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 entrance into one of these programs 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 start practicing as an occupational therapist, you will 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 finished a Master’s-level OT program, as you will be grandfathered in to practice even if entry-level OT Doctorate programs become mandated (which is currently on hold).

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 that we will go into in depth.


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 a minimum GRE score.

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 maintain exceptional grades throughout their four-year degree programs, and with their pre-requisites. 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. 

A positive note for those with a low undergrad GPA: If your GPA is on the lower end but you have shown you were able to overcome your challenges and excel in your OT prerequisite grades, rack up a lot of observation hours and volunteer work, ace the GRE, 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, I’ve found that this strategy can work!

Does My Undergraduate Degree Matter?


Most 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. Prerequisite courses vary from program to program, but typically include most of what is listed below.


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 occupational therapy settings. This allows you to not only gain exposure to OT and make connections but to also learn if it’s the right path for you. Most OT programs require letters of recommendation from at least one 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 volunteering or by shadowing an occupational therapist at their workplace, which can be at a 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 understood ways.

A Master’s or Doctorate degree are advanced degrees, and students in these programs are expected to function at an advanced level. Unlike many undergraduate programs and courses, the majority of the work of many post-graduate programs takes place outside of the classroom.

As a student, you should be prepared to dedicate a substantial amount time working on academics even when you’re not in class. You’ll need to be able to work both independently and in groups on complex assignments.

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 June 6, 2023.

You may also like


  • 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.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.