.

Level II

One of the key differences between level I and level II fieldwork is the required prerequisite time. To take part in level II, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) occupational therapy students must have completed the equivalent a minimum of 24 weeks full-time experience. For prospective occupational therapy assistants, they must have completed the equivalent of 16 full-time weeks. While students can complete level II fieldwork on a full-time or part-time basis, the AOTA dictates that it cannot be less than half-time.

In level II, students apply what they learned in classes as well as their previous field experience. This is an opportunity to strengthen their clinical reasoning practice and gain confidence in dealing with clients.

Occupational Therapy Checklist/Toolbox

  • While on the occupational therapy path, students should learn how to do the following: Assist and care for others Make decisions and solve problems Work well with others on the team and with clients Obtain document information Organize and plan work
  • Skills essential to success in occupational therapy include empathy, physical endurance and flexibility. Others include: Patience: to be tolerant when dealing with clients who may be frustrated with their progress Critical Thinking: to evaluate if the treatment plan is working or needs to be revised Interpersonal skills: to communicate with clients and family members from a variety of backgrounds, and also motivate and engage clients
  • Broad-ranging knowledge is needed by occupational therapy students: Psychology: to understand behavior, performance, learning and motivation Therapy and Counseling: to diagnose and provide treatment Education and Training: to teach and instruct clients and subordinates Customer and Personal Service: to understand the client’s needs and provide satisfactory service Public Safety and Security: to know safety policies and procedures, along with proper equipment usage, to ensure the protection of clients and information

Tools of the Trade

Since occupational therapy aides are involved in administrative services, they work with such tools as billing applications, data entry software and electronic medical records. Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists use such tools and equipment as arm braces and slings, gait and transfer belts, electric wheelchairs and exercise balls. Assistants and therapists also employ word prediction and writing support software – and other language ar

ts and special educational software. In addition, they rely on a variety of customized software applications created for healthcare service providers.

Certification/Licensing

All states require a license for occupational therapists, and most have a licensing requirement for occupational therapist assistants. Professional recognition through the National Board of Certification for Occupational Therapy is a key prerequisite for earning a license.

The Certified Occupational Therapy (COTA) exam is intended for graduates with an Associate of Applied Science degree in the field. The Occupational Therapy Registered (OTR) exam is designed for those with a master’s or a doctoral degree in this discipline.

Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists take certification exams in order to be licensed or registered professionals, and some states have additional requirements. Aides, however, are not required to obtain a license or pass certification exams.

Continuing Education

Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists take continuing education courses to apply toward maintaining their respective certifications and keeping their skills sharp. They accrue these professional development units through a number of ways, including attending workshops and taking courses, presenting information, providing field supervision, publishing articles and volunteering their services.

Occupational Therapy Specializations

There are various specializations in occupational therapy. For example, the American Occupational Therapy Association offers specializations such as the following:

  • Pediatric Rehabilitation Explores developmental theories and how illnesses and injuries affect growth and development in children.
  • Geriatric Specialization Focuses on aging individuals, with ways to reduce or prevent falls and encourage continued mobility as long as possible.
  • Mental Health Examines assessments and treatment options in a mental health setting.
  • Physical Rehabilitation Analyzes physical performance in relation to rehabilitation.

In addition, some graduate schools offer advanced practice certificates in areas such as the following, with programs that usually consist of 12 credit hours:

  • Leadership in Autism Practice and Research Examines autism spectrum disorders and skills needed to work with clients.
  • Teaching OT in the Digital Age Provides the fundamental knowledge and technological expertise needed to teach occupational therapy curricula.
  • Neuroscience — Advanced Concepts for Evidence-Based Practice Delves deeper into neuroscience and neuro-based strategies for rehabilitation.
  • Neurocognitive Disorders and Innovative Practice Allows students to gain advanced knowledge regarding the new research and practice trends in treating neurocognitive disorders.

The Pros Weigh In:
Interviews with Occupational Therapists

This advice on careers and education comes straight from two experts in the field. Joy D. Doll holds a doctorate in occupational therapy (OTD) and is a registered/licensed therapist (OTR/L) and Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at Creighton University. Cara Koscinski has a master’s degree in occupational therapy (MOT) as well as the OTR/L credential, and is author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist.


  • Why is occupational therapy a strong career choice?


    Doll: Occupational therapy is a good career choice for two main reasons: 1) The opportunity to be creative and cater every intervention to the patient, and 2) the chance to really get to know clients by working closely with them on their recovery.

    Koscinski: Occupational therapy is a great career choice since the population of “baby boomers” is now aging and needing more assistance to live independently. Teaching them about fall risk, ways to manage energy and how to be proactive in protecting their joints is of critical importance. In the pediatric arena, autism is becoming more and more common. Occupational therapy is critical as we provide interventions in fine and gross motor, handwriting, sensory processing skills, organization, visual perceptual skills and so many more services. OT is unique as we have the ability and training to work in many areas such as school, home and outpatient clinics.


  • What are the benefits of being an occupational therapist, OT assistant or OT aide?


    Doll: The best part is working closely with clients to help them gain independence in doing their daily life activities.

    Koscinski: The best part about being in OT is that we have the opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s independence. No one wants to be dependent or need help, and we can teach skills for living not only independently but also emphasize leisure activities as well. When someone comes in for OT and they aren’t able to complete a task, they are frustrated. But, as we work with the patient, they are extremely happy when they learn the skill and they are so pleased. The fact that OT makes a real difference in someone’s life is very, very rewarding!


  • Is there an interesting fact that most people don't know about the occupational therapy profession?


    Doll: Most people do not realize that occupation refers not just to people’s jobs but anything they do every day, and occupational therapists, assistants and aides get to help people be independent and live their lives to the fullest the way they want to live.

    Koscinski: A little known fact about OT is that we can take our clients on trips into the community to provide on-the-spot training in critical skills. The work we do in the community is very important. There are even occupational therapists who work to ensure a company’s working environment is safe and functional for employees.


After Occupational Therapy School: What’s Next

The main goal of any graduate is to find a rewarding job. Good news-among the fastest growing occupations in the country, occupational therapy assistant ranks as No. 8, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The national average growth rate for all U.S. occupations is projected at 14 percent for the 2012-2022 period. Growth of employment opportunities in OT should far outpace the norm, at 43 percent for occupational therapy assistants, 36 percent for occupational therapy aides and 29 percent for occupational therapists.

But what does it take to enter this expanding field? The first step is education, followed by certification for occupational therapists and most occupational therapy assistants. Related fieldwork or volunteer experience can be helpful for job applicants. Those interested in occupational therapy aide positions can explore the qualifications required at places where they would like to work.

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides can find openings in a variety of locations. The BLS notes that there were 8,570 occupational therapy aides as of 2014, and they earned an annual median income of $26,550. The employers with the most occupational therapy aides are as follows:

  • 33%: Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists or audiologists
  • 32%: Hospitals (state, local and private)
  • 13%: Nursing and residential care facilities
  • 5%: Social assistance
  • 4%: Educational services (state, local and private)

There were 32,230 occupational therapy assistant jobs in 2014, and they earned an annual median income of $56,950 at that time. These professionals found the most employment in these areas:

  • 35%: Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists or audiologists
  • 22%: Nursing and residential care facilities
  • 21%: Hospitals (state, local and private)
  • 6%: Educational services (state, local and private)
  • 4%: Home healthcare services

The 110,520 occupational therapists in the U.S. in 2014 earned a national median income of $78,810 as of 2014. The highest employment rates for OTs were in the following settings:

  • 28%: Hospitals (state, local and private)
  • 22%: Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists or audiologists
  • 12%: Elementary and secondary schools (state, local and private)
  • 9%: Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)
  • 9%: Home health services

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