7 steps get into ot school

7 Steps to Get Into Occupational Therapy School

If you’re interested in becoming an occupational therapist, you might be asking yourself:

“How do I even get into occupational therapy school?”

You’ve likely started the research process and might feel a bit overwhelmed with all of the information out there.

I want to simplify the process for you and provide you with a list of steps you’ll need to take to get into occupational therapy school.

Please note that this list focuses on OT graduate program requirements. COTA school requirements can be a bit different.

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

How to Get into Occupational Therapy School:

1. Get your Bachelor’s Degree


Unless you’re applying for an occupational therapy school that is a combined Bachelor’s/Master’s degree (which are not as common), you’ll first need to get your Bachelor’s degree. Occupational therapy programs are either Master’s or Doctorate programs. You can find out the differences between the two here.

Many occupational therapy schools aren’t as choosy as you would think for what Bachelor’s degree you have when applying. In my program, we had students with many different degrees, ranging from psychology to journalism.

If you’re curious about the most common pre-occupational therapy degrees, check out the 7 Best Undergraduate Majors for Occupational Therapy.

Remember that you really can major in anything before applying to OT school as long as you meet the requirements below.

2. Take the Required Prerequisites

Occupational therapy schools often have differing requirements, so be sure to check each school’s website for what they require.

With that being said, the majority of occupational therapy school prerequisites are similar. The most common OT school prerequisites are usually the following:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy and Physiology (I and II)
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Human Development/Developmental Psychology
  • Sociology

Also, know that occupational therapy schools will accept these prerequisites whether they’re from a four-year university or an accredited two-year college. So if you’re still in need of taking these courses (or need to retake them for a better grade) but are on a budget, taking them from a community college is fine.

OT school prerequisites are an important portion of the application process, so it’s recommended that you have as high of a GPA in these core courses as possible, with at least a 3.0 or B in each course. If you can though, really strive to get A’s in these prerequisite courses.

3. Take (and Ace!) the GRE

You definitely don’t want average scores here. While the GRE might not seem super relevant to the field of occupational therapy, your test scores do make a difference in increasing your odds of getting accepted if your chosen schools require the GRE.

If you’ve taken it already and your scores are not great, I recommend retaking it again after really studying for it.

The most-recommended GRE review guides on Amazon are Kaplan GRE, [152475790X] [9781524757908] Cracking the GRE Premium Edition with 6 Practice Tests, 2019-Paperback, and Official GRE Super Power Pack, Second Edition.

Using one or two of these guides for at least one to two months (and really studying!) will help you achieve better than average scores to strengthen your OT school application.

The GRE is a test you’ll want to take seriously and not just devote a few hours a week for studying.

4. Get Plenty of OT Observation Hours

While many OT schools might say they only require 30-40 hours of occupational therapy observation hours, most applicants get a lot more than the requirements. It’s not uncommon for applicants to tell me they’re getting over 100 hours in multiple settings, so in order to stay competitive, I tell applicants to try get over 100 hours if possible.

In addition, getting these hours in more than one occupational therapy setting will also look better on your application. This shows you’ve had exposure to various types of occupational therapy and will make you a more well-rounded applicant.

It also really helps to have a job or volunteer work related to occupational therapy, whether it’s with adults or children.

5. Get Letters of Recommendation

Every school requires letters of recommendation, usually from at least one occupational therapist. The other letters should be from a professor and a supervisor to give the school a good perspective of you as both a student and employee.

When finding people to write your letters, it’s best to find professors or supervisors that really know you and can paint you in a positive light. You can definitely provide them with specifics of what will make you a great OT along with accomplishments you’re proud of.

6. Craft a Great Personal Statement


Your personal statement is your chance to shine and tell the occupational therapy schools all about you and what makes you truly passionate about becoming an OT. Take your time writing it and really show the admissions committee what makes you stand out from the other applicants.

Your personal statement is especially important for schools that don’t conduct interviews, so think of your personal statement as your interview in a sense.

For a full resource on the tips and tricks on how to write your occupational therapy personal statement, be sure to also check out our how-to: Write an Awesome Personal Statement for OT School.

7. Apply to Your Desired Occupational Therapy Programs

After doing your research on your chosen occupational therapy school’s requirements, you can narrow down your choices based on your personal requirements. When applying, you can use AOTA’s comprehensive list of OT programs to help you sort out all of the programs.

When you apply to OT school, most schools use a comprehensive online application system called OTCAS, or the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service. Once you create a login ID, you’ll find everything in the requirements that you need to submit to this one centralized system. After you submit everything, you’ll be apply to your top programs once their applications open up. Check out 10 OTCAS Tips For A Smooth Application Process.

However, not every single occupational therapy school uses OTCAS, so don’t be discouraged if your school doesn’t. If they don’t, you can still use OTCAS for the schools that use it and apply separately to schools that do not.

Note: Some programs do have applicant interviews once your application is in and approved to move on to the next stage. If this is the case, you’re not quite done after you apply. You’ll want to be sure to prepare for your OT school interviews ahead of time. We’ve got you covered with our article, OT School Interview Questions & Prep Tips

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

Once you get these occupational therapy school requirements down, you’re ready to get into occupational therapy school!

And before you’re officially ready to start your OT school application process, also be sure to check out 5 Big Mistakes I Made When Applying to OT School for what NOT to do when applying to OT school. Good luck!



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  • mikayla September 27, 2019   Reply →

    Hello, thank you so much for your blogging its really helped me! I am very interested in going to OT school but I am still working on my undergrad and pre req classes for OT. My grades as of now for my psychology classes (my major) and the pre req classes for OT are all either A’s or B’s but my grades in my general classes which are required to take freshman year arent the greatest which is bringing my overall GPA down. Do you think this will affect me geeting in? or do they mostly look at the main core classes that are required for admissions.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L October 2, 2019   Reply →

      OT schools will look at both your pre-req GPA (which I recommend trying to get as many A’s in as you can), as well as your overall GPA. If you can get an overall GPA of 3.5 total, you’ll still be competitive. If you’ll be significantly lower than that, I recommend taking a few more classes to bump it up (if it’s lower than a 3.2 for example). Best of luck to you!

  • Mary McCoy March 2, 2021   Reply →

    I enjoy this blog very much! I am COTA/L, I tried looking on the NBCOT website but could not find the information. Do you know in order to become an Occupational Therapist you need a doctorate? I had thought that the requirement changed when the PDPM changed in October 2019.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 12, 2021   Reply →

      Hi Mary, you do not currently need a Doctorate to become an OT, and there are still plenty of OT Master’s degrees out there (including COTA to OT bridge programs) to choose from 🙂

  • KY March 26, 2021   Reply →

    I am a high school senior and hope to become a pediatric occupational therapist. Do you know how much the academic rigor of the college where I get my undergraduate degree matters in applying to entry-level doctorate OT programs? I am having a hard time deciding on if I should go to a school with a stronger academic reputation over a school where I think I will have a better overall college experience.

    Thank you very much for this blog!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L April 1, 2021   Reply →

      The great thing about OT grad programs is that you can go to any school or complete any degree you’d like as long as you have a competitive GPA and have done all of the pre-reqs and other requirements before you apply. So I would say to choose the program you’d most like to go to for the college experience. Good luck!

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