What is an Occupational Therapist?
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.
How do I become an Occupational Therapist?
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.
What prerequisite coursework is necessary to become an Occupational Therapist?
While prerequisites vary slightly from school to school, common prerequisites can include (but are not limited to):
- Human Anatomy and Physiology (with lab)
- Physics (with lab)
- Human Development
- Abnormal Psychology
- Medical Terminology
- English Composition
Students can use the AOTA’s Find a School resource page to look at specific prerequisite courses for different schools
What other necessary experience do I need to become an Occupational Therapist?
While admission requirements can vary from school to school, most programs require at least 100 hours of OT experience (shadowing, volunteering, or interning). 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.
Example of Application Requirements: Towson Univeristy’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