The 6 Steps to Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapist


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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
May 28, 2024 at 10:43AM UTC
What does an occupational therapist do, after all? Occupational therapists are professionals who specifically treat patients who have injuries, illnesses or disabilities. They do so through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. In other words, they help their patients to develop, recover, improve upon and maintain the skills needed for day-to-day life.
Occupational therapists are typically responsible for the following:
  • Look over patients’ medical histories, ask them questions, observe them performing daily tasks and evaluate their conditions
  • Develop treatment plan for patients with specific goals
  • Help patients with different disabilities perform day-to-day tasks
  • Demonstrate exercises for patients to repeat on their own time
  • Evaluate patients' home and/or workplaces and identify room for potential improvements to help them
  • Educate patients' families and employers about accommodations and care
  • Recommend special equipment (and the use of that equipment) for patients in need
  • Record patients’ activities and progress for physicians and other healthcare providers
"Occupational therapists are the specialists who find out new and easy ways for people going through physical, mental and emotional trauma so that they can overcome the problems and lead a normal, satisfying and happy life," according to Top Occupational Therapy Schools. "Therapists not only provide them appropriate care and support to combat against their problem but also help them doing daily tasks like washing, dressing, cooking and eating. They examine and treat patients of all ages, from children to elderly people suffering from serious disorders or adverse situations. You can find occupational therapists working with a wide range of people with different requirements. Their main aim is to determine what the patient wants and what they should do to give them a comfortable lifestyle. After analyzing the needs, they prepare best treatment plans for them."
Here's what you need to know about occupational therapists — what occupational therapists do, how to become an occupational therapist, what your day-to-day career will look like as an occupational therapist and how much you can expect to earn as an occupational therapist.

1. Get your bachelor's degree.

Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that they first have to obtain a bachelor's degree.

2. Get your master's degree.

Once you get your bachelor's degree, you can move onto earning a master's degree. In 2017, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association, accredited about 200 occupational therapy programs.

3. Get a license.

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. While licensing requirements all vary by the state in which you live and work, all states require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

4. Hone in on your skills.

Always improve your skills. An occupational therapist needs to have solid communication skills, compassion, patience and adaptability skills. Practice these skills in everyday life so you better position yourself for a career as an occupational therapist.

5. Network, network, network.

During school and during your licensing, always network with your peers, professors and those in your social circle. You want to let people know that you are seeking a job as an occupational therapist so that, if opportunities arise, they'll think of you!

6. Apply for jobs.

Apply for jobs as an occupational therapist on career boards like Fairygodboss!

Occupational therapist salary & career advancement opportunities

An occupational therapist can earn, on average, about $84,270 per year (or about $40.51 per hour), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Opportunities are aplenty, as the job outlook is projected to grow by 18% (much faster than average).
"Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism or the loss of a limb," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While about half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals, others tend to work in schools, nursing homes and with home health services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With a career as an occupational therapist, you have the flexibility to try out different environments and decide which one is the best fit for you with the most advancement opportunities.

Top occupational therapy schools

Again, occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Here are some of the top occupational therapy schools for 2020, according to Niche.
  • The University of Southern California
  • Saint Louis University
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Buffalo, SUNY
  • Ithaca College
  • Towson University
  • Western Michigan University
  • Saint Francis University

How to choose an OT school

Choose an occupational therapy school that feels right for you! It might be easier, for example, to choose a school in a state where you'd like to be licensed and work. It makes it easier to network for a job this way!
Also make sure that you choose a school with a program that suits your needs, fits your schedule and is in your budget.


How many years does it take to become an occupational therapist?

Because an a career as an occupational therapist requires you to get a master's degree and a license, it can take nearly a decade from the start of your undergraduate program to complete.

What qualifications do you need to become an occupational therapist?

To become an occupational therapist, you will need:
  1. A Bachelor's Degree
  2. A Master's Degree
  3. A License

What is the best major for occupational therapy?

The best major for an occupational therapist is one in a health-related field, such as Physical Health, Biology, Psychology and more.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog,, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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