decide-if-becoming-ot-right-for-you

Decide If Becoming an OT Is Right For You

Are you interested in becoming an occupational therapist (OT) or occupational therapy assistant (OTA)? 

Maybe you’re just curious about the OT profession, or you’re seriously contemplating going into the wonderful field of occupational therapy. Either way, this article is for you!

First off, if you’re brand-new to learning about OT, you may be wondering what exactly is occupational therapy, or “OT” for short?

Occupational Therapy, as defined by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT), is a “client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation.”

Becoming an OT.

Additionally, occupational therapists help to enable people of all ages to participate in their desired activities of everyday life by working with them to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do. Occupations in this case include self-care, leisure activities, work, play, and social participation.

As an OT, you can work in many settings with many different populations, treating physical and psychological conditions.

The types of patients OTs treat range from children with autism to adults with hand or wrist injuries, brain injuries, mental health clients, people post orthopedic surgery like a hip replacement, people who have had a stroke, and older adults with dementia. Just to name a few. Really any age group can benefit from OT services depending on their needs and condition. 

becoming a pediatric occupational therapist

What is the Average OT Salary?

While you shouldn’t base choosing to be an occupational therapist solely based on the salary, it is helpful to know that you can live comfortably as an OT.

The national average occupational therapist salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) is $93,180 per year, which equates to $44.80 per hour. This number can very widely for OTs, however, so be sure you also check out our comprehensive salary data from 2,322 OTs and COTAs here.

While it may seem that you can make a big salary as an OT, I do want to also let you know that both Occupational Therapy Master’s and Doctorate degrees are not cheap.

On the very low end, programs start at $40,000 for tuition, which is an in-state tuition rate and these programs are very competitive to get into due to the lower cost.

Most occupational therapy graduate programs, however, are more in the realm $60,000-$120,000+.

When you do your research into program costs, you will notice that some programs will also include lab/equipment fees of $100-$700 per year and textbook costs which add several thousand dollars to your tuition bill.

If you aren’t living at home for free with parents, you can also expect to add an average of $18,000 a year for rent, utilities and food. In total, you’re looking at potentially spending up to nearly $155,000 for OT school if you’re living on your own and paying your own bills.

As an example, the total costs for my OT Master’s program came out to roughly $80,000. Assuming a 7% interest rate and 10-year term, you can expect to come out of OT school with student loan payments of $928.87 per month. You can play with these numbers using Bankrate’s student loan calculator. 

After the 6 month post-graduation grace period, you can plan to start making your student loan payments.

This number will of course be higher or lower depending on several factors, such as if you attend a Master’s degree state school (lower) or a private Doctorate program (higher).

Please be aware: I did a quick Google search while writing this post searching for “Cheapest OT Schools,” and the posts I found were completely inaccurate, stating the most expensive schools were only $44,000. This does not make clear that those costs are per year.

Be sure to check your potential schools’ websites for the most accurate and up-to-date tuition information.

I don’t want this to discourage you at all, as paying down your student loan debt is doable (we have a blog post all about how you can pay it down faster here). But if you’re just interested in getting into the field of OT solely for the money, you won’t feel like you’re really “raking it in” until you get those student loans paid down, since you’re probably looking at over $150K for OT school and living expenses.

If you’re considering going to school to be an Occupational Therapy Assistant, the schooling will be much less expensive, which I break down in my post “OTR or COTA: What’s the Difference?

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational therapists work in a huge variety of settings, with anyone who needs help to improve their lives, and therefore OTs have a wide variety of places that they can be employed.

I compiled this list from The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)’s Compensation and Workforce study, but left off the percentages as it is from 2010 and the numbers probably differ a bit today.

This study lists the settings that both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants primarily work in, with the ones higher on the list being the most common and ones on the lower end of the list being less common settings:

  1. Hospitals (with adults and babies/children)
  2. Schools
  3. Nursing Facilities (Skilled Nursing or Assisted Living Facilities)
  4. Outpatient Therapy 
  5. Home Health
  6. Academia
  7. Early Intervention
  8. Community-Based
  9. Mental Health

rehab occupational therapist

What Do You Need to do to Become an OT?

To get started on your future career as an occupational therapist, we have an entire blog section dedicated to prospective occupational therapists, as well as a comprehensive e-book “How to Get Into OT School: Everything You Need to Know” for when you’re ready to apply to OT school.

Lastly, if you want to learn even more about OT, be sure to give these top My OT Spot articles a read:

5 Big Mistakes I Made When Applying to OT School

The MOT vs OTD: Which Degree Should You Pursue?

Is Occupational Therapy Stressful?

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming an Occupational Therapist

What are the Main Benefits of Occupational Therapy?

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I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide with your future career plans (whether you choose occupational therapy or another career path). If you have any questions about becoming an OT that I didn’t cover, please leave them in the comments below. 

This post was last updated on January 12, 2024. 

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