Hey to all you pre-Occupational Therapists currently or soon to be applying to OT school!
This post is just for you.
It was inspired by my trials and tribulations of the OT school application process and the stresses I went through.
I’m sharing from a point of view of a pre-OT student who had no clue of what school she wanted to go to and what she needed to do to succeed.
If you’re in this situation right now, there’s hope for you!
You’ve Decided You Want to Be an OT
But have no clue where you want to go? Want to stay in your home state, but your home state’s programs are too expensive and/or competitive?
I’ve definitely been there, and I recall the year of applying for OT school absolute pain and torture spending hours upon hours combing through the (what seemed like) hundreds of programs and their curricula. (It was probably more like 50-60.)
The Application Process is Intense
You are typically required to send these pieces of information:
- Submitting Transcripts
- GRE Scores
- Letters of Recommendation
- Personal Statements
I only applied to schools that were part of OTCAS, also know as the Centralized Application Service for Occupational Therapy.
You send EVERYTHING to them, and when you’re ready to apply to programs they blast it out to all of your chosen programs.
It’s extremely convenient once you get everything in and OTCAS (finally) verifies everything. This way you don’t have to send out everything over and over.
Applying to non-OTCAS schools would have been way too much of a pain in the tuchus for me personally. But if your dream program isn’t part of OTCAS, it won’t be that big of a deal to send everything separately one or two times.
Once You Find The 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, so applicants are applying as soon as they can as opposed to when the supposed deadline is.
For example, say the programs you’re looking at have deadlines in December, but starts accepting applications in August.
Submit your app in August.
Most programs only take 30 students and will have 400-500 applicants at times. I learned the hard way. I was finally able to submit my application in November after the delay in getting my letters of recommendation in at a quick pace. The majority of the eight programs I applied to had already filled up.
And yes, you heard that right. I applied to eight programs. 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 super frustrating dropping $50 per program just to apply, but what I think would be more frustrating and soul-crushing would be to only apply to three and not get accepted.
Then you would have to wait another full year to re-apply. This may happen anyway with the nature of how competitive it is, but if you can do your best to increase your odds the first go around. And by all means, you should do just that.
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. It may be even higher now. It is best to make sure you thoroughly research each program you apply to.
Either way, do not just do the minimum. So many applicants are doing 100 plus hours to stay competitive, and I recommend doing the same. The minimum is not going to cut it.
Also, adding in volunteer work related to OT in addition to more than the minimum hours will also help strengthen your application.
Working in the medical field in addition to extra shadow hours is another way for the programs to see you actually know what OT is. It shows that you’re able to handle working in the medical field.
So many programs get applicants that have 4.0 GPA’s and book smarts but are completely clueless when it comes to working with patients.
4. Get That 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.
So your overall GPA is not something you can completely change. But what you can do to help is to make sure you get A’s in all 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, just really get out there and try to make up for it with volunteer and observation hours.
5. Take Studying for the GRE Seriously
Ugh, this was, in my opinion, the worst part about the whole application process. This exam seemed so pointless to me. All I recall studying for it was a ton of weird vocabulary no one uses and high school geometry (seriously).
There is of course more to this, including an essay portion that I must have blocked out of my mind because I can’t even tell you what it was on.
While the GRE was not fun, it is a necessary evil of getting into most 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 hour a day for 3-4 weeks after work to really solidify my knowledge.
Since I only spent about two weeks studying, I got a mediocre score which definitely hurt my odds. Big time.
Spend a solid amount of time really getting down and dirty with the GRE, because schools are very picky about their scores.
Have The Right Expectations
I made quite a few “mistakes” with my OT school application process. Starting with the fact that I thought I would be a shoe-in based solely on working as a nurse’s assistant in inpatient rehab and having a decent overall GPA.
I knew for several years that I wanted to be an OT, and thought my passion was all that I needed. I only got the minimum shadow hours (40).
I had a 3.5 GPA which was good, but I got C’s in A&P I and II. This mainly happened because of my being lazy at the time that I took them. I was already accepted into a nursing program at the time and just wanted to pass.
I slacked off on the GRE studying, and turned in my application WAY too late. I wasn’t aggressive enough in pestering my professors for the letters of recommendation.
I am super fortunate to have been accepted into a program on my first year of applying. At one point after I started getting denial letters, I was fully expecting that it would take me another year and re-doing pre-reqs.
I hope this helps you raise your odds and makes the process a bit less stressful for you. Another resource to help guide you along is the blog called Gotta Be OT. It has TONS of other useful information on applying and getting into grad school in a series of posts called Gotta Get Into Grad School.
You’ll also see a few “Help” links in this post for one-on-one coaching with me. I decided to start 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!