Occupational therapy is a challenging and fascinating career combining creativity and problem solving with the ability to make practical, meaningful changes in a person's life. Occupational therapists use knowledge, critical thinking, and hands-on skills to help people across the lifespan. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people regain skills following injury, and providing support for those experiencing physical and cognitive changes.
Occupational therapists use a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, recognizing that the person is an integral part of the therapy team. Since occupational therapists work intensely with people, they must possess good communication skills, a commitment to serving others, and an interest in client-centered therapy.
A master's degree in occupational therapy is required to enter the profession; some programs offer an occupational therapy doctorate degree. Most of the master's degree programs take 2 years to complete.
Entrance requirements and prerequisite courses to occupational therapy programs vary. You should identify schools that interest you early on and be sure your academic plan will meet their entrance requirements. Typical requirements include:
Please note that some courses may have prerequisites of their own; for example, BIO 302 requires CHM 141 and a 200-level BIO course. Some programs require physics (PHY 141, 142, 143A) or additional science courses in chemistry or biology.
The average GPA for students accepted to occupational therapy programs is about 3.5. Admissions committees look at overall GPA and also upward or downward trends.
Most programs require the GRE. Typical minimum recommended scores are 150 on both the verbal and quantitative sections, which is around the 45th percentile, and a score of at least 4 out of 6 on the writing assessment.
There is no specific major needed to enter an occupational therapy program so long as the prerequisite course requirements are met. Students typically choose to major in psychology, biology, or exercise science.
Occupational therapy programs value experience in the field to demonstrate that you can work comfortably in a clinic or hospital environment and with people who need assistance. For example, you should:
OT programs vary in their experience requirements. Many require a minimum of 40-50 hours shadowing in a variety of settings, but more is better.
Our Pre-Health Organization (PHO) can be helpful in finding these kinds of opportunities.
Research experience is less critical for a career in occupational therapy than for other health professions, but this in-depth experience can nonetheless increase your skill and understanding and strengthen your application.
Service and Leadership
Extracurricular activities that are important to occupational therapy admissions committees include significant volunteer service and demonstrated leadership potential. NCC's Ministry and Service programs can connect you with local service opportunities or take you around the country.
Volunteer work does not have to be in a medical setting, but volunteering at a clinic in an underserved community is certainly one good way to demonstrate your dedication. Leadership activities might include being a student lab assistant or preceptor, serving as an officer in a student organization, tutoring or leadership roles in employment.
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Pre-health advisor Marguerite Degenhardt