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Major Overview: Occupational Therapy Program

Majors Overview March 26, 2015

Occupational therapists assist patients in overcoming mental, emotional, and physical challenges that hold them back from normal lives. There are particular requirements before admission to some programs, but any undergraduate major will work for graduate programs in occupation therapy. Professional practice requires a graduate degree, such as a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy or Master of Occupational Therapy.

Occupational Therapy Majors

Schools offer occupational therapy programs only at the graduate level; students interested in the field can pursue a bachelor’s degree in pre-occupational therapy. Four-year universities and colleges offer these programs through their pre-health professions and health sciences divisions.

Degree Choices

Pre-professional undergraduate programs are available through many schools and aim to help students interested in advancing to a graduate program. Students studying for an undergraduate major can take these non-degree, pre-professional programs simultaneously, whereby students will be able to enroll directly into a master’s or doctoral occupational therapy program after they complete a bachelor’s degree.

Occupational therapy courses or prerequisites may be incorporated into a bachelor’s program by some schools; other schools may require students to complete an extra year in undergraduate education programs for the pre-professional courses. A dual-degree option may also be offered within a graduate program in occupational therapy, thereby allowing students to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree simultaneously.


Courses required for transfer to a professional program may be available in pre-occupational therapy programs. Coursework typically includes studies in psychology, medical terminology, physiology, and biology, thereby making the curriculum part of a larger degree program.

Program Preparation

High school students aspiring to study occupational therapy must complete advanced-level science and math classes.

Selecting an Occupational Therapy School

Master’s and doctoral degrees in occupational therapy are available through four-year universities. These programs may fulfill state licensing requirements, which are often available through the health technology or health and medical sciences department of the school.

Admission Requirements

Practical experience is part of the admission criteria at some schools. Students may gain a competitive edge in terms of technical competence through real-world experience gained during an undergraduate program via actual employment, volunteer work, or observation; they may use such experience to gain admittance to a limited or competitive graduate program.

Hands-on Training

The coursework of most programs incorporates clinical fieldwork or hands-on practice. The balance of practical training, coursework, and research must be weighed by students when they select a graduate school.

Licensure Norms

State licensure is compulsory for occupational therapists; students should ensure that the coursework within a school’s graduate program would be adequate preparation for national or state testing. License renewal often requires continuing education, which occupational therapy programs may also offer to those that graduate. Therapists that work in prevention services or educational settings may have further regulations in a few states.

Concentration Choices

Graduate certificate programs that coincide with a master’s program may also be included at some schools that provide specialized studies. Students may have a choice of certificates in concentrations such as:

•Preventive aid
•Prosthetic rehabilitation
•Pediatric or geriatric therapy
•Hand treatment

Bachelor’s Degree Programs for Pre-Occupational Therapy

While admission criteria in graduate programs do not usually insist on a specific major, prospective occupational therapy students may benefit from enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs in psychology, biology, and pre-occupational therapy. Admission to graduate school will also be facilitated by gaining some form of work experience, including an internship. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Medical terminology

Master of Occupational Therapy Programs

Students usually take two years to complete master’s degree programs in occupational therapy, although they may take longer to complete some programs that combine a bachelor’s degree or doctorate.

Schools usually insist on real-world experience in the form of internships or fieldwork. A student would become eligible to sit for national and state licensing exams after completing an accredited program. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Therapeutic skills
•Studies in behavior

Doctoral Programs in Occupational Therapy

Students who complete doctoral degrees from an occupational therapy program may obtain either an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (O.T.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Typically, the focus of the Ph.D. program is on theory and research, and students are required to complete a dissertation.

Clinical practice and more practical training are available through an OTD program, which often includes an individual project. Prerequisites vary by program, and while bachelor’s degree holders can find acceptance by some, a master’s degree is required by others. Program length also varies by school; the program length can vary between two and five years. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•The neuroscience of occupation
•Emerging areas of practice
•Relationship-centered care
•Advocacy and leadership

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