How to Become an Occupational Therapist

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

In order to become an occupational therapist, you will first need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, then follow it with a master’s degree in occupational therapy.

Your undergraduate major can be anything that interests you as long as you make certain you take the required prerequisites for the occupational therapy programs to which you’ll be applying.

Most require biology and physiology courses, and some programs will also expect to see work experience or volunteer hours in an occupational therapy setting.

If you do a pre-med or heavy-science major, course work could look like the following:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Biology & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Fundamentals of Microbiology & Lab
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Cell Structure & Function
  • General Virology & Lab
  • Microbial Genetics & Lab
  • Biochemistry I
  • Biochemistry II
  • Physics
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Upper Level Biology
  • Upper Level Chemistry
  • Upper Level Physics
  • Upper Level Psychology
  • Upper Level Kinesiology
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

2. Earn a Master's Degree (2 Years)

A master’s program will usually take two to three years to complete. Some programs combine the bachelor’s and master’s degree that can be completed in five years.

Obtaining a doctorate degree in occupational therapy can usually be completed with an additional three years of study in a doctoral program, but it is not mandatory.

During the program, you will learn about functional anatomy, medical and social conditions, assistive technology, patient care concepts and research methods.

Fieldwork is an important aspect of the curriculum. Both master’s and doctoral programs usually require a 24-week supervised fieldwork assignment that gives prospective occupational therapists clinical work experience.

3. Earn the Required Certification

Occupational therapists are required to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). This is a requirement in most states.

To sit for the exam, a candidate must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and successfully completed fieldwork requirements.

You can check with your state for requirements and if you need a license to practice in your area.

4. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

Upon successfully passing the exam, an OT must complete continuing education classes to maintain current certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers a choice of certifications for therapists who want to apply their advanced level of knowledge in a specialty area, such as gerontology, pediatrics, low vision, driving and community mobility.