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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 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 you do not need a doctorate level degree to practice if you’re applying to or finished a master’s-level program, as you will be grandfathered in to practice even with the broad program changes towards entry-level Doctorates

While not all occupational therapy graduate programs have the exact same requirements, there are some general occupational therapy school prerequisites that apply to most. Make sure to check each program you’re interested in for specifics, as each school varies.

Check out the How To Get Into OT School Guide! It’s the most comprehensive resource that covers everything you need to know.

What Are the Prerequisites for a Graduate Program in OT?

So what’s required to get into an OT graduate program? Here is an overview that we will go into in depth.

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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 OT’s need to maintain exceptional grades throughout their four-year degree programs. Minimums can be anywhere from 2.75 up to 3.2 for more competitive programs. Sometimes there is a higher GPA requirement for specific subjects, like math and science courses. Be aware that to be competitive, you will really want to achieve a higher GPA than what the programs’ minimums are.

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 can be very difficult to overcome poor undergraduate transcripts.

Does My Undergraduate Degree Matter?

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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 and 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 bachelors programs that most commonly precede application to an OT graduate program are:

  • Biology
  • Exercise Science
  • Health Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

For more undergraduate ideas for pre-occupational therapy, check out 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.

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You’ll Also Need Some Hands-On Time

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 an occupational therapy clinical setting.

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 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 MOT and OTD 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 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

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2 comments

  • 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!

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