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
Financial Aid
Additional Information

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 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

Becoming an occupational therapist requires 6+ years of education:

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

Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. Admission to occupational therapy schools is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities. All doctoral-level programs require students to complete a bachelor’s prior to matriculation.

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

Many occupational therapy schools offer combined degree programs: 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.

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 five schools currently offer the doctorate. After graduation, licensed occupational therapists who desire advanced training or specialization can complete a residency.

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:

PHYL 141/141L and 142/142L
(or PHYL 301/301L and 302/302L)
Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II
8 or 10 cr.
PSY 230Psychobiology3 cr.
PSY 331Behavioral Neuroscience3 cr.
PSY 371Abnormal Psychology3 cr.
Any PSY X4X or X7X course (e.g., 240 or 476)Human Development3 cr.
SOCS/PSY 225 or ECON 321Statistics3 cr.
HLTH 110 or 125 at KCCMedical Terminology1 or 2 cr.
HLTH 160, 252, or 280 at KCCHuman Disease3 cr.

Additional requirements include courses in English, 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. For a list of possible contacts, see UHM’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center.

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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 medicine 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
  • 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.

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 median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 50th percentile or higher are considered competitive for occupational therapy programs.

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 occupational therapy 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. 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.

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.


  • 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

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; those students will be able to pay subsidized tuition if they attend a participating program 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, 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.

UHM's Pre-Medical
UHM's Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA)
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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