Best Occupational Therapy Schools + Career Information – 2020

As an occupational therapist, you can look forward to helping people reach their full potential by providing assistance that allows them to regain or strengthen their abilities. While it feels good helping people, it also is important to know that you are compensated for your education and hard work with a salary that starts out at nearly $30 an hour. To become an occupational therapist, your first step is to complete your education. We are listing the 5 best occupational therapy programs to help you get started on finding a position in this rapidly growing field.

What Education is Required to Become an Occupational Therapist?

Being an occupational therapist requires a high level of skills that are obtained through the completion of a master’s degree program. You may also choose to attend a doctoral program that allows you to work in even more professional roles.

Program Cost

The cost to attend a master’s degree program in occupational therapy starts at around $24,360 and can be as much as $86,730. A doctoral program costs slightly more with the highest amount you can expect to pay falling around $104,080.

Type Cost
Master's$24,360 - $86,730
Doctoral$29,230 - $104,080

Program Length

Your master’s degree should take about two to three years to complete after you have already finished your bachelor’s program. A doctoral degree takes slightly longer, and most people find that they can complete it within three and a half years when they focus on their education full-time.

Master's2 to 3 Years
Doctoral3.5 Years

Can I Pursue This Program Online?

The best occupational therapy schools require you to complete supervised fieldwork that allows you to practice what you learn in a real-life environment. For this reason, you may find that you take some of your classes on campus, while other parts of your studies might be completed in an environment such as a hospital or school. The fieldwork portion of your studies typically comes toward the final semesters of the degree program. You may also be able to take certain general education courses online that you need to finish your degree such as health and biology.

Admission Requirements

There are specific admissions requirements that you need to meet before you can begin occupational therapist training that ensure that you are capable of doing well in the program. The admissions requirements listed here are for a master's or doctoral degree program. If you do not already have a bachelor's degree, then you will need to have a high school diploma or GED to begin earning one.

• A bachelor’s degree
• Some specific undergraduate coursework such as physiology and biology
• Certain programs require previous experience volunteering in an occupational therapy setting


The curriculum involved in an occupational therapist degree program is intensive. You will be taking courses such as anatomy and physiology that help you understand the underlying physical structures that affect people’s movements and abilities. You can also expect to take mental health courses such as psychology and sociology that help you understand how to motivate people to work hard on improving their skills. Certain courses that you take will also teach you how to assess a person’s home or work environment along with their skills to develop plans that improve their quality of life. You may also take classes that are created to help you learn how to help people from special populations such as children with autism or adults who are recovering from strokes.

What are the 5 Best Occupational Therapy Programs Accredited by AOTA in the Nation for 2020

1) University of Southern California - Los Angeles, CA

Located in Los Angeles, California, University of Southern California offers basic to advanced level of occupational therapy education.

You can begin your occupational therapy (OT) studies by taking up the 20-unit Undergraduate Minor in Occupational Science program which will give you elemental knowledge on healthy living, as well as prepare you to take up master’s or doctoral degree programs in OT.

If you have Bachelor’s degree in OT, then you can opt for a fast-paced bachelor’s to master’s degree course, comprising 44 units of occupational coursework that can be completed in one year, instead of the traditional two-year master’s degree programs.

In case, you have a bachelor’s degree in any stream other than occupational therapy, and you want to do your master’s in OT, then you can enroll into a 2-year Entry-Level Professional Master of Arts Degree program. This course includes three practice immersions in core areas of study, such as mental health, childcare, and adult physical rehabilitation.

If you are a certified OT or hold a bachelor’s degree in OT, then you can also opt for a two-semester post-professional M.A. degree program.

If you have completed your master’s in OT, then you can earn a doctorate in just one year with the fast-paced M.A. to O.T.D. program. This program starts twice a year in fall and spring and comprises 32 units of coursework.

To obtain your Post-Professional Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Degree, you need to complete a coursework of 60 units post your bachelor’s in OT, or 32 units of coursework if you hold master’s degree in OT.

If you want to direct your career to scientific research in OT, you can go for the Ph.D. program. This full-time four-year program includes advanced studies and requires you to start your dissertation research in the sixth semester, and finally submit it in between the 8th and 11th semester.

Key Highlights

• In 1942, USC started offering bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy.
• In 1947, USC became the first college in the nation that offered a post-professional degree in OT.
• At USC, you can never stop learning. After completion of your Ph.D. in OT, there are several excellent training opportunities to excel in niche areas such as sensory integration therapy.

2) Washington University - St. Louis, MO

Located in St. Louis, Missouri, Washington University’s School of Medicine provides innovative teaching methods to educate occupational therapy students. Apart from academic studies, students are also encouraged to apply personalized approach throughout the coursework and develop strong analytical skills required to flourish in their careers. The following occupational therapy programs are offered at WU –

MSOT Program: This 28-month master of science degree program comprises 80 credits of intense coursework, which includes evidence-based practice, clinical reasoning, and 6-months experiential fieldwork (administered by qualified clinicians). Graduates of this program can take the NBCOT exam and become a certified occupational therapist. This program starts in the fall of each year.

OTD Program: You can take up this 36-month clinical doctorate program to excel in a specific domain of your interest within occupational therapy. The 106-credit coursework requires you to complete a 14-week doctoral capstone, along with comprehensive core courses. This program also starts every year in the fall.

If you are a licensed occupational therapist, then you can opt for the OTD degree program. This program can be taken on a part-time basis, enabling you to study while continuing your work at the same time. The duration of this program will depend upon the number of courses you can complete in a semester. Typically, you can complete the entire coursework within two and a half years.

Key Highlights

• In 2016 as per US News & World Report, WU topped the chart as the #1 occupational therapy program in the United States.
• The highly acclaimed faculty of WU has developed several assessment tools such as - home environment lighting assessment, neonatal eating outcome, executive function performance test, and more, which are quite handy for occupational therapists.
• WU also offers a 3.5-year MSOT/MPH dual degree program (123 credit hour coursework), as well as a full-time Ph.D. program in rehabilitation and participation science that can be completed in 4 to 5 years.

3) University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

In the state of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh offers four OT programs with supreme quality of education –

OTD Program: Starting each summer in June, this 3-year Doctor of occupational therapy program comprises 108 credits of coursework spread over nine terms (including three summer terms). The curriculum is a combination of comprehensive courses, level 2 fieldwork, capstone project, and experiential preceptorship.

MOT Program: This 2-year full-time Master of occupational therapy program is for those students with the college’s Freshman OT program guarantee and who started their undergraduate courses at the University of Pittsburgh from 2013 to 2016. The program begins each summer and comprises 78 credits of coursework.

MS Program: If you have a bachelor’s degree in OT, you can take up this 3-term Master of Science in OT that starts in the summer term in May. The 33-credit curriculum will enhance your knowledge of professional courses, develop analytical skills, and therapeutic approaches.

CScD Program: This 4-term Doctor of clinical science degree in OT starts each summer and consists 72 credits of coursework. Graduates of a master’s degree in occupational therapy can transfer up to 30 credits, making it a shorter 42-credit program for them.

Key Highlights

• The U.S. News and World Report has ranked the college as the 4th best in the nation.
• OT program graduates of Pitts have consistently scored more than the national average in the national certification exam.
• The University of Pittsburgh also offers a Ph.D. program in Rehabilitation Science.

4) Columbia University - New York, NY

Located in New York City, Columbia University is committed to grooming aspiring occupational therapists for a thriving career in this ever-growing field. At CU, you can pursue a 24-month full-time medical of science degree program in OT, which is a mix of classroom studies and fieldwork sessions; specifically, you will practice in areas such as mental health, physical challenges for disabled, children healthcare, and old age problems. The college also offers an MS/MPH dual degree program in OT for those students who are looking to pursue and earn two degrees simultaneously, saving time and brightening their career prospects.

To further your studies in occupational therapy, you can take up Doctor of education program in movement science with a specialization in OT. It has 90-credit coursework; however, you can transfer up to 45 credits from your master’s degree in OT. Apart from this, you can also take up an online Doctor of occupational therapy program. It is a three-year-long evening program, and coursework is divided into four core occupational therapy courses, clinical portfolio, and a capstone project.

Key Highlights

• This OT school has consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
• Over 80% of OT students received job offers during their on-site fieldwork, whereas remaining students found a job within one month of starting their search.

5) University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, NC

The University of North Carolina offers an M.S. degree program in occupational therapy and a Ph.D. program in occupational science at its Chapel Hill campus located in the state of North Carolina.

The 63-credit coursework of the M.S. degree program comprises of seven curriculum themes. You will learn about the concepts of social community, how to evaluate occupational situations, how to coordinate and collect information on a daily basis or at the different phases of life, how to protect human rights & analyze ethical problems, learn leadership duties, how to apply evidence-based practice through innovative solutions, and apply therapeutic procedures. The coursework also includes a level II fieldwork to provide a hands-on learning experience. You can complete this full-time program in two years.

If you want to shape your career in research and academia, then you can take up the Ph.D. program in occupational science. The coursework emphasis on five core area of study – core occupational science courses, doctoral seminars, occupation and human activity, research and methodology, and academic career courses in grant writing. You can complete this program in 4-5 years.

Key Highlights

• UNC first started offering the occupational therapy program in 1978 and later added the Ph.D. in occupational science program in 2004.
• The college provides personalized learning solutions to students of both the programs, maintaining a student to faculty ratio at 7:1
• For your holistic professional development, UNC encourages students to participate in various learning activities conducted outside the classroom. Such activities include evidence-based research, training grants (mentored by faculty), and community services.
• You will also have the opportunity to join various occupational therapy associations and further your professional development.

Why Attending a Program Accredited by AOTA Makes a Difference?

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers accreditation to schools that offer educational programs that meet the high standards that are in place for the field. You will need to attend a school with this accreditation to be eligible to apply for your certification and license to work as an occupational therapist with the general population.

Certification and Licensure Requirements to Work as an Occupational Therapist

You are required to obtain a license in each state that you plan to work in, and the requirements for getting your license can vary from one place to another. However, you will first need to earn your certification before you can apply for a state license. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy administers the NBCOT exam that you must pass to get certified. To be eligible to take the exam, you will need to provide proof that you have successfully completed your degree and finished all of the required fieldwork. You can prove that you have satisfied this requirement by submitting your school transcript when you complete your application to take the exam. Your application is valid for three months after it is submitted, which gives you time to prepare for the exam.

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

Hospitals; State, Local, and Private:

Occupational therapists work in hospitals where they help people regain their abilities after a health issue such as a stroke.

Offices of Occupational Therapists:

You may work within an occupational therapist office that serves children and adults who have known conditions that affect their abilities such as cerebral palsy.

Elementary and Secondary Schools;

State, Local, and Private: Schools often hire occupational therapists to help students overcome challenges that they face by their disabilities.

Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities):

Senior adults and others who have suffered a severe illness or injury often require the help of an occupational therapist to learn how to perform their activities of daily living.

Home Healthcare Services:

The home healthcare industry hires occupational therapists to visit clients in their home to provide therapeutic programs.

Industry Employment
Number Percent
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private 32,99426%
Offices of Occupational Therapists 30,45624%
Elementary and Secondary Schools; State, Local, and Private 12,69010%
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) 11,4219%
Home Healthcare Services10,1528%
(Source: BLS)

Work Environment & Conditions

Your occupational therapist duties can have you spending long hours standing up on your feet as you help patients with their therapy. Many occupational therapists often travel for their work. You may need to work within a patient’s home where the environment can change significantly from one place to another. Your hours may also vary depending upon where you work. Occupational therapists who work within school systems typically work normal daytime hours. Those who work within a hospital or nursing facility may need to plan to work evening hours to fit the needs of their patients. There are some small risks involved with this position since occupational therapists could be injured in the process of lifting a patient. However, you will learn how to use proper strategies such as team lifting to reduce these risks. You can expect to find working as an occupational therapist to be emotionally demanding but also rewarding as you get to work with your patients one-on-one and see them make progress.

What Starting Salary Can I Expect as an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist salary begins at around $29.87 an hour, and this is three times what a person could make with the current federal minimum wage. When added up, this comes out to $5,180 a month and $62,130 a year.

Type Salary
(Source: In-House Research)

How Much Will My Salary Grow with Experience?

Occupational therapists are compensated as they gain experience. Over the course of five years, your salary will increase to around $84,270 a year. After working as an occupational therapist for ten years, you can make $100,890. The twenty-year mark brings an even higher income of $120,750. You will also want to note that these are average salaries. Pursuing higher level degrees and earning additional certifications can make it possible for you to earn even more over the years.

Level of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
1-4 years$33.06 $5,730 $68,760
5-9 years$40.51 $7,020 $84,270
10-19 years$48.50 $8,410 $100,890
20 years or more$58.05 $10,060 $120,750
(Source: BLS)

How Many Job Openings are there for Occupational Therapy Graduates?

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop)

10 Year Employment Outlook

The need for occupational therapists is expected to grow by almost 24 percent. This is considered to be a much faster rate of growth than many other occupations. The reason for this rapid rate of growth comes down to several factors that include the needs of an increasingly aging population. Older adults with chronic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes need occupational therapists to help them manage their daily needs as their health conditions progress. As more of the people with these chronic diseases live longer due to advances in medicine, you can expect to see them need more care from licensed occupational therapists.

An increased rate of identification of children with disabilities such as autism has also made the need for occupational therapists to grow. Since occupational therapy works best with individual attention, there is a large need for people in this field to work in schools helping children improve their ability to learn and function in a classroom setting. There has also been an increase in the number of people who can afford occupational therapy services now that health insurance has become available to members of the population who did not have it in the past.

Employment Employment Growth, 2016-26
2016 2026 Number Percent
(Source: careeronestop)

State Wise Employment, Job Openings & Salary Breakdown

State Employment Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement) Annual Average Salary
Alabama 1,260 90 $83,810
Alaska 270 20 $86,860
Arizona 2,120 200 $94,800
Arkansas 1,210 100 $81,810
California 9,580 890 $95,160
Colorado 3,130 260 $89,770
Connecticut 2,150 140 $90,780
Delaware 440 20 $86,020
District of Columbia 380 30 $94,360
Florida 6,750 550 $81,520
Georgia 2,920 240 $82,060
Hawaii 330 20 $83,010
Idaho ** 30 $81,230
Illinois 5,230 340 $83,940
Indiana 3,040 210 $79,870
Iowa 940 70 $80,740
Kansas 1,420 80 $78,720
Kentucky 1,170 130 $79,460
Louisiana 1,740 120 $85,490
Maine 1,000 60 $72,160
Maryland 3,370 180 $89,230
Massachusetts 4,830 370 $87,160
Michigan 4,580 380 $77,940
Minnesota 2,960 150 $74,050
Mississippi 980 70 $81,590
Missouri 2,360 210 $75,120
Montana 360 30 $74,940
Nebraska 910 90 $76,850
Nevada 850 50 $100,970
New Hampshire 900 90 $79,850
New Jersey 5,380 420 $96,600
New Mexico 580 50 $81,660
New York 9,740 760 $88,370
North Carolina 3,470 240 $84,390
North Dakota 440 40 $67,420
Ohio 4,770 370 $85,720
Oklahoma 880 80 $82,240
Oregon 1,360 80 $90,720
Pennsylvania 7,440 510 $81,030
Rhode Island 440 30 $83,600
South Carolina 1,290 110 $78,470
South Dakota 410 30 $69,390
Tennessee 2,360 160 $84,870
Texas 9,250 850 $89,360
Utah 900 80 $85,300
Vermont 250 20 $76,840
Virginia 3,070 250 $93,010
Washington 2,780 290 $81,250
West Virginia 500 50 $81,080
Wisconsin 3,420 200 $73,390
Wyoming 320 20 $82,010
(Source: BLS & careeronestop)

Important Organizations & Associations

American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)

This organization serves as an advocate for everyone that is involved in the field of occupational therapy. In addition to providing accreditation for educational training programs, they also hold conferences, assist with helping therapists find jobs and make professional journals available to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest advances in the field.

American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF)

This foundation is based upon the mission to help people benefit from evidence-based practices in the field of occupational therapy. They offer an honor society for students who meet the criteria for eligibility. As a member of this foundation’s honor society, you can receive benefits such as free continuing education courses once you have graduated from your initial training program and obtained your license.

Occupational Therapy Schools in other States

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania