What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Occupational Therapist?

You might think the only career paths that embrace your creative skills are the arts. It may surprise you to learn that occupational therapy is among the top 10 degrees for creative people. While you might not make drawings, sculptures, or stories, you can put your creativity to a whole different use as an occupational therapist. In this career, you must use your creative talents – and your resourcefulness – to help injured or disabled patients of varying ages and physical conditions develop or relearn skills they need for day-to-day life and independence. Your creativity and hard work can make a direct impact on the life of every patient you help.

A Graduate Degree

Occupational therapists must earn an advanced degree. Of course, students can’t begin their graduate or doctoral studies without first earning and undergraduate degree. While no specific bachelor’s degree is required, master’s degree programs in occupational therapy typically look for students who have a strong foundation of biology and physiology courses as well as work or volunteer experience in occupational therapy, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Popular choices of study for bachelor’s degrees among occupational therapy graduate students include anatomy, anthropology, biology, kinesiology, liberal arts, psychology and sociology, according to The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA).

Once students complete their undergraduate work, they can set out to earn a graduate degree. Whether students pursue a Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy, a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy or a Master of Occupational Therapy degree, they will become qualified for entry-level occupational therapist positions. The most important thing for students to consider when choosing a graduate program is accreditation. The AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education accredits nearly 150 degree programs – a few doctoral programs but mostly master’s programs – across the United States, according to the BLS. Over two to three years of full-time study, students in master’s degree programs will cover subjects such as mental health, physical rehabilitation, and the theory and practice of occupational therapy. They will also complete a minimum of 24 weeks of fieldwork experience, the BLS reported.

Requirements beyond Education

Having the right education is an important step toward embarking on a career in occupational therapy, but it’s not the whole journey. Graduates of these programs must also earn a state license before they can earn official recognition as “Occupational Therapist Registered.” In addition to a master’s degree from an accredited school and clinical experience, candidates must earn a passing score on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists examination.

Occupational therapy is a rewarding career path in more ways than one. Occupational therapists earn a median annual wage of $75,400, well above the wage for all occupations, according to the BLS. They enjoy a highly positive job outlook. The BLS expects opportunities for occupational therapists to increase by 29 percent over just ten years, compared to the 11 percent job growth expected across all occupations.

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