CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an occupational therapist.

Step 1

Is becoming an occupational therapist right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do occupational therapists do?
Career Satisfaction
Are occupational therapists happy with their careers?
What are occupational therapists like?

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Step 2

High School

If you are interested in becoming an occupational therapist, it is important to take courses in high school that will prepare you for the academic requirements of this profession. Some high school courses that can be beneficial for aspiring occupational therapists include:

  • Biology: This course provides a strong foundation in the life sciences, which is important for understanding human anatomy and physiology.
  • Psychology: Occupational therapists work with individuals who have physical, mental, and emotional challenges, so a course in psychology can be helpful in understanding human behavior and development.
  • Sociology: This course can provide a better understanding of the social and cultural factors that influence an individual's health and well-being.
  • English: Occupational therapists must communicate effectively with patients, families, and other healthcare professionals, so strong written and verbal communication skills are essential.
  • Mathematics: This course can help develop problem-solving skills, which are important for occupational therapists who often need to develop treatment plans and evaluate patient progress.
  • Health and Physical Education: Courses in health and physical education can provide a better understanding of the importance of physical activity and healthy living, which is an important aspect of occupational therapy.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming an occupational therapist requires completing formal education and obtaining the necessary licenses and certifications. The following are the detailed formal education steps to become an occupational therapist:

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: The first step in becoming an occupational therapist is to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Although there is no specific major requirement, it is recommended to have a degree in a related field such as psychology, biology, or health science.
  • Complete Prerequisite Courses: Before applying to an occupational therapy program, it is important to complete certain prerequisite courses, which may vary by program. Typically, these courses include anatomy, physiology, psychology, statistics, and other related courses.
  • Earn a Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy: After completing a bachelor's degree and prerequisite courses, the next step is to earn a Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy from an accredited program. These programs usually take two to three years to complete and include both classroom and clinical training.
  • Complete Fieldwork Requirements: Occupational therapy programs require students to complete a certain amount of fieldwork or clinical experience to gain hands-on training. Typically, students complete several fieldwork rotations in various settings to gain experience working with different populations.
  • Obtain State Licensure: After completing an accredited occupational therapy program, graduates must obtain a state license to practice. The requirements for licensure vary by state but typically include passing an exam and completing continuing education requirements.
  • Obtain Certification: Although not required, obtaining certification from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) can demonstrate competency and may increase job opportunities. To obtain certification, individuals must pass the NBCOT certification exam.
  • Continuing Education: To maintain licensure and certification, occupational therapists must complete continuing education requirements, which vary by state and certification board.
Step 4


Certification is an important aspect of the occupational therapy profession as it provides credibility and recognition for the skills and knowledge of practitioners.

  • National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification: This is the most widely recognized certification for occupational therapists in the United States. The NBCOT offers certification for occupational therapy assistants (COTA) and occupational therapists (OTR). To become certified, candidates must pass an examination that assesses their knowledge and skills.
  • Specialty Certification: Some occupational therapists choose to pursue certification in a specific area of practice, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or hand therapy. These certifications are offered by organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the Hand Therapy Certification Commission.
Step 5

Online Resources

Here are some online resources that occupational therapists may find useful:

  • American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA): AOTA is a professional organization for occupational therapists, and its website provides a wealth of resources, including publications, research, continuing education opportunities, and networking opportunities.
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Online Resource Center: This website provides information and resources specifically for occupational therapy assistants, including educational resources, networking opportunities, and job listings.
  • TherapyEd: This website offers a variety of resources for occupational therapists, including study materials for the NBCOT certification exam, continuing education courses, and a job board.
  • This website provides online continuing education courses for occupational therapists, as well as webinars, articles, and resources on a variety of topics related to occupational therapy.
  • MedBridge: This website offers a comprehensive suite of online education and patient engagement solutions for occupational therapists, including courses, webinars, and home exercise programs.
Step 6

Employment Opportunities

Occupational therapists can work in a variety of settings and there are many employment opportunities available. Here are some of the most common:

  • Hospitals: Occupational therapists can work in hospitals, providing care to patients who have had surgeries, accidents or illnesses that require rehabilitation.
  • Rehabilitation Centers: Occupational therapists can work in rehabilitation centers or clinics, helping patients with disabilities or chronic conditions to improve their abilities and independence.
  • Schools: Occupational therapists can work in schools, helping students with disabilities or special needs to access education and participate in school activities.
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities: Occupational therapists can work in skilled nursing facilities or nursing homes, providing care to elderly patients or those with chronic conditions.
  • Mental Health Facilities: Occupational therapists can work in mental health facilities, helping patients with mental health conditions to improve their daily functioning and quality of life.
  • Home Health Care: Occupational therapists can work in home health care, providing services to patients who require rehabilitation or ongoing care at home.
  • Private Practice: Some occupational therapists choose to open their own private practices, providing services to patients in their own offices or through home visits.