How to Become an Occupational Therapist [Guide]
18 Jul

How to Become an Occupational Therapist [Guide]

Occupational therapy is a rewarding career filled with challenges, wins, and a unique perspective into the lives of others. So if you’re thinking of making a change (or finally launching a career you love), there are a few items you need to take care of first.

Here is our six step guide to becoming an occupational therapist.

Becoming an Occupational Therapist in 6 Steps 

1. Earn an associates degree.

Occupational therapy careers require advanced degrees, but an occupational therapy assistant associate’s degree is a good starting point.

This two-year associates program will prepare you to sit for the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA) exam, a national exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

In two years, you’ll gain knowledge and skills in subjects like:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Mental and physical health theory and practice
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics

During the program, you’ll also experience fieldwork, which will give you hands-on occupational therapy assistant practice.

2. Take the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam.

Although you’ve received your associates degree, you’ll still need to pass the COTA exam. The COTA is a computer-based test comprised of 200 multiple choice questions. Upon passing, you will receive an official NBCOT certificate as well as a wallet card around 4-6 weeks after the exam is scored.

3. Become an assistant.

Now that you’ve received your degree and passed your COTA exam, you can officially become an occupational therapy assistant! This is an excellent change to apply your knowledge and skills while gaining valuable experience under the guidance of an occupational therapist. It’s also a great way to “get your feet wet” and ensure that occupational therapy is the path for you before investing in more education.

Bonus tip: Becoming an occupational therapy assistant could help you get into a masters program for occupational therapists.

4. Earn a master’s degree.

To become an occupational therapist, you need a master’s degree. However, you can either earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, like biology or physiology, before advancing to a master’s program, or you can apply for a combined bachelor’s/master’s program.

Master’s degree programs combine theory and practice to give you a comprehensive knowledge of occupational therapy. In addition, fieldwork is required and must be completed under the supervision of an occupational therapist. Master’s degree programs in occupational therapy aim to prepare you to sit for the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam.

5. Take (and pass) the Occupational Therapy Registered (OTR) exam.

In addition to receiving your master’s degree, a passing score on the OTR exam is required to (finally!) become a licensed occupational therapist. Also, like the COTA exam, the OTR is computer-based.

To officially apply, you need to submit either school transcripts or your NBCOT Academic Credential Verification Form and undergo a character review. Once you pass the exam, you’ll receive an official certificate from the NBCOT and a wallet card.

6. Earn state licensure.

You’re almost there! You just need to become licensed in the state that you want to practice in. 

Though licensure requirements vary between states, they typically require an NBCOT score, academic transcripts and a background check.

And to keep your licensure up to date, you’ll need to take continuing education units for occupational therapists. (Need discounts to earn your CEUs for less? Check out our discount codes for Occupational Therapy here.)

While getting there can be challenging, occupational therapy is still one of the best career choices you can make.

In addition to this six-step guide, check out this post on why OT’s love occupational therapy.

By completing these six steps, you’re soon to enter an industry and a career you’ll truly love. It’s safe to say that helping others get back to their lives is never overrated!

Do you know your optimal learning style? Are you curious if you learn the same as your fellow OT’s? Take this quiz and find out!



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