Despite the old cliche “never judge a book by its cover” – in this case, it may be worth it to read what’s inside before deciding on where you’ll spend your collegiate career. Read on to see what you should be paying attention to before applying to a particular college.
So you’ve decided to become an occupational therapist but are unsure which school would be best for you. While most OT programs offer similar types of courses and all require 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, there are definitely some variations that can make or break your OT education. Occupational therapists work hard — very hard — and it all starts with school. Choosing the right OT program for you is the first step toward becoming a successful occupational therapist.
Brandi Breitbach from Red Door Pediatric in Bismark, ND says, “It is always a good idea to have as much information as possible when making a decision. Visiting the campus of several schools to determine your comfort level in each environment is a start. Often times, occupational therapy staff is willing to meet with prospective students to help determine if a program will be a good fit for you.
I have found, in working with students, that programs are setup differently, even though the core of what it taught is the same. For instance, some programs teach across the lifespan and incorporate all areas of OT service within that framework; other programs will teach areas of OT service and cover the lifespan according to those areas. Both are excellent concepts for covering the broad scope of OT, however one may be a better fit for your particular learning style.”
Here are five important things to consider when choosing an OT school/program:
There are lots of OT programs out there that are not ACOTE (Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education) accredited. In order to sit for the national exam (NBCOT), you must graduate from an accredited program. Without taking and passing this exam, you cannot use the OTR (Occupational Therapist, Registered) acronym after your name. Worse, you will be unable to find a job. You should also make sure that the program you are interested in is accredited for the time you will spend there. You wouldn’t want to be halfway through your education only to learn your program is no longer accredited, would you?
2. Degrees Offered
Unless you only want to earn your COTA (Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant), you’ll probably want to see which degrees are offered in occupational therapy at the particular school you are interested in. For example, some schools only offer assistant and bachelor programs. If that’s the case, you’ll need to continue your education at another college or university. Other schools only offer a Master’s or Doctoral program. If that’s the case, you’ll need to look into undergraduate schools/programs around that area that will transfer you. You should talk to the career counselor or academic advisor at any school you’re interested in applying to, in order to learn more about the various degrees offered. You can also look up which degrees occupational therapy schools in your state offer by clicking here.
3. Financial Aid
It’s safe to say that all colleges and universities offer some form of financial assistance, but the amount will vary depending on factors such as your monthly income, whether you’re in-state or out-of-state, the cost of the program, and how much you’ve received in scholarships, grants, and outside loans. Even if you think they will turn you down, apply anyway. You’ll have to apply every year to continue receiving aid, and you may receive more money one year than the next, but it’s important you apply anyway. Financial aid will come in handy when going through an occupational therapy assistant program.
4. Schedule of Classes
Lots of OT students work full-time jobs. Besides the class work, OT requires students to provide proof of volunteer hours, and students are also required to complete 24 weeks of fieldwork—which means going into real-life situations and getting hands-on training under the supervision of an occupational therapist. If you already have a full-time job, or if you just have other things going on that would prevent you from going to school full-time, you may want to find a school that schedules classes on the weekends, evenings, or part-time. This way you’ll have more flexibility with your schedule while you earn your degree.
5. What do They Offer?
Other than a degree, what does the school you’re interested in offer? Do they have world-renowned faculty? Do they have programs that allow you to travel overseas to help others or spread the word about occupational therapy? Do they participate in events around the country that give you a chance to explore all possibilities OT has to offer? What are their NBCOT passing rates? What are they doing to innovate OT? How many students in the program are chosen to present at annual conferences? What do alumni have to say about it? Do they help you find employment after graduation? Do they offer multiple levels of degrees? When it comes to the school or program you’re interested in, ask yourself, “What do they offer?”
These are all things to keep in mind while selecting an occupational therapy program. Again, it’s very important you choose the right program, or you may find it difficult to pursue a career in occupational therapy. If a school or program does not offer you a way to explore the world of OT, why apply to it? Occupational therapy is a growing field that is innovating in the medical world, and it needs people who want to make a difference, learn something new every day, and find new ways to help others.
The first thing you should do is sit down and write out a list of schools and programs that interest you and why. Make sure you can meet all the requirements of the school and program before applying, then apply. Good luck, prospect!