Become an Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists play a critical role in helping people with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities live independently. They evaluate patients' conditions and rehabilitative needs to develop treatment plans. They also help patients use adaptive equipment, assess and treat cognitive impairment, and evaluate patients' environments to suggest accessibility modifications. They may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, care facilities, and rehabilitation centers.
Professionals need at least a master's degree to begin an occupational therapy career, and many occupational therapists hold a doctorate. A master's degree in occupational therapy provides the academic and hands-on training necessary to perform clinical practice.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for these healthcare professionals to grow 16% between 2019-2029, much faster than the average growth for all occupations. Occupational therapists with a master's degree and licensure earn a median annual pay of $84,950.
This guide ranks the best occupational therapy master's programs. It also covers other important information for prospective students, including scholarship opportunities for occupational therapist students.
Students can pursue a master of arts in occupational therapy, a master of science in occupational therapy, or a master of occupational therapy. All of these programs prepare students to work as occupational therapists. Once students graduate and pass the national certification exam, they may pursue a specialization through a fellowship, post-professional program, and/or doctorate in occupational education. Options for specialization include geriatrics, pediatrics, physical disability, and mental health.
All states require occupational therapists to hold a license to practice. Quality occupational therapist programs provide students with the knowledge and technical training necessary to pass the national certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
Questions from Prospective in Master's Occupational Therapy
Q. What does an occupational therapist do?
Occupational therapists support people with illnesses, disabilities, and injuries. They evaluate their needs and develop treatment plans. They also help clients perform daily tasks, complete rehabilitative exercises, and use assistive equipment.
Q. What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?
Both occupational therapists and physical therapists serve as rehabilitative care professionals. However, occupational therapists focus on helping clients perform daily tasks, such as eating and dressing after a stroke. They also work to modify clients' living environments to accommodate everyday activities. Physical therapists focus on helping people improve their body's function, movement, and mobility.
Q. What is an example of occupational therapy?
Examples of occupational therapy include showing an accident victim how to perform exercises that manage their pain and teaching clients effective strategies to manage their stress.
Q. Are occupational therapists considered doctors?
Occupational therapists are not medical doctors. They are clinicians with a master's or doctoral degree.
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Why Get an Occupational Therapy Degree?
The following list outlines five benefits of earning an occupational therapy degree.
- Preparation for a Doctorate
- According to ACOTE, in 2027, a doctorate will be the entry-level degree requirement for the field. However, ACOTE will grandfather in those with a master's so they can continue to practice without a doctorate.
- Field Experience
- A master's degree in occupational therapy requires level I and II field experience, giving students hands-on training in the field.
- Sunny Job Outlook
- The BLS projects a 16% job growth rate for occupational therapists between 2019-2029, far greater than the 4% average growth rate for all occupations.
- Well-Paying Jobs
- Occupational therapists with a master's degree and state licensure make a median annual wage of $84,950 per year, more than double the median wage for all workers.
- Make a Difference in Others' Lives
- Occupational therapists work with other healthcare professionals to help people with illnesses, injuries, and disabilities live comfortably and independently.
What Are the Requirements for an Occupational Therapy Degree?
Master's in occupational therapy degree programs typically require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Applicants may need to submit letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and/or essays. Schools may also require applicants to meet a minimum GPA requirement.
Once enrolled, students usually complete about 70-85 credits, studying topics such as human structure and function, applied kinesiology, therapeutic modalities, and evidence-based occupational therapy. Students also complete level I and II fieldwork, gaining hands-on experience in the field. Students may need to complete a culminating project or thesis to graduate.
Professional Organizations for Occupational Therapy Students
Professional organizations provide students with advocacy, professional development opportunities, and community support. The following list outlines several professional organizations for occupational therapy students and professionals.
The national professional organization for the occupational therapy field, AOTA offers the latest occupational therapist news and research; an online career center; and a discounts program for insurance, products, and continuing education.
While NBCOT does not offer membership, the organization offers resources such as study packs, self-assessments, and practice tests. Students can also use the site to search for evidence-based articles and other information.
ASHT offers reduced-cost student membership for learners enrolled in occupational and physical therapy programs. Members gain access to publications, a webinar series, discounts on publications and products, and continuing education opportunities.
Scholarships for Occupational Therapy Students
Scholarships provide students with free money for their education. Funders may award scholarships based on factors like academic performance or financial need. The following list outlines several scholarship opportunities for master's in occupational therapy students.
American Occupational Therapy Foundation Scholarships
AOTF offers scholarships for students enrolled in accredited occupational therapy programs. Applicants must submit transcripts and a 500-word essay.
Daughters of the American Revolution: Occupational/Physical Therapy Scholarship
Who Can Apply: DAR awards need-based scholarships to students attending an accredited occupational therapy school. Applicants must submit evidence of financial need.
AMBUCS Student Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: AMBUCS offers need-based scholarships for occupational, physical, and speech therapy students in graduate programs. Applicants must submit the FAFSA, proof of enrollment, and a personal statement with their application.
Best Occupational Therapy Master's Degrees 2021
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
One of Washington's top public colleges, UW offers a master's in occupational therapy program through its Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. This interdisciplinary degree combines rigorous online coursework with community-based clinical experiences that build hands-on experience. The program admits just 24 degree candidates each year and boasts a 4-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
This two-year program begins each fall and includes a minimum of 116 quarter credits. Candidates complete courses such as foundations of occupational therapy, rehabilitation psychology, and disease diagnosis in rehab. Students dedicate their last two quarters exclusively to occupational therapy fieldwork.
UW's occupational therapy degree automatically qualifies graduates for Washington State Educational Staff Associate certification, enabling recipients to work with children in the state's public school system. Graduates also qualify for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. The program boasts a 100% graduation rate and a 100% pass rate on the NBCOT exam.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Offered through the UNC School of Medicine, the master of science in occupational therapy emphasizes program themes including context and community, leadership and collaboration, and therapeutic processes. UNC's occupational therapy degree primarily serves applicants with no undergraduate background in occupational therapy. This full-time program takes approximately two years to complete.
Degree candidates complete a 63-credit curriculum that integrates hands-on therapy practice, scholarship, and inquiry. Typical courses include body structures and functions, perspectives on disability and health, and life course development. Candidates also complete two semesters of full-time field work, comprising 24 weeks total.
While UNC's occupational therapy degree serves students of all undergraduate majors, applicants must complete a selection of prerequisite courses before enrolling, including two semesters of human anatomy and physiology, statistics, and abnormal psychology. Additional, more flexible prerequisites include courses related to modes of reasons and human development and behavior.
Florida International University
A public college based in Miami, FIU hosts one of Florida's top occupational therapy degrees. The school's master of science in occupational therapy trains students to assist patients with physical and cognitive dysfunctions. This entry-level program serves students of all academic backgrounds, and FIU does not require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy.
FIU's occupational therapy degree includes a minimum of 80 credits and takes about two and a half years to complete. Courses explore an assortment of theoretical and clinical topics, including analysis of human motion, assistive technology and the environment, and biomechanical and rehabilitative approaches. Candidates also complete several clinical fieldwork experiences, with the program's final two semesters primarily dedicated to fieldwork.
FIU's Occupational Therapy Department awards competitive scholarships to candidates who demonstrate financial need. As of May 2021, eligible students can receive up to $30,000 in funding over two years.
One of New York State's major public colleges, Stony Brook serves more than 26,000 students from its campus in Suffolk County on Long Island. The school's master of science in occupational therapy admits two student cohorts each year: one at the main Stony Brook campus and another at the school's Southampton campus. The occupational therapy degree lasts three years and begins each summer.
Candidates complete a minimum of 110.5 credits, divided among rehabilitation practice, theory courses, and fieldwork. Common course topics include functional anatomy review, clinical conditions, and theories of adult rehabilitation. All occupational therapy candidates complete two levels of clinical fieldwork experiences, which occur over the course of several semesters.
Near the end of the program, all candidates must also complete a service learning and capstone project. Exploring the community role of occupational therapy, the capstone requires candidates to perform at least 30 hours of community service.
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
The flagship campus of the University of Minnesota system, UMN hosts one of the top master's in occupational therapy programs in the Midwest. The school's master of science in occupational therapy uses a hybrid format that combines online and campus courses. UMN also offers the occupational degree on its Rochester campus, with courses delivered using a mixture of face-to-face and interactive video sessions.
The 116-credit degree curriculum emphasizes the varied contexts of occupational therapy, including home, community, classroom, and authentic practice. Courses cover topics such as qualitative inquiry, systems of practice, and teaching and learning in occupational therapy. The program takes three years to complete.
Candidates complete several sections of clinical fieldwork, exploring the various professional roles of occupational therapy. All students complete a total of 28 weeks of fieldwork, including 24 weeks of advanced fieldwork. Occupational therapy candidates also complete a capstone project focusing on one advanced practice area, such as clinical practice, research, or leadership.
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
A public college located about 125 miles northwest of Madison, UW-La Crosse offers one of Wisconsin's top-ranked master's in occupational therapy programs. The degree prepares graduates to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's national certification exam, resulting in the Occupational Therapist Registered credential. The occupational therapy degree requires 30 months total to complete, including 24 months of academic coursework and six months of fieldwork.
The program emphasizes five major curriculum areas: foundational science, research skills, professional identity/leadership, clinical skills, and theory. Common courses include applied group dynamics, scientific writing, and adult clinical practice.
The curriculum also features two levels of fieldwork. Level I fieldwork highlights different patient populations and intervention contexts. Level II fieldwork emphasizes entry-level clinical competencies and professional skills. Students complete field experiences during five of the program's nine semesters, for a total of 15 credits.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
A public college with campus locations throughout southern Texas, UTRGV offers one of the state's top-ranked occupational therapy degrees. The school's master of science in occupational therapy builds skills in clinical practice, critical thinking, and clinical research. Students explore the impact of systems, occupations, culture, and disabilities on the field of occupational therapy.
The 71-credit program begins each fall and lasts 2.5 years. Candidates complete courses on topics such as clinical neuroscience, health policies and ethics, and qualitative research in occupational therapy. The program dedicates its final two semesters to fieldwork, enabling students to gain hands-on experience in a professional occupational therapy environment.
UTRGV admits students of all academic backgrounds, though some candidates may need to complete prerequisite courses by the admission deadline. The program also requires applicants to hold volunteer and/or work experience in any professional field.
University of Louisiana at Monroe
Located in northern Louisiana, ULM offers one of the top occupational therapy degrees in the South. The master of science in occupational therapy trains students to assist clients with physical, social, emotional, or developmental problems. The school also offers a bridge program for students who earn their associate degree in occupational therapy at ULM and want to move directly into the master's program.
Degree candidates complete a minimum of 72 credits, including courses such as psychosocial practices across the lifespan, occupation-based practice for adults, and applied occupational therapy research. Candidates also complete two semesters of clinical practice courses. The degree takes about two and a half years of full-time study to complete.
Program applicants must possess occupational therapy assistant certification and a bachelor's degree in any subject. Along with standard application requirements, all candidates must also submit a short video detailing their interest in occupational therapy and their current area of practice.
San Jose State University
One of California's oldest public colleges, SJSU serves around 36,000 students from its campus in the Bay Area. The school's master of science in occupational therapy centers around principles of well-being, social inclusion, and occupational health promotion. SJSU's occupational therapy degree primarily serves applicants with no background in occupational therapy.
The program curriculum consists of academic clusters, including occupational therapy practice, research and knowledge development, and practice in the community. Typical courses include occupation through the lifespan, functional kinesiology, and advanced research methodology. After completing the academic curriculum, all candidates complete 24 weeks of fieldwork placements.
All occupational therapy candidates must also participate in an international experience as part of the academic curriculum. This three-credit study abroad trip builds cross-cultural knowledge and explores the political, economic, social, and cultural factors that affect occupational therapy practice. The study abroad trip typically lasts 1-3 weeks.
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
A major public college based in Salt Lake City, the U hosts one of Utah's best occupational therapy degrees. The school's master's in occupational therapy program emphasizes clinical skills, professional skills, and research skills. The degree trains clinicians for practice in a variety of community service and healthcare settings.
The 96-credit program curriculum encompasses five major content threads: pediatric, adult, psychosocial, research, and leadership. Candidates complete courses such as creative occupations, culture and therapeutic relating, and population-based programming. The program also includes multiple practicum and fieldwork experiences.
While the U's occupational therapy program admits students of all academic backgrounds, candidates may need to complete up to 10 prerequisite courses to qualify for enrollment. Applicants must complete courses including human anatomy, human physiology, cultural anthropology, and abnormal psychology. Candidates must complete all prerequisites by the spring semester prior to the program's fall state date.
University of New Mexico-Main Campus
New Mexico's flagship public college, UNM serves more than 22,000 students from its campus in Albuquerque. The school's master's in occupational therapy program trains students to help clients deal with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities. The program takes two and a half years to complete.
Along with academic courses, all candidates complete a significant fieldwork component in a professional occupational therapy environment. UNM maintains working relationships with fieldwork placement sites across New Mexico, as well as 21 other U.S. states. Students can also take advantage of international fieldwork opportunities in countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.
UNM does not require a background in occupational therapy, but all applicants must complete several prerequisite courses in subjects including statistics, abnormal psychology, and human anatomy and physiology. Applicants must also observe professional occupational therapy practitioners at work for at least 65 hours across multiple settings. Top applicants must travel to the UNM campus to attend an interview and complete a writing assessment.
A large public college based in Greenville, North Carolina, ECU hosts one of the state's top occupational therapy degrees. Offered through the school's College of Allied Health Sciences, the master's in occupational therapy program cultivates both clinical practice and leadership skills. The program typically takes two and a half years to complete.
ECU offers two completion options: a 75-credit thesis option or a 69-credit non-thesis option. Candidates in both tracks complete courses such as therapeutic managing occupational therapy services, dyadic and group skills, and use of human occupation. The program also includes two stages of intensive fieldwork, building professional experience in a health services or community services environment.
Candidates in both tracks must complete a comprehensive culminating requirement. Thesis candidates complete a significant research project on an occupational therapy issue. Non-thesis candidates complete a professionally focused project that explores practical applications of program learning.
Ranked among the top occupational therapy degrees in New York State, NYU's master of science in occupational therapy highlights both theoretical and clinical applications of occupational therapy for diverse patient populations. NYU's program serves students without an undergraduate background in occupational therapy. This full-time program begins each fall and typically takes 2.5-3 years to complete.
The 69-credit program curriculum covers topics such as medical and psychiatric interventions, analysis of human activity and occupational performance, and rehabilitation evaluation and intervention. Candidates also complete four semesters of fieldwork, including two semesters of advanced fieldwork. Students can complete their advanced field assignments during their final summer semester or during the fall and spring semesters after completing the academic curriculum.
While NYU does not require applicants to hold an undergraduate occupational therapy degree, candidates should hold experience observing multiple professional areas of occupational therapy practice.
The University of Texas at El Paso
A major public school located in West Texas, UTEP offers one of the state's best occupational therapy degrees. The master of occupational therapy trains students to assist clients through illness, injury, psychosocial dysfunction, cognitive impairment, and physical disabilities. Graduates commonly pursue careers at medical facilities, schools, and community health agencies. The program begins each year in the summer.
Degree candidates complete a minimum of 85 credits. Common courses include research in health science, legal and ethical issues in healthcare, and psychosocial aspects of occupation. All candidates complete two clinical rotations for a total of 12 credits. Fieldwork placements typically occur at clinical or community sites under the supervision of a professional occupational therapist.
UTEP's program does not require students to hold a background in occupational therapy. However, candidates may need to complete several prerequisite courses, including introduction to psychology, statistics for non-math majors, and human development across the lifespan.
Eastern Washington University
Located in Cheney, Washington, EWU hosts a competitive, top-ranked master's in occupational therapy program. The school's master of occupational therapy builds broad skills in creative and critical thinking, health leadership, and general practice occupational therapy competencies. The program lasts two years and begins in the summer.
The 87-credit program includes courses such as clinical kinesiology and biomechanics, group process, and research methods in occupational therapy. After finishing the academic curriculum, students complete 24 weeks of full-time clinical fieldwork under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist.
For undergraduates enrolled at EWU, the school offers a combined bachelor's/master's admissions pathway. This pathway serves undergraduates in three majors: interdisciplinary studies, exercise science, and health psychology. During junior year, qualified candidates can apply to the master's in occupational therapy program. If accepted, these students can begin earning credit toward their master's degree during their senior year of undergraduate study.