10 otcas tips ot school application

10 OTCAS Tips For A Smooth Application Process

Applying to occupational therapy schools can be a challenge in a variety of ways. There’s a lot you’ll have to figure out, including learning the ins and outs of the main OT school application system, the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (also known as OTCAS).

While not all occupational therapy schools use OTCAS, there are a large number that do, and choosing schools that use it will make your OT school application process much easier. This is because once you have your OTCAS application completed, you will just need to submit one application to apply to all of your desired occupational therapy schools. It really is a huge time saver compared to going through sending everything individually to each school.

So if you’re new to using OTCAS, we wanted to share these 10 OTCAS tips to make your OT school application experience as smooth as possible.

Check out the How To Get Into OT School Guide! It’s the most comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know.

1. Create your OTCAS account early

If you’re only going to follow one tip on this list, make it this one. I can’t stress enough how important this is! Applying to OT programs early in their application process is a good way to increase your chances of getting in. OT graduate programs typically only select 30-40 students into their program, out of 400-500+ applicants. You’ll want to register for OTCAS ASAP so you can get your application done and apply as early as you can. Know that it takes time gathering all of your required materials for OTCAS.

Once you’ve submitted all of your required documents, OTCAS will still take 3-4 weeks to verify your application, before you can even apply to your desired OT program(s). So do yourself a huge favor and start working on your OTCAS application as soon as the application cycle opens up. This is almost always in July of each year.

2. Narrow down your list of OTCAS OT programs you’ll apply to

Every occupational therapy program differs in a bit in their requirements and prerequisites, so don’t make the mistake of thinking all OTCAS-linked OT programs are created equal. Narrow down your list of programs you’ll apply to early in the process so you can research each programs’ requirements before submitting your application.

Doing this step early in your application process will not only save you time but also application fees. I personally decided to choose 8 schools to narrow down, based on required pre-req’s, GRE requirements, tuition rates and location.

Be sure to pay close attention to each of your desired programs’ deadlines on your list since these can vary widely.

3. Start budgeting For application fees early


One of the biggest “bummers” of applying to OT school is the big application fee expense. It’s usually better to apply to more schools to increase your odds of getting in your first year, but this comes at a high cost. Per OTCAS, the current fees are $159 to apply to the first program, and $69 for each additional program you apply to (fees are as of 2023, be sure to check OTCAS for the most up to date fee info).

Many OT schools also charge their own application fees, so it’s not unheard of to spend hundreds of dollars just to apply to OT school. To make sure you don’t have the huge financial stress, it’s a good idea to start saving early, well before you plan on applying so you aren’t hit as hard by the application fees.

4. Create a “To-Do” Checklist 

I won’t lie: Completing your OTCAS application can be a headache and is pretty tedious. There is a lot to accomplish, from getting your letters of recommendation, submitting your transcripts/test scores/observation hours, writing your personal statement AND inputting all of your grades. 

So to make the process easier on yourself, be sure to make a to-do list before you even get started so you can stay organized throughout the process.

It’s also really rewarding to be able to check things off (or aggressively scratch them off!) and see your to-do list get shorter as you get your tasks completed.

5. Give yourself multiple days to complete your application

Once you’ve made your OTCAS to-do list, you’ve probably noticed how much there really is to get done for your application. Please don’t stress yourself out and try to get it done at all at once!

Take several days to get your tasks done one day at a time to prevent overwhelm. You’ll also be able to be more thorough with each component and won’t burn yourself out before you even start OT school!

6. Keep your personal statement general

Your personal statement for OTCAS will be sent out to all of the OT schools you apply to when you submit. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you don’t mention any specific schools in your OTCAS personal statement.

Keep it concise and please, please edit it one, two, even three times before submitting it, since you won’t be able to make any changes to it after submitting it to programs.

For more actionable personal statement tips, be sure to also check out our blog post on how to write an awesome personal statement for OT school.

7. Don’t panic if your OTCAS GPA is different


With OTCAS, you’ll not only submit your transcripts but you’ll also have to manually input all of your grades. Your OTCAS GPA will likely be a bit different than your actual college GPA. This is because, per OTCAS, they “standardize GPAs to help OT programs evaluate applicants using uniform and consistent criteria.” Because of this, your school might have a different grading scale, making your OTCAS GPA different (and possibly a little lower).

In addition, OTCAS combines all of your grades from your undergraduate, post-baccalaureate and graduate programs for your overall GPA. This will also make your GPA different than the individual transcripts if you attended multiple institutions.

For the full details, here is OTCAS’s GPA info page that goes more in depth on this.

8. Submit your application well before schools’ deadlines

If you’ve followed my first tip and started your OTCAS application early, that’s great! You’ll be able to finish and submit your OT school applications much sooner, well before your programs’ application deadlines. Once programs’ applications open up, it’s best to apply EARLY so you’ll have a better chance to get a spot in your desired OT school.

If you wait until close to the program’s deadline, you might be less likely to get a spot since many programs fill their spots early in the process. I learned this the hard way when I waited until November to submit my OTCAS application and sadly got several rejection letters soon after I applied.

9. Follow OTCAS’s instructions carefully!

Once you submit your application, per OTCAS, your application is final and you won’t be able to make any changes or get any refunds.

So please, please read the fine print and pay close attention to every little detail, including each program’s instructions, deadlines, fees, pre-requisites and so on. Be very thorough and accurate when inputting your grades and double-check everything.

It’s tedious to do this but it is well worth it to not have to stress about having to redo the whole process.

10. Any questions? Contact OTCAS Customer Support!

If you run into any problems or hiccups during the process, contact OTCAS’s customer support sooner rather than later so you can get your questions answered or problems resolved quickly. You can call their Customer Service at (617) 612-2860 any time Monday through Friday between the hours of 9:00AM – 5:00PM Eastern Time.

You can also email them any time of day at otcasinfo@otcas.org.

Check out the How To Get Into OT School Guide! It’s the most comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know.

I hope these OTCAS tips help ensure a smooth OT school application process for you. It’s quite an ordeal but you will get through it!

If you have any of your own OTCAS tips from when you applied to OT school, please share them in the comments below!

More Helpful OTCAS Resources

Gotta Get Into Grad School Part IV: OTCAS – A General Overview (Gotta Be OT)

Gotta Get Into Grad School Part V: OTCAS & Academics (Gotta Be OT)

Top 10 Tips for a Successful OTCAS Application (Nebraska Methodist College)

This post was originally published on August 27, 2018 and last updated on September 2, 2023.

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