How Much Does Occupational Therapy School Really Cost?
To many OTs, the cost of occupational therapy school is a worthwhile investment. But the investment can certainly be an overwhelming one if you don’t do your homework. Several sources state that the graduate portion of an occupational therapy program can cost a yearly total of $15,000 and $37,000 for in-state and out-of-state residents respectively.
This may not seem like a lot a first glance, but it’s important to remember these are yearly estimates that don’t include required undergraduate program tuition. As a result, the average total cost of occupational therapy programs can range from $65,000 to $200,000, with many OT schools being on the higher end, especially doctorate (OTD) programs. Occupational therapy school cost can also be highly dependent on an individual’s personal situation, geographic location, and whether they attend a private or public university.
These figures may be off-putting to some people, especially if they have a family to consider, are early in the application process, or are considering occupational therapy as a second career.
Thankfully, there are many options that help reduce the burden of student loan and college tuition costs. Here are some areas that are always beneficial to look into to reduce your occupational therapy school cost.
Many people say there’s no such thing as free money. While this is good advice (that can prevent you from being scammed in the future!), it thankfully doesn’t ring true in reference to grants. College grants are a form of financial aid that students do not need to pay back. There are federal and state grants that are both merit-based and need-based. Merit-based grants are available to students with a certain GPA or accomplishments on their resume. Need-based grants means a student will qualify to apply for the funds due to their family’s income.
Students can scour compiled lists or the College Grants Database to find these grants and fill out an application, which usually involves a writing sample detailing why you are a good fit to receive the funds. There are often specific stipulations surrounding grants in that the organization who provides the money requires it to be used in a certain way.
For example, some grants are only available to individuals enrolled in a 4-year degree program, while other grants are open to students majoring in certain subjects. An important first step before looking for grants is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will give you a good sense of your eligibility based on your family’s demonstrated financial need.
These awards are another option that are solely merit-based. Scholarships are another type of college money that you do not need to pay back. Some scholarships accept applications on a rolling basis, meaning they review applications all year long as they come in. Other awards have firm deadlines which indicate when they need all your materials by. Scholarships can be granted through an organization that has raised funds for that purpose or through the university itself. For this reason, the FAFSA may or may not be required for your scholarship search.
Scholarships may be given to students who meet a range of criteria from specific to general. Some are available to those of a certain grade level, those who play college-level sports, major in certain subjects, live in certain states, or are of a certain race, ethnicity, or religion. Certain scholarships are also given to students who demonstrate extracurricular interest in a certain area, such as Jewish studies. There is even a database with over 20,000 diverse scholarship options!
For our list of occupational therapy-specific scholarships to also consider, be sure to check out our article, 10 Occupational Therapy Scholarships to Help Pay for Grad School.
This option is not quite as easy as having an organization give you money, and it may not be feasible for everyone, especially those with families and children to care for. However, some people find that employment not only gives them a diversion from their academic coursework, but it also gives them valuable experience in the field of occupational therapy.
Roles such as rehabilitation aides, nursing assistants, and paraprofessionals are a good way to get your feet wet in therapy environments while making some cash. Paraprofessional roles may be a good option if you are in school part-time and have some daytime availability, but the other roles can be done on nights, weekends, or even on a per diem (as needed) basis! Other options like babysitting give you experience working with sometimes difficult behaviors and can be even more flexible than other jobs.
Conversely, don’t feel bad if you’re not able to get employment in one of these areas. There are plenty of other ways to make money. You can look into campus work-study programs or graduate assistant roles if you want to remain involved at school. Another good option is joining Rover to be a dog walker or DoorDash to deliver food, since these are gigs where you can make your own schedule. Any or all of this money can be put toward your tuition, room and board, books, or any expenses you might need money for.
Cutting your costs
While this isn’t a way to make money necessarily, budgeting and cutting costs can help save some valuable dollars that you’d otherwise need to take loans out for. One of the most common ways to do this is on housing. Some people live at home and commute to school to save on room and board, while others may choose to rent an off-campus apartment and cook their own food to avoid costly cafeteria food.
Other helpful ways to cut costs are by having roommates, using public transportation when you can, and carpooling. If you get priority registration, you can also aim to schedule your classes across four days rather than five. This minimizes the days you need to be on campus and can allow you to more efficiently study or work more hours if you choose to do so.
Additional options that are growing in popularity with undergraduates and those about to enter college starting at much lower cost community colleges. Many people prefer this option as a way to fulfill basic requirements like math, English, and biology at a much lower price. Students typically add living with family on to this as a way to save substantial money on room and board while also getting tuition steeply discounted compared to traditional university settings. If students express an early interest in occupational therapy, they can use this as a way to check all the boxes for their requirements so they can have a smooth application process and begin at a university during their last half of undergrad and their graduate year(s).
While summers in occupational therapy graduate school are usually earmarked for full-time clinical rotations (or fieldwork experiences), the summer months throughout undergraduate years can be used to get ahead on credits. By taking a couple of courses, either online or in-person at lower cost universities or community colleges, students may even have the opportunity to graduate a semester early. Again, this option may not be feasible (or desirable) for everyone, but it can potentially save you thousands of dollars later on down the road.
The premise of paying for OT school can certainly be daunting. But, as you can see, there are many options that make getting a degree in occupational therapy slightly (or even significantly) less expensive. Regardless of the occupational therapy school cost, a career in occupational therapy is worth it for most people who are passionate about OT.
Do your research on tuition beforehand so you can confidently and successfully enter school to become an occupational therapist. Once you graduate, you will have the chance to increase your earning potential and pay off whatever debt you may have accumulated.
What other cost-cutting ways do you know of to help pay for OT school? How much did your OT school cost? Let us know in the comments!