How to Become an Occupational Therapy Professional

Research the requirements to become an occupational therapist. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in occupational therapy.

View 8 Popular Schools »

Do I Want to Be an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists help people with disabilities, injuries and illnesses improve or recover their ability to perform everyday activities. They may develop interventions that help a disabled child participate in school and social situations, help the elderly lead more active and independent lives and make recommendations on how a person's home can be improved to better suit their health needs. An occupational therapist can find employment in hospitals, nursing care facilities, home health care services and the private offices of other health care professionals. Therapists may spend many hours standing and might need to lift or move patients. Some of them travel to provide their services at multiple sites.

Job Requirements

In addition to meeting state licensing requirements, an occupational therapist must possess at least a master's degree. Optional certifications in areas of specialization are also available. The following table contains the main qualifications for occupational therapists:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree is required*
Degree Field Occupational therapy*
Licensure State licensure is required*
Experience Some employers prefer applicants with 1-2 years of experience**
Key Skills Excellent communication and interpersonal skills; compassion and patience; strong writing skills*
Additional Requirements CPR or Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification may be required**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com job postings (August 2012)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Since occupational therapists require additional education and training beyond the undergraduate level, candidates should first complete a 4-year degree program from an accredited university. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, a variety of majors can prepare aspiring occupational therapists for graduate-level study. Kinesiology, psychology, anthropology, biology and sociology are examples of a few common programs.

Students can also choose schools that offer a dual degree program or an accelerated program. Through these programs, a student can obtain a bachelor's and master's degree in occupational therapy after roughly five years of study.

Success Tips:

  • Have a competitive GPA in prerequisite courses. Many schools offering a master's degree in occupational therapy require that students meet specific GPA requirements before being admitted to the program. While this can vary for each program, schools commonly require a GPA of about 3.0 in prerequisite courses. This includes courses in chemistry, anatomy and physiology, statistics and psychology. A student with a strong GPA may have an advantage when applying to graduate programs.
  • Obtain volunteer experience. Previous experience working with individuals who have mental, developmental or physical disabilities is required for admission to many graduate programs. Some schools prefer applicants who have about 40 hours of experience in more than one occupational therapy setting. Students can contact local facilities that hire occupational therapists to inquire about volunteering.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Master's degree programs in occupational therapy typically take two years to complete. During this time, students learn about functional anatomy, medical and social conditions, assistive technology, patient care concepts and research methods. Fieldwork in a variety of practice settings is an essential component of the curriculum. These experiences may take place in rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, acute hospital settings, school systems and private practices. Students can expect to spend an average of 24 weeks completing field experiences.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Occupational therapists must obtain licensure in their respective states. In order to become licensed, one must graduate from an accredited occupational therapy program, complete fieldwork experiences and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. After meeting these requirements, the individual gains state licensure and is granted the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) credential through the NBCOT.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain certification. Completion of the NBCOT certification exam is mandatory in order to obtain state licensure; however, the certification itself is technically voluntary. Despite being voluntary, many occupational therapists choose to maintain certification in order to stay competitive in this field. Continuing education coursework is required in order to maintain the OTR designation.
Show me popular schools

Related to How to Become an Occupational Therapy Professional

  • Related
  • Recently Updated
  • Popular
Occupational Therapist: Career & Education Info

Occupational therapists help patients, who have a sustained an injury, enhance their life and job skills. Individuals...

Occupational Therapy Technician Career Info

Explore what education and skills an occupational therapy technician needs. Learn about job responsibilities as well as...

Occupational Therapy Assistant: Career Education Summary

Occupational therapy assistants help mentally and physically impaired patients, as well as those with emotional and...

Physical Therapy: Required Education to Be a Physical Therapist

A physical therapist (PT) evaluates, diagnoses and treats patients with disorders that limit their abilities to move or...

Online Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Classes and Courses

Popular Schools

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    • Eligibility and relevancy of sample programs below will vary by article and program
    School locations:
    • Online Learning
    • Arizona (3 campuses)
    • California (16)
    • Colorado (3)
    • Florida (6)
    • Georgia (5)
    • Illinois (7)
    • Indiana (2)
    • Maryland (1)
    • Michigan (1)
    • Minnesota (1)
    • Missouri (2)
    • North Carolina (2)
    • New Jersey (3)
    • Nevada (1)
    • New York (2)
    • Ohio (4)
    • Oklahoma (1)
    • Oregon (1)
    • Pennsylvania (4)
    • Tennessee (2)
    • Texas (7)
    • Utah (1)
    • Virginia (3)
    • Washington (3)
    • Wisconsin (1)

    Online and Classroom-Based Programs

    What is your classroom preference?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must complete an application online and submit transcripts for their highest degree earned.
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    • Currently not accepting applications from Texas residents
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    Online Programs

    Which subject are you interested in?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be 18 years of age or older
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    Distance Learning Programs

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Admissions Requirements Vary By Campus
    School locations:
    • Arizona (4 campuses)
    • Colorado (2 campuses)
    • Connecticut (3)
    • Florida (5)
    • Illinois (3)
    • Massachusetts (1)
    • Maryland (1)
    • New Jersey (2)
    • Nevada (1)
    • Pennsylvania (2)
    • Texas (2)
    • Utah (2)
    • Virginia (1)
    • Washington (2)

    Classroom-Based Programs

    • Non-Degree
        • Massage Therapy

    What is your highest earned degree?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Applicants must have completed 12 college credits
    School locations:
    • Online Learning
    • California (19 campuses)
    • Washington (1)

    Online and Classroom-Based Programs

    • Non-Degree
        • Certificate - Health Administration

    What is your highest level of education?

  • Minimum eligibility requirements:
    • Must be a high school graduate or have completed GED
    School locations:
    • Online Learning

    Online Programs

    • Master
        • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare

    What is your highest level of education?

Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Communication Disorders Sciences
      • Dental
      • Health and Fitness
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Mental Health Services
      • Nursing Professions
      • Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration
      • Public Health and Safety
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions
        • Occupational Therapy
        • Physical Therapy
        • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
      • Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Sciences
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Boston University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Clinical Laboratory Science Professions
      • Communication Disorders Sciences
      • Dental
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical and Health Preparatory Sciences
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Mental Health Services
      • Nutrition Services
      • Public Health and Safety
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions
        • Kinesiotherapist
        • Occupational Therapy
        • Physical Therapy
        • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Popular Schools

Avg. Wages For Related Jobs

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Copyright