Occupational Therapy

What is an occupational therapist?

  • An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional concerned with restoration and maintenance of function following disease or injury. Specifically, occupational therapists are concerned mainly with finer motor control and its functioning in daily at home activities.
  • An occupational therapist may work with a variety of patients such as stroke victims, amputees, spinal cord or head injury patients and developmentally disabled children. The goal of therapy is to reduce limitations, improve self-care skills, maintain function and prepare for employment.
  •  Occupational therapists work in many settings such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, private practice, home health and psychiatric hospitals. 
  • An occupational therapist must have many important personal qualifications including creativity, warmth, responsibility, determination and patience. A therapist must also be comfortable touching and treating the human body.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is your go-to place when considering occupational therapy.

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Becoming an occupational therapist

  1. Obtain an undergraduate degree (4 years)
  2. Earn a master's degree at an accredited OT program
  3. Pass the NBCOT exam
  4. Apply for licensure

As an option after your master's degree, you can earn a doctorate degree at an accredited OT program.

When you are ready to apply to Occupational Therapy programs, visit the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS).

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Academic Preparation

Pre-OT students should strive to earn at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA. The stronger you perform in your undergraduate prerequisite coursework, the more competitive you will be for graduate school. To learn more about the pre-requisite coursework for several OT programs, see our Advising Sheet.

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Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is...

The GRE is not a course-dependent test, meaning there are not specific UCD courses you need to take to prepare. The best way is to give yourself time to study the test by buying to test prep books or taking a test prep course.

Whatever you do, do not take the test without preparing! Click here to register for the GRE.

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Many schools require in-patient experience, since it is the most medically-placed setting and involves acute care hospital patients. To explore this field and gain clinical experience, we recommend you start with an ICC Health Related Internship.

A minimum amount of volunteer/observation hours are required by most schools, with a minimum amount under the supervision of a licensed OT. Please check each school you plan to apply to for specific hour requirements.

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Applying to OT Programs


The Centralized Application Service for Occupational Therapy (OTCAS) facilitates the OT admission process for programs and applicants and does not determine whether an applicant is eligible or has met program requirements. OTCAS will only consider an application complete for transcript verification once the following items are received:

  • Complete OTCAS application

  • Official transcripts from every accredited U.S. or Canadian college attended

  • OTCAS application fee

Sections of OTCAS include:

  • Biographic information

  • OT observation hours

  • Work experiences

  • Achievements/Honors

  • Personal statement

  • Academic history

  • List of reference providers

  • Extracurricular activities

  • Standardized tests

  • OT program selection

OTCAS is open from mid-July to mid-June of the following year as the application start date and deadline may vary between schools. Please check your individual schools for specific dates. Some may admit students on a rolling basis; if that is the case for your school of choice, be sure to submit your application early, but only when you are ready. Come see an advisor at Health Professions Advising to review your application.

For more detailed information concerning each section of OTCAS, check the OTCAS instructions page.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement should address why you selected OT as a career and how an Occupational Therapy degree relates to your immediate and long-term professional goals. Describe how your personal, educational, and professional background will help you achieve your goals. The personal essay is an important part of your application for admission and provides you with an opportunity for you to clearly and effectively express your ideas. (OTCAS)

Some schools require an additional personal statement specific to their school along with the general OTCAS personal statement. Check each school to which you plan to apply.

Letters of Recommendation

OTCAS requires that applicants submit a minimum of three electronic references even if the program to which you are applying only requires two; OTCAS does not accept committee or composite letters. Note that while OTCAS accepts a maximum of five references, some schools may only accept some number of references; please check with individual schools.

Letters should be from professors, occupational therapists, and/or other professionals that can attest to your academic abilities, work performance, and personal attributes. Some schools may require that one of your references is a licensed OT who has supervised you as a paid or volunteer worker.


Eligible applicants will receive an invitation to schedule an interview provided that space is still available. Not all programs require an interview. Interview policies and practices vary by school.

Supplemental Applications

Most schools will also require a supplemental application, including an additional essay. A supplemental fee is usually required and the cost will vary among schools. It is the responsibility of the applicant to check the requirements for each school to ensure all have been fulfilled. Failure to submit required materials by the each school's deadline may jeopardize the applicant's eligibility for admission consideration.

Choosing Programs

There are both master’s and doctoral programs in Occupational Therapy. Here is a list of all programs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an entry level master’s and an entry level doctoral degree?

These are all appropriate degrees to award at the completion of an entry level occupational therapy educational program. The degree awarded is an institutional prerogative based on consistency with the mission and structure of the college/university. All are considered entry level degrees.

What is the difference between an MOT, MA, or MS degree that is awarded at the completion of master’s degree program?

These are all appropriate degrees to award at the completion of an entry level occupational therapy educational program. The degree awarded is an institutional prerogative based on consistency with the mission and structure of the college/university. All are considered entry level degrees.

What should I major in at the undergraduate level if I apply to an entry level master’s or an entry level doctoral program?

The choice is personal. Examples of what other students have majored in at the undergraduate level include biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, and anatomy. It is important that you contact the educational programs to which you are interested in applying and make sure you have taken the necessary prerequisites for admission into their programs.

How much will I make as an occupational therapist?

For the most recent salary information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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