5 Big Mistakes I Made
When Applying to OT School
This article was originally published on April 23, 2016 and updated on March 9, 2019.
If you’re in the throes of applying to occupational therapy school, or will soon be applying to OT school, this post is for you!
I was inspired to write this article, as new 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 realized after the rejection letters started rolling in that this would not be the case, and I would really need to step up my game to succeed in getting into OT school.
OT school is very competitive and takes more than just haphazardly applying to schools at the last minute. Make sure you’re prepare by learning from my mistakes and following these actionable tips to increase your odds of getting accepted.
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 personally chose to only apply to OT schools that were part of OTCAS, also know as the Centralized Application Service for Occupational Therapy, but there are certainly other OT programs you can apply to separately.
When using OTCAS, you 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.
When you begin applying, be sure to also check out our article 10 OTCAS Tips For A Smooth Application Process for more information about using OTCAS.
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, since many 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 they start accepting applications in August.
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 dropping 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.
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 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, 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 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 a mediocre score which I think definitely hurt my odds of getting accepted.
Spend plenty of time really getting to know the GRE, because schools do take these scores seriously. Having a great score can also help counteract a less than stellar overall GPA.
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 thought my passion 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 got the minimum observation hours. I submitted in 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 OT 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 are much better than mine were.
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 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!
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)