Colleges for Occupational Therapy in the U.S.

Occupational therapists work to enhance the life skills of people who have physical, emotional or mental disabilities. These therapists are trained to assist patients in completing tasks that improve memory function and physical dexterity so that they can care for themselves independently. Occupational therapists need a master's degree and state licensure to work in the field.

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How to Select an Occupational Therapy College

Occupational therapy programs can be found at 4-year colleges and universities.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Accreditation
  • Dual degree options
  • Scheduling options

Accreditation

Students seeking careers as occupational therapists should consider attending a graduate degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that all states require occupational therapy license applicants to have a master's degree in the field from an ACOTE-accredited school (www.bls.gov). This accreditation is also necessary for people who wish to take the national certification exam, which is offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy. Attending a program at an ACOTE-accredited school, therefore, may help students complete the licensure and certification processes.

Dual Degree Options

Students without a bachelor's degree who are interested in a career as an occupational therapist might search for schools that offer dual master's and bachelor's degree programs. These programs allow students to obtain both degrees faster than they would by attending two separate programs. This shortened time frame can also reduce a student's education costs.

Scheduling Options

Flexibility in course scheduling is another factor that students might consider when selecting a program. Because master's degree programs typically require students to participate in clinical immersions, internships and externships, students with career responsibilities may opt to enroll in schools that offer weekend or part-time classes.

Occupational Therapy Program Overviews

Bachelor's Degree Programs

A bachelor's degree program in occupational therapy focuses on introducing students to the general concepts of the field. The curriculum usually consists of a combination of coursework and supervised clinical sessions. Classes in these programs may cover topics like:

  • Kinesiology
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Neurology
  • Communication

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree occupational therapy program curricula include coursework in subjects like:

  • Occupational science
  • Assistive technology
  • Functional movement

The format of these programs includes coursework and fieldwork experiences. Students may be required to complete a project utilizing the clinical and research skills they gained. Programs may also include a 2-week externship experience. Students are often given the option to complete a thesis or take a comprehensive exam. Graduates are usually prepared for entry-level positions in the field.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Licensed therapists can obtain a doctoral degree either in occupational therapy or in a related field, such as rehabilitation sciences. These programs prepare students for careers in scientific research, university-level teaching or specialized clinical practice. Students learn the core concepts of occupational science and are typically expected to complete doctoral projects. Programs may include residency, practicum or clinical requirements. Doctoral-level courses may include:

  • Health promotion and wellness
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Current issues in occupational therapy
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