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 2013-2014 Catalog.

Occupational Therapy programs offered in Hawai`i: None

Occupational Therapy Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Researching Schools
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Four-Year Sample Plan
Financial Aid
Additional Information

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, designing and making orthotic/prosthetic devices, inventing adaptive equipment, and adapting environments.

Work Setting:

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 clinical practice, some OTs conduct research or teach in higher education.

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

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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, not all schools at the master’s-level list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission; nonetheless, 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.

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/MBA to combine occupational therapy with business administration; 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.

What to expect in OT School:

Master’s-level OT programs generally consist of two years of didactic study followed by six months of supervised clinical experience. Doctoral-level programs include additional semesters of study in areas such as clinical skills, research, and administration, and require completion of a culminating project. Most OT schools offer programs at the master’s level; only seven schools currently offer the doctorate. After graduation, licensed occupational therapists who desire advanced training or specialization can complete a residency.

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.

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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Prerequisites for Admission

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.

The following UHM courses are commonly required for admission to occupational therapy schools:

BIOL 171/171L and possibly 172/172L*Introduction to Biology I and possibly II8 cr.
ENG 100 and possibly 200*Composition I and possibly II6 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 371Abnormal Psychology3 cr.
Any PSY X4X or X7X course (e.g., 240 or 476)Human Development3 cr.
SOC 100/ANTH*Introduction to Sociology or Anthropology3 cr.

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

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.

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.

Click here for a four-year academic sample plan.

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What makes a strong candidate?

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

Are you capable of completing the OT curriculum?

Admissions committees are seek students who have:

  • completed the prerequisites
  • a high overall GPA
  • performed well on the GRE
  • balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good occupational therapist?

Admissions committees seek students who have:

  • demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
  • high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability, patience)
  • high adaptability, ingenuity, and imagination in solving problems
  • a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
  • experience in the field and with what occupational therapy entails
  • a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life
  • strong letters of recommendation

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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.

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

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Entrance Exam

Most occupational therapy programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Record Examination (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, with the average score of accepted applicants among examinees being 148.33 (55th percentile) for the Quantitative section, 149.34 (64th percentile) for the Verbal section, and 3.9 (69th percentile) for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around or higher than the average scores or percentiles are considered competitive for occupational therapy programs.

Official Test Preparation Material:

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

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The 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. We strongly recommend reading the instructions before beginning. The application includes: background information, coursework, a personal statement, and references. Once the application is complete, OTCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated.  Click here for a list of schools that participate in the OTCAS.

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, and letters of recommendation.

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.


  • 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.

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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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