Applying to occupational therapy school

Many factors are considered in admission and these differ in importance by school. Applying to occupational therapy school is complicated. Know that we are here to help! Advisors at the Health Professions and Prelaw Center can help you develop your best strategy and troubleshoot problems you encounter in your application. Make sure to attend a Personal Statement Writing Workshop and OTCAS Application Workshop so you can get started early on your application and find out the steps involved.

Deciding between a Master’s or a Doctorate in occupational therapy #

Occupational therapy programs are currently changing from Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) programs to Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs. Currently to become a licensed occupational therapist you could choose either to complete a two-year Master of Science degree (MOT) or a three-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD). As you prepare to apply you will need to decide whether to apply to master’s programs, doctorate programs, or possibly both as some students choose to do.

It is projected that by 2027 all occupational therapy programs will have changed to to the OTD. Students who earn a Master’s prior to 2027 will be grandfathered into the new licensure requirements.

A number of programs, including Indiana University's, have already moved to entry-level doctoral programs (OTD). As you begin researching programs, give consideration to both master's and doctorate programs, finding the program that is the right fit for you. Those who earn an MOT degree will be able to practice their profession unhindered, will not be at a competitive disadvantage in the job market, and will not earn less than those with their OTD.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) #

The GRE is a standardized exam required by many occupational therapy programs. This exam is designed to measure general academic ability and is a computerized exam offered year-round by Educational Testing Service (ETS). The GRE is typically taken in the spring or summer prior to application and you should plan on spending at least two to three months preparing for the exam. For more information on the GRE, visit the ETS website.

The OTCAS application #

To apply to most occupational therapy schools, you will need to submit an application through the centralized application service called OTCAS, administered by the American Occupational Therapy Association. The OTCAS application has multiple sections that you will complete, providing biographical information, academic history (coursework and test scores), and your supporting information (observation hours, letters of recommendation, personal statement, experiences and achievements, and school-specific “Program Materials”).

Once you complete your OTCAS application, it will be processed and sent to the occupational therapy programs that you select to receive it. You can find a list of programs that use OTCAS (“Participating Programs”) and begin researching admission requirements for OT programs through AOTA.

Academic history #

On the OTCAS application, you will fill out information for every college course you have taken, so you will need to refer to transcripts from every college or university you have attended. You will also need to order official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended to be sent to the application service. At IU Bloomington, you can order your transcript from Student Central.

Within this section, you will also include your GRE tests scores.

Observation hours #

You will record your observation hours here. Check with your programs to determine their requirements for observation hours. OTCAS does not verify observation hours and will not determine if you meet the minimum observation requirements to be eligible for a specific program, so you should check this yourself. Some programs require observation hours to be verified by the occupational therapist you shadowed. It is important to log your shadowing hours, confirm those hours with each occupational therapist you shadow, and maintain their current contact information if you need to reach them at the time you are applying.

Personal essay #

A personal essay is required for the OTCAS application. Applicants are asked to respond to the following prompt: “Explain why you selected occupational therapy as a career and how an Occupational Therapy degree relates to your immediate and long-term professional goals. Describe how your personal, educational, and professional background will help you achieve your goals.

There are many ways to approach the OTCAS personal essay. Early in your undergraduate career, start a journal documenting your experiences during clinical observation, community service, and experiences from your personal life. This will help you to begin to lay the foundation for writing your personal essay during the spring prior to application. Visit Keeping a Pre-health Journal for suggestions.

Make sure to attend one of the Personal Statement Writing Workshops offered by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Schedule an appointment with a HPPLC advisor for feedback on a draft of your personal essay. Getting feedback early will help you submit a compelling essay!

Experiences and achievements #

The OTCAS application includes two sections where you can provide information on experiences and achievements, including employment, extracurricular activities, volunteering, awards, honors, and scholarships. If you shadowed any other professionals (for example, a physical therapist or recreational therapist), you could also include that information with your extracurricular activities.

Letters of recommendation #

Many OT programs require two or three letters of recommendation. OTCAS requires that you request three letters of recommendation in order to complete your application (OTCAS calls these “Evaluations”).

Requirements for letters vary by program, but typically include a letter from a practicing occupational therapist and a professor. Check the requirements of the individual programs where you plan to apply. It is important to get to know occupational therapists and your professors well so that you have letter writers who can provide strong letters with enthusiastic support for your application.

Program materials #

In addition to the above items that are required for completing your OTCAS application, some occupational therapy programs will require additional materials. These can include information on your prerequisite courses, observation forms that individual schools may require, your resume, and additional school-specific essays. It is important to review these school-specific requirements early in the application cycle, so that you can begin preparing them. While the OTCAS personal essay is a required section of the application, schools may ask you to answer school-specific essay questions, such as, “Why have you selected our school or program?” Schools may also ask you to write essays that address ethical or behavioral situations. It is important to work on these early and a HPPLC advisor can also provide feedback on your drafts of these essays!

The interview #

Before admitting you, many occupational therapy schools will want to meet you in person. An interview helps schools evaluate personal qualities they can’t observe directly in your written application. Selected applicants are invited for an interview. You should prepare carefully for this crucial component of the admissions process.

Occupational therapy schools use interviews to gain insight into how you would interact with patients. Schools also use the interview to assess factors such as motivation and ability to cope with conflict. They want to know how likely it is you would take a spot if they offered one, so it is important that you express your enthusiasm and sincere interest in the school!

In a job interview, the most important question for your interviewer is probably, “What can this person do for our organization?” For your interviewer at an OT school the most important question may be, “Would I trust this person as my own occupational therapist?” One of your most important goals is to demonstrate that you are able to connect with others on a personal level.

To prepare, review your personal essay and activities listed on your application. It’s helpful to practice responding to interview questions (you can obtain a list of questions in the HPPLC office). You may be asked situational ethics questions that require you to think through how you would respond when faced with difficult decisions as a healthcare provider. Study the school’s curriculum via its website and prepare to ask questions about the school’s program in the interview.

Make sure to attend one of the HPPLC-sponsored Interview Skills Workshops in the fall semester and schedule an appointment with a HPPLC advisor for a mock interview.