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.

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
Oakwood College Huntsville AL 1767
Tuskegee University Tuskegee AL 2826
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham AL 14951
University of South Alabama Mobile AL 11673
University of Central Arkansas Conway AR 8481
Dominican University of California San Rafael CA 1369
Loma Linda University Loma Linda CA 3153
Samuel Merritt College Oakland CA 693
San Jose State University San Jose CA 26698
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Santa Ana College Santa Ana CA 27571
University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 29194
Colorado State University Fort Collins CO 26807
Quinnipiac University Hamden CT 6477
University of Hartford West Hartford CT 6895
Howard University Washington DC 10010
University of St Augustine for Health Sciences Saint Augustine FL 419
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Tallahassee FL 12126
Barry University Miami FL 8650
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale FL 18587
Florida International University Miami FL 31945
University of Florida Gainesville FL 45114
Brenau University Gainesville GA 2266
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
Saint Ambrose University Davenport IA 3011
Idaho State University Pocatello ID 13040
Midwestern University Downers Grove IL 1499
Chicago State University Chicago IL 6914
Eureka College Eureka IL 498
Governors State University University Park IL 6105
Illinois College Jacksonville IL 909
Mckendree College Lebanon IL 1993
Rush University Chicago IL 1282
University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago IL 24942
University of Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 3599
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
University of Southern Indiana Evansville IN 9012
Vincennes University Vincennes IN 9169
Newman University Wichita KS 1967
University of Kansas Medical Center Kansas City KS 2409
Spalding University Louisville KY 1632
Eastern Kentucky University Richmond KY 13285
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans New Orleans LA 2720
University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe LA 9405
Bay Path College Longmeadow MA 800
Boston University Boston MA 28318
Quinsigamond Community College Worcester MA 5617
Springfield College Springfield MA 4722
Tufts University Medford MA 9106
Worcester State College Worcester MA 5303
Allegany College of Maryland Cumberland MD 2592
The Community College of Baltimore County Dundalk MD 18168
Towson University Towson MD 16729
University of New England Biddeford ME 2684
University of Southern Maine Portland ME 10820
Alpena Community College Alpena MI 1853
Baker College of Flint Flint MI 3896
Calvin College Grand Rapids MI 4309
Delta College University Center MI 9358
Eastern Michigan University Ypsilanti MI 23561
Grand Valley State University Allendale MI 18569
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
Jackson Community College Jackson MI 5069
Lansing Community College Lansing MI 16011
Monroe County Community College Monroe MI 3555
Saginaw Valley State University University Center MI 8622
Schoolcraft College Livonia MI 9016
Wayne State University Detroit MI 30408
Western Michigan University Kalamazoo MI 28657
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis MN 45481
College of St Catherine Saint Paul MN 4487
Saint Mary S University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 3200
Saint Marys University of Minnesota Winona MN 5010
The College of Saint Scholastica Duluth MN 2054
University of St Thomas Saint Paul MN 11288
A T Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville MO 1028
Maryville University of Saint Louis Saint Louis MO 3055
Rockhurst University Kansas City MO 2727
Saint Louis University - Main Campus Saint Louis MO 13847
University of Missouri - Columbia Columbia MO 23309
Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis MO 12118
East Central Community College Decatur MS 2291
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Perkinston MS 8768
Hinds Community College Raymond MS 16032
Northeast Mississippi Community College Booneville MS 2796
University of Mississippi Medical Center Jackson MS 1674
East Carolina University Greenville NC 18750
Lenoir - Rhyne College Hickory NC 1515
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill NC 24892
Winston - Salem State University Winston-salem NC 2857
University of Mary Bismarck ND 2343
University of North Dakota Grand Forks ND 11031
College of Saint Mary Omaha NE 947
Creighton University Omaha NE 6237
University of New Hampshire - Main Campus Durham NH 14689
Kean University Union NJ 11468
Seton Hall University South Orange NJ 9920
Western New Mexico University Silver City NM 2669
University of New Mexico - Main Campus Albuquerque NM 23670
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