what are hybrid occupational therapy programs

What Are Hybrid Occupational Therapy Programs?

If you’re in the process of applying to occupational therapy graduate schools and you’ve been seeing multiple types of OT programs, you may be wondering the answer to this question:

What are hybrid occupational therapy programs?

Since I went to a hybrid occupational therapy master’s program, I want to share my experience and tell you the most important things to know about these types of programs.

As an applicant, you have a lot of options to choose from ranging from hybrid day programs, to full-time programs and weekend-only programs.

In 2016, AOTA reported that “nearly 60% of master’s programs and 56% of occupational therapy assistant programs offer some distance education opportunities to students.” I was unable to find the current percentages for this year, but I do want to note that there are still no fully online OT programs at the time of this post. There likely will never be fully online OT programs due to the importance of in-person labs, hands-on training, and fieldwork.

What Does This Mean for Online Learning Opportunities?

The above numbers indicate that many OT programs offer some element of online learning.

A hybrid OT program differs from a full-time OT program because it will have classes on campus only part-time (two or three days a week). Because you are going to class fewer days, there is quite a bit more online work.

hybrid ot programs

Theoretically this would sound like it could allow you some extra time to work and/or spend time with family. Based on my experience, however, you will most likely still have full-time coursework to do on the “off” days. I did not feel like I had any extra time compared to going to a full-time program.

A Typical Hybrid Program Schedule

My classmates and I were pretty much always eating, breathing, and sleeping OT even though we weren’t on campus every day.

On my “off” days, I would spend at least 8 hours a day studying, researching, or writing. This took so much dedication to motivate myself as it involved so much self-study.

When I was in class, I was forced to focus for longer periods of time. Having in-person class time did make for a better overall learning experience for me personally.

Will Hybrid Programs Prepare You for Fieldwork?

Several of my classmates and I agreed that we would have felt more prepared for fieldwork if we would have had in-person class five days a week. There was experience we knew we got being in class that we didn’t get from the online component.

In-person labs and lectures gave us the best hands-on experience. In our hybrid program, we practiced transfer training only three times during the entire curriculum, and splinting only twice. I think we would have more practice with these if we had more in-person class time.

That being said, being in class eight hours a day only three times a week was still exhausting and draining for me. I preferred being home or at a coffee shop doing my reading and studying.

I felt less fatigued on those off-campus days and enjoyed the increased flexibility of being both in-person and remote.

Weekend Hybrid Programs

Weekend programs seem to be a much more common type of hybrid program.

Of the various weekend graduate programs I found, the format is generally two weekends a month in class and the rest online. This leaves the student 40 hours a week during the week to keep their day jobs as they attend OT school.

hybrid ot program schedule

Weekend programs are longer in duration (generally at least three years) but are a good option for people with families that can’t afford to just stop working their jobs.

Do keep in mind that while the classwork is a mix of online and in class, no matter what program you choose, you will be full-time for your Level II Fieldwork’s for (generally) two, 12-week rotations. 

While there’s no getting around those full-time rotations, they are crucial for your OT education. I learned more in my Level II’s than I learned in all of my coursework, whether it was in class or online.

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Every accredited OT program will cover the basic knowledge and entry skill sets you’ll need before you start practicing – whether it is hybrid or full time.

No matter the program you choose, when you graduate you’ll feel like you hardly know anything and will learn the important things your first few years of work. As long as your OT program is accredited, it will get you to your end goal of being an occupational therapist.

If you haven’t already found a list of hybrid programs, AOTA has a PDF of all programs that incorporate a percentage of their coursework online.

Do you have anything to add on your experience with hybrid occupational therapy programs?  Do you have any questions about them? If so, let us know in the comments below!

This post was originally published on September 5, 2016 and updated on May 19, 2021.

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2 comments

  • Jade Ragland August 7, 2021   Reply →

    I’m thinking about applying to a hybrid weekend program but I just wanted to know if I’m in a longer program with cheaper tuition. Will my debt be more because I’m in school longer?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L August 13, 2021   Reply →

      Hi Jade, every OT program’s tuition is completely variable so I won’t be able to answer your specific question, but it is best to compare each program you’re looking at’s tuition to compare and shop around for the best tuition rates. I will say that my hybrid program ended up being a similar cost to other private full-time Master’s programs, but each OT program can be fairly different in cost.

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