average COTA salary

What is the Average COTA Salary? Here’s What to Consider

If you’re reading this, you probably fall into one of two categories: You might be interested in pursuing a career as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (or COTA) and want to know what the average COTA salary looks like.

Or, on the other hand, you may be finishing up your OTA education and are about to enter the workforce and want to be prepared to negotiate for a reasonable pay rate. Whatever the reason, you’ve come to the right place.

People in all fields can be mysterious and elusive when it comes to discussing their pay. It can honestly be a little awkward talking about how much we get paid to others. The danger lies in assuming that the hiring department of wherever you end up working will have your best interests at heart.

Even if you are good friends or get along well with your supervisor, one of their objectives for the company will be saving money on therapy wages. You will need to be armed with the most up-to-date COTA salary information to secure the best pay you can.

Currently, the average yearly salary of a COTA in the USA is around $68,170 based on averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This equates to an average hourly rate of $32.78. In your research, however, you will likely find a wide range of salaries offered as the “average” that can vary greatly depending on how that number is found.

Keep in mind that there are low and high salary ranges, with the low end (according to the BLS) being $48,670 per year, and the high end being $89,230 per year.

There are a lot of factors that you will have to consider when negotiating an appropriate pay rate. Remember, you are not only negotiating for salary. Benefits, perks, and reimbursement for additional costs should all be considered when evaluating your COTA salary.

Your COTA Setting Matters

In general, as a COTA, you can expect to earn an average of around $32 an hour. Keep in mind, though, that this is an average and general number. The hourly rate of a COTA can range pretty drastically from around $23 to $48 an hour (!) as seen with the above varied salary ranges.

What accounts for such drastic changes in pay? Primarily, the setting in which you work. Competitive, exciting COTA jobs are going to be able to get away with paying less per hour. With a long line of applicants, they have that luxury. On the other hand, less favorable jobs will have to have a higher hourly rate to convince potential applicants to apply.

COTA salary home health

This is where you will have to set the distinction for yourself. Although there is always going to be some variation depending on your location and experience, typically you can expect to earn lower rates working in a pediatric outpatient clinic or acute care hospital.

You can generally earn more working in a skilled nursing facility or similar rehab facility. On average, occupational therapy assistants working in home health will earn the most per hour. Other higher paying options are also available including working for a travel therapy company or working PRN, both of which will drastically increase your hourly rate and salary.

Location Matters

The geographic area in which you work will also greatly affect your hourly rate. According to the above-linked BLS statistics, the states in which a COTA can earn the most currently are California, Washington, Maryland, Arkansas and New Jersey.

The states that you may earn the least (last reported in 2019) are North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, and Illinois. These aren’t hard rules, just general guidelines based on reports. When you’re looking at other locations to work, be sure to also consider the cost of living.

In many cases, therapists may relocate for one reason or another and technically earn a lower hourly pay. However, at the end of the year they realize that they earned more money because of a different cost of living, taxes, and other factors.

Within a state there will be variation, so be sure to shop around to surrounding cities where there is less competition for jobs. To help with this, be sure to look for cities and towns with fewer (or no) OT and COTA programs.

Experience Matters

One of the first things an employer looks at for a potential employee is education and work experience. On your resume, be sure to include any relevant experience that you have working in the field. However, it is generally regarded that experience working in one setting does not inherently translate to experience working in another.

COTA salary job interview

What this means is that an occupational therapy assistant with 10 years of experience working in the school system applying for a job at a hospital would technically have less experience than the COTA who has one year of experience in a hospital setting.

Of course, all work experience related to occupational therapy should be included on your resume. Even if your only experience in the field and setting of your choice is from OTA school in a fieldwork placement, include it! You should expect to earn more money if you have more experience, but this will definitely be something to discuss with your employer.

Certifications Matter

There are a few certifications that can be held on top of your OTA license to make you stand out and earn more money per hour. Of course, the first step in earning a high hourly rate is getting the job in the first place. Having these certifications will really make you appealing to an interviewer and increase your competitive edge.

Certifications such as electrical stimulation and other modalities, if needed in your state, make the facility more marketable as they can advertise that those services are available. Being certified as a lymphedema therapist or some other relevant specialty will also help you potentially earn more money and be more of a valuable asset for your therapy department.

Usually, the certifications don’t increase your pay all that much, so make sure that the certifications you pursue are in areas that truly interest you.

If you are interested in getting a certification but aren’t sure where to start, be sure to check out our guide, 20 Occupational Therapy Specialties and Certifications to Advance Your Career.

Finding the Right Balance

The most important thing in determining your COTA hourly rate is going to be striking your personal balance. For some people, they can tolerate giving up certain luxuries to earn a higher hourly rate. For example, do you want to have a close mentor working with you everyday? Although technically you will earn less money per hour, maybe you shouldn’t work solo in home health at the moment.

COTA salary

Are you okay with not always having the most up-to-date equipment, having to be creative and come up with alternative treatment solutions? Then maybe you can work in skilled nursing facility.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you. Whatever you decide, don’t be afraid to reexamine and change settings or facilities at a later date if that is what you decide too!

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Do you know of other ways to increase your COTA salary? Have you done anything to earn a higher wage? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Additional Resources

Successfully Negotiate Your OT Job Offer (My OT Spot)

Negotiating New Grad OT Salaries with Superhero Powers (Covalent Careers)

How to Negotiate Salary: 37 Tips You Need to Know (The Muse)

This post was originally published on August 19, 2019 and updated on April 19, 2024.

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