How Much Schooling Does An Occupational Therapist Need?

Before you make the decision to commit to becoming an occupational therapist, it’s important to consider the educational process that you’ll have to undertake to obtain a career in this field.  It’s vital that you are fully prepared for the process ahead of you as secondary education can be both a large time and financial commitment.

Let’s take a look at the answer to ‘how much schooling does an occupational therapist need.’

Preparing For Occupational Therapy

Before you even begin to consider post-secondary education, it’s important to prepare yourself during high school. By making sure that you take a few selected courses, you’ll have the background knowledge necessary to prepare you for college and university classes.

Taking classes in biology, anatomy, physiology, statistics, psychology, and sociology, in high school is an excellent way to prepare for college courses that are geared towards medical sciences.

Formal Post-Secondary Education Requirements

After high school, it’s time to move into post-secondary education.  A master’s degree is required for most states for entry into the field of occupational therapy, so you are going to be looking at about six years of schooling, four for your bachelor’s degree and two more for your master’s degree.  Some people may also choose to take these programs only part-time if they are already out in the work environment, in which case the time to completion will be extended.

You may also choose to take shorter duration programs that are targeted towards helping you become an occupational therapist assistant, but take note that with this reduced educational requirement will also come a reduced capacity in terms of your role in the field as well as the pay in which you receive.

The program you choose needs to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.  So make sure that your intended school qualifies before enrolling.

As you progress through this education, you’ll be exposed to coursework that includes physical, biological, and behavior science so you’ll gain a wide variety of experience in multiple areas.

This will help you fully prepare for all the situations you’ll encounter as you move along with your career in occupational therapy.

Additional Field Work And Certificates

As part of your university level education, you will be required to complete at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork before graduating.  Most often this fieldwork will be an unpaid position, however in rare cases it may be different.
Some people will also begin with volunteer work in this field before starting their college-level education in order to increase their acceptance chances into school and make sure the career is a good fit for them. Future employers will also look favorably on any past experience you have, so it’s something to strongly consider.
After you become a licenced occupational therapist and are finished with all your formal school requirements, you will also want to look into ongoing certification and continuing education courses.   Not only is this required to maintain your license and certification, but it may also be something you want to pursue in order to specialize in a particular area.

For example, if you want to specialize in medical gerontology and work mainly with older adults, then additional coursework in this area will help you move into a more focused role.

So there you have it!  How much schooling does an occupational therapist need?  Well, the answer is really up to you.  If you’re content with the minimum then plan for at least 6 solid years.  But as you grow in your profession you will have many opportunities to seek further education.

Spending some time evaluating various school programs and considering some volunteer work before you get started will help you make the best decision about whether this is a career you want to pursue.

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