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Occupational Therapy

An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional concerned with restoration and maintenance of function following disease or injury. Specifically, occupational therapists are concerned mainly with finer motor control and its functioning in daily activities.

An occupational therapist may work with a variety of patients such as stroke victims, amputees, spinal-cord or head-injury patients and developmentally disabled people. The goal of therapy is to reduce limitations, improve self-care skills, maintain function and prepare for employment.

An occupational therapist collaborates with other professionals such as physicians, nurses, physical therapists and social workers to help each patient attain the highest degree of physical, mental and economic independence possible.

Occupational therapists work in many settings such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, private practice, home health and psychiatric hospitals. The career opportunities for California and the nation are numerous and varied. A continual increase in the need for occupational therapy practitioners is expected in the coming years.

An occupational therapist must have many important personal qualifications including creativity, warmth, responsibility, determination and patience. A therapist must also be comfortable touching and treating the human body.


Occupational therapy practitioners are skilled professionals whose education includes the study of human growth and development with specific emphasis on the social, emotional and physiological effects of illness and injury. The occupational therapist enters the field with a bachelor's, masters or doctoral degree. The occupational therapy assistant generally earns an associate's degree. Practitioners must complete supervised clinical internships in a variety of healthcare settings, and pass a national examination. Most states also regulate occupational therapy practice.

Preparation for Occupational Therapy School

The best-prepared applicant is one who has seriously investigated the field, taken the proper prerequisite courses and given much thought to the reasons for selecting occupational therapy as a career. Criteria used in the selection of applicants for occupational therapy school include GPA, work experience or exposure to the field, letters of recommendation, personal statements, applicable test scores (i.e. GRE), extracurricular activities and interview scores. Mean GPA ranges fluctuate with each applicant pool and each school. Work experience in the field is expected of occupational therapy applicants.

Prerequisite Courses

One semester of anatomy BIO 164 – Human Anatomy^
One semester of physiology BIO 161 – Human Physiology
Courses in psychology PSY 1 – Introduction to Psychology
PSY 130 – Developmental Psychology
PSY 142 – Abnormal Psychology
One year of physics PHYS 8 – Principles of Physics I with PHYS 8L or
PHYS 18 – Principles of Physics I for Biological Sciences with PHYS 18L and
PHYS 9 – Introductory Physics II with PHYS 9L or
PHYS 19 – Introductory Physics II for Biological Sciences with PHYS 19L
One year of biological sciences

Effective Fall 2023:
BIO 11/11L - Introduction to Molecular Biology (with lab) and
BIO 12/12L - Introduction to Introduction to Organismal Biology (with lab)

Prior to Fall 2023:
BIO 1/L –  Contemporary Biology (must take lab) and
BIO 2/L – Introduction to Molecular Biology (must take lab)

One year of English composition WRI 10 – College Reading and Composition and
WRI 100 – Advanced Writing or
WRI 116 – Science Writing in Natural Sciences
One semester of sociology/cultural anthropology ANTH 1 – Introduction to Sociocultural Anthropology or
SOC 1 – Introduction to Sociology
One semester of statistics BIO 18 – Data Science or
MATH 32 – Statistics or
PSY 10 – Analysis of Psychological Data
One semester of skills GASP 10 - Drawing I or
GASP 11 - Painting I or
GASP 12A - Sculpture I

Note: These are general guidelines and each school will differ. Please check with your school to ensure you meet their specific prerequisite courses

^Course currently unavailable at UC Merced. May be taken at community college.  Check with intended schools for more information.

*It is each student's responsibility to check specific admission requirements for each school.

GPA Calculator 

Professional and graduate schools, and the application services they use, expect you to report all attempted classes as part of your overall GPA calculation. Please refer to the "course work" sections of the instruction manuals -- available below -- for how to accurately compute your Math-Science or Science GPA and overall GPA based on your professional goals.

OTCAS  for applicants to Occupational Schools:

  • All course work that is listed as undergraduate, graduate, or post BS/BA undergraduate will be included in your GPA’s.
  • OTCAS calculates 14 GPA’s for every “complete” application received. The OTCAS GPA’s include all U.S. and Canadian college courses with grades and credit hours at all regionally accredited institutions, including repeated courses. All GPA’s are provided in a 4.0 semester-based format. Calculate your OTCAS GPA’s with this: (Total Quality Points/Total Credit Hours Attempted = GPA). 

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Occupational Therapy Education

Q. What is the difference between an entry-level master's and an entry-level doctoral degree?

A. Both are routes of entry to the profession and both are accredited using the same Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) standards. The professional content will be similar; however, the entry-level doctorate program places a greater emphasis on management, theory, research and critical thinking, and may require additional Level II fieldwork.

Q. What is the difference between a Master's of Therapy, masters or Masters of Science degree awarded at the completion of my master's degree program?
A. These are all appropriate degrees to award at the completion of an entry-level occupational therapy educational program. The degree awarded is an institutional prerogative based on consistency with the mission and structure of the college/university. All are considered entry-level degrees.

Q. What should I major in at the undergraduate level if I apply for an entry-level master's or an entry-level doctoral program?
A. The choice is personal. Examples of what other students have majored in at the undergraduate level include biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts and anatomy. It is important that you contact the educational programs to which you are interested in applying and make sure you have taken the necessary prerequisites for admission into their programs.

Q. How much will I make as an occupational therapist?
A. For the most recent salary information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Q. Who can I contact if I have further questions?
A. For further information about studying to become an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant, you may refer to the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

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