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What Are The Prerequisites for Occupational Therapy School?

One of the first and most important considerations in the pursuit of a career in occupational therapy is admission to an accredited occupational therapy graduate program. Planning for acceptance into one of these graduate programs, whether it is a Master’s or Doctorate in OT, needs to begin early, since there are a variety of occupational therapy school prerequisites that need to be completed or be in progress before you begin applying.

To practice occupational therapist, you will either need a Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MOT) or a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD). Keep in mind that you do not need a doctorate level degree to practice if you’re applying to or have finished a Master’s-level OT program, as you will be grandfathered in to practice occupational therapy throughout your career even if entry-level OT Doctorate programs phase out all OT Master’s programs in the future . Here is more important information to know about these two types of degree programs to know: The MOT vs. OTD: Which Degree Should You Pursue?

NOTE: While not all occupational therapy graduate programs have the exact same requirements, there are many general occupational therapy school prerequisites that apply to most. Be sure to check each program you’re interested in for their exact prerequisites as each school will vary. I also recommend creating your own spreadsheet to keep track of each program’s requirements if you plan on applying to multiple OT programs.

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

So, What Are the Main OT School Prerequisites?

So what’s required to get into an OT graduate program? Here is an overview of the main OT school pre-reqs that we will go into in depth.

(The volunteer hours mentioned in this image refer to OT observation or shadowing hours; actual volunteering is helpful for your application but it is not a requirement. We will update this on the image as well).

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Most of us are aware that the prerequisites for undergraduate degrees are a high school diploma, a minimum high school GPA, and usually a minimum SAT and/or ACT score. The prerequisites for most graduate occupational therapy programs are similar in that they usually require a bachelor’s degree, a minimum undergraduate GPA, and sometimes a minimum GRE score. (Some OT schools are now phasing out the GRE requirement; here is a list of OT schools that do not require the GRE)

The minimum undergrad GPA and GRE scores vary by school. Be aware, however, that entrance into occupational therapy programs is often very competitive, so aspiring occupational therapists need to try to maintain exceptional grades throughout their four-year degree programs, and especially with their prerequisites. Minimum GPA requirements can be anywhere from 2.75 to 3.2 for more competitive programs. Be aware that to be competitive, you will really want to achieve a higher GPA than what the programs’ minimums are. The average GPA for admitted OT students is around 3.5-3.8 for most programs that I researched for this post.

Minimum combined scores for the GRE are usually around 290, broken out as 150 for verbal and 140 for quantitative. Programs may have separate requirements for verbal/quantitative or they might just have a combined requirement. Remember that these are minimums. The GRE can be taken more than once to achieve a higher score, but keep in mind that it is more difficult to overcome poor undergraduate transcripts. 

Update: A Note for OT Applicants with a Lower GPA

Here is a positive note for anyone with a lower undergrad GPA: If your GPA is on the lower end (but still at the minimum requirement, if possible) you can still get accepted into a good OT program.

If you are able to show that you were able to overcome your challenges and excel in your OT prerequisite grades, rack up a lot of observation hours in multiple OT settings, have completed volunteer work, ace the GRE (if applicable), and write an amazing personal statement, you will show the OT programs you are more than just your GPA and can still be a great OT.

After personally coaching countless pre-OTs over the last eight years, I’ve found that this strategy can work! So try not to let your GPA stress you out too much. If you have lower OT school prerequisite grades, it won’t hurt to retake anything that you got a C or lower in. You can also apply to multiple OT programs to increase your chances of getting in (I applied to 8 programs myself!)

Does My Undergraduate Degree Matter?

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Most OT programs do not require that applicants earn bachelor’s degrees in any specific discipline. Most commonly though, students applying to graduate OT programs have previously earned degrees in majors that are somehow related to science or healthcare-related fields.

This tends to be true for two reasons:

  1. Students seeking to become occupational therapists are generally naturally interested in the subjects that relate to it.
  2. Directly related undergraduate programs often inherently include many of the same undergraduate courses that are considered prerequisites for occupational therapy masters programs.

The most common pre-OT Bachelor’s programs that most commonly precede application to an OT graduate program are:

  • Biology
  • Exercise Science
  • Health Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Education

For more undergraduate ideas for pre-occupational therapy, check out our article 7 Best Undergraduate Majors for Occupational Therapy.

What Courses Do I Need to Take Before I Can Apply?

As with most Master’s and Doctorate-level degree programs, the academic demands of occupational therapy programs can be very advanced and very rigorous. For this reason, it is both expected and essential that the students entering these programs begin already armed with a solid foundation of relevant information.

Post-graduate work is for perfecting and honing specialized skills and knowledge in order to mold competent experts. Therefore, a substantial grasp of basic information must already be present from which the courses can expand.

To ensure that incoming occupational therapy school students are properly prepared to participate in their programs, universities generally require that applicants have taken a specific set of courses. OT school prerequisite courses vary from program to program, but typically include most of what is listed below.

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In case you would like a text versions of these, the most common occupational therapy school prerequisites are medical terminology, biology with lab, human anatomy and physiology with labs, human development, physics, kinesiology, abnormal psychology, statistics, and sociology.  

You’ll Also Need Varied OT Observation Hours

In addition to a minimum grade point average, a minimum GRE score, and the prerequisite coursework, many occupational therapy schools also require that applicants have a minimum number of direct observation hours in several occupational therapy settings. This allows you to not only gain exposure to OT and make connections but to also learn if OT is the right path for you. Most OT programs require three letters of recommendation with one from an OT, so this is a great way to get that letter of recommendation.

The minimum number of shadowing hours is often around 40 hours. Be sure to investigate the shadowing requirements for the specific programs you’re considering before you begin logging them. Regardless, I always recommend getting 100 hours (or more) in a variety of OT settings to boost the strength of your application.

Credit for direct observation hours can often be earned by shadowing an occupational therapist at their workplace, which can be at an outpatient clinic, hospital, skilled nursing facility, or school, just name a few options. It doesn’t matter in what facility you log your hours, as long as they are documented by a practicing occupational therapist.

It is always also a good idea to observe in multiple clinics and with multiple therapists in order to get a thorough view and varying perspectives of the field. 

Some Other Things to Consider

Although the above may round out the officially listed prerequisites for most occupational therapy schools, it is also important to keep in mind that Master’s and Doctorate OT programs require a significant commitment in some other ways.

A Master’s or Doctorate degree are advanced degrees, and students in these programs are expected to function at an advanced level throughout the program. Unlike many undergraduate programs and courses, the majority of the work of many post-graduate programs takes place outside of the classroom in the form of studying, fieldwork rotations, research, writing a thesis, and complex group projects, just to name a few.

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All that being said, I hope this article gave you a good run-down of the most common prereqs for OT school along with the other big requirements you’ll need to complete for your application.

If you need more guidance during the application process, I also have a comprehensive guide that includes everything I’ve written on the blog about getting into OT school plus extras, so be sure to check it below. It’s the one resource I wish I had during my application process. I am also including a few more free resources down below. I wish you the very best of luck in your journey into becoming an OT!

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

Need More Help With Getting Into OT School?

Check out these other helpful pre-OT/applying to OT school posts from the My OT Spot blog:

5 Big Mistakes I Made When Applying to OT School

7 Steps to Get Into Occupational Therapy School

Write an Awesome Personal Statement for OT School

What Are Hybrid Occupational Therapy Programs?

10 OTCAS Tips For A Smooth Application Process

OT School Interview Questions & Prep Tips

This post was last updated on May 2, 2024.

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6 comments

  • Tonya March 21, 2019   Reply →

    What are the best ways to study for OTA NBCOT?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 23, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Tonya! I wrote this guide on my study strategies with the most popular resources. The resources stated are the OTR versions but they all have OTA NBCOT exam versions which I would also recommend. Here is the guide: How I Passed the NBCOT On My First Try (And you can too!) I hope this helps and best of luck to you!

  • Glenda Corpuz February 17, 2021   Reply →

    I am a foreign trained OT graduate (2003). I am currently a COTA and would like to take the NBCOT exam. I would like to know if I am grandfathered to have/take Masters Degree. Please advise.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 17, 2021   Reply →

      Hi Glenda, to be play it safe, I recommend that you contact NBCOT directly for this information as they will give you the most accurate answer.

  • Iliana Garcia Lanuza March 25, 2024   Reply →

    Hi,
    I am looking to apply for a MOT.
    I have a BA in Sociology from Middlesex University in London, a Certification as a Health Coach from IIN, I have taken several certified courses in Holistic Psychology and currently taking two certification as a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Naturopahy Practicioner, What can I do to apply to my MOT?
    Thank you for your guidence.
    Iliana

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L April 1, 2024   Reply →

      Hi Iliana, every school unfortunately has differing pre-reqs/requirements so your first step will be to find schools that you are interested in and go to their OT program pages for everything that you will need to do to apply. Good luck!

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