Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a patient-centered, science-based practice classified among the allied health professions. Occupational therapists, or OTs, are trained to help people recover or maintain their ability to carry out the activities of daily living, commonly referred to as ADLs. This includes not only physical and work 'occupations,' but also personal, social and spiritual activities.

Unlike acute medical service providers, OTs focus on sustainable habit-formation and improving the overall quality-of-life for patients. They assist individuals with bathing, grooming, rest, medicating and eating. They supply and modify objects and devices - everything from eating utensils to entire neighborhoods - to promote functional lifestyles with respect to the environment.

Occupational therapists' work often begins as patients transition out of or between medical treatments. Their targeted interventions are correlated with patients' improved health outcomes, daily functioning and overall life satisfaction. They are trained to see the bigger picture and can help people organize their lives in ways that promote goal achievement.

About Occupational Therapy

OT services are offered to individuals of all ages and from all walks of life. Therapists are responsible for optimizing personal well-being and function with respect to diverse conditions, including physical illness or injury, emotional and mental disorders, poverty, family violence, disfigurement, aging, learning disabilities, autism, and more.

"Occupational therapy looks at how the illness affects the patient's whole life, from the psychological, cognitive and sensory motor standpoints," says Dr. Ben Herz, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at the Medical College of Georgia.

On the job, OTs work with individuals and families, and sometimes employers and schools, designing personalized intervention plans to maximize well-being and healthy adjustment. The patient might be an infant born with birth defects, a teenager having difficulty adjusting to his parents' divorce, a middle-aged woman with a drinking problem, or an elderly individual transitioning to an assisted living facility.

Occupational therapists work in outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation centers, hospices, community centers, nursing homes, assisted living, hospitals and individuals' homes. They may help people stop smoking, quit drinking, manage long-term pain, lose weight, develop healthy lifestyles, or transition back into civilian life.

Occupational therapists are at the forefront of today's most crucial health issues. As more attention is paid to problems like obesity, arthritis, diabetes and chronic pain, public awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and diets is growing. OTs have a critical role to play in educating food and healthcare consumers about their choices.


OT coursework should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, or ACOTE. The recommended curriculum spans medicine, occupational development and performance, and therapeutic practice.


Occupational therapy is regulated across the country, although the extent of oversight varies. Most states issue licenses, but a few "certify" or "register" OTs. Graduates who have earned primary certification should apply for a license with the intended state-of-practice.

Be aware that occupational therapists are responsible for acting as ethical professionals. Because their work brings them into close contact with a wide variety of personalities and cultures, they must be sensitive to issues of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and other social factors.

Educational Options in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is both a 'people' profession and a hard science that requires technical skills. Therapists must therefore be familiar with numerous disciplines, from chemistry and physiology to psychology and anthropology.

Starting salaries for freshly graduated occupational therapists are estimated to be around $50,000 a year. Mid-career median pay approaches $80,000. By comparison, an occupational therapy assistant may earn $30,000 a year.

Primary Certification

Occupational therapists are skilled professionals who must be credentialed through a formal national organization. The principal body for OT professionals is the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists, or NBCOT. Practitioners may also find the American Occupational Therapy Association, or AOTA, helpful for finding key professional resources.

NBCOT administers the main professional certification examination for this profession, and its programs are recognized by most states. Students must earn not only a four-year bachelor's but also a two-year master's degree in OT to be eligible to sit for the 'National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy,' or NBCOT, examination.

Successfully passing the NBCOT exam means that new practitioners may use the title 'occupational therapist' and the "OTR" credential, as well as apply for a license in the intended state-of-practice.

Post-Secondary Degrees

Occupational therapists are trained up to the graduate level to ensure they are fully qualified to take peoples' health into their hands. There are many high-quality undergraduate programs to consider en route to a graduate-level education in occupational science. The AOTA maintains a complete list of American occupational therapy schools and their requirements.

Most occupational therapists earn a graduate degree at the master's level. In 2012, Forbes named the Master in Occupational Therapy, or M.O.T., one of the highest-value degrees in the United States. Some schools offer blended undergraduate-graduate tracks combining, for instance, a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Science (B.S.R.S.) with the Master of Occupational Therapy, or (M.O.T.). Blended programs are often accelerated and thus require less time and money.

A master's degree is the standard among occupational therapists, but it's not unusual to go further and earn a doctorate like the Ph.D. in Occupational Science. A less intensive alternative to the Ph.D. offered at some schools is the O.T.D., or Occupational Therapy Doctorate. The O.T.D. is an accelerated doctorate lasting at least two years. The shortest tracks are designed for those with preexisting industry experience. Occupational therapy programs offering online O.T.D.s are available.

Secondary Certifications

The AOTA issues certifications in four areas of emphasis:



Mental Health

Physical Rehabilitation

There are several postdoctoral programs available in this field that offer more training and deeper specialization. Other certifications may be obtained through educational institutions. Sensory Integration (SI), for example, is a specialty based on neuroscience as well as educational psychology. SI occupational therapy mainly focuses on minors with developmental, learning and behavioral disorders, from autism to Parkinson's Disease. SI has had a significant influence on pediatric OT practice.

We found 170 schools offering occupational therapy degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 170 Occupational Therapy Colleges in the U.S.

Top Occupational Therapy Schools Ranked By US News and World Report

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 29194

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Boston University
Boston, MA  |  Total Enrollment: 28318

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Washington University in St Louis
Saint Louis, MO  |  Total Enrollment: 12118

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL  |  Total Enrollment: 24942

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
University of Kansas Medical Center
Kansas City, KS  |  Total Enrollment: 2409

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
University of Pittsburgh - Main Campus
Pittsburgh, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 26329

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Tufts University
Medford, MA  |  Total Enrollment: 9106

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Thomas Jefferson University
Philadelphia, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 2256

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO  |  Total Enrollment: 26807

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
New York University
New York, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 37150

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate

Browse All 170 Colleges With Occupational Therapy Programs

Title City State Enrollment
A T Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville MO 1028
Allegany College of Maryland Cumberland MD 2592
Alpena Community College Alpena MI 1853
Alvernia College Reading PA 1574
Amarillo College Amarillo TX 8422
Baker College of Flint Flint MI 3896
Barry University Miami FL 8650
Bay Path College Longmeadow MA 800
Belmont University Nashville TN 2976
Boston University Boston MA 28318
Brenau University Gainesville GA 2266
Calvin College Grand Rapids MI 4309
Champlain College Burlington VT 2530
Chatham College Pittsburgh PA 1002
Chicago State University Chicago IL 6914
Claflin University Orangeburg SC 1130
Cleveland State University Cleveland OH 15294
College Misericordia Dallas PA 2271
College of Saint Mary Omaha NE 947
College of St Catherine Saint Paul MN 4487
Colorado State University Fort Collins CO 26807
Columbia University in the City of New York New York NY 19639
Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon WI 4603
Creighton University Omaha NE 6237
Cuny York College Jamaica NY 5357
Cuyahoga Community College District Cleveland OH 19518
Delta College University Center MI 9358
Dominican College of Blauvelt Orangeburg NY 1636
Dominican University of California San Rafael CA 1369
Duquesne University Pittsburgh PA 9667
Dyouville College Buffalo NY 2397
East Carolina University Greenville NC 18750
East Central Community College Decatur MS 2291
Eastern Kentucky University Richmond KY 13285
Eastern Michigan University Ypsilanti MI 23561
Elizabethtown College Elizabethtown PA 1825
Eureka College Eureka IL 498
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Tallahassee FL 12126
Florida International University Miami FL 31945
Fox Valley Technical College Appleton WI 6806
Gannon University Erie PA 3377
Governors State University University Park IL 6105
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
Grand Valley State University Allendale MI 18569
Hinds Community College Raymond MS 16032
Howard University Washington DC 10010
Idaho State University Pocatello ID 13040
Illinois College Jacksonville IL 909
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
Jackson Community College Jackson MI 5069
Jefferson College of Health Sciences Roanoke VA 508
Kean University Union NJ 11468
Keuka College Keuka Park NY 952
Keystone College La Plume PA 1220
Lansing Community College Lansing MI 16011
Lenoir - Rhyne College Hickory NC 1515
Loma Linda University Loma Linda CA 3153
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans New Orleans LA 2720
Maryville University of Saint Louis Saint Louis MO 3055
Mckendree College Lebanon IL 1993
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
Mercy College - Main Campus Dobbs Ferry NY 9244
Midwestern University Downers Grove IL 1499
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Perkinston MS 8768
Monroe County Community College Monroe MI 3555
Mount Aloysius College Cresson PA 1297
Mount Mary College Milwaukee WI 1246
New York Institute of Technology - Old Westbury Old Westbury NY 5898
New York University New York NY 37150
Newman University Wichita KS 1967
Northeast Mississippi Community College Booneville MS 2796
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale FL 18587
Oakwood College Huntsville AL 1767
Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus OH 47952
Oklahoma City Community College Oklahoma City OK 9358
Pacific University Forest Grove OR 1979
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Berks Reading PA 2197
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Dubois Dubois PA 1012
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Mont Alto Mont Alto PA 1307
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Shenango Sharon PA 1032
Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Worthington Scranton Dunmore PA 1716
Philadelphia University Philadelphia PA 3316
Quinnipiac University Hamden CT 6477
Quinsigamond Community College Worcester MA 5617
Rockhurst University Kansas City MO 2727
Rush University Chicago IL 1282
Russell Sage College Troy NY 819
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Sage College of Albany Albany NY 2407
Saginaw Valley State University University Center MI 8622
Saint Ambrose University Davenport IA 3011
Saint Francis University Loretto PA 2129
Saint Louis University - Main Campus Saint Louis MO 13847
Saint Mary S University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 3200
Saint Marys University of Minnesota Winona MN 5010
Samuel Merritt College Oakland CA 693
San Jose State University San Jose CA 26698
Santa Ana College Santa Ana CA 27571
Schoolcraft College Livonia MI 9016
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