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Occupational Therapy Majors: Information and Requirements

Occupational therapy programs teach students to 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.

Occupational therapy programs are only available at the graduate level; students instead can earn a bachelor's degree in pre-occupational therapy through the health sciences and pre-health professions divisions of 4-year colleges and universities. These pre-professional programs allow students to earn a bachelor's degree and segue directly into a master's or doctoral occupational therapy program.

Schools with Occupational Therapy Programs

The following 4-year schools offer pre-occupational therapy programs:

College/University Location Institution Type Undergraduate Tuition and Fees (2015-2016)*
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private $50,277
Boston University Boston, MA 4-year, Private $48,436
Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO 4-year, Private $48,093
University of Illinois - Chicago Chicago, IL 4-year, Public $13,664 (In-state); $26,520 (Out-of-state)
Thomas Jefferson University Philadelphia, PA 4-year, Private $36,114
University of Pittsburgh - Bradford Bradford, PA 4-year, Public $13,372 (In-state); $24,188 (Out-of-state)

*Source: National Center for Education Statistics

School Selection Criteria

Students interested in a pre-occupational therapy program may want to consider the following:

  • Students may want to consider a dual-degree. A graduate program in occupational therapy may offer the dual-degree option, allowing students to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in a shorter time period.
  • Students should look for pre-occupational therapy programs that include courses required for transfer to a professional program, such as biology, physiology, medical terminology and psychology.
  • Students considering occupational therapy while still in high school may find taking advanced-level math and science classes useful to prepare for the program.
  • Students may want to consider the program length when planning for the future, as some schools may incorporate occupational therapy courses or prerequisites into a bachelor's degree program, while others may add an extra year to undergraduate education for the pre-professional courses.

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.

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 doctoral 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 licensing and national certification examinations.

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 interested in studying occupational therapy can begin their education by pursuing a bachelor's degree in pre-occupational therapy at several 4-year institutions. As they search for the right program, students should consider things like dual-degree options and courses that could transfer to a professional program.

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