- What Is an Occupational Therapist?
- The Path to Becoming an Occupational Therapist
- Prerequisite Courses
Occupational therapists are health care professionals who specialize in helping patients to perform everday tasks despite physical, cognitive, or emotional limitations. Occupational therapy focusses on modifying the environment (e.g. the way a home, school, or place of work is set up) or the task (e.g. is there a different way to cook meals?) rather than "fixing" the patient. Occupational therapists need to be able to concentrate both on details (for example, each step in performing a task) and on social and cultural context.
First, a Bachelor's Degree
To become an occupational therapist, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have successfully committed themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or exercise science. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow preparation for a specific profession.
You must also complete specific prerequisite courses.
After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in occupational therapy to receive a masters (M.O.T.) or, increasingly, a doctorate of occupational therapy (D.O.T.).
To Gap or Not to Gap
A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning physical school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:
- Allows more time to complete prerequisite coursework
- Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
- Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during occupational therapy school
- Provides a break from schooling!
If you are not taking a gap year, you need to apply to a D.O.T. or M.O.T. program the summer after your junior year.
If you are taking a gap year, you will apply the summer after graduation.
The Application Process
The application process to a D.O.T. or M.O.T. program begins more than a year before you plan to enter occupational therapy school.
At some point in your junior or senior years of college, or early in the summer after graduation, you will take the GRE General Test. This test is similar to the SAT, in that it tests basic mathematical, verbal, and writing skills. It does not test the science topics you learn in the prerequisite courses, so you can take it before all of your prerequisites are complete. While some OT schools do not require the GRE, it's still a good idea to take it.
Most, but not all, D.O.T. and M.O.T. schools are part of OTCAS, a centralized admissions system. To apply to OTCAS schools, you first complete an application for OTCAS. OT schools admit students on a rolling basis, so it's best to apply early in the cycle, perhaps in September. For non-OTCAS schools, you need to apply directly to each school you are interested in.
After you apply to OTCAS and specify the schools you are interested in, you will often be invited to complete "supplementary" applications for those schools. These supplementaries request more information, in part to make sure you are serious about that particular school.
Once your supplementaries are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in the fall or winter prior to when you'll start attending OT school.
After interviews, you finally get to find out who accepted you--hopefully you'll have the happy dilemma of choosing between acceptances!
Once in OT school, it is very likely you'll end up being an occupational therapist. Most people accepted to occupational therapy school graduate, pass the NBCOT, and become practicing occupational therapists.
The first year and a half of occupational therapy school is usually "didactic," meaning that you'll take courses. The last year is "clinical," involving working with occupational therapists and patients directly.
At the end of two and a half to three years, you graduate as a D.O.T. or M.O.T.. In order to practice occupational therapy in New York, you also need to pass a test called the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
Some occupational therapists go on to complete a fellowship, particularly if they'd like to specialize in one particular aspect of occupational therapy. Fellowships typically take a year or less, during which you are paid, but under the supervision of a more experienced occupational therapist.
Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most occupational therapy schools. These requirements vary some from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.
Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses for OT schools in the tri-state area. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health advisor.
Required by Nearly all OT Programs
|A & P 1
|A & P 2
|Multiple courses fulfill
Required by Some OT Programs
|Gen. Physics 1
|PHY 166 or PHY 168
|(MAT 171 + MAT 108) or MAT 172
|Gen. Bio. 1
|Gen. Chem. 1
|MAT 171 or MAT 172 corequisite
|Any 200+ level PSY course
Below is an example of a timeline for a hypothetical student, Maria. Maria is planning to take a gap year and decides to major in psychology. She entered without a strong math background. Your timeline will be somewhat different, because you're not Maria. (Or if your name is Maria, you're not this Maria.) You'll almost certainly take some different courses than Maria did. Be sure to consult with your pre-health advisor to decide what's right for you. Still, Maria's timeline should give you a sense of how it can all work out.
|Consult Pre-Health Advisor Regarding...
|MAT 104, BIO 181, PSY 166, ENG 111, LEH 100
|Get to know each other
|MAT 172, BIO 182, ENG 121, Gen. Ed.
|Choice of major, internships, progress
|Begin to plan for internships
|PHY 166, PSY courses, Gen. ed.
|PSY courses, Gen. ed.
|Progress. Gap or no gap?
|Begin investigating which OT schools to apply to
|PSY courses, SOC 166, CHE 166
|Progress. Summer plans
|BIO 166, LEH, PSY courses
|Letters of recommendation
Plan gap year
|PSY courses, LEH
|Arrange for letters of recommendation; mock interviews
|June after graduation
|August after graduation
|Application to OTCAS
|Fall after graduation
|Supplementary applications for OTCAS schools and applications to non-OTCAS schools
|Gap year activities
|Winter after graduation
|Gap year activities
|Spring after graduation
|Inform pre-health advisor of acceptance
|Accept admission to OT school of her choice
|Gap year activities
|One year after graduation
|Begin OT school!