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Occupational Therapy Colleges and Degree Programs

Occupational therapists guide patients who have a variety of mental and physical conditions through activity-based treatment that can help them regain mobility. Read on to learn how you can become an occupational therapist by obtaining a degree at the master's or doctoral level.

What You Need to Know

Like many careers in the health care industry, occupational therapy is a growing field. Occupational therapists must have a graduate degree, and they work with patients of all ages who have mental and physical issues, helping them improve their functionality and quality of life.

Degrees Master of Science in Occupational Therapy; Doctorate of Occupational Therapy
Schools* About 200 schools offer accredited programs; most of them are master's degree programs
Licensing State Occupational Therapist licensure is required

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy involves guiding patients with mental and physical diagnoses through everyday tasks in order to help them participate more fully in life. As an occupational therapist, you might specialize in working with groups of patients. This may include working in schools to help children learn or helping elderly patients stay active or recover from strokes. Occupational therapists help patients perform exercises, create treatment plans and assess patients for evaluation reports.

Which Schools Offer Occupational Therapy Degree Programs?

It is best to choose a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Most ACOTE-approved degree programs result in a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT), but there are also a few accredited Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs. Approximately 200 schools are currently accredited by ACOTE for either master's or doctoral degree programs in occupational therapy. Some of the schools offering accredited master's degree programs include:

  • Alabama State University
  • University of Florida
  • Idaho State University
  • Eastern Kentucky University
  • Wayne State University
  • New York University
  • Temple Unversity
  • University of Texas at El Paso
  • University of Washington

Accredited doctorate programs can be found at the following schools, among others:

  • Northern Arizona University
  • Arkansas State University
  • Belmont University
  • Creighton University
  • Ohio State University
  • Duquesne University
  • University of South Dakota
  • Indiana Wesleyan University
  • University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

What Are My Education Requirements?

A master's degree is the usually minimum requirement for obtaining employment as an occupational therapist, according to the BLS. MSOT and OTD programs generally take 2-3 years to complete. Joint degree programs result in both a bachelor's degree in health science and an MSOT; these take five years to complete. To enroll in an MSOT or OTD program, you need to earn a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate courses such as anatomy, physiology, health science, psychology, anthropology and communications.

What Courses Will I Take?

Coursework in a graduate degree program in occupational therapy focuses on theories and practices. Programs include fieldwork where you will gain practical experience in a professional setting. Doctoral degree programs tend to contain more seminars as compared to master's degree programs. Classes you can take will focus on the following:

  • Body structures
  • Neuroscience
  • Occupational therapy leadership
  • Human motion
  • Occupational assessment
  • Group therapy processes
  • Occupational therapy program management

How Do I Become an Occupational Therapist?

Every state has a set of career guidelines pertaining to occupational therapy. To become an Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR), you need to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination and any licensing examinations required by your state's medical boards. You qualify to take these examinations by graduating from an educational program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy (ACOTE). Continuing education is commonly a part of maintaining state licensure as an OTR.

What Is the Outlook for a Career in Occupational Therapy?

According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 130,400 occupational therapists employed in 2016, and this number is expected to grow 24% by 2026. The growth of the aging population with a need for occupational therapy services is believed to contribute most to this employment projection. Occupational therapists earned an estimated annual median wage of $83,200 as of 2017 (www.bls.gov).