Preparing for Occupational Therapy School
This page provides advice on preparing for admission to Occupational Therapy programs. While this page includes information specific to the Indiana University Occupational Therapy program, the guidelines and strategies explained throughout are widely applicable, regardless of which programs you intend to pursue. IUB students and alumni successfully apply to programs all around the country.
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Description of the Profession
Occupational therapists help people maximize their ability to participate in life more independently. Through occupational therapy (OT), children and adults facing physical, cognitive, or psychosocial challenges can gain skills, strengths, and coordination that help them perform daily activities ("occupations") at home, school, work, leisure, and many other settings. OTs work with their clients to "confront problems and help solve them by suggesting innovative intervention activities, devices, modifications, strategies, and technologies" (quoted from OATA pamphlet).
As an occupational therapist, you could choose to work as a generalist, working with a variety of people under a variety of circumstances, or you could specialize. Some examples of specialized practice include pediatrics, gerontology, physical rehabilitation, and mental health. The most common work settings include hospitals, public schools, and long-term care facilities. After gaining experience in the field, you could choose to teach in an occupational therapy or occupational therapy assistant program, move into a management position, or pursue research in the field.
The American Occupational Therapy Association site has an excellent collection of resources for anyone considering a career in occupational therapy.
Skills and characteristics important to the OT profession
An occupational therapist must posses critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills, patience, empathy, strong communication skills, and the ability to work well both independently and with a team of care givers. A love of lifelong learning, a positive attitude, and an outgoing personality will serve a therapist well in this field. OT's are often described as "people persons."
Choosing an Appropriate Pre-OT Degree/Major
A bachelors degree, along with prerequisite courses and other admission requirements, is required for admission to all Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) programs. While it is easier to work the OT prerequisites into some degrees/majors than others, most offer adequate flexibility. In addition, most OT programs, including Indiana University's, have no preference as to what degree/major applicants complete! Using the tips, guidelines, and resources at Choosing an Appropriate Degree/Major, you may be surprised how quickly you can narrow the field and move toward the options that are best for you!
Transition of Occupational Therapy Programs from Masters-level to Doctorate-level Degrees
Occupational Therapy programs nationwide are undergoing a transition from Master of Science programs to Doctor of Occupational Therapy Programs. In 2015 the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recommended "that the profession should take action to transition toward a doctoral-level single point of entry for occupational therapists [OTD degree], with a target date of 2025."
A number of programs have already moved to entry-level doctoral programs (OTD). (“Entry-level” indicates it is the standard minimum degree required, so that once you have completed the program and passed the licensure exam, you are prepared to work in the field.)
Currently the Indiana University Occupational Therapy program is undergoing a transition from a Master of Science Program to a Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program, effective for the class of students that will start in summer 2018. Other OT programs across the country are making the same transition. If you plan to apply in summer 2017 or later it is likely that you will be applying to Doctor of Occupational Therapy Programs.
This proposed change will not negatively impact anyone who has already earned their MSOT . Those with their MSOT degree will still be able to practice their profession unhindered, will not be at a competitive disadvantage in the job market, and will not earn less than those with their OTD. There are in fact still many, many occupational therapists with their bachelor of science degree (BSOT) still practicing, because years ago, prior to the entry-level MSOT the BSOT was the standard entry-level degree for the field.
How to prepare for the transition to the OTD
To plan for the transition, it is simply a matter of researching and choosing which degree and which programs best suit you. Most entry-level OTD programs will likely require a few additional prereqs beyond what most MSOT programs require. Additional courses may possibly include a semester of general chemistry (CHEM-C 117 and 127), a semester of general physics (PHYS-P 201 or 221), and/or some general biology (BIOL-L 112 and perhaps one or two others).
How to plan for the transition: Follow the guidelines on the Researching Accredited OT Programs page to build a working list of programs where you could see yourself applying. It will take less than 30 minutes to do so. Then, check each program's website to see if they have posted information about when they will transition from the MSOT to the OTD. If it looks like some of your first-choice programs will transition by the time you will apply, plan your prerequisites accordingly. For programs that have not indicated when they will transition, periodically check back to see if they post new information. It is also okay to contact them to politely enquire if they know when they might transition.
You will also encounter PhD programs associated with OT. Such PhDs are "postprofessional" doctoral degrees; in other words, degrees someone might choose to earn after they have already completed their professional degree and licensure. Postprofessional OT degrees such as the PhD are usually designed for those who want additional formal education in an area of speciality, e.g., gerontology; those who want to undertake additional research within the OT field; and/or those who want to teach at the university level, such as teaching classes in an occupational therapy professional program.
Course Requirements for Occupational Therapy Programs
The courses required for admission vary from one occupational therapy program to another. There is, however, a fair degree of prerequisite overlap across programs. By choosing from the courses listed in the section below you can be confident that you will begin to lay a foundation that will enable you to apply to a variety of OT programs. We recommend that you plan to apply to 6 to 8 well-chosen programs.
Below you'll find a section that provides information on the courses that are required for admission to the Indiana University Occupational Therapy program. Also below is a separate section that provides information on other courses that are commonly required by some OT programs. Consult related information and resources on the Researching Accredited Programs page, where you will find important guidelines and tips, as well as links to the official lists of accredited OT programs. Using these resources will save you time and labor.
Course Requirements for Indiana University Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy Program
The following coursework is required for admission to the Indiana University Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy Program (the program will be converting to a Doctor of Occupational Therapy program in 2018). The left hand column shows the program’s requirement and the right hand column shows courses at IU Bloomington that can be used to fulfill the requirement.
All prerequisite courses listed below must be a minimum of three credit hours (with the exception of Medical Terminology, which is a minimum 1 credit hour). Coursework must be completed with a grade of ‘C’ or higher.
IU OT Program Requirement
IU Bloomington course(s) that fulfill the requirement
Human Anatomy with Lab1
Human Physiology with Lab1
PHSL-P 215 or BIOL-P 451
Introductory Sociology or Introductory Anthropology
SOC-S 100 or ANTH-A 107 or ANTH-E 200
PSY-P 101 or PSY-P 155
Life Span/Human Development Psychology2
SPH-F 150 or EDUC-P 314 or PSY-P 315
Statistics (must include inferential) 1
STAT-S 303 or STAT-S 300 or PSY-K 300 or equivalent course
1 Course must have been completed within seven years of application deadline and cannot be outstanding by the deadline.
2 Course must include entire lifespan of human development from conception to death (infant to old age); multiple courses may be required.
At the time of application, no more than one prerequisite can be remaining for completion as of October 1st and the remaining course must be completed by May 31st of the entrance year. The outstanding prerequisite cannot be Human Anatomy with lab, Human Physiology with lab, or Statistics.
Please note that the program is converting to a Doctor of Occupational Therapy in 2018. If you plan to apply in 2017 or later, you should plan to apply to the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. In addition to the courses listed above applicants for the OTD will need to complete one semester of physics with lab (courses to fulfill this requirement would include PHYS-P 201 or 221).
Additional Prerequisite Course Notes:
- Prerequisites for PSY-P 324 Abnormal Psychology and PSY-P 315 Developmental Psychology: PSY-P 101 and 102; or PSY-P 155 (155 is generally recommended only for psychology majors); or PSY-P106 (Hutton Honors College students only).
- EDUC-P 314 recommended prerequisite or corequisite: PSY-P 101 or P155.
- Statistics courses generally assume minimum proficiency at the MATH-M 014 (algebra) level, but some assume more previous math experience. For instance, finite math is a suggested prerequisite for SPEA-K300; either finite math or calculus is recommended prior to PSY-K 300; MATH-M 119 or equivalent calculus is a prerequisite for MATH- K 310. Double-check bulletins and course descriptions for detailed prerequisite information, as prerequisites vary, and can change unexpectedly.
Requirements for Other Occupational Therapy Programs
Other possible prerequisites
Some programs require one or more of the prerequisites below, and sometimes others not listed. Use the HPPLC OT program research resources to double-check prerequisites and identify at least 6 or 8 programs to which you will apply. Be sure to apply to programs that have admitted those within your cumulative and prerequisite GPA range.
You may encounter some OT programs requiring pharmacology. IUB has not in the past offered entry-level pharmacology classes accessible by most undergraduate students, only 500-level and other restricted access classes, although you may check recent course listings to see if new courses have been added. Ivy Tech has offered HLHS 115: Pharm for Health Care Support (general pharmacology for health related professions) in the past. Contact Ivy Tech directly with questions. Other colleges and universities may also offer options.
Some OT programs require biology coursework. Of those requiring biology some will accept non-major courses such as BIOL-L 104. For programs requiring major-level biology, options could include BIOL-L 111, 112, 211 or, if a lab is required, BIOL-L 113. Biology may become a more common prerequisite as programs transition from the MSOT to the OTD. Confirm with each program to which you plan to apply.
Some OT programs require a semester of physics, and physics may become a more common prerequisite as programs transition from the MSOT to the OTD. For students planning to matriculate to the IU Occupational Therapy program in fall 2018 or later, one semester of physics will be required. Options for physics courses would include PHYS-P 201 or 221 (if one semester is required) and PHYS-P 202 or 222 (if a second semester is required). Confirm with each program to which you plan to apply.
Some OT programs require a semester or two of chemistry. For a program that requires major-level chemistry with lab CHEM-C 117/127 and additional major-level courses would fulfill requirements. Some programs will accept elementary non-major-level chemistry and might accept courses such as CHEM-C 101/121 or CHEM-C 103. Confirm with each program to which you plan to apply. Major-level general chemistry may become a more common prerequisite as programs transition from the MSOT to the OTD.
For programs that require a course in ethics some possible options would include PHIL-P 140 Introduction to Ethics or and REL-R 170 Religion, Ethics, and Public Life. Most courses with the word "ethics" in the title would likely be acceptable, but confirm with your programs.
For programs that require or recommend a communication course some possible options would include ANTH-A 122 Interpersonal Communication or COLL-P 155 Public Oral Communication.
Researching Accredited Occupational Therapy Programs
Thoroughly utilize the HPPLC OT Researching Accredited Programs page throughout your preprofessional process! It includes important guidelines and tips for identifying accredited programs, deciding where to apply, organizing your research process, finding programs for which your GPA is competitive, and much more. Use only the lists of programs linked from that page. Other lists are incomplete, outdated, and driven by marketing. Be sure to research and consider both OTCAS and non-OTCAS programs.
Use this Prerequisite Research Planning Tool to help you track requirements as you research programs.
Guidelines for Planning Your Prerequisites
Below, we've assembled some important guidelines to help you plan your prerequisites efficiently, while avoiding common oversights:
All programs have a prerequisite deadline, but these deadlines vary, depending largely upon whether a given program's professional coursework begins in the summer, fall, or spring. Careful research will help you plan your prerequisites accordingly. Generally speaking, you should plan to have your prerequisites completed in accordance with your earliest and most restrictive prerequisite deadline.
- Avoid overlapping anatomy and physiology. Students struggle when they take these classes at the same time.
- Avoid online lab courses, as most programs will not accept them.
Retaking and dropping classes
The possible pros and cons of dropping or retaking classes
It is not uncommon for an applicant to include a dropped or retaken class on the application. Read about related pros, cons, and options on the HPPLC Retaking and Dropping Classes information page.
Refer to the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Bulletin for information about IU OT programs's Academic Forgiveness Policy (i.e., Academic Bankruptcy) and related information (click "PDF Version" on the right of that page). Under certain circumstances, utilizing this policy may increase competitiveness for admission to the IU program.
What is a Competitive GPA?
What grade point average is competitive for admission depends on a number of factors. Visit our Competitive GPA page to gain a general sense of what GPA goals to set for yourself, and how GPA figures in relation to other admission requirements.
Clinical Observation, Volunteering, and Other Experiences
Spend time around a variety of people
As you go through occupational therapy training, and as an inherent dimension to the profession itself, you will work with people from diverse backgrounds, ranging in age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and so on. It is important that as you proceed along the pre-OT path, and into the profession, that you make a conscious effort to gain experience working with and being around diverse populations. There are many ways to achieve this goal, for example: through community service, clinical observation of OTs in different settings, and participating in events or student groups at IU that tend to attract a variety of people from diverse backgrounds.
Note: OT programs don't tend to place particular emphasis on "internships," per se. Internships are fine, but the value is placed on extensive clinical observation and hands on experience of the kind posted to the link below, regardless of whether or not the experience is labeled an "internship."
Clinical observation (job shadowing)
Some occupational therapy programs have a specific minimum shadowing requirement while others do not. Programs that do not have a specific shadowing requirement nonetheless strongly recommend it. Shadowing requirements vary dramatically from one program to another. Once you research and narrow your list of programs to the ones to which you hope to apply, check their websites. Doing so is the only way to learn what kind and how much shadowing you need at a minimum. Note that programs look more favorably upon applicants who go beyond mere minimums.
Clinical observation is the best way for you to determine whether the daily responsibilities and different settings typical of the profession are a good fit for you. Also, observation can help you learn whether you feel you have the aptitude and level of dedication necessary to develop the skills and attributes required of those who thrive and find fulfillment within the profession.
OTs are relatively easy to locate. For example, an internet search for "[name of city/state] nursing homes" yields plentiful results, and nursing homes often employ or contract with OTs. Other helpful web searches include "[name of city and state] rehabilitation," or "[name of city and state] occupational therapy."
Consider shadowing both OTs and PTs. In some settings, OTs and PTs function very differently from each other, but in other settings they can function in similar ways. Having an understanding of these differences and similarities, and how they vary across settings, can help you better understand whichever one of the two you choose to pursue. This knowledge has the added benefit of potentially helping you during admissions interviews. It is likely you will have professional interaction with both OTs and PTs at some point in your career.
OT and PT in-patient and out-patient settings: Most OT and PT programs recommend or require that applicants have undertaken observation in both in-patient and outpatient settings. In-patient facilities are those where patients stay overnight, such as hospitals or nursing homes. Conversely, out-patient facilities do not have overnight patients. Note that in addition to other in-patient shadowing experience, PT and OT programs often prefer that applicants have at least some experience shadowing specifically in hospitals.
For additional tips on clinical observation, consult this page: http://www.hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/clinicalobservation.shtml.
Volunteer and job opportunities for pre-OT students
Refer to HPPLC's list of volunteer and job opportunities for pre-OT students to view examples of pertinent experiences. These opportunities offer occasions for you to be around a variety of people from diverse backgrounds, which is of central importance to those working in the health professions. In addition, they can help you further develop rudimentary clinical skills and other interpersonal skills, which can in turn help you become an even stronger applicant, graduate student, and ultimately a more effective healthcare professional.
Certification in Basic Life Support (BLS) for Health Care Providers
Prior to beginning professional coursework, many programs require that you become certified for adult, child, and infant CPR, commonly referred to as BLS certification, Health Care Provider CPR, or CPR for the Professional Rescuer. Training courses are offered for a fee through the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. The IU Bloomington course, SPH-H 160 First Aid And Emergency Care (3 cr), also includes all necessary instruction, including use of the Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Upon completing H160, students are eligible to complete CPR/AED certification for the Professional Rescuer and Health Care Provider, and can also become first aid certified.
Applying to Occupational Therapy Programs
Many, although not all, OT programs require that applicants apply through the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS). A good number of programs still have their own applications and do not use OTCAS, which means that many applicants will apply to both OTCAS and non-OTCAS programs. Program application cycles and deadlines are different from the OTCAS application cycle. The OTCAS cycle usually opens in July and closes in June of the next year. Each program has its own individual application cycle.
For programs that do not use OTCAS, you need to submit an application directly to the program. Consult the individual program’s website for information on their application process.
For the most current, detailed information pertaining to the OTCAS application cycle, and reapplying, read the OTCAS Instructions Overview, as well as the OTCAS FAQs related to Re-Applying to OTCAS. Detailed directions and FAQs for completing the OTCAS application are available on the OTCAS website.
Also, be sure to fully utilize the HPPLC information and resources pertaining to researching programs (both OTCAS and non-OTCAS).
Many but not all OT programs require a personal statement as part of the application. Early in your program research (which you should begin now if you haven't already done so), confirm on program websites and the OTCAS site whether programs where you plan to apply require a personal statement. The personal essay can be thought of as the interview before the interview, or almost a substitute for the interview for programs that don't offer or require one. For more advice on writing a personal statement consult this page: http://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/PersonalEssayOTPTPA.shtml.
Letters of recommendation
Most OT programs require two or three letters of recommendation, although some, like the IU OT program, do not. Visit each program’s website to learn which programs require or accept which kinds of letters. For more information on letters of recommendation go to http://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/LettersOfRec_PA-OT-PT.shtml. Click the link above for important guidelines, tips, and information. Also check the IU OT program's website for possible requirement updates.
Graduate Record Exam (GRE - revised General Test)
Many OT programs require that you take the GRE revised General Test as part of the application process. While the IU occupational therapy program does not currently require the GRE, the program will require it as of the application cycle that begins in summer 2017 for students planning to enroll in the program in 2018.
Try to complete the GRE at least four weeks before you plan to submit your OT applications, in case there are any delays in score reporting. For more information on the GRE go tohttp://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/GRE.shtml.
Many occupational therapy programs conduct interviews as part of the admission process. Because most programs receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications, programs that conduct interviews rarely interview all applicants. For advice on preparing for interviews go to http://hpplc.indiana.edu/ohp/Interviews_PA-OT-PT.shtml.
The Indiana University Occupational Therapy Program Application Process
Admission to the IU Occupational Therapy Program at IUPUI is very competititve. Job shadowing of OTs, successful completion of prerequisite coursework, and your GPA are all part of the admission process.
For complete information on the admissions process visit the IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences OT page.
The IU OT program requires application through the Central Application Service for Occupational Therapists (OTCAS). The IU program also requires the separate IUPUI Graduate/Professional application for admission consideration. You should apply in the summer prior to the summer in which you anticipate beginning the OT program. As with all programs, submit all application materials two or three weeks early to allow time for processing and notification of any missing materials.
For information pertaining to the IU OT program's minimum grade requirement, minimum GPA, and other admission standards, click HERE.
For important information about IU OT policies pertaining to AP credit, online prerequisites, the prerequisite deadline, and the prerequisite expiration time period, click HERE.
Additional Admission Information
For the IU occupational therapy program, being an Indiana resident or a graduate of Indiana University does not provide any advantage during the admission process. For other OT programs the process for establishing residency to perhaps eventually garner in-state tuition varies from state to state. Contact programs directly to learn about related policies and procedure.
If you learn that all spots have been filled, but that you have been put on an admissions waitlist, contact the program to express your continued and enthusiastic interest. Not everyone who is offered admission, accepts. Therefore, programs often go fairly deep into their waitlist, so don't give up! Sometimes applicants who take the time to express continued interest are among the first to be contacted if spaces do open up. If after doing so you don't hear back for a week or two, feel free to contact them to again express your interest.
It is good policy to keep in touch with the people who have a say in whether or not you are admitted to a given program, so we recommend that you communicate directly with each program to which you plan to apply. You can double-check to make sure your IUB coursework will fulfill their admission requirements, ask more detailed questions about their program in particular, and so on. Always keep a log or file of all your communications with programs, and always conduct yourself with cordial professionalism in all phone calls, emails, and letters.
Occupational Therapy at Indiana University
Indiana University offers an Occupational Therapy Program on the Indianapolis campus. Currently the Indiana University Occupational Therapy program is undergoing a transition from a Master of Science Program to a Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program, effective for the class of students that will start in summer 2018. Other OT programs across the country are making the same transition. For more information on the program, please consult their website.
Pre-Occupational Therapy Timeline
Want to know what you should be doing now? How to keep on track? What your preprofessional timeline ought to be? Visit the preprofessional timeline page! Our detailed sample timeline can give you a sense of what you should be doing right now, and also help you with your long range planning.
Financing Your Degree
Click HERE for resources related to researching scholarships and grants, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and FAFSA application timing and deadline information. (When to file will depend on when your program begins. The January prior to the start of your program might be a useful benchmark, but it is your responsibility to confirm the timing.)
Occupational Therapy Career Information
After successfully completing the academic and clinical experiences, you would take the certification exam given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, and thus become an OTR. The central purpose of any OT program is to train you to prepare for and pass the certification exam. OT graduates may also need to meet other requirements in order to earn state license/registration/certification in a given state. Graduation from the IU OT program is in May, and the NBCOT exam is offered on demand by computer.
Salary and job market information
(US Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- You can do additional career and job research at
- The US Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics's Occupational Outlook Handbook
- The Occupational Outlook Handbook's section on occupational therapy
Additional Occupational Therapy Resources
HPPLC pre-OT email list
If you are an IUB Pre-OT student and have not yet joined the Health Professions and Prelaw Center (HPPLC) pre-OT email list, we urge you to log in and do so now. It takes just seconds, and will help keep you in the loop on important announcements related to admission requirements, OT program visits to IU, the Occupational Therapy Central Application Service, the GRE, the IUB OT Club, and more.
Having clear, realistic projected GPA information is especially important for preprofessional students, who are usually pursuing admission to programs with moderately or highly competitive admissions. This is one of the reasons we recommend applying to multiple programs. For examples of some useful GPA calculators, click here.
Help with anatomy
We strongly encourage you to follow the advice on the Health Professions and Prelaw Center's Human Anatomy (ANAT-A 215) Study Tips page.
Scholarships and Educational Grants
For suggestions and resources related to researching scholarships and grants, consult the Health Professions and Prelaw Center page, Researching Scholarships and Educational Grants.
IUB Occupational Therapy Club
If you are an IUB Pre-OT student, consider joining the IU OT Club, which meets two to four times each fall and spring semester. The OT Club is sponsored by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Among other activities, a variety of professional speakers share their OT expertise with club members, and many members also perform OT-related community service together. To join, simply attend a meeting and talk to one of the club officers, or visit the OT Club page and email one of the officers.
OT professional resources
- Centralized Application Service for Occupational Therapy (OTCAS) is required by some OT programs.
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is a good resource for exploring OT as a career.
- World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) is useful for, among other things, learning about international OT career and training options.
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) facilitates the certification of occupational therapists.
- Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) facilitates and monitors the accreditation of OT professional programs.
IU Occupational Therapy Program contact information
Deanna L. Hart
Director, Student Enrollment Services
IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Coleman Hall CF120
1140 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5119
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This information was prepared for Indiana University Bloomington students by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Please note that specific requirements and policies can change at any time without notice. Students are responsible for obtaining the most current information directly from application and testing services, and the schools and programs in which they have an interest. Refer to each program's web pages, bulletins, and other publications for the most current information. Students are responsible for understanding degree course requirements, as well as other requirements, policies, and procedures related to the degree(s) they are pursuing; for enrolling in appropriate courses; for understanding IU policies/procedures; and for following through properly with regard to all of the preceding.