Occupational Therapy Schools: Costs

As with any other degree, the cost of occupational therapy schools ranges widely. Undergraduate tuition at a well-recognized college is high, while costs at less prestigious schools are lower, as are programs at schools with less national recognition and colleges in less expensive regions around the country. Because almost all courses at occupational therapy schools are based upon established practices, though, the quality of education that an occupational therapy student receives at less well-known schools is not significantly different from their counterparts at more prestigious universities.

However, once a student has graduated and passed the board examination, potential employers are often swayed in their hiring decisions by the pedigree of the school a student attended. This may or may not be reflected in the actual starting income for the new occupational therapist. Students at big name occupational therapy schools, especially those in major cities or research hubs, do have more opportunities to do interesting fieldwork and internships at larger facilities. This gives them the opportunity to network with more experienced and respected mentors and to be exposed to a wider range of specializations. The recommendations of their academic contacts—professors and advisors—also tend to have a significant impact on hiring by potential employers. In addition, these students usually have a significant advantage when it comes to landing jobs with the institution or private practices affiliated with the school they attended or that are run by their professors or mentors.

Moreover, they tend to have better access to job leads, and recommendation letters of respected leaders in the field can go a long way in helping students secure positions. The bottom line, however, is that students from less well-known schools who have high grades, solid fieldwork records, and good personality traits tend to have no problem finding work.

The following is a sample of the tuition at some occupational therapy schools as well as student enrolment:

  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles
    Size: 17,834
    Tuition: $39,183
  • University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire
    Size: 12,949
    Tuition: $26,713
  • Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
    Size: 21,611
    Tuition: $19,502
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins
    Size: 24,142
    Tuition: $22,240
  • Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
    Size: 23,291
    Tuition: $38,440
  • University of Florida, Gainesville
    Size: 38,839
    Tuition: $23,744
  • New York University, New York
    Size: 24,325
    Tuition: $38,765
  • University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
    Size: 19,368
    Tuition: $13,380
  • Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas
    Size: 8,772
    Tuition: $11,694
  • San Jose State University, San Jose, California
    Size: 28,121
    Tuition: $16,214
  • Towson University, Towson, Maryland
    Size: 19,694
    Tuition: $18,232

Reducing Costs

There are a number of ways to reduce the cost of education at occupational therapy schools. One is by starting out at a local community college for the first few semesters before applying to a four-year university because many of the early prerequisite classes are transferable. It does, however, take careful planning. First, check the prerequisites required by occupational therapy schools you will apply to, making sure these courses are offered at the community college, and that the credits are transferable.

Occupational Therapy Schools: Costs

Many community colleges often have excellent nursing and prenursing programs, so many of the basic biology and anatomy courses are the same, but tuition is much less expensive than at a four-year university.

If you are dead set on attending a four-year college with a graduate occupational therapy school, applying for admission early is paramount because it puts you in a better position to receive possible grants and scholarships if accepted. In addition, apply to at least six to eight colleges to get the best deal. Another often overlooked strategy is to also apply to private colleges. Not only is competition typically less intense for admission into their occupational therapy schools, but many of these private schools also offer lower tuition in order to compete with the cost of public universities. Of course, always inquire about financial aid if a school is interested. Almost all private schools require a financial aid form to be completed in order to qualify for any institutional scholarship or low-cost tuition loans. And remember, a high ACT or SAT test score always increases your chances of getting a grant or scholarship.

Another fact that is often overlooked is that you may be able to negotiate lower tuition at a private college because these schools are competing with public universities.

Commuting and buying used textbooks, especially online, are other ways to reduce costs, as is living at home, if at all possible. A student living at home can save as much as $6,000 per year. Also, many cooperative occupational therapy schools allow students to alternate between working and studying full time. Finally, the Advanced Placement Program (APP), the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), and the Provenience Examination Program (PEP) are all ways to earn college-level credits while still in high school, but each university has its own policy on these.

Paying Tuition

Clearly, tuition is a significant in the selection process for applying to occupational schools, but there are many financial aid programs, scholarships, grants, and other options that can help reduce the burden. (Learn more at http://financialaidtips.org.) It pays to be realistic when investigating different schools with occupational therapy programs, especially when the data show that graduates from even top-rated programs make only slightly more than those from less prestigious universities once they are certified and enter the workforce.

A number of factors influence eligibility for the many available assistance programs, grants, and scholarships, but most students have to take out loans to cover tuition costs at occupational therapy schools. It always helps to work with a counselor with special expertise in finding scholarships and grants for such schools. This is especially true for students from low- to middle-income families, as well as those from families with a disabled parent, those in single-parent homes, or when a parent is a military veteran.

All occupational therapy schools have staff members familiar with available scholarships and grants, both public and private, as well as the qualifications, academic achievements, and financial situations of prior recipients. They can direct you toward additional information and where to get application forms, as well as other potential sources of funding. It is best to contact occupational therapy schools by telephone and ask for the right office or individual for information. Even if they direct you to a website, persist in trying to arrange a brief phone or personal appointment with a staff member familiar with tuition aid programs.


Most students attending occupational therapy schools look for tuition assistance in the form of federal grants. Because occupational therapy is critical to health care, and especially when so many veterans require rehabilitation, there are a number of grants and scholarships available.

For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) offers a program called the Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students for students who cannot afford to pay for college. Anyone can apply, provided they are enrolled in a health care program. Also, students pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees at occupational therapy schools may be eligible for additional grant and fellowship funds for their individual research projects and dissertations. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plays a major role in providing research service awards and training grants and fellowships. Call them directly or view their website for details.

Professional occupational therapy organizations at the national and state level are another excellent source of tuition aid. The American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) provides grants for students pursuing advanced degrees at occupational therapy schools. Funding is available for graduate students whose dissertation research might contribute to improving practice in the field.

The AOTF works with a number of state-sponsored programs for graduate occupational therapy students, and many of these offer generous support grants and low-interest loans for students. An organization called the American Business Clubs (AMBUCS) has a scholarship program that provides $500 to $1,500 grants for students attending occupational therapy schools as well as two-year $6,000 grants for advanced students.

For a number of years the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have also offered occupational therapy students one-time educational grants in the amount of $1,000 based on financial need.

The federal Pell Grant program is part of the Department of Education, but unlike Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)student loans , these grants do not need to be repaid after graduation. They are primarily for low-income students and students who have lost a parent during the Gulf War conflict. Applicants must demonstrate financial need. For the 2010–2012 year the maximum grant was $5,550, but the amount awarded depends on specific financial need and actual school costs. Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who have not earned bachelor’s degrees but are going on to graduate school. Students enrolled in postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs are also eligible, and two consecutive grants are possible within each school year.


Most occupational therapy schools offer scholarships for women and men who have demonstrated academic excellence, and there is a wide range of other scholarship options available from other sources, all of which should be familiar to high school and college financial aid counselors. The National Merit Scholarship Program is perhaps the most well known, and these scholarships can be applied to any college or university.

Many states also offer scholarship assistance to promising students. Eligibility criteria and other details are available from each state’s education office, which can be found online. While it is important to spend some time with a school placement counselor for a full list of available scholarships, most public libraries also have reference materials listing scholarships and information for qualification and applying for help.

Resident advisor programs are also available at many universities with occupational therapy schools, and these offer reduced tuition or reduced room and board in exchange for work in resident halls. They also offer college employees and their children tuition reduction plans or tuition waiver programs regardless of financial need.

For a full, tuition-free education at an occupational therapy school, the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarship Program is available for students willing to work after graduation with a branch of the military for a period of time—usually for two years after graduation. New graduates from occupational therapy schools are a priority for the military due to the number of injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who need or will need occupational therapy. The ROTC not only pays tuition but also all other fees, textbook costs, as well as a monthly stipend. The military is also hiring an increasing number of private-sector occupational therapists to help injured veterans. Joining the ROTC program is an excellent way to get a foot in the door as a practicing occupational therapist after graduation and serving the required period of military service.

Qualified students who wish to study at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, or the U.S. Coast Guard Academy can apply for Service Academy Scholarships, but these are very competitive and awarded based on a number of factors, including high school grades, SAT and ACT scores, and demonstrated leadership qualities and athletic ability. Students receive their educations at one of the service academies then are required to apply their expertise in the service for a specified period of time after graduation and licensure.

Some universities will convert nonfederal school loans for occupational therapy schools into nonfederal grants if a student remains in school and graduates, while others will reduce tuition if a family’s major wage earner is unemployed. For families who do not qualify for federal or state funding, some colleges and universities have special funds set aside for tuition, and many will match the tuition of out-of-state institutions for certain students. Check with your college to determine whether you qualify for this option.

State occupational therapy associations are another source of scholarship funding. Each state has its own Occupational Therapy Association, and many of them offer scholarships to students pursuing degrees. Twenty states offer scholarships through the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF). For students interested in teaching occupational therapy after graduation, the AOTF launched a program in 2007, the Program for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), in an effort develop the best evidence-based practices in occupational therapy. Each award is $1,000, but students should contact their state association for details.

Many colleges with occupational therapy schools also have endowments specifically for occupational therapy students. This information is available by contacting the school directly. For example, Columbia University in New York offers endowed scholarships for occupational therapy students based on both need and academic excellence. Here is a list of available scholarships:

  • The May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation Scholarship provides $10,000 for two promising occupational therapy school students each year.
  • Several $1,000 scholarships are available from the Dorothy M. Catana Magee Scholarship program.
  • The Crane Fund for Widows and Children awards two $5,000 scholarships each year.

Some charitable organizations, as well as corporate, private, and nonprofit foundations also have tuition assistance programs. While these scholarships take some digging, a school counselor can usually help.

It is important to remember that each of these scholarship programs has different requirements and deadlines, and you must read these carefully to make sure that you qualify. Their websites usually include forms for more information and application forms that can be downloaded. If a scholarship contact person is identified, try to get in touch with him or her directly to discuss your goals, background, and financial needs. Not only are these people generally very approachable, but also they often know about newer tuition programs that are less well known.

Finally, make sure that you have met the academic and activity requirements for scholarship help at different occupational therapy schools. Some focus exclusively on grades, while others emphasize leadership and community service.

Military Occupational Therapy

Although it is not technically an occupational therapy school, the Occupational Therapy Branch (OT Branch) of the U.S. Department of Defense is a joint Army–Navy organization that conducts and coordinates training of occupational therapy students, many of them enrolled in ROTC programs, to prepare them for active and reserve military duty after graduation.

Practicing certified occupational therapists in good standing are also welcome to join the OT Branch, which has a comprehensive training curriculum that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

This means that training is not only approved by and for the use of occupational therapists serving as active members of the armed forces, but it also meets national certification requirements once one’s service period is completed.

Training prepares students for both military and civilian-related occupational therapy, making it attractive for active-duty and reserve military men and women who might want to become practicing occupational therapists after their military service.

It is also important to note that, after completing military service, even in an unrelated area, you can attend occupational therapy schools tuition free under the post-911 GI Bill.

OT Branch students are designated as Army Medical Department (AMEDD) officers, so they do not have to undergo basic training. Instead, they attend the Officer Basic Course (OBC) for orientation in the military health care system. The OT Branch also trains entry-level military occupational therapy assistants, provides mentorship to occupational therapy officer students, conducts classes in occupational therapy for other branches and programs throughout the Academy of Health Sciences, and conducts an annual postgraduate course on managing combat-related stress conditions.

Most occupational therapists in the military are attached to medical centers in the U.S. and abroad, and the majority of patients are adults—typically wounded veterans. Because military occupational therapists are considered officers, they are not directly involved with day-to-day therapy. Instead, they perform the initial evaluation of a patient, develop a treatment plan, see that it is implemented, and periodically review each patient’s progress. Trained technicians and occupational therapist assistants conduct most of the actual therapeutic tasks.

Financial Aid

Depending on where a student lives, there are various state financial aid programs that can be used to help with tuition at an occupational therapy school. Tuition aid programs (TAP) are also available through employers and unions, although availability tends to rise and fall with the existing economic tide. Most universities with occupational therapy schools also offer their own aid programs as well as access to funds available from other sources affiliated with individual schools. Again, direct contact with a university counselor is the best way to learn more.

Student Loans

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the government’s primary tuition aid program and is by far the largest source of low-interest loans for college students. Parents with dependent students can take also out personal loans to supplement their children’s tuition aid packages through the federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) program. It lets parents borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package, up to the full cost of tuition, and there is no cumulative limit. Since July 1, 2010, all new PLUS loans are made through the government’s Direct Loan program. For the 2011–2012 year, FAFSA will be required for Parent PLUS loans, but about 98 percent of families borrowing from the Parent PLUS loan program already file for FAFSA tuition assistance.

Parent PLUS loans are the financial responsibility of the parents, not the student. If students at occupational therapy schools agree to make payments on the PLUS loan but fail to make the payments on time, the parents are held responsible. Parents of graduate students can also apply for Grad PLUS loans. Such loans currently have a fixed interest rate of 7.9 percent, lower than the 8.5 percent interest rate from the discontinued Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, under which private lenders made loans backed by the government.

Even though FFEL was discontinued in July 2010, outstanding loans will continue to have the same fixed 8.5 percent interest rate because the loans are not subsidized as long as a student remains in school.

Stafford and Perkins Loans

Stafford loans are low-interest government student loans with fixed interest rates as low as 4.5 percent, but they average around 7.0 percent—still lower than the Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FASFA) interest rate. Students attending occupational therapy schools can borrow up to $20,500 per year depending on their degree status and the number of years they spend attending a university. No payments are required as long as a student is enrolled, and loan approval is not based on credit history or financial need.

Eligible students borrow directly from the U.S. Department of Education at participating occupational therapy schools, but they must first file a FAFSA application. Loans cover four-year universities and colleges, with payments made in at least two installments, but no installment can exceed one half of full tuition. Occupational therapy schools first use the money for tuition, room and board, and related fees. If any money remains, students receive the balance by check. The interest rate has, at times, been fixed at 4.5 percent, but students accepted at occupational therapy schools between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, received interest rates fixed at 3.4 percent.

Because these loans have much lower interest rates than either FASFA or Parent PLUS, families should exhaust Stafford loan eligibility before turning to FAFSA or Parent PLUS loans. Unfortunately, many families do not take full advantage of Stafford loans. For instance, one recent survey found that 8.2 percent of students whose parents borrowed from the Parent PLUS loan program did not borrow from the Stafford loan program, and 33.2 percent borrowed less than the maximum total amount available.

The federal Perkins loan is another low-interest program for both undergraduates and graduate students who can demonstrate financial need. Unlike Stafford or Parent PLUS loans, these funds are made through each school’s financial aid office. Even though the loan is made with government funds, the school itself is the lender. Universities either pay occupational therapy students directly, usually by check, or use the funds for school charges, and payments are made twice during each academic year.

A number of factors dictate the amount available, including the timing of an application, each applicant’s level of need, and individual school funding levels. Undergraduates can borrow up to $4,000 per year or $27,500 for a full, four-year course of study. Graduate school students can borrow up to $8,000 for each year or a maximum of $60,000; however, this includes any Perkins loan amounts already borrowed for undergraduate tuition

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