Occupational Therapists (OTs) work in OT offices, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and other home health services. They help injured, ill, or disabled patients develop, recover, and improve skills needed for daily living and work. Occupational therapists can also help to advise patients’ families and employers, and evaluate their living and work conditions. Occupational Therapists work with a variety of populations, including children, the elderly, patients with permanent physical or mental disabilities, and patients who have been through traumatic incidents or surgeries. For more information, please see the OT profile in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.
A Master’s degree is required in order to become an Occupational Therapist (OT), though some Occupational Therapists do have a Doctoral degree. Occupational Therapists also need to be licensed by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Master’s of Occupational Therapy Programs take 2-3 years to complete, while Doctoral programs take about three and a half years. Once licensed and practicing, OTs need to take continuing education classes to keep their license.
In order to apply to OT graduate programs, students need to complete prerequisite courses and complete observation hours. OT programs require a bachelor’s degree, though they do not require a specific major in order to apply. The University of Maryland also does not offer a “Pre-OT” major, degree, or certificate, but students can take the prerequisite courses required for admission at UMD. UMD also offers advising and workshops for Pre-OT students. Students are also encouraged to utilize resources such as the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA’s) Resources for Beginning Your OT Career.
Prerequisites vary from school to school, so it is essential that students build school lists early on in the application process. Using the AOTA’s Find a School resource page is useful in identifying prospective programs. Sample requirements for Occupational Therapy programs include the following courses::
- Human Anatomy and Physiology (with lab) 1 and 2
- Physics (with lab)
- Human Growth and Development
- Abnormal Psychology
- UMD has this course in two different stages Adult Psychopathology (PSYC353) and Child Psychopathology (PSYC330)
- Developmental Psychology (PSYC355)
- Medical Terminology (offered in the winter here at UMD)
- English Composition
In addition, there are many Minors that cover topics critical to expanding understanding of the various determinants of health. Coursework related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion can be helpful in developing cultural awareness, cultural humility, and an understanding of systemic discrimination in the health care system. Even if your academic plan does not permit adding a minor, it is worth reviewing the curated course lists for courses that will stretch you, increase your language for difference and disparity, show your intellectual curiosity, and improve your critical reasoning skills.
While admission requirements can vary from school to school, most programs require at least 100 hours of OT experience (shadowing, volunteering, or interning) along with experiences that span “across the lifespan”. Most programs also require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and a current CPR certificate. However, students should always research schools they are interested in to make sure that they have met all the prerequisite requirements.
There are also Occupational Therapy Assistant Programs that allow students to learn to assist in providing occupational therapy to many different individuals with a variety of medical and psychosocial diagnoses. Check out CCBC’s program!
Example of Application Requirements: Towson University’s M.S. in Occupational Therapy
- Bachelor's Degree (any major)
- Successful completion (a grade of B or better) of specified prerequisite coursework; 6 out of the 10 prerequisite courses must be completed at the time of application
- An overall GPA of 3.25 (overall GPA is calculated by the last 60 units of undergraduate study)
- Submission of GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores
- Completion of at least 60 hours of human service activity or OT observation, including at least 3 different settings, a mix of populations, and at least 10 hours per setting.
- Submission of 3 reference letters (one from a human service activity or OT supervisor, a professional, and a professional or faculty member)
- A current CPR certificate
OT Virtual Observation Hours
- UT Health San Antonio OTD Supplemental Hours Module
- Password: LucasQU
UMD Pre-Occupational Therapy Association
Alumni Blog: Occupational Therapy
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