What is the Best Undergraduate Degree for Becoming an Occupational Therapist?

occupational-therapistIf you’re interested in becoming an occupational therapist, you’re planning to enter one of the fastest-growing and most rewarding professions in the United States. These professionals help people with injuries or other health issues prepare to live independently and reenter the work force.

While you do need a master’s degree to become an occupational therapist, the bachelor’s degree program you select is important, since it will inform your ability to complete the prerequisites for an occupational therapy graduate program. Read on for more information about how to become an occupational therapist.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Science Discipline

While no specific bachelor’s degree is required to enter a master’s program in occupational therapy, it’s important to choose a program that will satisfy the science prerequisites for application to graduate school. For that reason, most bachelor’s degrees in science–such as biology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology–will give you the foundation you need to be successful in an occupational therapy graduate program. Strive for a high GPA, particularly in science courses, and consider volunteering or doing an internship with a licensed occupational therapist. Some universities offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s program in occupational therapy, which can be completed in five years.

2. Enter a Graduate Program in Occupational Therapy

There are 149 programs in occupational therapy that are accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. The vast majority of these are master’s programs that last two to four years, although there are four doctoral programs in the United States. In addition to coursework, graduate programs in occupational therapy require 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork with a licensed therapist.

3. Become Licensed as an Occupational Therapist

Upon completing your graduate program, you must take a national exam to become licensed. ¬†The exam is¬†administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. In addition to registration for the test, the National Board’s website offers resources such as practice tests to help you prepare. Through the AOTA, you can also seek special certifications in specific areas, such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

4. A Career in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists make an average of $75,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those who work in nursing care facilities tend to make the highest salaries, followed by home health care, private practice, hospitals, and schools. About a quarter of occupational therapists work part time. More than 32,000 new jobs in this field are expected to be available by 2022, as the baby boomer generation ages and needs additional health care services. And with an increased number of states now mandating services for students with autism spectrum disorder, the need for occupational therapists in school settings will increase as well.

Occupational therapy has been named one of the best master’s degrees by both U.S. News and World Report and Forbes magazine. Becoming an occupational therapist is a sure path to a great career, particularly if you enjoy working with people and helping them achieve their goals.