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The MOT vs. OTD: Which Degree Should You Pursue?

If you’re looking to become an occupational therapist, you might be 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, particularly due to the possible OTD mandate happening in 2027.

Because of this, I wanted to share some of the differences between the two, to help you in deciding which path is right for you. And because this is a major financial decision (and time commitment), be sure to also do some extra research on other platforms as well before taking the plunge into either degree.

Occupational therapy Facebook groups can be really helpful to ask and hear about other occupational therapists’ perspectives who have done either the Master’s or Doctorate.

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:

  1. Do you want to teach after you graduate?
  2. Do you enjoy and want to work in research?
  3. 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 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 you can still get it.

With a Master’s in Occupational Therapy, you will finish your program on average about a year sooner than if you go straight into the OTD.

In addition, the OTD will, on average, add on another $20,000-$30,000 of student loan debt (sometimes considerably more) to your student loans without an increased pay differential when you begin practicing.

If you go the MOT route, even with the OTD mandate taking 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:

mot vs otd cost

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 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. 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!

mot vs otd cost

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+ 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.

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What are your thoughts on this? 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 you are still trying to decide.

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36 comments

  • Tom May 1, 2018   Reply →

    Hey thanks for writing this! My enrollment advisor was trying to get me into the OTD program and I was hesitant cause I didn’t really put it all together. I think I will go to MOT. Again I’ll do more research. Thank you!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L May 2, 2018   Reply →

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad the post gave you some additional ideas to do a bit more research. Best of luck with whichever path you choose 🙂

  • Carolyn Anderson May 22, 2018   Reply →

    I have a bachelors degree 31 years of experience and was only considering the OTD for fear of not being allowed to still practice. I have been out of school since 1986. I am at the top of my pay scale and the program I would attend is for a clinical OTD as well as not on the acote accredited list. I will be 64 when the mandate goes into play. Is it worth it as I have no interest in research, would love to teach but it looks like I would still need to go further for a PhD. Thanks Carolyn anderson

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L May 22, 2018   Reply →

      Hi Carolyn, if you are looking to teach, the OTD wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I don’t think you have to worry about not being allowed to practice if you opted against getting the OTD. In addition, if the program is not yet accredited, I would also be hesitant to apply until after it’s received accreditation. Best of luck with whichever path you choose!

    • Anon June 13, 2018   Reply →

      Hello Carolyn, ACOTE does not accredit Post-Professional OTD’s. If accreditation is what you’re looking for, you’ll want to look at a program that also has an entry-level OTD that is accredited.

      • Anna February 28, 2019   Reply →

        Hi Anon,

        Would you not already be accredited if you have passed the exam? I am just not sure how this all works. Post-professional OTDS – are they equivalent to an entry-level OTD, but you just pursue them after you have a master’s already?

        • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 28, 2019   Reply →

          You will still be able to practice with a Master’s in OT, and the Post-professional OTD would be an optional, additional degree to get after you get your Master’s in OT. Whether you get the post-professional OTD or not, you’ll be grandfathered in to practice OT even if you just go with the Master’s.

  • Laura Omogrosso August 22, 2018   Reply →

    Hi Carolyn,
    I am in the same position. Bachelors in OT 1985. 33 years. Certified Hand Therapist as of 2005. Broad rehab background.
    Concerned about future as I am not ready to retire however do not want to spend a fortune for further schooling at this point.
    Wondering what you have decided etc… as I think people in our position need some guidance/support.
    Thanks,
    Laura

  • Dana Kosmala February 9, 2019   Reply →

    my daughter is 21 and has gotten accepted to LLUMC in Calif for their MOT program, and Pacific University entry level OTD program.
    I was favoring LLUMC due to their long heritage of teaching and the fact that they have their own hospitial/peds hospital/VA hospital/ and county hospital and numerous clinics. Pacific has to send everyone out for field work. their OTD is clinical not research. Since I am paying for her degree, I really want her to have the best experience. She will definitely be working past the 2027 change.

    does the 2027 mandate mean that those with just MOT will get grandfathered in or that all those people with MOT will have to get their OTD to keep working????

    Thank you

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 10, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Dana, if your daughter gets her Master’s in OT (the MOT program) she will be grandfathered in after the mandate and will not be required to get her OTD to continue working in the field.

      • Dana February 10, 2019   Reply →

        Do you think the rankings on the US news report is valid because she is looking at Loma Linda University and Pacific University and Pacific ranks higher than Loma Linda which surprises me a little bit
        Thank you for your input

        • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L February 18, 2019   Reply →

          Per the US News Report, rankings are based “solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to deans, other administrators and/or faculty at accredited degree programs or schools in each discipline” so I would take those with a grain of salt and choose the program that works best for what she’s looking for. The rankings difference is probably not going to make much of an impact on her career.

  • Anna February 28, 2019   Reply →

    Are there any programs you know of that would allow you to get an OTD (with less time in the program than an entry level OTD) after you have your masters? I am thinking of getting my master’s now and would like to get an OTD in the future, but I don’t want to spend a couple more years in school just because I got both an OTD and master’s in OT. Are there any programs designed for those who already have their master’s and just want to add on an OTD?

  • Juliette March 5, 2019   Reply →

    Hello, thank you for the article! I am aspiring to become an occupational therapist in the future. I have the chance to get licensed before the mandate but I am uncertain as to whether I should try to get into an MOT program and get grandfathered in or go straight for the entry-level OTD. If an OTD is required for all aspiring OTs past 2027 does it make sense to go for the entry-level OTD first or take the shorter, less expensive route while I still can? I’m worried how this would look to future employers.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 5, 2019   Reply →

      It all depends on what your preferences are since you will be grandfathered in for being a clinical OT for your career, and it won’t be an issue for future employers unless you want to go into academia down the line. Many physical therapists I work with (in hospital settings) only have their Bachelor’s or Master’s and are still able to get jobs even though PT has gone to a Doctorate years ago. I would definitely compare the cost between the two and make that a big factor since the OTD degrees can lead to quite a bit more student loan debt, unfortunately.

      • Juliette March 5, 2019   Reply →

        Thanks for the response, that’s very helpful! I think I should go the MOT route for licensure while I still have the chance. I can always pursue a post-professional doctorate later if I really feel it would benefit me. I guess we never know until we try!

  • Mackenzie Westfall April 26, 2019   Reply →

    I am 27 years old and have dreamed of being an OT since High School, even shadowed as a 17 year old. Went to college, majored in psych and became a teacher. Now, I am ready to leave the field of teaching and follow my dreams. I have shadowed many OT’s during my spring breaks and summers off. THE CATCH -My undergrad GPA is 2.91. My pre rec classes from college (still have to take 3-4 to apply to MOT or OTD) is a 2.97. just below what many application requirements want. I still have the chance to up that Pre – rec GPA with a few more classes. I will need to take the next year or two to complete the rest of the pre rec’s.

    My question is, in 2021 (when I’m able to apply) will there still be MOT programs available? Will I have a chance of being accepted into a program with a 2.91 undergrad GPA and an almost 3.0 pre -rec GPA? I really would love to apply to MOT programs, but am afraid that in 2021 many will have already switched to an OTD level. I want this so bad and since being a teacher I have definitely gained professional experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have if going into OT directly after college.

    What is your best advice!?

    Thank you!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L April 29, 2019   Reply →

      Hi Mackenzie, there should still be Master’s-level OT programs in 2021, considering our OTD mandate for 2027 has been put on hold as of right now. Some schools are already transitioning to the OTD, but there many Master’s-level programs still taking students, so I would be shocked if they all transitioned to the OTD by 2021. While you’re doing your pre-reqs, be sure to try to get A’s in them and if possible take a few classes that could raise your overall and pre-req GPA to above the 3.0 so your application is considered. Your teaching experience will definitely help, but they do want to see GPAs higher than 3.0. I hope this helps and best of luck to you!

  • Carol April 29, 2019   Reply →

    Hello everyone!! I have been browsing through the web trying to find the best answer for my question. I got into the OTD program at Samuel Merritt, and also the MSOT program at AT Still. At this point I am superrrrr conflicted. I know I want to teach at some point in my life, and did research in my undergrad so it’s definitely something i would be interested in doing. I also loved the Samuel Merritt campus and the different resources they had for preparing students, but the extra year of debt really scares me. Is it worth it? I’ve heard SM grads are sought out by employers because of how well prepared they are. Should I just go for the OTD and kind of “get it over with” for a lack of a better expression. Any advice on either of the programs or this topic in general would be super helpful!

  • Andrea June 6, 2019   Reply →

    Sarah thanks for getting this important discussion started. You are correct in that this topic has long been a contentious debate among OT professionals and governing organizations. I’d like to clear up a few confusing points for everyone on the forum, especially since you seem to have prospective students here. As of early April the representative assembly of AOTA voted to support dual entry in both OT and COTA programs. This means that if you’d like to become an occupational therapist (OTR) you can pursue either an entry-level masters or an entry-level doctorate. If you’d like to become an occupational therapy assistant (COTA) you may pursue either a entry-level bachelors or an entry-level associates degree. The mandate that was put “on hold” that you mentioned in your late April post came from ACOTE, which is in charge of accrediting entry-level programs (they are not required to accredited post-professional ones). Since they didn’t have the legal authority to unilaterally change the standards for entry into the profession, their mandate was put into abeyance (on hold) while it was challenged. It has now been decided that only AOTA has the legal authority to change the entry point of the profession, and they have voted to keep dual entry in place so there is no longer a need for prospective students to debate the need for an OTD over a MSOT/MOT and it becomes a choice point for them (if they are in a region that has enough masters programs to support that choice or they are willing to relocate to one that does).

    Both an entry-level masters and an entry-level doctorate will prepare students to sit for their licensing exam and enter into clinical practice. Their curriculums follow remarkably similar standards and in most cases the only difference (besides cost) between the two programs is a doctoral project that is experiential and not research in nature. Please be aware that both degrees are clinical degrees and they prepare you equally well for clinical practice. Neither degree is intended to teach you how to do research and if that is what a prospective student is really interested in I would advise them to purse a PhD after they graduate from their entry-level clinical program. Research intensive universities will not hire you as a faculty member without one. Teaching intensive universities will though, however they strongly prefer a post-professional OTD to an entry-level OTD (at least when applying to teach in an OTR program). If you feel that an academic teaching career might be in our future, I’d strongly recommend that you get an entry-level masters and then pursue a post-professional OTD or an EdD or PhD after you graduate while you are working and making an income. However that last piece is my opinion and does not reflect a requirement (although according to ACOTE standards 50% of your faculty must hold a post-professional doctorate to teach in an entry-level OTD program). I hope my post helps to clear things up, and best of luck to all of the prospective students on the forum. In sprite of this heated debate please know that OT is a wonderful profession where we can make a significant impact on the clients we are privileged to serve! Good luck as you pursue admission to either type of program.

  • Christine January 27, 2020   Reply →

    In thinking about an OT career, I’ve decided that I’d be happiest as a clinician who also occasionally contributes to the “bigger picture” in the field, probably through program management or clinical research (I’m not exactly sure what I’m best at yet, and hope to discover that in school. I just know that I want to have opportunities to contribute to the field beyond clinical work).

    I’m worried, though, that in real life, that there won’t be a lot of opportunities beyond clinical work, based on the information I’ve gotten while shadowing (I have not talked to any OTDs, though). I’ve also seen a lot of buzzwords on OTD program descriptions, but haven’t seen many OTDs going beyond clinical work.

    Have you found, in your experience, that there are opportunities to engage in clinical research, advocacy, or program management for a clinician who is an OTD but who is not officially in academia? Or are these opportunities very limited beyond school?

    If you’re an OTD, what have some of these opportunities looked like in your career?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L January 28, 2020   Reply →

      Hi! You actually don’t necessarily need an OTD to get into non-academia research or program management. There is a really great Facebook group called OT Entrepreneurs that has a lot of OTs that are doing really interesting things with their degrees, including starting clinics and much more. Be sure to join and ask for their input as I’m sure there are a fair number of OTDs in the group as well as Master’s level OTs.

  • Stephanie Albanese March 13, 2020   Reply →

    My daughter is a senior in HS and has been accepted into a few 5 year Masters of Occupational Therapy programs, Ithaca, Quinnipiac and Duquesne University. She hasn’t chosen yet but when she does in 2027 she will still be doing her undergraduate program. If the mandate goes through in 2027 even though she accepts to the 5 year MOT program now can they switch that on her and say now you have to get your doctorate? Or is she grandfathered in because she accepted her freshman year into the 5 year program?

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 14, 2020   Reply →

      If it’s a 5 year Master’s program that she’s already enrolled in I don’t think they would change it to a Doctorate, but just to be sure you or your daughter should reach out to the program(s) to verify just so you can know for sure.

    • Andrea Tyszka April 14, 2020   Reply →

      Stephanie congratulations to your daughter on her admission to those excellent OT programs!! Just to clarify the representative assembly of AOTA has voted against the 2027 mandate so it will not be enforced. If a program opts to switch to an entry-level doctorate format it is by choice, not by obligation. It would be unprecedented for a university to make a major curriculum revision mid-way through a student’s program, and students/parents would have legal recourse to challenge it. That being said, I think Sara’s idea to reach out to the program and clarify their intentions is excellent advice. It never hurts to double-check and ask. Again, congratulations to your daughter on this achievement and good luck to her!

  • Mae May 25, 2020   Reply →

    Hello! I am a recent college graduate and needless to say the world is kind of upside-down at the moment. In the fall I applied to OT schools and got into 2 programs. One was a very new MOT program (only 3 years old) and one is an entry-level OTD. I was very conflicted for weeks because the MOT program started the day after my graduation all online and financially and mentally I knew I could not handle it during this pandemic. (I was also accepted 2 weeks before the program was to start so very little time to prepare). As wonderful as the OTD program is… the cost is A LOT, upwards of $150k total not including other fees and costs of living, etc. We all know OT school is incredibly competitive but if I am not sure I want to get an OTD do you think it would be wise to take a gap year and reapply?? The perks of this would be that I can work on my application a bit more and get a job to earn some money while also gaining experience but I am worried I may not get into OT school in the next cycle. Any advice would be so appreciated.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L May 27, 2020   Reply →

      That’s such a tough call! I totally understand you wanting to save the significant amount of money by reapplying for MOTs next cycle, but of course it’s a gamble due to the competitiveness of OT schools. I’m noticing a lot more people reaching out to me now about becoming an OT with the growing unemployment in other industries. That being said, I would be hesitant to say to go for waiting, but I do think your odds would be better since you’ve already gotten into two OT programs. Just be sure if you do wait to reapply next year, apply to multiple programs to play it safe. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more applicants next year. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a to the point answer, but I wish you the best of luck with whichever decision you make!

    • Andrea Tyszka August 8, 2020   Reply →

      Mae congratulations on your admission to two programs!!! I can say with certainty that you aren’t the only student struggling with this decision. The pandemic has a lot of people questioning big life decisions. Some universities will allow you to defer your admission to the following year, it maybe worth asking the admissions department if this is an option in your case. I applogize for the delay in responding but I’ve been busier than ever this summer and not paying attention to my favorites blogs as often as I would like.

  • Cindy July 7, 2020   Reply →

    Hi Sarah! I hope you are doing well in the midst of all the chaos! I recently graduated college this past May as a pre-PA student and ended up discovering occupational therapy soon after. It didn’t take me long to realize that this career was perfect for me, so I decided to make the costly decision to switch! I live in Texas and about half of the schools are transitioning from an MOT to an OTD program. The ones that are in the transition have only received Candidacy status for their OTD program. What is your advice to applying to these schools since they aren’t fully accredited yet? Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L July 7, 2020   Reply →

      Hi Cindy! I’ve been told that if the programs already have an established MOT program, or even an established, accredited PT doctorate program, that it is generally safer to apply to these since their similar programs have already been accredited. I wouldn’t worry as much about these programs versus brand new programs that don’t have any other similar programs. There still is a risk with any non-accredited program but I do know of multiple students who have gone to programs awaiting accreditation at reputable schools and have been fine. I hope this helps!

    • Andrea Tyszka August 8, 2020   Reply →

      I second Sarah’s thoughts. It is safer to consider an OTD program that already has a master’s level program accredited. The doctoral and master’s standards are nearly identical (with some minor wordsmithing and additions) so it would be unprecedented for a program to pass at the master’s level, yet fail at the doctoral level. In fact, I’ve never heard of this ever happening. However I don’t work for ACOTE so I can’t say that with a 100% certainty. Best of luck in your decision!!!

  • Karen August 6, 2020   Reply →

    Hello!
    I have a question and not quite sure if you would know the answer. But what exactly is the difference between ppOTD and OTD. Many schools offer post professional but what exactly does that entail? Is there a difference? is ppOTD for master students or can OTD pursue ppOTD?
    Thank you!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L August 6, 2020   Reply →

      Hi Karen, a post-professional OTD program is a Doctorate designed for those who already have an accredited Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. An entry-level OTD is open to anyone who has completed the program’s requirements (pre-reqs, shadowing hours, GRE, etc.) without needing an undergrad or Master’s in OT. Hope this helps clear things up a bit!

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