Occupational therapists (OT) help people perform daily tasks (i.e., work related, leisure, and other life skills) to help maximize independent living. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) defines OT as “a science-driven, evidence-based profession that enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent—or live better with—illness, injury or disability.” The treatment approach includes treating the whole person. Occupational therapists help individuals with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental impairments. They work with individuals to develop a custom treatment program and give guidance to families, caregivers, and communities. There are six broad areas that occupational therapists work in: mental health; productive aging; children and youth; health and wellness; work and industry; rehabilitation, disability, and participation.
How do I become an Occupational Therapist?
Go to an OT graduate school. Occupational therapy practitioners hold masters or doctoral degrees in OT.
Getting into Graduate School
All students interested in OT should meet with the psychology department’s pre-OT advisor as soon as possible. Meeting before the first semester of the freshman year is strongly recommended. Besides completing course requirements (see course catalog) and having an appropriate GPA, it is essential to observe OTs. It is important to try to observe more than one area of OT. Suggestions include hospital settings, schools, clinics, OT practices, and observing a variety of patients (i.e., children, adults, older adults). If you have no connection to an OT, call a clinic, practice, or hospital and arrange to be a volunteer or ask if you could speak to an OT about observing. There is not a set number of hours required to get into most programs, but the recommendation is at least 40 hours of observation. Remember to record the hours and dates you observe as this information will help when completing your application. The point of the observation hours is so that OT graduate school admissions officers can see that you are interested in OT and that you are familiar with the OT field. Additional information can be found on the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association (http://www.aota.org/).
Graduate Record Exam
Some programs require that you take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), while for others it may be optional. For most OT programs, the GRE score is an important criteria of admission. A cumulative GRE score above the 50th percentile will be helpful for admission to most programs.
One of the most important aspects of getting into an OT program is the recommendation letter from an occupational therapist. You will need to establish a relationship with an OT in order to be able to expect a letter of recommendation. Three letters are required for most applications, of which, at least one must be from an OT.
Admission Guidelines for many Occupational Therapy programs:
- A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.70 on a 4.00 point scale (average admitted GPA is 3.8 or higher)
- Completion of the following courses:
or EDUC 320 - Educational Psychology
Students may elect to take in place of Psychology 215 and Psychology 220.
Two psychology electives (courses other than the developmental sequence); for non-psychology majors, (or PSYC 102 - General Psychology: Honors ) and are strongly recommended.
- Completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), taken within the past five years, with scores above the 50th percentile.
- Experience or familiarity with occupational therapy. Students should complete at least 40 hours of OT observation. Other suggested experiences include volunteer work, clinical experience, fieldwork, internships, or independent study.
- Most programs invite qualified prospective students for an on-site visit and interview with a member of their faculty. During this on-site interview, a writing sample or oral case analysis may be requested.
Note: Courses listed above are suggested courses for all occupational therapy graduate programs. Students must check the specific course pre-requisites for each OT school as some schools also require a course in physics and kinesiology. It is the student’s responsibility to become familiar with the admission requirements of the program to which she or he plans to apply.
It is important to note that student applications are evaluated on the strength of both academic performance and non-academic performance (i.e., work life, extracurricular activities, and life experience). In general, though, GPA and GRE scores are critical criteria.
All application materials must be submitted early in the Fall semester of the student’s senior year (preferably in early September).
For additional information, contact the pre-OT advisor at Dominican University.
OT Web resources
- Professional Societies
- General information