How can I become an Occupational Therapist? Schools, Cost Programs & Salary

Do you like to help others to improve their lives, especially if they are struggling with health problems? A career as an occupational therapist (OT) could be the right choice for you. Learn how to become an occupational therapist.

In this article, we will discuss the following details on how you can become an occupational therapist to decide whether occupational therapy could be a career for you.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a form of rehabilitation that helps people with health problems get back to meaningful day-to-day activities.

Occupational therapists focus on education, functional training and participation in day-to-day activities, rather than relying on drugs or surgical intervention.

Occupational therapists are considered to be health professionals and work with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists, respiratory therapists, and many other health professionals to provide holistic care to patients suffering from debilitating diseases or injuries.

What do occupational therapists do?

If you are considering a career at OT, it is very important that you really get fully acquainted with the work of occupational therapists. This is an important step before you decide to invest time, money and energy in getting started.

Occupational therapists typically work with patients who experience debilitating diseases and injuries.

An OT helps patients determine which types of life activities are most important to them and develops strategies to ensure that patients can participate in these activities. This can range from cooking to participation in the community garden club to independent bathing and dressing.

We believe that returning to normal daily activities not only supports the healing process but is also the ultimate goal of rehab.

An operating day is usually spent with a number of patients on a set schedule. The OTs assess and evaluate patient needs and then establish care plans that consist of discrete functional recovery goals.

Much of the work of an OP is to solve patients’ problems and identify the right types of interventions to address the issues.

The types of interventions and care plans that an OT selects are tailored to the individual needs of the patient, but the patient’s needs span a broad range, and there are many types of treatment approaches and settings that OTs can choose from.

Where do occupational therapists work?

Here are some of the common settings in which occupational therapists work:

  • Hospitals and inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Qualified care facilities (sometimes referred to as nursing or convalescent homes)
  • Schools
  • Patient homes
  • Privately owned clinics

It’s worth noting that OTs spend much of their time filling out paperwork. The case of each patient needs to be documented, and the documentation rules and framework can be very costly.

This means that occupational therapists spend a large part of their day realistically writing case notes and communicating with team members.

What skills would an occupational therapist need?

Occupational therapists combine science with a healthy dose of compassion. OTs have to be analytical, but also patient and encouraging. You should have fun with science (especially anatomy and kinesiology) and enjoy working with the public.

OTs need to be excellent listeners and problem solvers, and also understand how to teach others effectively.

Much of the work of an OT is in educating patients, family members, and caregivers. Therefore, it is important that OTs understand how to effectively communicate and educate.

OTs must also be very security-oriented. One of the biggest problems that field coordinators (who provide OT students with clinical experience in the field) are the students’ lack of security awareness.

Much of the work of an OR is about the safety of patients and family members, which can be challenging. From teaching family members how to help safely while bathing and going to the toilet, to demonstrating the safe use of medical equipment – a major focus in OT is teaching safety awareness.

What level of education do you need to become an occupational therapist?

While some OTs are from the bachelor’s degree period, a master’s degree is required as an OT entry-level education. Many schools offer a doctorate (OTD).

How long are you studying to become an occupational therapist?

In most cases, you will have to complete undergraduate studies (four years, unless you finish your studies prematurely or have an accelerated program), and then you will be in the occupational therapy school for two to three years.

During this time, you will also be doing fieldwork where you work as an occupational therapy student (OTS) under the supervision of a licensed OT.

It should be noted that every state in the US has its own rules and regulations for practicing OT. You need an OT license for each state in which you want to practice, and each state has its own licensing and licenses renewal requirements.

What is the best major subject for occupational therapy?

If you are thinking seriously about occupational therapy, you should consider the requirements of the OT school. I would start by visiting different OT schools to see exactly what they are capable of.

  • Developmental psychology (this course should cover the lifespan).
  • Abnormal psychology (this course should cover the lifespan).
  • Behavioral sciences (an additional social science course).
  • Anatomy and physiology of humans I and II (with laboratory).
  • Elementary statistics

It should be noted that my scientific credentials have been met in the last decade and NYU would not accept online (or even hybrid) scientific requirements.

How much money does an occupational therapist make?

If you are considering a career as an occupational therapist, it is likely that you are weighing your earning potential. There are many factors that affect your salary as an occupational therapist.

Many years of experience, specialization, location, and attitude affect your compensation. In addition, some employers pay hourly rates while others pay salaries.

Based on our research on numerous websites – and our own calculations – we have calculated a national average of $76,448 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual average salary for occupational therapists from May 2017 is $83,200.

You can see that occupational therapists are doing quite well financially, but these figures do not show that occupational therapists have a pretty bad debt/income relationship.

While beginner occupational therapists tend to earn slightly less than the national average of $72,000, mid-career workers earn around 6 percent more than the national average. This number increases for career starters by 19 percent.

The income also depends on where an occupational therapist practices. Potential occupational therapists should look at the country-specific payroll information to get a more accurate picture of the area in which they wish to work.

Steps on how to be an occupational therapist

If your dream is to pursue a career as an occupational therapist, you must give apt attention to the following steps listed below as the major procedures that qualify you to work as an occupational therapist.

Earn a bachelor’s degree

The first step in becoming an occupational therapist is to meet the necessary requirements to be admitted to the OT school. This means that you have to acquire both a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree with the required coursework.Earn an associate’s degree

Occupational therapy careers require advanced degrees, but the completion of an occupational therapy assistant is a practical starting point. These two-year programs prepare students for the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA) exam, a national exam conducted by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Students can acquire knowledge and skills in subjects such as biology; Anatomy and physiology; Theory and practice of mental and physical health; Pediatrics; and geriatrics.

The programs typically include fieldwork, during which students complete hands-on exercises for occupational therapy assistants.Take the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam

Graduates interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant may take the COTA exam after completing an associate’s degree. The COTA is a computer-aided exam that consists of 200 multiple-choice questions.

After passing the exam, candidates will receive an official NBCOT certificate and wallet card approximately 4-6 weeks after the exam’s assessment.Gain experience in the field of occupational therapy

Students who pass the COTA exam can seek employment as occupational therapy assistants to gain experience in occupational therapy.
While it is not necessary to work as an assistant in the field of occupational therapy before you apply for occupational therapy, the likelihood of studying for a master’s degree may be increased by experience.Pass the OTR exam (Occupational Therapy Registered)

Passing the OTR exam is required to become a licensed occupational therapist. Like the COTA exam, the OTR is based on computers. There are three clinical simulation problems and 170 multiple-choice questions that serve to assess a candidate’s ability to draw conclusions about client needs, obtain information about the client’s work performance, and the factors that contribute to selecting appropriate therapies and manage occupational therapy and direct services.Pass the NBCOT

After completing your occupational therapy studies, you must pass the National Board Examination (NBCOT).Get the state license

Occupational therapists must be admitted to the state in which they wish to practice. Licensing requirements vary across states, but typically require an NBCOT score, academic credentials, and a background exam. The license fees also vary and can range between $50 and $240.

Additional charges may apply for fingerprints and temporary licenses. In order to keep their license up to date, occupational therapists must complete training courses. You can also do a doctorate to become a specialist and obtain specialization certificates.

Licensing and certification

The certification is voluntary but shows that you are serious about your field of expertise. Occupational therapists must pass the National Occupational Safety and Health Certification Examination (NBCOT) to obtain certification.

The mission of the board is to provide “a world-class standard” for the field.

With NBCOT certification, therapists can use the title of Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR). You will also attend continuing education courses to receive your certification over time.

All states require the admission of occupational therapists. To obtain your license, you will need an accredited program qualification and NBCOT certification. Check the status you want to work on for additional fees and requirements.

What Schools offer Occupational Therapy?

Below are some of the schools available for you to pursue your dreams in occupational therapy. Most of these institutions are widely recognized in the United States and the world at large, as being effective training institutions for certified occupational Therapists. Check them out and explore

Boston University

Tuition: $54,720

Boston University offers undergraduate, graduate professional, and graduate research programs in OT. We also have distance education programs online for practicing professionals and an interdisciplinary doctoral program in rehabilitation sciences.

Boston University ranks among the world’s most esteemed educators of the next generation of leaders in occupational therapy. In fact, U.S. News & World Report’s latest graduate school rankings named Boston University’s graduate Occupational Therapy program #1 (tied) out of 156 accredited programs in the United States.

Program portal

University of Southern California Chan Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $28,628 each semester

For more than 75 years, the University of Southern California has been working to ensure that people of every age and from every circumstance can live life to the fullest.

The school has been among the most respected occupational therapy programs in the United States.

Throughout the decades, Trojans near and far have advanced the profession of occupational therapy and the research discipline of occupational science.

Today, the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy proudly carries this legacy forward as we aim to improve the quality of life of people and communities across the world.

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The University of Illinois, Chicago Department of Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $26,520

The Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago has been integrating research, education and clinical practice in service to one vision: Creating Tomorrow’s Practice.

U.S. News & World Report ranks UIC the #1 occupational therapy master’s program among public universities and #4 program in the country

The school generates research and theories that will improve occupational therapy practice; our commitment to excellent education for the leaders and practitioners of tomorrow.

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University of Pittsburgh Department of Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $29,758

The Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh is one of the leading academic departments in the profession of occupational therapy.

Its advanced practice programs provide expanded education and mentoring to occupational therapy practitioners trained domestically and internationally, supporting their development as master practitioners, clinical educators, and professional leaders.

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Thomas Jefferson University Occupational Therapy School

Tuition: $40,501

Jefferson leads the way in healthcare education with the use of innovative teaching strategies, including simulated patients, consumer instructors and targeted inter-professional education opportunities allowing students to learn alongside peers in other health and medical professions.

All classes are taught by innovative, highly experienced faculty members, many of whom are involved in funded training and research projects.

Faculty and students have an opportunity to collaborate in projects based in Jefferson Elder Care, the Measurement and Outcomes Laboratory, and the Autism Laboratory.

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University of Florida Department of Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $12,740 per term

The UF Department of Occupational Therapy offers an entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) beginning from the fall semester of 2022. The program has recently got the Candidacy Status by the ACOTE.

The Masters of Occupational Therapy (MOT) Program has ACOTE accreditation status. However, the MOT program has stopped accepting new intake for proper transitioning to the Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD).

Notwithstanding, current students and UF Pre-OT Health Science students are allowed to complete their degree programs.

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Nova Southeastern University, Florida

Tuition: $30,094

Nova Southeastern University offers 2 entry-level occupational therapy programs: Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) & Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD).

In addition, NSU also offers 2 post-professional occupational therapy programs: a Clinical Doctorate (Dr.OT) & Research Doctorate (Ph.D.). The OT post-professional programs are online programs.

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Tufts University Department of Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $52,724

Tufts University Department of Occupational Therapy (also known as the historic Boston School of Occupational Therapy – founded in 1918) is one of the country’s top-ranked programs.

Through our education, research, and practice, we promote participation in the meaningful activity of individuals, communities, and populations with diverse needs and experiences.

Tufts University’s Entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (ELOTD) is designed for students entering with a degree in a field other than OT. Students will experience an exciting program that combines a diverse curriculum, research, service learning, and fieldwork.

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University of Kansas Medical Center

Tuition: $35,035

KU’s occupational therapy programs are nationally recognized for excellence as a leader in education and research in the field. The Department of Occupational Therapy Education resides in the KU School of Health Professions and is located on the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kan.

The department offers three-degree programs; Entry-level Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), Entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) and Post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD).

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New York University Department of Occupational Therapy

Tuition: $64,620

The New York University Department of Occupational Therapy is committed to the development of outstanding, ethical practitioners, leaders, scholars, and researchers in the field of occupational therapy who are prepared to respond to society’s ever-changing needs.

The school is a highly-ranked OT program and strives to offer a dynamic, student-centered, experiential learning environment from top faculty in their respective fields.

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FAQs | How to become an Occupational Therapist

A master’s degree is the entry level for becoming a practicing occupational therapist, and admission to occupational therapy degree programs is competitive.

An average master’s degree program takes a student two to three years to complete.

Yes, there are online OT programs. However, according to Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, there are currently no accredited entry-level occupational therapy programs offered entirely online.

Notwithstanding, many OT programs offer some courses or parts of courses online.

You likely aren’t feeling great about not getting into OT school. However, many applicants don’t get into OT school on their first try.

This isn’t because they aren’t cut out to be occupational therapists, but because SO many people are applying to occupational therapy schools.


Being an occupational therapist is hard work, but it’s worth it. I recommend that you start planning as early as possible. If you really focus on high grades, high GRE scores, and impressive volunteerism, you have a better chance of getting into the school(s) of your choice.



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