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Occupational Therapy Schools:

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Occupational therapy is a popular degree for students that desire a rewarding career in helping others live optimally. The field of occupational therapy requires a certain level of degree completion; students are advised to register for top programs available in this field. For students to find the best schools available, the occupational therapy programs have been ranked based on their costs, students-to-teacher quota and graduation rates. Discover the best occupational therapy programs available for the upcoming session here

Occupational Therapist Schools and Programs

The purpose of occupational therapy is to make rehabilitative and care services available to clients who by reason of accidents or injuries have lost the use certain abilities. Occupational therapists also assist clients with temporary or permanent disabilities such as cerebral paralysis in learning how to go through daily activities.

Occupational Therapy Aide

An Occupational therapy aide assists licensed occupational therapists in the preparation and maintenance of treatment equipment and areas. Clerical tasks such as filing, scheduling appointments and answering phone calls can also be carried out by occupational therapy aides.

Vocational Schools

High school graduates who desire to study for a fixed period of time and then enter the workforce can attend vocational schools and technical institutes. These programs can be completed in few months and may offer diploma degrees or certificates to occupational therapy aides. The training vocational schools offer helps students gain experience that may be required as an occupational aide or to gain admission in a degree program. The coursework in vocational schools focuses on professional practices.

Community Colleges

Occupational therapy programs in community colleges offer either a certificate or a degree in Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Students interested in an occupational therapy certificate can explore the possibility of applying their credits for an associate degree program. Public colleges for physical and occupational therapy aides, such as Carroll Community College, may offer non credit certificates.

The Associate of Applied Science degree increases the prospects of entry level employment for occupational therapy aides. Community colleges, unlike vocational schools, adopt a well balanced approach and require students to take classes in general academic subjects apart from the basic professional subjects. For certain occupational therapist assistant schools, students are required to take prerequisites which include English, reading and writing , introduction to medical terminology and cell biology.

Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational Therapy Assistants, otherwise known as OTA, are involved in the day-to-day care of patients. They help with physical and therapeutic exercises including exercises. OTAs that work with disabled children teach socialization and movement coordination during play times. In other fields, occupational therapy assistants teach patients to go through daily activities in ways that are as normal as possible such as teaching disabled patients to eat or walk with enabling devices. OTAs are required to be supervised by an occupational therapist, they are also expected to have a minimum of an associate degree and undergo the license process.

Four-year Schools

Graduates from four-year schools can either become licensed occupational therapy assistants or go on for a master’s degree to become entry level occupational therapists. The program offers a solid base for students who intend to complete their education at the graduate level to become occupational therapists. It also gives graduates a competitive edge in the workplace.

Four-year schools concentrate on providing an education that combines a specialization in occupational therapy with an extensive knowledge of general academic topics. Thus, students are likely to take occupational therapy classes alongside classes in mathematics, English, humanities, physical and social sciences. The remaining two years are designated for the core pre-professional program.

Intending occupational therapists can get a well grounded education in their four-year degree. Many graduates can pursue other pursue degrees in the sciences. occupational therapy associates programs or bachelor’s degree programs have not been accredited yet.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists provide help to individuals across all age groups, abilities and disabilities at a point in time or the other. They are trained to create treatment plans, pattern activities to help patients and evaluate patients living and or working environment in order to make recommendations that will inspire progress. Occupational therapists work with kids to develop their sensory, cognitive, and motor skills. For adults with incapacitating sicknesses or injuries, occupational therapists assist them in their daily activities like learning how to walk, talk and eat again. Students intending to become entry-level occupational therapists are required to have a minimum of a master’s degree in OT from an accredited graduate school.

Graduate Schools

Graduate programs award masters or doctoral degrees in occupational therapy. A master’s degree is for students interested in practicing as professional occupational therapists while a doctorate degree provides a wider range of opportunities from practicing to consultancy, research and management. Applicants for the master’s program require a bachelor’s degree and a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree is required for the doctoral program. Graduate programs also require a certain degree of experience as a condition for admission. For example, Boston University requires that applicants for its online post-professional doctorate must have two years of clinical practice.

The Difference between Occupational Therapists, Assistants and Aides

Occupational Therapists, Assistants and Aides have different levels of qualifications and experience and this is evident in their roles and responsibilities as follows:

Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapy Assistants

Occupational Therapy Aides

Education Master’s degree/doctoral degree in occupational therapy Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy High school diploma, with an optional career certificate or diploma
Certification/Exams Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) Exam Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Exam None required
Salary (as of May 2015) Mean annual wage of $80,150 Mean annual wage of $57,870 Mean annual wage of $26,550 (2014)
Role Lead therapist and supervisor Assist with occupational therapy Aid with pre- and post-treatment tasks
Duties Monitor clients to discover their level of progress, create treatment plans and procedures, explain exercises, provide advice to family members and assess progress Assist  clients to perform such therapeutic activities and exercises, teach clients how to use special equipment Assemble therapy equipment, transport patients, help to fill and file paperwork and medical records, schedule appointments, and answer phones

There is also a difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy. Occupational therapy involves counseling clients through their limitations and designing treatment plans while physical therapy involves rehabilitation, reintegration and the provision of related health services. Occupational therapy is also a wider field that comprises non-medical platforms such as the home, workplace or school environment.

Prerequisites for Occupational Therapy Schools

Occupational therapy programs differ across schools but there are common guidelines that cut across these differences. These regulations are designed to help students optimize their time and effort towards success.


Accreditation for occupational therapy programs is available for graduate programs only students interested in reputable programs can rely on the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) for assistance. It is important for a school be accredited as there are specific educational qualifications that are conditions for accreditation. Schools that are not accredited will deprive students of available opportunities such as financial aids and the ability to transfer credits to another school.


Not all accredited programs automatically allow for the transfer of earned credits to other occupational therapist schools. One of such reasons is that some programs award continuing education in place of academic credits, making credits transfer impossible. In order to avoid future disappointments, intending students are advised to inquire in advance if credits can be transferred or not before the enrollment process.


The quality of teachers and lecturers is another factor to be considered in choosing an occupational therapy program. A greater percentage of the teachers should be professors, associate professors and instructors that are occupational therapists also graduates of accredited programs. In addition, the school should also have periodic assessments to appraise its instructors.


The courses offered in occupational therapy schools should be such that equip students with the required knowledge and skills. Such courses apart from general knowledge should include the core topics in occupational therapy like the theory and practice of occupational therapy, the therapeutic process, occupational therapy for children and adults and factors limiting occupational therapy. Occupational therapist assistant schools incorporate the development of certain skills in core topics such as critical thinking, decision making and time management. Programs should allow for field work, internships and other opportunities that will allow students gain experience.


Top programs make provisions for career placements for students after graduation. Some career placement services offer employment opportunities to students before the end of the program. These placements are usually as a result of the existing relationships between the program and employers at occupational therapy facilities, hospitals, health care facilities, homes for the disabled, clinics and related organizations.

Occupational Therapy Degrees and Certification

This profession involves education at several levels. Occupational therapy aids obtain certificates or diplomas as the completion of entry-level programs. Regular occupational therapist assistant schools offer associate or bachelor degrees based on coursework and a minimum of 16 weeks of fieldwork. Any of these undergraduate degrees can be lead to an occupational therapy assistant position or serve as a foundation for further education.

At the graduate level, Professional studies for occupational therapists include a master’s or doctorate degree. The master’s degree is for students that intend to pursue a career in occupational therapy while a doctorate in occupational therapy focuses on research and advancements in the field to prepare students for specialized positions as instructors, clinicians or managers.

Occupational Therapy Aide

Occupational therapy aides can earn a certificate in the field or in physical and occupational therapy, though a high school education is the basic prerequisite. Vocational schools and community colleges offer these certificates and diplomas. Courses are designed to provide a solid foundation for students and prepare them for entry level positions. Aides are usually supervised by occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants.


An insight into the history, practice and philosophy of occupational therapy.


Focus on the appropriate processes for filing and reporting occupational therapy services.


This course explores causative factors of occupational therapy such as accidents, work duties, aging and diseases.


This course provides insight into the best techniques in the practice of occupational therapy and an understanding of how physician offices and clinics are structured.

Occupational Therapy Associate Degrees

The requirements for the Associate of Applied Science degree in occupational therapy differ by school but it is usually completed in two years. This degree prepares students for entry level positions or serves as the basis for obtaining a bachelor’s degree. The associate degree program offers more in-depth knowledge of occupational therapy than a diploma or certificate program, students are also taught the procedures of providing treatment to patients. The core courses in associate degree programs include the following.

Physical Dysfunction

This Course explains the treatment of physically and cognitively challenged clients.

Therapeutic Interventions

Studies in this course provide insight into helping patients maximize their functional ability to perform daily tasks.

Applied Neurology

This class explores the central nervous system, human anatomy and how it relates to occupational therapy.

Occupational Therapy Bachelor’s Degrees

Four-year colleges and universities offer Baccalaureate programs. These programs serve as a basis for a career as an occupational therapy assistant careers and can also prepare students for the master’s degree program required for occupational therapists.
Students in the bachelor’s degree program are taught extensively on neurology and physiology. They are also taught the nature of the human body, its responses to injuries and its repair processes. English as a communication skill is required for this course and it usually takes about 120 credit hours or four years for a degree in occupational therapy.

Human Physiology

Students are taught the body’s physical, mechanical and biochemical processes.

Therapeutic Interventions

Studies in this course provide insight into helping patients maximize their functional ability to perform daily tasks.


This course focuses on the body’s musculoskeletal anatomy, structure and movement mechanism.


This course explores the body’s nervous system, cognitive development, neurological and related disorders.

Occupational Therapist Bachelor’s/Master’s Combined Degrees

Occupational therapist school offer combined bachelor’s/master’s degree programs. The program can be completed in five years or less depending on the student’s previous experience. At the end of the program, students receive a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

There is also a bridge program for occupational therapy assistants that want to become professional occupational therapists. The requirements for admission is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited occupational therapist assistant school, other conditions vary depending on the school. The program, which culminates in a master’s degree, can be completed in two or three years.

Anatomy & Kinesiology

Students learn how the nervous system affects the movement of the human body and about the cardio-respiratory system that pumps blood throughout the body.

Neurological Rehabilitation

Students learn about recent research and clinically relevant information and breakthrough in cognition, neural plasticity, motor learning and behavioral sciences.

Physical Rehabilitation

The course teaches students the different strategies and interventions to improve motor function.

Occupational Therapist Master’s Degrees

The master’s degree in occupational therapy generally requires two or two and a half years, or 97 credit hours. This level of education is required for practicing occupational therapists. The degree can also serve individuals who wish to move into more advanced clinical or managerial roles.

The program includes two semesters of fieldwork. Subjects cover topics such as systems theory and ethics as well as emerging research and trends relating to professional practice. In most programs, applicants must have a degree in one of the sciences, psychology, sociology or a related field for admittance.

Theoretical Foundations of Occupational Therapy

Students learn to analyze theories, along with concepts of application and evaluation.

Meaningful Living Through Occupation

Class focuses on understanding the value of occupation in the context of time, daily activities and performance.

Adult Learners

This course examines the trends for teaching adult clients and possible learning difficulties.

Occupational Therapy Doctorate Degrees

The occupational therapy doctoral program typically lasts two to three years. This advanced practice degree is for occupational therapists that want to pursue roles in clinical research, education and management. A doctorate is required for teaching and research at the university level. Students have the option of two tracks: Clinical (OTD/Dr OT) and Research (PhD/SciD) doctorate programs.

Admission criteria for some programs specify a master’s degree in occupational therapy, while others accept a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, science, psychology, sociology or a related field. In some programs, additional prerequisites may include classes in anatomy and physiology, abnormal psychology, sociology, physics, statistics, and human growth and development. The total credit hours range from about 42 hours for students who enter with a master’s degree to 60 hours for those who enter with a bachelor’s degree.

Clinical (OTD/Dr OT) Programs

Clinical doctorate programs prepare graduates to be expert clinicians in specialty or emerging practice areas. Students are given the opportunity to specialize in a specific area when working with clients. From mental health to cardiac rehabilitation, to hand therapy, students build their knowledge with evidence-based literature and assessments.

Hand Therapy and Physical Agent Modalities

Students learn the role of physical agent modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and light therapy.

Therapeutic Communication

Students explore the principles and practice of a variety of therapeutic communication skills to include motivational interviewing, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy.


Focusing on the interaction between the worker, work tasks, and work environments, students learn how these relationships can be used to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders and improve occupational performance.

Research (PhD/SciD) Programs

Doctorate programs with an emphasis in research typically emphasize in occupational science and research methodologies. Students are trained to implement evidence-based studies in clinical settings and collect data. This education prepares students to better bridge research projects and clinical implementation upon graduation.

Qualitative and Quantitative Design in Mixed Methods Research

Beginning with an overview of qualitative research traditions, students get a basis for integrating qualitative and quantitative design components in a mixed methods study. Students gain experience with procedures for data collection, analysis, and strategies.

Foundations in Team Science and Clinical and Translational Science

This type of course teaches students how to successfully work in a team science setting. They learn to pursue complex science questions and produce high impact research outcomes that results in helping society.

Epidemiology for Clinical Research

Epidemiology studies the patterns, causes, and effects of health and diseases in society. OT students study how to improve the health of populations with research tactics.

Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Explained

Similar to fellowships and internships in other industries, fieldwork is where occupational therapy students observe and then apply the theoretical apply theoretical and scientific principles learned in the classroom to address actual client needs. It is a chance for students to develop a professional identity as an occupational therapy practitioner. Divided into Level I and Level II, the number of hours spent in the field prior to licensure varies on one’s goals, their academic institution and state requirements. This is true for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. Discover the differences between level I and level II fieldwork.

Level I

Level I fieldwork is an introduction to occupational therapy in the real world where students meet with clients for the first time. During this time, students spend time observing and participating in select aspects of the process. While this level is not intended to allow students to work independently with clients, students have the opportunity to work in day care centers, schools, hospice, and homeless shelters among others. They may also have exposure to services management and administrative experiences while working with the disabled or well; age-specific or diagnosis-specific clients.
Geared for new students, participants are not required to have prior fieldwork experience. The length of time spent observing is determined by the academic program.

Level II

One of the key differences between level I and level II fieldwork is the required prerequisite time. To take part in level II, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) occupational therapy students must have completed the equivalent a minimum of 24 weeks full-time experience. For prospective occupational therapy assistants, they must have completed the equivalent of 16 full-time weeks. While students can complete level II fieldwork on a full-time or part-time basis, the AOTA dictates that it cannot be less than half-time.
In level II, students apply what they learned in classes as well as their previous field experience. This is an opportunity to strengthen their clinical reasoning practice and gain confidence in dealing with clients.


  • Assist and care for others
  • Make decisions and solve problems
  • Work well with others on the team and with clients
  • Obtain document information
  • Organize and plan work
  • Patience:
    To be tolerant when dealing with clients who may be frustrated with their progress
  • Critical Thinking:
    To evaluate if the treatment plan is working or needs to be revised
  • Patience:
    To be tolerant when dealing with clients who may be frustrated with their progress
  • Interpersonal Skills:
    To communicate with clients and family members from a variety of backgrounds, and also motivate and engage clients
  • Psychology:
    To understand behavior, performance, learning and motivation
  • Therapy and Counseling:
    To diagnose and provide treatment
  • Education Training:
    To teach and instruct clients and subordinates
  • Customer Personal Services:
    To understand the client’s needs and provide satisfactory service
  • Public Safety and Security:
    To know safety policies and procedures, along with proper equipment usage, to ensure the protection of clients and information

Tools of the Trade

Since occupational therapy aides are involved in administrative services, they work with such tools as billing applications, data entry software and electronic medical records. Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists use such tools and equipment as arm braces and slings, gait and transfer belts, electric wheelchairs and exercise balls. Assistants and therapists also employ word prediction and writing support software – and other language arts and special educational software. In addition, they rely on a variety of customized software applications created for healthcare service providers.


All states require a license for occupational therapists, and most have a licensing requirement for occupational therapist assistants. Professional recognition through the National Board of Certification for Occupational Therapy is a key prerequisite for earning a license.
The Certified Occupational Therapy (COTA) exam is intended for graduates with an Associate of Applied Science degree in the field. The Occupational Therapy Registered (OTR) exam is designed for those with a master’s or a doctoral degree in this discipline.
Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists take certification exams in order to be licensed or registered professionals, and some states have additional requirements. Aides, however, are not required to obtain a license or pass certification exams.

Continuing Education

Occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists take continuing education courses to apply toward maintaining their respective certifications and keeping their skills sharp. They accrue these professional development units through a number of ways, including attending workshops and taking courses, presenting information, providing field supervision, publishing articles and volunteering their services.

After Occupational Therapy School: What’s Next

The main goal of any graduate is to find a rewarding job. Good news–among the fastest growing occupations in the country, occupational therapy assistant ranks as No. 8, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The national average growth rate for all U.S. occupations is projected at 14 percent for the 2012-2022 period. Growth of employment opportunities in OT should far outpace the norm, at 43 percent for occupational therapy assistants, 36 percent for occupational therapy aides and 29 percent for occupational therapists.
But what does it take to enter this expanding field? The first step is education, followed by certification for occupational therapists and most occupational therapy assistants. Related fieldwork or volunteer experience can be helpful for job applicants. Those interested in occupational therapy aide positions can explore the qualifications required at places where they would like to work.
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides can find openings in a variety of locations. The BLS notes that there were 8,570 occupational therapy aides as of 2014, and they earned an annual median income of $26,550.