Everything You Need Know About Occupational Science

Everything You Need to Know About Occupational Science

Occupational science is a very important aspect of the field of occupational therapy and is something you may be wondering about if you are interested in becoming an occupational therapist.

You may have even seen that there are some occupational science bachelor’s degrees (which can oftentimes be thought of as pre-occupational therapy degrees). You may be wondering if this undergraduate degree is a good fit for you in your journey to becoming an occupational therapist. Or you might already be a practicing OT looking to advance your degree and have seen this PhD option.

Let’s dive into this field of study to give you a run-down about what occupational science is as well as some information about the occupational science degree options.

What is Occupational Science?

Occupational science is a concept that was initially created over 35 years ago by the University of Southern California (USC) “to study the benefits of engaging in purposeful activities, also known as occupations, on peoples’ health, development, and quality of life.”  This in turn would help provide occupational therapy with its own scientific research base for clinical practice (USC Chan). 

Occupational science can also be more simply defined as a “scientific discipline that is defined as the systematic study of the human as an occupational being” (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1991).

This social science is extremely helpful for the field of occupational therapy as it provides a comprehensive understanding of human occupation and its impact on individuals’ health and well-being. This knowledge also informs occupational therapy interventions, policies, and practices that support individuals in living life to their fullest potential.

What is an Occupational Science Degree?

If you are a prospective occupational therapy student, you may have seen the option to obtain an occupational science bachelor’s degree as a pre-occupational therapy degree option. Some universities will offer an occupational science bachelor’s degree as a stepping stone pre-occupational therapy undergraduate degree prior to applying to their occupational therapy graduate program. 

Some entry-level occupational programs do combine an occupational science bachelor’s degree followed by an occupational therapy master’s or doctorate. 

There is also the option for practicing occupational therapists to obtain a PhD in Occupational Science at several universities, such as USC, that focus on the “scientific study of human occupation and the purposeful activities that constitute our life experiences.”

Obtaining an Occupational Science PhD as a practicing OT will help you to pursue advanced research in occupational science and help contribute further to the study of occupation. This will help hone your research skills and since it is a terminal degree, it will also allow you to work as an OT professor as long as you are already an OT.

This article, however, will focus more on the standalone undergraduate option for prospective occupational therapy students.

An Occupational Science Degree Alone Does Not Guarantee OT School Admission

While it would be great if graduating with an occupational science bachelor’s degree (or any pre-occupational therapy degree) would automatically get you accepted into an occupational therapy graduate program, it unfortunately will not unless they are a combined bachelor’s to master’s to doctorate OT program.

Having this degree is almost the same as any other degree in terms of the OT graduate school application process. While it certainly will help prepare you for OT school and will look good to admissions committees that you have this degree, you will still need to meet all other requirements to get into OT school.

OT school requirements include a competitive overall GPA, completed prerequisite courses with a competitive pre-req GPA, a variety of OT observation hours, great letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and GRE scores if needed.

Some occupational science programs such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s undergrad program do offer you the advantage of applying early to their OT graduate program but they still do not guarantee acceptance into their OT graduate program. 

What Can I Do with an Occupational Science Degree?

The main reason why undergrads choose this degree is to continue on to the path of applying to an occupational therapy master’s or doctorate program. If you do not get accepted into an OT graduate program with your occupational science degree, you could still use this degree for entry-level healthcare professions like a community service manager or research assistant.

Since it is a bachelor’s degree, it can be helpful for any other job you apply to that requires any non-specific bachelor’s degree like sales, for example.

Do I Need an Occupational Science Degree to Apply to OT School?

As I mentioned above, this degree or any pre-occupational therapy degree will prepare you well for OT school, but you absolutely do not need to get this degree to apply to OT school. You also do not need to major in any pre-occupational therapy undergraduate program to be able to apply to OT school.

There are no occupational therapy programs that require a pre-occupational therapy degree or occupational science degree. You will learn everything you need to know to become an entry-level occupational therapist in your OT graduate program and fieldworks.

You can apply to OT graduate programs with any undergraduate degree as long as you complete the application requirements that I mentioned above. I get this question so often so I’ll repeat: you can major in ANY undergraduate degree before you attend OT school.

There are several popular undergraduate majors that pre-occupational therapy students choose that include psychology, sociology, kinesiology, biology, exercise science, and education. I’ve included why these degrees are helpful along with a few other pre-occupational therapy undergrad options in the article 7 Best Undergraduate Majors for Occupational Therapy

If you are already majoring in a different program that feels unrelated to occupational therapy, no worries! OT programs will have applicants with majors of all kinds, so major in any degree that you are most interested in.


I hope this article helped you understand both what occupational science is and what it means to get an occupational science degree, whether you are a prospective OT or already a practicing occupational therapist. If there is anything more you would add about this science or its degree options, let us know in the comments!

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