Occupational Therapy Majors: Information and Requirements

Occupational therapists help patients overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges that prevent them from normal, everyday living. While any undergraduate major will suffice for a graduate program in occupational therapy, certain prerequisites must be completed prior to admission. A graduate degree, such as a Master of Occupational Therapy or Occupational Therapy Doctorate, is required for professional practice.

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How to Select a Pre-Occupational Therapy School

Occupational therapy programs are only available at the graduate level; students instead can earn a bachelor's degree in pre-occupational therapy. These programs are found through the health sciences and pre-health professions divisions of 4-year colleges and universities.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Degree options
  • Common coursework
  • Preparing for the program

Degree Options

Several schools provide pre-professional undergraduate programs to help students advance to a graduate program. These non-degree, pre-professional programs can often be taken simultaneously with an undergraduate major, allowing students to earn a bachelor's degree and segue directly into a master's or doctoral occupational therapy program.

Some schools may incorporate occupational therapy courses or prerequisites into a bachelor's program, though others may add an extra year to undergraduate education for the pre-professional courses. Additionally, a graduate program in occupational therapy may also offer a dual-degree option, allowing students to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in a shorter time period.

Common Coursework

Pre-occupational therapy programs include courses required for transfer to a professional program. Studies in biology, physiology, medical terminology and psychology are typically included, and may be part of a larger degree program.

Preparing for the Program

Students considering occupational therapy while still in high school may find taking advanced-level math and science classes useful. Comparing a bachelor's or pre-professional program with the necessary prerequisites for a student's selected graduate school may determine the best option after high school graduation.

How to Select an Occupational Therapy School

Students may earn a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy at a 4-year university. These programs can fulfill state licensing requirements and are often available through a school's health and medical sciences or health technology department.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Admission requirements
  • Hands-on training
  • Licensure requirements
  • Possible concentrations

Admission Requirements

Some graduate schools require practical experience prior to enrollment. Real-world experience during an undergraduate program, either in observation, volunteer work or actual employment, may give students an added advantage in both technical competence and admission to a limited or competitive graduate program.

Hands-On Training

Most programs incorporate hands-on practice within coursework or offer clinical fieldwork. When selecting a graduate school, students should weigh the balance of research, coursework and practical training, and choose a school that meets his or her criterion.

Licensure Requirements

Since occupational therapists require state licensure, students should research a school's graduate program curricula to ensure courses adequately prepare for state or national license testing. Continuing education is often necessary to renew a license, which may also be offered to graduates of an occupational therapy program. A few states may further regulate therapists who work in an educational setting or prevention services. Students are encouraged to research state laws to verify the necessary education is provided in the graduate program.

Possible Concentrations

Some schools also include graduate certificate programs that coincide with a master's program, providing specialized studies. Students may choose to include a certificate in concentrations such as pediatric or geriatric therapy, preventive aid, hand treatment or prosthetic rehabilitation.

Occupational Therapy Program Overviews

Bachelor's Degrees for Pre-Occupational Therapy

Bachelor's degree programs in pre-occupational therapy, biology, and psychology could be useful to prospective occupational therapy students, though a specific major is not usually required for admission to a graduate program. An internship, or some form of work-experience, is highly recommended or required for admission to graduate school. These programs can include helpful courses in:

  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Medical terminology
  • Psychology

Master of Occupational Therapy

Master's degree programs in occupational therapy typically take two years to complete, though some that combine a bachelor's degree or doctorate degree may take longer. Real-world experience is typically mandatory in the form of fieldwork or internships. Completion of an accredited program qualifies students to sit for state and national licensing examinations. Courses students take might include:

  • Biomechanics
  • Therapeutic skills
  • Anatomy
  • Studies in behavior

Doctoral Degree Programs in Occupational Therapy

Doctoral degrees from an occupational therapy program may result in either a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD). A Ph.D. program typically focuses on research and theory, requiring students to complete a dissertation. An OTD program offers more practical training, clinical practice and often includes an individual project. These doctoral degree programs vary in prerequisites; some accept bachelor's degree-holders, and others require a master's degree. Program length also depends on the school; some take as little as two years, and others last up to five years. Students may enroll in classes in:

  • Relationship-centered care
  • The neuroscience of occupation
  • Advocacy and leadership
  • Emerging areas of practice
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