5 Big Mistakes I Made When Applying to OT School
If you’re currently applying to occupational therapy school, or you will soon be applying to OT school, this post is for you!
I was inspired to write this article, as new OT grad, about all of the mistakes I made when applying to OT school so you don’t have to go through the same stresses that I went through.
At the time that I was applying to OT school, I thought it would be a simple and easy process: Apply to schools, get multiple interviews, and get accepted soon after.
I quickly realized after I started getting rejection letters that this would not be the case, and I would really need to step up my application game to succeed in getting into OT school.
Getting into OT school is very competitive and it takes more than just haphazardly applying to a few schools at the last minute. Make sure you’re prepared by learning from my mistakes and follow these actionable tips to increase your chances of getting accepted.
Check out the How To Get Into OT School Guide! It’s the most comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know.
The Application Process is Intense
When applying to schools, you are typically required to send these pieces of information:
- College Transcripts
- GRE Scores
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statements
For convenience, I chose to only apply to OT schools that were part of the OTCAS application system, also know as the Centralized Application Service for Occupational Therapy, but there are certainly some great OT programs not using OTCAS that you can apply to separately.
When using OTCAS, you will send everything to them, and when you’re ready to apply to your selected programs, they send your application out to all of your chosen programs for you.
It’s very convenient once you get your materials in and OTCAS verifies everything. This way you don’t have to send out everything over and over to each individual school.
When you start your application process, be sure to check out our article 10 OTCAS Tips For A Smooth Application Process for more information about using OTCAS.
Once You Find The OT Programs You Want to Apply To:
1. Don’t Wait To Apply!
I can’t stress this one enough. Occupational therapy school is SO competitive, since many applicants are applying as soon as they can as opposed to when the supposed deadline is.
For example, the programs you’re looking at might have deadlines in December, but they start accepting applications in August.
If this is the case, submit your application in August if you can.
Most programs only take around 30-40 students and may have 400-500 applicants. I learned this the hard way. I was finally able to submit my application in November, since I didn’t get all of my letters of recommendation in until then. The majority of the eight programs I applied to had already filled up.
And yes, I applied to eight programs to improve my chances of getting in my first time applying. It was not cheap, with the application fees. But that leads to the next piece of advice.
2. Apply to As Many Programs as You Can (Without Going Completely Broke)
It is frustrating when you have to spend around $50 per program just to apply, but I felt like it would be more frustrating (and devastating) to only apply to three programs and not get accepted at all that year.
Applying to more schools will increase your odds and save you time and money in the long run by not having to re-apply the next year. You may still have to apply the following year, due to the competitive nature of OT schools, but at least your odds are greater with more program applications.
It’s not a bad idea to start saving up for this early on so you aren’t hurt by the high application fees.
3. Get as Many Observation Hours as You Can
When I was in the process of applying in 2012, most programs were requiring 40 hours. This number can be even higher depending on the schools you choose. Be sure to research each program you’re applying to to keep track of this.
Either way, do not just do the minimum. So many applicants are doing well over 100 plus hours to stay competitive, and I recommend doing the same, in multiple OT settings. Unfortunately, just getting the bare minimum is not going to cut it.
Adding in volunteer work related to OT in addition to more than the minimum observation hours will also help strengthen your application.
Getting a job, whether full-time or part-time, in the medical field in addition to extra observation hours is another great way to strengthen your application.
Just a few examples are being a rehab aide, nurse’s assistant or working in a skilled nursing facility. Working in a daycare or as a camp counselor is a great way to gain experience with children if you’re looking to work in pediatrics.
A note from 2022 me: OT schools know that it is much harder to get shadowing hours during the current health crisis, so if you’re reading this while case counts are still up, don’t feel like you need to get 100+ hours. If you can, just try to shadow a few settings for your required hours, so you can still see the varied types of OT for your own benefit.
4. Get Your GPA (and Pre-req GPA) as High as You Can
Programs will have “Minimum of 3.0 GPA required.” However, even with a 3.50 you are still competing with tons of other applications with 3.8’s – 4.0’s. But don’t let this completely stress you out.
If you’re about to graduate, your overall GPA is not something you can change drastically. But what you can do to help is to make sure you get A’s in all or most of your OT program pre-requisites like Anatomy, Medical Terminology, Abnormal Psychology, Human Growth and Development, etc.
This will show your program that you can handle the intensity of Gross Anatomy and Neuroanatomy once you get into the program.
If your GPA is the minimum, really get out there and try to make up for it with high observation hours, great letters of recommendation and an amazing personal statement.
5. Take Studying for the GRE Seriously
This is most peoples’ least favorite part of the OT school application process. While the GRE was not fun or exciting, it is a necessary evil of getting into many graduate programs (OT or not). I did study for it, but not nearly as much as I should have.
Had I known how important the scores were to programs, I would have dedicated at least one to two hours a day for 3-4 weeks to really solidify my knowledge.
Since I only spent about two weeks studying, and not very seriously, I got an average score which likely hurt my odds of getting accepted into programs that required it.
Spend plenty of time really getting to know the GRE, because schools that require it do take these scores seriously. Having a great score can also help counteract an average overall GPA.
If you can’t fathom taking or retaking the GRE right now, there are OT programs that don’t require it, so make sure you do your homework and consider applying to those schools if you don’t want the extra burden.
Have The Right Expectations
I personally made quite a few mistakes with my OT school application process. I really didn’t realize the competitive nature and figured with a 3.5 GPA and three years of experience as an inpatient rehab patient care tech, I would be a shoe-in.
I was so passionate about being an occupational therapist for several years before I started applying, and I thought my passion and work experience was all that I needed.
I slacked off on the GRE studying and got less than stellar A&P I and II grades, and I only did the minimum observation hours. I submitted my application WAY too late. I wasn’t aggressive enough in pestering my professors to turn in my letters of recommendation in a timely manner.
With all of that being said, I am very fortunate to have been accepted into an MSOT program my first year of applying. But please, learn from me and don’t do what I did! I want you to have a low-stress application process and make sure your odds of getting in are better than mine were.
Check out the How To Get Into OT School Guide! It’s the most comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know.
I really hope this post helped you and makes the process a bit less stressful for you! If you’re still struggling, I also offer one-on-one coaching via a 30 minute personalized phone call. I started offering this service since I am so frequently contacted about this topic.
Do you have any words of advice from your occupational therapy school application process that you want to share with others? If so, post them in the comments below, and thanks for your input!
What To Do If You Didn’t Get Into OT School (My OT Spot)
OT School Interview Questions & Prep Tips (My OT Spot)
Applying to OT School (Gotta Be OT)
7 Tips for Finding the Best Occupational Therapy Schools (My OT Spot)
This article was originally published on April 23, 2016 and updated on January 12, 2021 and January 27, 2022.
Hi! Thanks for this post; it is full of excellent advice. I am just starting out on my path to become an OT, so I still have a couple of prerequisites to complete. I also have to study and sit for the GRE, and work on getting shadow/observation/volunteer experience in the field. Do you think the best place to begin–in terms of getting hours–would be at a private rehab clinic or at a hospital? I’ve heard that hospitals can be less likely to take on people who want to shadow or volunteer, mainly because they have liability issues to worry about.
When you were going through the application process, did you happen upon any programs that didn’t require abnormal psychology? I completely understand how the course content would be beneficial to students entering OT programs and the field in general. However, the closest university to me requires a prerequisite (one that seems like it might just be a money-grab) for ab. psych. Plus, none of the community colleges offer ab. psych. I know that I might just have to deal with it in order to complete the requirement for admissions, but I just thought I’d ask to see if you might have come across a program that did not require it.
Again, great advice! Keep up the posts, as they are awesome and soooo helpful.
Hi Vanessa, sorry for the delayed response! That’s awesome that you’re already on the path to the application process. I think any OT settings are great for the observation hours, as long as you clock more than the requirement. I shadowed at a hospital but several of my classmates shadowed at clinics as hospitals are getting harder to get into for observing.
As far as the abnormal psychology, I think many programs require this as there is usually an entire semester devoted to mental health in the OT programs. It’s a really interesting class to take and shouldn’t cause you any issues. Could you find one to take online at an accredited school if you still can’t find one near you? Best of luck and keep me posted!
as of now I don’t really have any questions to post in the comments section but I just wanted to say thank you for making this post!! It has been extremely helpful and answered some questions I had about the grad school application process as I’ve currently been stressing over just the thought of it.. your post has eased my mind a bit!
Thanks for the advice!
I too, have been wanting to switch from being a speech-therapist assistant to an OT.
I have been doing a lot of research on schools and prerequisites. Sometimes, I just want to give up and say “it’s too late! I have already been doing speech for five years! I’m too old to go back to school and try again! (I’m 27)” So it is nice to hear some encouragement on changing careers.
I’m glad the post helped give you some encouragement! I have so many coworkers of all disciplines in their 30’s and 40’s switching careers, so don’t let your (young!) age get to you. You still have so many good working years ahead of you. Best of luck with whatever path you end up going down!
Hi! I have been a dental hygienist for 10 years and am trying to switch professions into OT. Do you think my dental hygiene degree and experience working directly with patients would make me a good candidate for OT school? I am currently working on my prerequisite courses for OT school. I have already completed some of the prerequisites that were also required for hygiene school, but I have a few classes with C grades that I should probably retake. Thoughts? I am also starting with observation hours in a nursing home.
Hi Elle, I’m not sure if your dental hygienist career would make schools get really excited, since OT is so different. The main thing to focus on is getting as many observation hours as you can in several different settings. Also make sure during the application process you show that you’re really passionate about becoming an OT. I would say to retake your pre-req courses that you got C’s in, since schools are so competitive now and are looking for A’s if possible. Best of luck!
Hi, Thanks so much for all this great advice, I am 31, and changing my career to OT, starting pre-reqs on Monday. When you say “apply to as many schools as possible,” how many is enough? Right now I have a list of 9, cut down from 13, which I thought was perhaps too many to manage. Do you think 9 is an OK number–too big, too small? Thanks!
I would say apply to as many as you can handle! I applied to eight schools since I didn’t want to have to wait to re-apply the next year due to not getting into anything. You should be fine with 9 if you want to play it safe due to the competitiveness of the programs now. Good luck!
Hello, I have been reading your blog for quite some time. Thank you for the excellent information! Do you still offer consultations? I have filled out the OTCAS application, however, I have so many questions and concerns, I am applying to the Brenau University, Hybrid Day, Norcross location which has an early registration of 9-15-17. Let me know, if a consult is an option, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!!
Hi Tyler, I do offer OT school consulting and would love to help you out! You can check it out here: https://www.myotspot.com/product/help-ot-school/ Thanks for being a reader of the blog and looking forward to chatting with you.
Hello Sarah, you should be receiving my order for a consultation soon. Let me know when you have a convenient time.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Hi Sarah! This was amazing advice. I am an undergrad senior right now and I’m looking at applying to OT school in June- right when the applications open. I have a huge passion for OT and I want nothing more than to get into a school, but I’m worried that if I don’t get in the first time, I’ll end up waiting 2 years before I do. Even then, I’m not guaranteed, you know? I wanted to kind of list you out what I’ll have on my application and see if you have any advice on how I can make it more appealing. I haven’t taken the GRE yet.
GPA: 3.3 as of now- the only C’s I got was in Anatomy, basic bios 111 & 112. But, the rest are A’s or B’s
> 80 PT hours in multiple settings
Working on OT hours because I switched from PT to OT last year.
And a few random, but maybe helpful things: 1 Medical mission trip, 2 month summer Christian leadership program, Semester study abroad
Hi Alex, I’d love to help you out with your OT school application process! I offer one on one 30 minute get-into-OT-school coaching sessions here so we can discuss this further. Looking forward to hearing from you!
What is the best undergrad track to start with? Health Sciences? Many schools offering health sciences are difficult to compare apples to apples as some lead to more of a public education route vs. a clinical route. Any suggestions for schools?
Hi! Love all of these helpful tips! I am curious about what you said about applying to as many schools as you can. From my research, I have seen different pre-reqs required from each school. So that would result in more classes to take. My question is, do you have to take every pre-req every school requires?
You will have to take each pre-req (or be in the process of taking it) once you’re accepted into the program you want to attend, but you can certainly apply to a number of programs before getting all of your pre-reqs done. I do recommend narrowing down your top school choices and seeing which ones have similar pre-reqs so you don’t have to spend a lot of extra time or money taking more classes that maybe only one or two of your choices requires. Most programs are pretty similar with what they require, thankfully. Best of luck to you!
LOVED this post!!! Super helpful and reassuring that I’m not the only one with these types of concerns. If you don’t mind me asking, what school did you get into/attend?
Hi there, this is a great, informative blog. Thank you! This may be a silly question but does observing physical therapists qualify as OT observation hours?
Hi Chantel, unfortunately observing physical therapy hours won’t count towards any occupational therapy hours for your applications (but will still be very helpful for you personally!). I recommend getting more OT hours than the applications suggest and in at least two different settings due to the competitive nature of the application process. Best of luck to you!
To the young lady who said she was too old, you are never too old! I am 35 and am just now working on my bachelors. I chose Occupational Therapy after working as a medical assistant for 8 yrs. I thought i wanted to be a nurse because everyone kept pushing me to be a nurse saying i would be great at it. However, when my son was diagnosed with autism, an OT talked to us about his daily activities and helped us get through the rough stages. I realized that ultimately an OT is what i wanted to be. I know the road is hard, especially being a single mother of three teenage boys, but i am determined to show my sons that it is possible and also prove to myself that I am capable. Thank you for this article, it helps a lot.
Did you upload individually signed observation sheets from OTs that you shadowed? Did you just find a template? Many of the schools I Ann applying to either don’t say anything about OT hours or do but don’t offer pages to be filled out and signed
Since I only applied to schools via OTCAS, I just uploaded my observation hours on the OTCAS website’s observation hours form. With the OTCAs system, you don’t need a separate paper sheet at all, since you’ll just log them into your profile. If you’re applying to schools that don’t use OTCAS, they might have their own paper sheet that you can use to submit your hours. Hope this helps!
I was wondering if you recommend retaking any courses? For instance, When I took A & P they were separate courses. I received an A in Anatomy, but unfortunately received a C+ in Human Physiology. At the time I was taking Physiology I was juggling too much at a young age – naïve! Do you feel that schools would prefer to see a course retaken with a higher grade? I’m not sure if you have any experience or know anyone who has re-taken courses. I have a health management master’s degree which I received a 4.0 in which shows my dedication at this age, however not sure that would make a difference. I would love your insight – thank you!
Hi Pat! Normally I do suggest retaking A&P if you happened to have C’s in both courses, however with your circumstances (the A in Anatomy and 4.0 in your Health Management master’s degree, wow!) I don’t think the C+ will hurt you, especially if you have a strong amount of observation hours (100+ in multiple settings is common) and a great personal statement. Just be sure for the schools you apply to that your pre-reqs are still applicable, since some schools have a limit of five years, for example. If you have any other questions please feel free to email me at email@example.com. Best of luck to you!
Hi! Thank you for this post. I’m currently an undergrad sophomore right now, and I have very less experience in any OT settings and only have a semester’s worth of extracurricular activities. Plus, my cumulative GPA is 3.4 right now, and it doesn’t increase no matter what I do. Do you think 300+ hours of shadowing in multiple OT settings would help with my application? Till now, I’ve received mostly A-s and B+s in my pre-req courses, would that be acceptable?
I think your stats combined with that high amount of hours would be great. You should be fine as long as you apply to at least a few schools to increase your chances (which I think everyone should do). Best of luck when you start applying!
When during my undergraduate degree should I begin applying? In addition, how should I record my observation hours?
Hi Noelle, I would not recommend you apply before your junior year. Applying during your senior year is also fine and very typical. You’ll keep track of your own observation hours and then will input them into your OT applications when you start your applications. Good luck!
Hi, I don’t know if you know the answer to this, but I have one more prerequisite that I need to complete and I was wondering if schools accept you before you complete it as long as your grade meets the minimum requirement when I send my grade or will they not even consider me as an applicant until I have completed it. Thanks!
A fair number of schools will accept you if you just have one or so left, but definitely check with the schools you’re applying to before you submit your application just to play it safe 🙂
Hello! I am looking to get into an OT program in a year from now. My school goes on a 3.5 4.0 scale ( no 3.7) I am at a 3.5 GPA and 3.5-3.6 prerequisite GPA. I have 135 hours of interning under an OT and over 100 hours of pediatric volunteer experience. I also have a couple hours of OT volunteering. My A and P are both 3.5. I am quite stressed about getting into any program due to my GPA. I was wondering if that is as much of an issue as I am making it. I also was wondering if just more shadowing hours and volunteering hour in your opinions would be enough to get me in. (My GPA is as low as it is due to my freshman year more than anything else and the only science I preformed poorly in was chemistry). Thank you!
Your GPA is great, no need to stress! Just apply early (once applications open up) and to several schools to play it safe and you’ll be fine 🙂
I’m an older adult returning to school. I completed my BS in 2019 with not the greatest GPA. I’ve been looking at what I would like to do and decided on OT. I’ve been looking at schools around the country and decided its really scary bc of the cost and requirements. I need to know if all OT colleges have a vaccine requirement. If I completed an OTA program wd that help me?
Hi Thelma, most OT and COTA programs have vaccine requirements because most fieldwork settings have mandatory vaccine requirements (hospitals, schools, rehab facilities, etc.) in order to keep patients safe, so it’s more due to the fieldwork versus the programs. Schools/fieldwork sites may be able to work with a religious exemption or medical exemption from your doctor, but this is something you’ll want to reach out to the individual programs (both OT and COTA programs) to get further clarification on.
So I applied to OT school in 2018 and I didn’t get in. I did get an interview for one of the schools. I did feel that my responses for the interview questions were horrible. I took a year off applying and I started working as a behavioral therapist for children on the spectrum. I also graduated with a 3.5 Gpa. I have A’s and B’s on my preqs. I am doing More observations and retaking my Gre right now. And I am hoping to apply this round 2020. Is there any advice you can give me?
I’m so sorry to hear about your experience but definitely know that it takes many OT students more than one year of applying, so don’t feel discouraged! The fact that you’ve been through the process before and have had practice interviewing already will definitely be an advantage. Your stats are great so just keep getting more observation hours and apply as early as you can, to as many schools as you feel comfortable applying to. Once the schools’ applications open up, I recommend applying as soon as you can due to the highly competitive nature of OT school. Best of luck!
Hello, as I’m gearing up to apply to OT programs this summer, I’m feeling a little discouraged. Because of COVID-19 all of my plans for observing this summer have been disrupted. I already have 60-65ish hours of observation, but I planned on getting about 70 more this summer which of course hasn’t happened because of the pandemic. I do have 52 hours of volunteer work in an OT/PT clinic, 15 for the special Olympics, and around 150 hours of nannying for a child with Down syndrome. I also have a 3.85 GPA and my GRE scores were alright but I just feel worried because my observation hours are lacking and it’s frustrating because they wouldn’t be if this pandemic hadnt happened. I’m wondering if you have any advice.
I think you’ll definitely be fine with those hours; everyone is in the same boat and has similar issues with getting hours, so try not to worry too much. As long as you have the recommended hours for the programs you’re applying to, definitely still go forward with applying. Good luck!
When does the application cycle begin? I have started working on my application but I still have A LOT to get done. Am I behind?
You definitely aren’t behind. The OTCAS system opens in July but programs all have different application dates, usually starting in August or after. I highly recommend creating a spreadsheet with your top programs to keep the dates in order as well as other helpful info like pre-reqs, application fees, etc. to help stay organized when the time comes. Good luck!
First of all let me say I love your website and the amount/quality of information you offer. I’m currently a COTA, almost 3 years in practice, but have always planned to go back to school for my masters ( I do need my bachelors) What do you think are the most important proactive things I could be doing in getting prepared to apply for the OT program? Also, does working in the field count as observation hours?
I’m so glad you’re finding the blog helpful! I actually have a ton of pre-OT content that covers application prep, so be sure to check out our Browse and Search page to see all of those articles, but the main thing is to apply early, have a strong GPA, solid observation hours, and a great personal statement. For your observation hours question, I would reach out to each program you’re interested in to play it safe, since they might not count working as a COTA as observation hours since you’re not observing an OTR, if that makes sense.
HI! I have been very stressed my gpa is not the best but I plan on applying to OT school I am scared of being denied because of my low gpa. I have all As and Bs for my precs but a lot of classes that have nothing to do with my major I did very bad in. I am stressed and scared.
Hi Kate, as long as your GPA is over the requirement for the OT schools you’re applying to, you can definitely still get in by outshining in other areas like volunteer work, observation hours, work experience, the GRE, etc. Many schools are now offering additional sections in their applications to allow you to explain why your GPA may be lower, since they understand GPAs do not define people or great OTs. So try not to let this get you too worried 🙂 I would recommend once you work on your other areas you apply to multiple schools which will also increase your odds. If your GPA is lower than the requirement, you can also retake some of your lower graded courses to bump it up. I hope this helps and best of luck!
I am planning to apply to OT school for the coming fall. I do not have the highest GPA but many school ask a letter about reasons explaining low GPA which I plan to do. During, undergrad I worked full time, went to school full time, and of course full time mother with all that my grades were effected. However, I am a C’s and B’s average student. I am currently working as a program coordinator for a nonprofit and supervise many occupational therapists students in master and doctoral levels, as well as special education teachers, PT, and SLPs students. I wonder if schools look at a person overall. I may not have the best grades but I do believe I have gain so much knowledge and feel confident about tackling the OT journey. I just hope my grade will not be a barrier.
Would you say schools look at the person as a whole ?
Schools definitely will look at your entire application and not just your GPA (as long as your GPA meets the minimum requirements), so with your work experience I think you would make a great candidate! Just make sure you can make your other areas of your application competitive as well, including GRE scores, observation hours, etc. I hope this helps!