Preparing for Occupational Therapy

 What is Occupational Therapy?

  • Occupational therapists (OTs) are health care professionals who focus  on maximizing people's ability to function in daily life. They typically do the following:  Review patients' medical history, ask the patients questions and observe them doing tasks
  • Evaluate a patient's condition and needs
  • Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying special goals and types of activities that will be used to help the patient work towards these goals
  • Help people with various disabilities with different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
  • Demonstrate exercises - for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief - that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
  • Evaluate a patient's home or workplace and identify potential improvements
  • Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment        

Preparation for Occupational Therapy School

The most competitive applicant is one who has seriously investigated the field, taken the proper prerequisite courses, and given much thought to the reasons for selecting occupational therapy as a career.  Criteria used in the selection of applicants for occupational therapy school include GPA, work experience or exposure to the field, letters of recommendation, personal statement, applicable test scores (such as the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE), extracurricular activities, and interview scores.  GPA ranges fluctuate with each applicant pool and each school. For more information on occupational therapy as a career, go to The American Occupational Therapy Association Website.

Occupational Therapy Education

A master's  degree is the minimum requirement for entry into this profession. In 2014, there are nearly 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.  Admission to graduate programs generally requires a bachelor's degree including coursework in biology and physiology.  The master's program is a two to three year course of study; doctoral programs take about three years to complete.   Graduates of all programs take a national certification examination that meets the requirements of states which license occupational therapy practitioners. For more information on OT programs and their requirements, go to the American Occupational Therapy Association's list of schools.        

Advisor Discussion

4 Year Suggested Checklist

Freshmen Year

All new, first-time pre-occupational student must schedule a time to attend a Pre-Physical/Occupational Therapy Information Session.   Please call (775) 784-4684 for scheduled dates and times. 

  • Begin to seek out volunteer/community experience (and continue throughout undergraduate years)

Sophomore Year

  • Choose a major (if you haven't already done so)
  • Familiarize yourself with various occupational therapy programs and their entrance requirements
  • Seek summer internships, shadowing experience or volunteer work

Junior Year

  • Attend the University Professional and Graduate School Fair
  • Narrow down the list of schools you are interested in applying to
  • Find out important dates to submit an application
  • Prep for the GRE or appropriate entrance exam
  • Check in with your pre-professional advisor to make sure your application materials are complete
  • Secure your letters of recommendations from faculty members, health advisor or clinical supervisor
  • Prepare and sign up for related personal statement and interview workshops

Senior Year

  • Confirm that you have met all graduation requirements
  • Retake entrance exam, if necessary
  • Forward final documentations needed for the application and review process
  • Prepare for interviews
  • Complete secondary applications, if necessary

Important Attributes to Develop

  • Communication skills
  • Compassion
  • Flexibility
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Patience
  • Writing Skills

Extracurricular Activities to Enhance your Application

  • Experience -  throughout your time in college you should be getting health care experience and exposure in a variety of settings.
  • Extracurricular activities - health profession schools like to see people who are interested and involved in their campus and local communities.
  • Conduct research with faculty on campus.
  • Develop the ability to read, write and think - science is only one part of health care.
  • Consider seeking leadership positions in organizations in which you are involved.

Job Outlook

 The 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 24 percent between2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer's disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.

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