Pre-Occupational Therapy at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) website, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, and the UHM 2017-2018 Catalog.

Occupational Therapy programs offered in Hawai`i: None

Field Description

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, fitting and training of orthotic/prosthetic devices, and modifying environments. Click here to watch a video to learn more about occupational therapy.

Occupational therapists may advance their career with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Board Certification or Specialty Certification. Board and Specialty Certification are voluntary and signify to your peer, employers, and clients that you are a dedicated occupational therapy professional with expertise in your chosen certification areas.

  • Board Certification: 
    • Gerontology (BCG)
    • Mental Health (BCMH)
    • Pediatrics (BCP)
    • Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
  • Specialty Certification
    • Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM)
    • Environmental Modification (SCEM)
    • Feeding, Eating, an Swallowing (SCFES)
    • Low Vision (SCLU)
    • School Systems (SCSS)

Click here to access the application for Board or Specialty Certification.

Work Setting

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including outpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals and clinics, sports facilities, skilled nursing facilities, small medical offices, community and government health agencies, and home health agencies; a very few work in private practice. Although most are involved in clinical practice, some OTs conduct research or teach in higher education. For more information on job outlook, click here.

Related Careers: occupational therapy assistant (OTA), orthotics/prosthetics, social work, counseling, and human services assistant.

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy:

Both Physical Therapists (PT) and Occupational Therapists (OT) interact with patients and have the ultimate goal of providing patients as much assistance to recover from injuries and/or to live as productively and independently as possible. However, there are also very important differences between the two fields. The main difference is that OT is concerned with improving the client’s performance in daily activities and to optimize their independence, whereas a PT is focused on improving the client’s body movement. Additionally, OTs consider the patient not only based on their injuries, but how that disability could affect their developmental, cognitive, emotional and behavioral abilities. PTs are more direct in treating the physical source of the problem. 

Real life examples: 
PT: A PT would help a patient with a knee injury from playing sports through rehabilitation and rebuilding muscle groups so that the patient can regain his/her function of the knee. 
OT: An OT would help a patient who suffered from a stroke and must learn to cope with the disability in their everyday lives such as teaching them to how to feed themselves again, tie their shoes, etc. (building both basic and fine motor skills). 

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Occupational Therapy Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become an Occupational Therapist:

6+ years of education

  • Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years)*;
  • Occupational Therapy School (2 to 3½ years);
  • Residency (¾-1 year, optional).

*A bachelor’s degree is required for students applying to doctoral-level programs. However, many schools at the master’s-level list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission. For those schools that do not require a bachelor’s degree, completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage.

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Degree Conferred

Upon completion of occupational therapy school, students are awarded the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT), Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD), or Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (DrOT), depending on the program they are enrolled in. All graduates of accredited programs are eligible to apply for professional licensure.

Matriculation Statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

 ApplicantsMatriculantsPercentage of Applicants that Matriculate
National Applicants8,8482,61029.50%

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs 

There are a large number of Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs offered across the nation. Although these programs vary greatly in terms of degree offerings, course curriculum, and program duration, they are all geared to help students in preparation for professional school by taking relevant graduate level courses or to meet the necessary  prerequisites courses for their intended program. For more information, please visit our Post-Baccalaureate and Specials Masters Programs page.

Combined Degree Programs

Combined bachelor’s and master’s programs (BS/MOT) are offered at a select number of schools, providing opportunities for undergraduates who show a high level of commitment to occupational therapy an easier transition into the master’s programs.  Upon matriculation into occupational therapy schools, further combined degree programs may be offered: MOT/PhD to combine occupational therapy with research or teaching; MOT/MPH to combine occupational therapy with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in occupational therapy school.

The Licensing Examination

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) is a national examination required for occupational therapy licensure in the United States. In addition, OT graduates may also need to be certified by a state agency and/or meet other requirements, depending on the state in which they intend to practice. All occupational therapists must be licensed to practice.

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school!  You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending.

More than 25% of the programs in this field require the following UHM courses for admission:

BIOL 171/171L and possibly 172/172LIntroduction to Biology I and possibly II*8 cr.
ENG 100 and possibly 200Composition I and possibly II*6 cr.
HLTH 110 or 125 at KCCMedical Terminology1 or 2 cr.
PHYL 141/141L and 142/142L
(or PHYL 301/301L and 302/302L)
Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II
8 or 10 cr.
PHYS 151/151LCollege Physics I4 cr.
PSY 100Survey of Psychology3 cr.
PSY/SOCS 225 or ECON 321Statistics3 cr.
PSY 371 (Spring only)Abnormal Psychology3 cr.
HDFS 230 (formerly known as FAMR 230) and/or PSY 240Human Development and/or Developmental Psychology**3 cr.
SOC 100/ANTHIntroduction to Sociology or Anthropology*3 cr.

*Please check with each school for specific requirements. Some schools may require additional biology and English courses. 

**Please check with each school for specific requirements. Some schools may require the development course to cover life from birth to death, so multiple courses may have to be taken to satisfy this prerequisite.

Additional requirements include courses in communicology, chemistry, kinesiology, other humanities, and other social sciences. It is also recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above.

Click here for a four-year academic sample plan.

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Experience and Personal Development

Direct contact with people with disabilities, illness, or other disadvantages may be required or recommended. Most if not all schools require shadowing or volunteer work directly under an occupational therapist, with hours varying 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.

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is also a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgment, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

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Researching Schools

There are currently over 200 accredited OT programs in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  For a list of accredited OT Doctoral and Master’s Level Programs, use the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) on the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website. Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. 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. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

Application statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

 ApplicantsApplicationsMatriculantsAverage Number of Applications per ApplicantRange of Number of Schools Applied toPercentage of Applicants that Matriculate
National Applicants8,84835,3112,6103.99N/A29.50%
Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

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Entrance Exam

Many occupational therapy programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). However, some programs do not require the GRE. Make sure that you research programs to see if you need to prepare for and take the GRE.

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in occupational therapy school, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles. Competitive scores for occupational therapy programs are around the 56th percentile for Verbal, 47th percentile for Quantitative, and 60th percentile for Analytical Writing.

Official Test Preparation Material

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to occupational therapy programs: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview. The process follows a standard timeline.

1. Primary applications must be filed with the Occupational Therapist Centralized Application Service (OTCAS), which is a centralized application system that opens in mid July. We strongly recommend reading the instructions before beginning. The application includes: background information, coursework, a personal statement (7500 characters), and references. Once the application is complete, OTCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated. The OTCAS fee is about $140 to apply to one program and $60 for each additional program designation. Click here for a list of schools that participate in the OTCAS. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

2. Secondary applications are specific to individual schools, and are sent to applicants after receiving the OTCAS application. Some schools screen applicants before requesting secondary applications. Secondary applications commonly request additional information, essays, letters of recommendation, and/or fees. Some schools screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out. However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application.

Note: Most occupational therapy schools participate in OTCAS. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

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 interviewingincluding airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops here. For sample interview questions click here.

Re-applicants: Many applicants may not be admitted to the professional school that they desire on their first try. However, if an when you choose to re-apply, there are many things to consider before re-submitting another application the following cycle. For more information on how to improve your application, click here.


  • 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
    • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • military credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • non-US coursework
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on prerequisite courses

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Financial Aid

Financial planning is a crucial step in applying to occupational therapy schools. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after occupational therapy school. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

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). PSEP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state professional healthcare programs at participating WICHE institutions when such programs are not available at a public institution in their home state.

Many Hawai‘i residents must attend professional schools out-of-state to obtain the necessary education and training needed for professional healthcare positions. Therefore, the State of Hawai‘i, through WICHE PSEP, helps subsidize the tuition costs for qualifying Hawai‘i residents to attend a participating WICHE PSEP program. In return, WICHE PSEP students are required to return to work in the State after completing their program of study. PSEP selected students pay reduced levels of tuition at the WICHE participating institution. The home state pays a negotiated “support fee” designed to cover a portion of the cost of the students’ education; this fee is paid directly to the enrolling program’s institution. No payments are made directly to students. Students enrolled at public institutions generally pay the resident tuition rate, however, students may be required to pay the unmet non-resident tuition differential if the WICHE PSEP support fee does not cover the entire non-resident tuition differential.  Students enrolled at private institutions pay the balance of the full private tuition minus the WICHE PSEP support fee. Support is available to a limited number of Hawai‘i residents studying occupational therapy and enrolling at participating WICHE PSEP schools.  For a list of participating schools, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE PSEP program, please visit

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of matriculation, generally in the summer of your application year.

WRGP: Hawai`i residents are eligible to participate in the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WRGP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state master’s, graduate certificate and Ph.D programs at participating WICHE institutions. WRGP selected students pay the resident tuition rate at the WICHE participating institution. No payments are made directly to students.

To be considered for the WRGP resident tuition rate, apply directly to the department or graduate studies department of the institution where you want to enroll, and identify yourself as WICHE WRGP applicant. WGRP students must fulfill the usual admission requirements and deadlines of the department and institution concerned. Contact each school you are interested in for more information. To view a list of schools that may be participating, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE WRGP program, please visit

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Additional Resources

UH Mānoa’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 school.

AssociationsAmerican Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)
Entrance ExamsGraduate Record Examination (GRE)
Researching SchoolsAccreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
(List of schools located within the AOTA website)
ApplicationsOccupational Therapist Centralized Application Service
Financial AidWestern Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)

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