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Grad Program: Occupational Therapy

Basic Information

Occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation. As the baby boom population ages, occupational therapists will be called on to help its members get older gracefully by adapting or creating new ways to do tasks at work or home. You will also be helping infants with disabilities, children with brain injuries, or adults who’ve had accidents or debilitating injuries. In other words, you will be helping people of all ages to live as independently as possible while treating their minds and spirits.

The "occupation" in "occupational therapy" doesn’t always refer to on-the-job work; it also covers daily living tasks in the home or at school. Occupational therapists assess the needs of their patients, then modify or adapt ways for them to succeed at particular tasks. For example, many autistic children have trouble with small-motor skills. An occupational therapist (OT) would help the child hold their pencil properly. Another patient might be an older person with Alzheimer’s, and an OT might work closely with the patient’s spouse or caregiver to find ways to make daily living easier or write a schedule that the patient can follow to lessen his or her confusion.

Degree Information

Some students earn both an undergraduate and master’s degree in one continuing five- to six-year program. If you already have an undergraduate degree in something else and you’re interested in occupational therapy, that’s okay too. Many schools offer two types of master’s degrees in occupational therapy: one, a post-professional master’s for those working in the field; the other, an entry-level master’s program for folks who have an undergraduate degree in something else. It helps a lot if that degree is in a science or technology field, but it is not mandatory. Applicants who lack certain preliminary coursework may be required to take some prerequisite courses before matriculating into the actual program. The entry-level master’s degree will have more clinical fieldwork requirements than the post-professional master’s program, because students will have little, if any, professional experience in a clinical setting.

Other degree options might be an occupational therapy assistant technical degree, a doctorate in occupational therapy, or the imposing-sounding Ph.D. in Occupational Science degree (for those who want to do research or teach).

You must pass clinical internships in order to graduate. Many states require extensive background checks and physical and mental health assessments as well.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • Is this program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education?
  • If you’re already working in the field, does the program offer weekend or evening classes? Can you fit the course of study into your busy schedule?
  • What kind of research opportunities does the program offer?
  • What is the placement rate after graduation?

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