The MOT vs. OTD: Which Degree Should You Pursue?
If you’re on the path to becoming an occupational therapist, you have likely been wondering if you should pursue a Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MOT) or a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD). The MOT vs OTD debate has been a bit of a controversial and contentious one for the last several years, particularly due to the OTD mandate that was slated to happen in 2027.
This mandate was going to eliminate all Master’s in OT programs by 2027, however, as of 2022, AOTA’s Representative Assembly has this mandate on hold and is still going to allow schools to continue both Master’s and Doctorate degree options at this time. Even so, many OT programs are still phasing out their OT Master’s degrees and only offering longer OT Doctorate programs.
Because of these factors, I wanted to share some of the differences between the two types of programs, to help you decide which path is right for you. And because this is a major financial decision (and time commitment), be sure to do some extra research on other platforms and websites as well before taking the plunge into either degree.
Occupational therapy Facebook groups and other OT forums can be really helpful to ask and hear about practicing occupational therapists’ perspectives who have done either the Master’s or Doctorate route.
Applying to OT grad programs? Check out our How To Get Into OT School Guide! It covers everything you need to know.
Some questions to ask yourself before choosing:
- Do you want to teach after you graduate?
- Do you enjoy and want to work in research?
- Are you comfortable with the significantly increased cost of the OTD vs the MOT?
If you answered yes to these, then the OTD may be a good option for you to consider. Another thing to keep in mind is that you can opt for a PhD in another topic you’re interested in later on instead of the OTD in order to be able to teach.
If you aren’t interested in teaching or research, read on:
If you want to be a traditional clinician and stay out of academia (for now), a Master’s in OT might be a better option while they are still available.
With a Master’s in Occupational Therapy, you will finish your program on average about a year sooner than if you go straight into an OTD program.
In addition, the OTD will, on average, add on another $20,000-$30,000 of student loan debt (sometimes considerably more depending on the program) to your student loans without an increased pay differential when you begin practicing.
If you go the MOT route, even if the OTD mandate takes place in the future, you will be grandfathered in and will still be able to get a job in clinical settings throughout your entire career. There are quite a few OTRs still practicing with their Bachelor’s degree and are able to get jobs even with new OTDs coming into the field.
No matter what degree you choose, you are required to pass the National Board Exam (NBCOT) and complete continuing education courses every year, so you aren’t at a real disadvantage if you “just” have your Master’s degree in OT.
Cost Considerations of the MOT vs OTD:
When you start practicing, many hospitals and clinics start entry-level occupational therapists at the same pay scale, whether you have completed your OTD or MOT. The increased student loan payment of the OTD can be painful when you’re making the same or nearly the same entry-level pay.
One other thing to consider is that if you decide to go straight through to the OTD from the get-go, you will be in school at least a year longer than if you went for the MOT and got to work making a full-time salary sooner.
That extra year could be a loss of around a $60,000-$70,000 salary from getting your Master’s in Occupational Therapy earlier. A question to ask yourself is that is the extra time and debt money worth it if you aren’t interested in teaching or research?
Remember to do your due diligence and compare all of the programs you’re interested in to do your own homework on the curriculum and tuition differences. These are just a few aspects to consider that I’ve noticed while working as an occupational therapist (with a Master’s degree).
And Remember That You Can Always Get Your OTD In the Future!
I’m certainly not “against” obtaining your OTD if it’s something that you’re passionate about, and it can be a good idea to look into specialized OTDs once you’ve been practicing with a Master’s for a few years and truly know your interests.
That way, you can make the most of getting your Doctorate by choosing a specialization that you want as opposed to the general addition of more research courses (again, be sure to check your program of choice’s curriculum to compare).
It also is helpful to consider waiting until you have a few years of paying your already-expensive OT Master’s degree student loans to see if you really can take on another $30,000+ for an advanced degree.
Many of the OTD programs out there are specialized for practicing occupational therapists that already have their Bachelor’s or Master’s, so this is not an uncommon route for therapists to take. If you’re curious about this option, you can check out a list of accredited post-professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate programs here.
What are your thoughts on the MOT vs OTD debate? If you opted for the OTD, what was your deciding factor? I’d love to hear your input on this topic in the comments below, whether you went for the MOT or OTD, or if you are still trying to decide.
This post was last updated on February 2, 2022.