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Office of Pre-Health Advising


What Is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists are health care professionals who specialize in helping patients to perform everday tasks despite physical, cognitive, or emotional limitations. Occupational therapy focusses on modifying the environment (e.g. the way a home, school, or place of work is set up) or the task (e.g. is there a different way to cook meals?) rather than "fixing" the patient. Occupational therapists need to be able to concentrate both on details (for example, each step in performing a task) and on social and cultural context.

The Path to Becoming an Occupational Therapist

First, a Bachelor's Degree

To become an occupational therapist, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have successfully committed themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or exercise science. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow preparation for a specific profession.

You must also complete specific prerequisite courses.

After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in occupational therapy to receive a masters (M.O.T.) or, increasingly, a doctorate of occupational therapy (D.O.T.).

To Gap or Not to Gap

A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning physical school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:

  • Allows more time to complete prerequisite coursework
  • Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
  • Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during occupational therapy school
  • Provides a break from schooling!

If you are not taking a gap year, you need to apply to a D.O.T. or M.O.T. program the summer after your junior year.

If you are taking a gap year, you will apply the summer after graduation.

The Application Process

The application process to a D.O.T. or M.O.T. program begins more than a year before you plan to enter occupational therapy school.

At some point in your junior or senior years of college, or early in the summer after graduation, you will take the GRE General Test. This test is similar to the SAT, in that it tests basic mathematical, verbal, and writing skills. It does not test the science topics you learn in the prerequisite courses, so you can take it before all of your prerequisites are complete. While some OT schools do not require the GRE, it's still a good idea to take it.

Most, but not all, D.O.T. and M.O.T. schools are part of OTCAS, a centralized admissions system. To apply to OTCAS schools, you first complete an application for OTCAS. OT schools admit students on a rolling basis, so it's best to apply early in the cycle, perhaps in September. For non-OTCAS schools, you need to apply directly to each school you are interested in.

After you apply to OTCAS and specify the schools you are interested in, you will often be invited to complete "supplementary" applications for those schools. These supplementaries request more information, in part to make sure you are serious about that particular school.

Once your supplementaries are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in the fall or winter prior to when you'll start attending OT school.

After interviews, you finally get to find out who accepted you--hopefully you'll have the happy dilemma of choosing between acceptances!

OT School

Once in OT school, it is very likely you'll end up being an occupational therapist. Most people accepted to occupational therapy school graduate, pass the NBCOT, and become practicing occupational therapists.

The first year and a half of occupational therapy school is usually "didactic," meaning that you'll take courses. The last year is "clinical," involving working with occupational therapists and patients directly.

At the end of two and a half to three years, you graduate as a D.O.T. or M.O.T.. In order to practice occupational therapy in New York, you also need to pass a test called the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Some occupational therapists go on to complete a fellowship, particularly if they'd like to specialize in one particular aspect of occupational therapy. Fellowships typically take a year or less, during which you are paid, but under the supervision of a more experienced occupational therapist.

Prerequisite Courses

Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most occupational therapy schools. These requirements vary some from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses for OT schools in the tri-state area. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health advisor.

Required by Nearly all OT Programs

Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
A & P 1 BIO 181  
A & P 2 BIO 182 BIO 181
Statistics Multiple courses fulfill  
Gen. Psych. PSY 166  
Development PSY 217 PSY 166
Development PSY 219 PSY 166
Abnormal Psych. PSY 234 PSY 166
Sociology SOC 166  

Required by Some OT Programs

Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Physics 1 PHY 166 or PHY 168 (MAT 171 + MAT 108) or MAT 172
Gen. Bio. 1 BIO 166  
Gen. Chem. 1 CHE 166 MAT 171 or MAT 172 corequisite
Additional Psychology Any 200+ level PSY course  


Below is an example of a timeline for a hypothetical student, Maria. Maria is planning to take a gap year and decides to major in psychology. She entered without a strong math background. Your timeline will be somewhat different, because you're not Maria. (Or if your name is Maria, you're not this Maria.) You'll almost certainly take some different courses than Maria did. Be sure to consult with your pre-health advisor to decide what's right for you. Still, Maria's timeline should give you a sense of how it can all work out.

Semester Coursework Consult Pre-Health Advisor Regarding... Application Other
Freshman Fall MAT 104, BIO 181, PSY 166, ENG 111, LEH 100 Get to know each other    
Freshman Spring MAT 172, BIO 182, ENG 121, Gen. Ed. Choice of major, internships, progress   Begin to plan for internships
Sophomore Fall PHY 166, PSY courses, Gen. ed. Progress, internships   Intenships
Sophomore Spring PSY courses, Gen. ed. Progress. Gap or no gap? Begin investigating which OT schools to apply to


Declare major

Junior Fall PSY courses, SOC 166, CHE 166 Progress. Summer plans   Internships
Junior Spring PSY courses Progress   Internships
Senior Fall BIO 166, LEH, PSY courses Letters of recommendation  


Plan gap year

Senior Spring PSY courses, LEH Personal statement Arrange for letters of recommendation; mock interviews GRE prep
June after graduation       GRE
August after graduation     Application to OTCAS  
Fall after graduation     Supplementary applications for OTCAS schools and applications to non-OTCAS schools Gap year activities
Winter after graduation   Interview preparation Interviews Gap year activities
Spring after graduation   Inform pre-health advisor of acceptance Accept admission to OT school of her choice Gap year activities
One year after graduation     Begin OT school!