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2600 Campus Road
University of Hawai'i at Mānoa
Honolulu, HI 96822


(808) 956-4045


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Pre-Occupational Therapy Preparation at UHMānoa

Text compiled from the American Occupational Therapy Association website at,
NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the UHM 2013-2014 Catalog.


Occupational Therapy programs offered in Hawai'i: None

M.O.T. and M.S.O.T. Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Financial Aid
Additional Information
Downloadable Brochure


Occupational Therapists (OTs) use purposeful, everyday activities as a means to help people who have physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities achieve independence. OTs work with other health care providers to evaluate patients and develop plans and goals to prevent or minimize disability and to help patients acquire skills necessary for productive and satisfying lives. OTs engage in a wide range of activities, including administering and interpreting diagnostic tests, teaching life skills, designing and making orthotic/prosthetic devices, inventing adaptive equipment, and adapting environments.

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including outpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals and clinics, sports facilities, skilled nursing facilities, community and government health agencies, and home health agencies; a very few work in private practice. Although most are involved in practice, some OTs conduct research or teach in higher education.

Although programs used to offer Bachelor degrees in occupational therapy, the high demand for graduate-trained OTs prompted the phasing out of the baccalaureate level in favor of Masters degrees. The minimum qualification for OTs is now either the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) or the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT). Increasing numbers of schools are now offering Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs as well. 

Related Careers: Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTA), Social Work, Counselors, and Human Services Assistants

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Occupational Therapy Programs

Becoming a Master of Occupational Therapy, MOT, or Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, MSOT, requires approximately 5 to 6.5 years of education; becoming a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, OTD, usually requires an additional 2 years:

            Undergraduate course work (~3 years) or Bachelors degree (~4 years);
            Master degree in Occupational Therapy (usually 2 to 2.5 years);
            Doctoral degree (~ 2 years).

Although a Bachelors degree is not always required for admission to an OT program, it makes you more competitive for admission and provides more options for advancement and career opportunities. Combined Bachelors/Masters programs (those that accept undergraduates who have not yet received their Bachelors degree) often require students to complete their Bachelors before receiving their Masters. OT programs are generally two years of academic study followed by six months of supervised clinical experience.

Doctoral programs in Occupational Therapy are usually primarily clinical (practice-based) but often include topics such as management, theory, and research.

OTs who graduate from an accredited program are eligible to sit for the national certification exam by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and the state licensing exam. Those who pass the exam are awarded the title Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). All Occupational Therapists must be licensed in order to practice.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school!  There is no standard list of prerequisite courses for occupational therapy; it is therefore imperative that you research the programs you are interested in attending. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website,, includes a list of and links to accredited programs.

Recommended or required courses often include the following:

Phyl 141/141Lab and 142/142Lab
Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II
Psy 230
Psy 331
Behavioral Neuroscience
Psy 371
Abnormal Psychology
Any Psy X4X or X7X course
(240 or 476, for ex.)
Human Development
Socs or Psy 225
Hlth 110 and 125 at KAP
Medical Terminology
Hlth 160, 252, and 280 at KAP
Human Disease

Additional requirements include English, other humanities, and other social sciences.  Recommended courses include public speaking, general biology, sociology, statistics, and philosophy.

Direct contact with people with disabilities, illness, or other disadvantages may be required or recommended; requirements vary considerably from school to school. OT programs may request that one of your letters of recommendation come from a licensed occupational therapist.

Experience opportunities are available at hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, shelters, rehabilitation facilities, etc.; see UHM’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center for a list of possible contacts.

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What makes a strong candidate?

Schools need to be certain that the students they accept will be capable of completing the academic curriculum and are likely to become good occupational therapists.

Are you capable of completing the OT curriculum?
Admissions committees are looking for students who have

  • Successfully completed undergraduate course work
  • Earned a Bachelors degree
  • A strong overall GPA
  • Balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good occupational therapist?
Admissions committees look for students who have

  • Experience in and detailed knowledge of the field
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ingenuity and imagination in solving problems
  • High adaptability, which is especially important in home health care services
  • Maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability) and especially patience
  • Empathy, compassion, and an enduring commitment to helping people
  • High ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic


Researching Schools

There are now over 200 accredited OT programs in the U.S., each one unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicant or specific programs. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 200+ schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to.

If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to Admissions Directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

Almost all OT programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Records Examination (GRE).

Preparation: Your most important preparations for both the GRE are your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning.  Remember that your Verbal Reasoning score is not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in graduate school, but also the most difficult score to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE is administered year-round, appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis, and is available only in computer-based format. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete and assesses your skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning.

GRE Scoring: Scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections each yield a scaled score of 130 to 170, in 1-point increments. The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments, and you will receive a single score for your overall performance in this section.  Competitive scores for OT programs begin around 150.

Official Test Preparation Material:

  • The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test from ETS
  • Practice Questions on the GRE website
Free diagnostic exam on the GRE website

Click Here for the GRE Overview

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The Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to OT programs: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview.

1. Primary applications must be filed with the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS), which is a centralized application system.  Once the application is complete, OTCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated

2. Secondary applications are specific to individual schools, and are sent to applicants after receiving the OTCAS application. Some but not all schools screen applicants before requesting secondary applications.  Secondary applications commonly request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications, most OT programs invite promising applicants for an interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewing, including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals.

Note: Most, but not all schools participate in OTCAS; to apply to those that do not, request applications directly from the individual schools.


Financial Aid

WICHE: Hawai’i residents are eligible to participate in the Professional School Exchange Program (PSEP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). In a competitive process, PSEP selects applicants to receive financial support from state funds; the students who are selected pay in-state tuition if they attend a participating program, all of which are on the west coast. WICHE applications become available in July and have a mid-October deadline.

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of

matriculation, so in the summer before your senior year.

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  • The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.
  • Contact individual schools’ Admissions Offices to find out how they handle:
      • Advanced placement (AP) credits
      • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
      • Courses taken at a community college
      • Courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
      • Military credits
      • Residency issues
      • Time limits on acceptable science courses
      • Time limits on GRE scores
      • Course work taken outside the U.S.

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Additional Resources

UHMānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to occupational therapy programs.

UHM's Pre-Medical Association
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
& Professional Student Exchange Program (PSEP)
Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
(List of schools located within the AOTA website)
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program

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