What Type of Degree Do I Need to Become an Occupational Therapist?

To become an occupational therapist, you'll need a minimum of a master's degree in occupational therapy. The following article offers information on preparing for and entering an occupational therapy program, as well as information about certification and licensure. Schools offering Occupational Therapy Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

High School Preparation

While in high school, you can begin your preparation for a career in occupational therapy. Volunteer experience in health care settings might greatly improve your chances of being accepted to occupational therapy degree programs, so it's wise to spend time volunteering in a care facility, such as a nursing home. In addition, you may consider taking courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and social sciences.

Important Facts About Occupational Therapists

Online AvailabilityFull coursework online; fieldwork onsite
Continuing EducationRequired to maintain licensure; necessary hours vary by state
SpecializationPediatrics, gerontology, physical rehabilitation
Common CoursesEvaluation, occupational performance, performance and development

College Education

Once in college, occupational therapy students who don't opt for a dual bachelor's and master's degree program should be sure to adequately prepare by choosing an undergraduate major in occupational therapy or one of the following disciplines:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Exercise Science
  • Other health majors

While most postgraduate programs do not require a specific major, the above generally cover the required prerequisite courses for admission. Degree programs may be earned from any of the accredited institutions offering master's degree programs or combined bachelor-master's degree programs in occupational therapy. The BLS reported that as of December 2015, there were almost 200 such institutions, including seven doctoral programs. Programs typically follow a full-time schedule, but you may find that more schools are starting to offer part-time or weekend options to accommodate those who are too busy for the standard full-time schedule.

Master's Degree

While obtaining a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), students learn occupational therapy theories and skills while studying subjects such as physical science, behavioral science, and biological science. In addition to lectures, coursework and research, occupational therapy programs also typically include four to six-month fieldwork requirements, allowing you to apply learned skills in professional health care settings.

Doctoral Degree

Although a master's degree is considered the minimum educational requirement for employment, doctoral degrees are becoming increasing popular. The American Occupational Therapy Association stated that a doctorate should be considered the entry-level education for occupational therapists by 2025 (www.aota.org).

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Although certification is not required for employment, it is considered a desirable professional asset demonstrating that you have achieved a nationally recognized level of skill and proficiency. Certification is offered through the AOTA.

While certification is voluntary, licensing is mandatory in all states. Licensure requirements vary by state, but generally, requirements to obtain a license include passing an examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy and graduating from an accredited occupational therapy program.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), aspiring occupational therapists must earn a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy. Job prospects should be excellent due to an estimated growth of 27% in employment from 2014-2024, as reported by the BLS. The median annual wage for this profession as reported by the BLS in May 2014 was $78,810.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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