Decide If Becoming an OT Is Right For You

Are you interested in becoming an occupational therapist (OT)? 

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 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 to participate in their 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 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 with an orthopedic surgery like a hip replacement or motor vehicle accident, people who have had a stroke, and older adults with dementia. Just to name a few.

What is the Average 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, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020) is $86,280 per year, which equates to $41.48 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 large 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 low end, programs start at $40,000 for tuition, which  is an in-state tuition rate and these programs are rare and very competitive to get into.

Most OT grad programs are $60,000-$120,000+.

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

If you aren’t living at home for free with parents, you can also expect to add $12,000 a year for rent, utilities and food. In total, you’re looking at spending up to nearly $150k for OT school if you’re living on your own and paying your own bills.

As an example, the total costs for my program came out to roughly $80,000. Assuming a 6% interest rate and 10-year term, you can expect to come out of school with student loan payments of $888 per month. You can play with the 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 private Doctorate program (higher).

Please be aware: I did a quick Google search while writing this post on “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.

Check your school’s website for the most accurate information.

I don’t want this to discourage you at all, as it is doable. But if you’re just interested in getting into the field 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 $100K 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 titled “OTR or COTA: What’s the Difference?

Where Do OTs 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 the bottom settings being the least common.

  1. Hospitals
  2. Schools
  3. Nursing Facilities (Skilled Nursing or Assisted Living Facilities)
  4. Outpatient Therapy
  5. Home Health
  6. Academia
  7. Early Intervention
  8. Community
  9. Mental Health

What Do You Need to do to Get Started?

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 consider applying to OT school.

Lastly, 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


I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide with your future career plans (whether you choose OT or another 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 May 18, 2021.

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