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Pre-Occupational Therapy

What is an Occupational Therapist (OT)?

Occupational therapy practitioners ask, "What matters to you?" not, "What's the matter with you?" In its simplest terms, occupational therapists help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).

Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals, customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.

Occupational therapy services may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home and other environments (e.g., workplace, school), recommendations for adaptive equipment and training in its use, and guidance and education for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team.

What should my major be?

Most occupational therapy (OT) programs do not require a specific major, just that you complete an undergraduate degree. Therefore, you may major in almost anything. You should consider a major that you enjoy, in which you will perform well and may serve as a basis for further graduate work or employment should you choose not to apply to or are not admitted to occupational therapy school. Many students will choose to major in Health Sciences with a concentration in Behavior and Occupation Studies at UC as it requires the majority of the courses that will satisfy admissions requirements for OT programs.

What is so hard about being pre-occupational therapy?

For many students, the most difficult task is to acquire the study skills and self-discipline necessary to attain academic excellence. The success of your transition to college level work depends not only on ability, but also upon preparation, motivation, organization and how well you learn how to learn. It is important that you really learn the material, not just memorize it, as it is crucial to develop your critical thinking skills. The rigorous curriculum of a pre-occupational therapy student demands tenacity and stamina. 

Is it difficult to get into occupational therapy school?

Yes, it is extremely competitive to gain admittance into occupational therapy school. You must be well informed, well prepared, extremely determined and work very hard to gain admission. You should also actively explore alternative careers.

What are the admissions requirements?

Click here for a listing of core prerequisites for most health professions.

Generally, most occupational therapy schools require one year of general biology, anatomy and physiology, general chemistry, and physics designed for science majors.  All of these courses should have laboratory components. 

Many schools also require courses in statistics, general psychology and lifespan development, and sociology or anthropology. Additional requirements may apply depending on the schools you plan to apply to. Students should speak with a PPAC advisor and consult the admissions literature for the specific requirements at each school in which you are interested. 

Competitive pre-OT students also possess these important qualities: competitive metricsstrong personal attributes and have meaningful pre-OT and other professional experiences. Observation of OT's is also required. Visit this webpage for more information about these critical components of your application and meet often with a Pre-Professional advisor. 

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized test that measures analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills. Most of these skills have been acquired over a long period of time and are not related to any specific field of study. OT programs require that you take the GRE prior to admission. We suggest familiarizing yourself with the GRE early on so that you can plan for the test. Understanding the test can positively affect what you learn in class and how you choose to retain that knowledge. Stretch yourself in general education courses at UC and by reading beyond class requirements. The training will serve you well when you take the GRE.

Many OT programs require the GRE; however, not all do. Typically, you apply to OT programs before the beginning of your senior year (or a year before you plan to enter), so you should plan to take the exam by the spring or summer after your junior year. The GRE is usually offered five-six days a week and may be taken by appointment at UC Testing Services or Prometric Testing Center. More information regarding the GRE may be found at Educational Testing Services (ETS)

What do occupational therapy programs consider when evaluating applicants?

The criteria for admission varies from school to school, but usually include academic record (GPA), standardized admissions exam (GRE), letters of recommendation, demonstrated knowledge and commitment to the profession through experience and personal attributes, and in some cases a personal interview.

To be a competitive applicant for OT programs, it is sometimes required that you complete observation hours with a licensed occupational therapist. Many programs require that you observe in multiple settings such as rehab, mental health, pediatrics, and geriatrics. Check individual school’s websites for program specific observation hour requirements. 

What GPA do I have to have to get into occupational therapy school? 

This varies from school to school. However, the majority of students accepted to occupational therapy school have a GPA of approximately 3.5 or higher. It is particularly important that you perform well in your science (biology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics and math) courses. It is important for those considering professional school to be realistic about the extent to which performance meets admissions expectations.

Is it all over if I have a bad semester?

Admission committees look at the "big picture" as they evaluate applicants. They realize that every student does not hit the ground running when they enter college. Admission committees expect an excellent academic record, but may make some allowances for a problem semester, slow start or rough spot. If academic problems arise, you must bounce back and perform better than ever to show that the problem was an exception, rather than the rule. Use resources such as professor and T.A. office hours, the Learning Assistance Center and other Academic Excellence & Support Services offices.

Will I need letters of recommendation? 

Yes. Most programs require two letters of recommendation. One letter should come from a science professor that had you in class, and the other from an occupational therapist that you shadowed.

Is financial aid available?

Amounts and types of aid vary from school to school, as does the cost of your education. You should investigate the costs early in your undergraduate career. Knowing that you are probably going to incur a substantial loan debt for occupational therapy school may affect the way that you borrow for your undergraduate education. Most applicants are eligible for government originated aid; apply during January of your application cycle, even if you are still waiting to find out whether or not you have been accepted. Apply for aid at fafsa.gov. For more information on financing your education, visit the AOTA.

If you are a low-income applicant you may be eligible for the OTCAS Fee Waiver. This will help offset costs of applying to occupational therapy school.

How can the Pre-Professional Advising Center (PPAC) help me? 

Preparing for admission to occupational therapy school requires careful long-range planning and accurate information. The PPAC specializes in providing you with necessary information and helping you develop good planning skills. The staff of the PPAC provides you with help through each step of the way. PPAC provides services including course selection, career exploration, time management tips, information on individual programs, admissions test preparation advice, managing letters of recommendation and links to ways to get experience in health care settings.

What resources are available to pre-occupational therapy students?

Please visit our Pre-OT Resources web page for a list of helpful resources.