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.

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. These non-degree, pre-professional programs allow 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.

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

  • Some schools provide pre-professional undergraduate programs, often taken simultaneously with an undergraduate major, to help students advance to a graduate program.
  • A graduate program in occupational therapy may offer a dual-degree option, allowing students to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in a shorter time period.
  • Pre-occupational therapy programs 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.

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. Most programs incorporate hands-on practice within coursework or offer clinical fieldwork. Students may choose to include a certificate in concentrations such as pediatric or geriatric therapy, preventive aid, hand treatment or prosthetic rehabilitation.

When choosing an occupational therapy school, students should consider the following:

  • Some graduate schools require practical experience prior to enrollment, so gaining real-world experience during an undergraduate program may give students an added advantage in both technical competence and admission to a limited or competitive graduate program.
  • 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.
  • Occupational therapists are required to hold state licensure, so students should research a school's graduate program curricula to ensure courses adequately prepare for state or national license testing.
  • Students should research state laws to verify the necessary education is provided in the graduate program.
  • Some schools include graduate certificate programs that coincide with a master's program, providing specialized studies.

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

Top Ten Schools with Occupational Therapy Programs

College/University Institution Type
University of Southern California 4-year, Private
Boston University (Sargent) 4-year, Private
Washington University in St. Louis 4-year, Private
University of Illinois--Chicago 4-year, Public
University of Kansas Medical Center 4-year, Public
Colorado State University 4-year, Public
Thomas Jefferson University 4-year, Private
Tufts University--Boston School of Occupational Therapy 4-year, Private
University of Pittsburgh 4-year, Public
New York University 4-year, Private

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