Although occupational therapists must have a graduate degree, either a master’s or a doctorate, occupational therapy schools have their own admission standards. There is considerable variation in admission requirements, but it typically takes between two and a half to three years to complete a master’s degree program.
Admission to a top-ranked school is, naturally, more difficult than to one with less prestige and recognition, but an applicant’s undergraduate GPA and GRE score are the most critical factors at every school. A minimum GPA of 3.3 is considered the standard benchmark for successful admission. Forty percent of admissions at occupational therapy schools are based on GPA and GRE scores, with the remainder based on fulfilling individual program prerequisites and other factors.
At most occupational therapy schools, successful applicants must have completed at least 12 hours of observation and/or volunteer work in at least three different occupational therapy practice settings, although the number of hours varies by school. These settings include acute care hospitals, outpatient clinics, community mental health centers, or school systems, working with either an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant. All of this must be documented using forms provided by individual occupational therapy schools.
High school students considering a career in occupational therapy should take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, and social sciences, but paid or volunteer experience in the health care field can also be very helpful. Undergraduates typically pursue science majors in biology, psychology, sociology, anatomy, or one of the liberal arts, such as English or communication.
Four-year college graduates can become occupational therapy assistants with the requisite courses and fieldwork, although their earnings are considerably lower that those for licensed occupational therapists. Two-year associate’s degrees are also available at many schools and community colleges leading to employment as occupational therapy aides.
Many undergraduates planning on entering occupational therapy are often considered to be on a pre-occupational therapy track, even though few universities actually offer this as an actual major. Instead, students take not only the classes required for admission at occupational therapy schools but also major in a specific subject matter area relevant to such therapy.
English and other nonscience majors can also attend occupational therapy schools provided they have successfully completed the course work required for admission, have a robust GPA, and have demonstrated an interest in health care work through volunteer work or paid health care-related jobs.
Undergraduate courses typically required for gaining admission into occupational therapy schools include at least one year of English, a semester of cellular biology, and one of introductory psychology. Some schools also require applicants to have taken introductory sociology, one year of anatomy and physiology, one semester of lifespan human development, and one semester of medical terminology.
Occupational Therapy Schools: Tips for Applying
Before setting your academic sights on becoming a licensed occupational therapist, it is important to first learn all you can about the profession and take some time to consider whether this is the right career you want. The profession, although rewarding, is not for everyone. But, once you have decided on attending an occupational therapy school, visit each school’s website and read about its occupational therapy program to help narrow down possible schools based on their location, tuition, and other features.
Then, contact the occupational therapy schools, or if possible, schedule an in-person visit. See what each one prefers and emphasizes in terms of admissions. For instance, some occupational therapy programs expect applicants to have taken specific courses that are not included on their list of prerequisites. If possible, try to meet with a faculty member or academic advisor for the program to learn more about the admission process and what you can do to help your application. Most of them are more than willing to help.
When applying to occupational therapy schools, it is also important to provide good character references, such as letters of recommendation from among teachers, work colleagues or supervisors, and professionals in health care who know you and can vouch for your ability to achieve. Also, become as familiar as possible with the field in general and with programs at your target schools.
Read several books and professional journal articles and essays on current occupational therapy, bearing in mind that, at some point, you will be writing an admission essay or be interviewed about how much you already understand about the field. What novel approaches to therapy are just emerging or might be promising in the future? Where might cost savings be realized or therapies combined? It pays to be knowledgeable on the current status of occupational therapy research.
Internet blogs and discussion rooms hosted by students at occupational therapy schools, as well as occupational therapy program newsletters, are also excellent sources of information many other applicants may not explore.
Begin preparing your application plan of attack as soon as you have decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. This cannot be overemphasized. With at least a one-year head start before applications are due, you will have time to prepare a winning campaign by doing the necessary footwork on each school’s requirements, developing ideas for your admission essay, and becoming involved in volunteer work that will look good on your application.
All graduate occupational therapy schools require applicants to take certain standardized tests. When it comes to taking these, timing is everything. Do not take them too early or too late. There will be ample time to prepare and take the tests after you have chosen which occupational therapy schools are most attractive. But remember, maintaining the highest GPA possible is the most important factor in gaining acceptance in the school of your choice.
Occupational therapy schools require applicants to write essays or personal statements about why they are interested in the field of study, so it is necessary to understand some key tips on writing a winning application essay or statement that will accompany your application. Not everyone is great writer, but there are several ingredients that can make the difference between a run of the mill essay and one that stands out.
First and foremost, engage the essay reviewer with a personal story about why you want to become an occupational therapist. For example, you might talk about a family member or friend who has struggled with an injury or handicap or a news story that has personally moved you in this direction. Meeting the increased demand for occupational therapists in the future is always a good motive, but never mention any financial motivation or job security issues.
After writing your application essay or statement of purpose, always have at least one other person (preferably more) proofread it. If you have a favorite English teacher or a family member who is a writer or journalist, ask him or her to review your work. It also helps to have an occupational therapist look it over if you know or have worked with one.
When writing the essay, follow the instructions carefully. If they want two or three pages or 500 to 600 words, don’t write more than that. Try to be persuasive without sounding like you are trying to sell a car. Be concise, engaging, and brief, and give yourself plenty of time. Also, most occupational therapy schools require a personal interview with admission officials; be aware that they will probably ask questions about something in your essay, so go over it carefully beforehand.
Occupational Therapy Schools: Admission Standards
Although occupational therapy schools have different admission standards, an applicant’s undergraduate grade point average (GPA), academic record, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score are the most critical factors considered. Some schools require a minimum GPA of 3.2 to 3.5, while others will consider students with a 3.0 GPA.
Any student can take the GRE, which measures reading, comprehension, basic math, and reasoning. The GRE is a computerized exam that is available at many testing centers. Scores are then forwarded to a graduate applicant’s target school. Not all occupational therapist schools require GRE scores, which is why it’s important to find out the admission requirements in advance, so investigate schools for their specific requirements.
Occupational therapy schools also require applicants to complete several hours of observation and/or volunteer work in an occupational therapy practice setting, although the number of hours required varies by school. Such observational training is documented by the facility or practitioner on forms provided by occupational therapy schools.
After identifying the occupational school or schools that best suit your needs, familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of each one. This can usually be done by reviewing their websites but also by contacting the schools directly.
Most occupational therapy schools seek students who are taking at least 15 credits each semester, including at least two science courses. This demonstrates to them that a student will be able to handle the intensive work load required to complete an occupational therapy program.