The occupational therapist is a highly specialized health care provider that assists injured people with resuming their normal life. This entails reeducating the individual in terms of execution of routine daily activities such as cooking, cleaning, and dressing. Occupational therapists also assist individuals with reentry into the work environment and with adjustments during the return to their careers. Often, the nature of the injury is not necessarily physical. In addition to assisting stroke and heart attack victims, or accident victims, occupational therapists also help mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and recovering drug abusers adjust to daily stresses and teach them how to respond to them. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include:
- an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
- customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
- an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.
Preparation for Occupational Therapy school includes completion of certain prerequisites. Make sure you do research into which prerequisites are required for the programs to which you are interested in applying, as they can vary! Listed below are the most common prerequisites for OT school and courses at UNLV that will fulfill the requirement.
Major: You may major in whichever subject you choose as long as you are meeting required pre-requisites for the programs to which you are applying. Occupational Therapy schools appreciate diversity in majors so choose a subject in which you will be successful!
Pre-Reqs: Prerequisites for OT schools vary widely. This list shows courses which may be required. Do your research to ensure you are meeting all required courses for the schools to which you are interested in applying.
- 2 semesters of General Biology w/labs: Biol 190/191
- 1 semester of Stats: Stats 391
- Anatomy and Physiology: Kin 223/224 OR Biol 348/349
- 1 semester of Developmental Psychology: Psy 330 and/or 334
- 1 semester of General Psychology: Psy 101
- 1 semester of Abnormal Psychology: Psy 341
Additional common pre-reqs
- 1 year of General English: Eng 101 & 102
- 1 semester Sociology: Soc 101
- 1 semester of Physics: Phys 151
Grading Policies for Pre-Requisites
- AP and IB Credit are generally not accepted towards pre-reqs
- Community college credits can be viewed differently by each school; do your research on if they are accepted!
- Online lab courses are generally not accepted towards pre-reqs; some schools will not allow ANY online coursework
- All courses, including repeated courses, will count towards your GPA, regardless of how old they are. Be careful with “w” on your transcripts; they are not counted towards GPA but you should not be withdrawing from courses as a trend
- Some programs have expiration dates on their pre-reqs, meaning you need to take them within a certain time period of applying. Again, do your research!
- do not try to “substitute” your Abnormal Psych or Developmental Psych course if the program asks you for a general or introductory Psychology course! Programs require general level introductory classes because other courses can be too specific in nature and their content may not be applicable in a curriculum that requires a broad, foundational base of knowledge.
- “Substituting” other Psychology or Kinesiology courses that the school didn’t ask for doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t have the one course that they did ask for.
GPA Information and Calculator
While the professional school admission process is holistic, your grades do matter. It is extremely important to understand how professional school GPA’s are calculated, as there can be a vast difference between your UNLV GPA and your professional school GPA.
Keep in mind that while the information below is generalized to professional schools/programs and the GPA calculation process, it is the student’s responsibility to understand exactly how the programs they are applying to consider, weigh, and/or calculate their GPA.
Professional school GPA’s calculate all grades ever taken at the secondary level. This includes all transfer credit grades, repeats, remedial courses, and possibly graduate level courses. There is no “grade forgiveness” or “grade replacement” for professional school GPA - all grades count. There is also no expiration date on courses for them not to be considered for calculation; even courses you may have taken “years ago” count towards your professional school GPA.
Professional school GPA’s are also calculated in more ways than just your cumulative GPA. Your “science” GPA (or BCP/BCPM) is also a very important marker in your application to professional school. Your science GPA is your GPA calculated only with your Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and (sometimes) Math classes. The third and fourth most common calculations are your “all other” GPA, which is your GPA calculated on all courses WITHOUT your science classes, and your “prerequisite GPA”, which is your GPA calculated only on the prerequisites necessary for that particular professional school program/track.
To help you understand how your professional school GPA will be calculated, please use the resources below. Although intended for use in calculating GPA for medical school, this calculator can be effective for calculating OT School GPA as well. Bring this GPA calculation to your PPAC appointments, as it is an important part of the discussion. If you need help filling them out, give us a call!
- OT Program GPA Calculator
- For Excel spreadsheet: please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professional school programs have adopted a “holistic” admissions process, meaning you are more than just your metrics. How you demonstrate your motivation for your future profession, your personal characteristics, and the ways in which you give back to your community can make or break your application.
It is your responsibility as a pre-professional student to understand the different types of experiences that will make you a competitive applicant to professional school. The most common classifications for experiences include:
- Community Service/volunteering
- Clinical Experience: experiences in which you interact with patients in a clinical environment. Professional schools like to see as much hands on, direct patient care as possible!
- Shadowing/Observation: required for OT students. Try to observe an occupational therapist in as many settings as possible.
- Teaching experience
- Leadership positions
As you enter your experiences, you will classify them by topic. The character limit is 600 characters. Be direct and tell the reader what you did, what your role was and how you are different now than when you started. In the experience section, you may only document (in hours/weeks, etc.) the time already completed.
Once you submit your application, you may not update your hours. New experiences can be added but existing experiences cannot be updated after the application is submitted.
Shadowing/Observation: Occupational Therapy programs commonly have a required number of observation hours. Plan to shadow in more than one area. Your observation hours must be supervised by a licensed OT and can be outpatient or inpatient, including acute care centers, skilled nursing facilities, private offices, pediatric clinics, VA hospitals or rehabilitation hospitals. Choose places where you will be exposed to a wide array of different specialties, especially ones that interest you. Consider the following for your experiences:
- There should be a reason “why” you have chosen each experience; “check the box” mentality will NOT work.
- They should be meaningful both on a personal level and to your professional journey. Keep in mind, you will have to write thoughtful, eloquent descriptions about your experiences so participating “just because” won’t help your application.
- Commitment over time is important. Programs would rather see dedication over many months/years to an experience over your “experience-hopping”. It is about the breadth and depth of the experience; think quality, not “quantity”
Observation opportunities are notoriously hard to find, so we advise you start early on securing an Occupational Therapist to shadow. Generally speaking, the following are the two most common ways to secure shadowing opportunities:
- Network: ask family, friends, and colleagues if they know a professional that would allow you to shadow
- Engage in clinical experiences first. If you are volunteering in a hospital, free/outpatient/inpatient clinic, have a job as a CNA, EMT, PT or Dental Assistant, etc., prove yourself as a competent, compassionate volunteer or employee and ask the professionals you work with from there. The more they know about your aspirations as a future occupational therapist, the more likely they are to take you on for shadowing or refer you to a colleague who will.
- Some programs will require you to verify your observation hours. You can upload signed documents to the “Documents” tab of supporting Info tab. OTCAS does not verify hours.
Please visit our PPAC Resource Board for volunteer, clinical, shadowing, etc. experiences, as well as examples of where to find these experiences in the Vegas valley. Please keep this link bookmarked, as we are always updating!
Letters of Recommendation/Evaluations
Please note: UNLV currently does not offer committee letters. Students will need to secure individual letters of recommendation. We will keep you updated as to the status of new committee letters.
When applying to professional school, you will need 3-5 strong letters of recommendation from writers with whom you have long-term relationships and who can address multiple competencies, such as those listed on the AAMC website. Although the competencies listed are for “pre-med” students, you will find that a majority of them apply to other pre-professional tracks as well.
The most frequent question we get asked is, “who should write my letters of recommendation?” As advisors, we aren’t here to tell you who to ask; we are here to guide you through the process of securing your letters for your application. Generally speaking, the best recommendation letter writers are those professors, mentors and healthcare professionals that you have shadowed, worked with closely, can speak to your academic abilities or humanistic side, and will write you a STRONG letter. Choose someone who can speak in concrete terms about your passion for professional school and why you will excel as a healthcare professional. The key to finding these letter writers? Start forming your relationships EARLY in your pre-professional career. Far too often, students come to us at the point of application and are still unsure of who to ask to write their letters. Asking a professor, healthcare professional, community service director, etc. “just to ask” will result in a less than stellar letter for your application and this can be detrimental in the admissions process. Remember: start forming relationships EARLY!
Make it as easy as possible for your letter writers. Schedule a meeting to address your goals. Provide your recommender with your resume, personal statement and competencies or strengths that you would like addressed in the letter. Express gratitude for their time and effort.
Respect your recommender and give him or her ample time to write your letters. Your request already imposes on your recommender’s time, and a last-minute request is an even greater imposition. Not only is it rude to ask for a letter close to a deadline, but you will also end up with a rushed letter that is far less thoughtful than is ideal. Don’t assume that it is anyone’s duty to write a letter for you, and realize that these letters take a lot of time out of your recommender’s already busy schedule.
Types of Letters
It is of utmost importance that you do your research into specific letter guidelines for the schools you are applying to, especially in regards to whom the letters should be from. Schools will often require a science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) and/or non-science professor, and 2 healthcare professionals with whom you have shadowed, but requirements can be different from program to program. Please pay attention to the requirements!
- Faculty/Professor Letters
Since many professors have hundreds of students in their classes in a given semester, it is your job to reach out to them first, build a relationship, and then ask for a letter. Letters from professors should not only address your academic capabilities but also your motivation for your chosen career. Since letters do address your academic capabilities, you should be seeking letters from professors in which you received a good grade in the class. Lastly, make sure you understand the necessary requirements regarding “science” professors. “Science” professors are often those from Biology, Chemistry, or Physics areas.
- How to Get Strong Letters from Professors
- Get to know your professors
- Go to class and office hours
- Volunteer for research or to TA
- Take more than one class with the same professor
- Maintain the relationship
- Attend virtual office hours
- Ask meaningful questions to show that you care about the course
- How To Ask
- Be respectful
- Ask 2-3 months in advance
- Request the letter via in-person meeting
- Follow up with a scheduled meeting to review your goals & resume
- Provide your personal statement, resume & AAMC Guidelines & Competencies
- How to Get Strong Letters from Professors
- Medical/Healthcare Professionals
Request your letter from a medical professional that you have developed a relationship with through multiple hours of clinical or shadowing. The letter should address your skills as a future healthcare professional.
- Research Letters
Letters from research professors provide another validation of your aptitude for life-long learning and research and could be especially important to programs with a heavy research mission. In projects led by a graduate assistant, you may find that most of your experience is with the Graduate assistant rather than the professor. In this situation, the graduate assistant with whom you have worked most closely may write you a letter and have the lead professor cosign.
- Other types of Letters
Often students will have other letter writers that know them well and can speak strongly to the strengths and attributes. This could be a volunteer supervisor, a liberal arts professor, or family physician, just to name a few. The guidelines are the same. Provide them with the information they will need to write a strong letter. Share your passion and goals.
Who NOT to get Letters From
Yes, there are people you shouldn’t be asking for letters of recommendation. They include family members, “family friends”, patients, and, generally speaking, people who don’t know you well. Letters from family and family friends are considered bias and the admissions committees won’t give them any merit. Those from people who don’t know you well often result in “alive and breathing” letters, meaning they don’t tell the committee much of anything other than you are “alive and breathing”.
Also, many students make the mistake of getting letters from distant acquaintances who have powerful or influential positions. The strategy often backfires. Your family member’s employer may know the governor, but the governor doesn’t know you well enough to write a meaningful letter. This type of celebrity letter will make your application seem superficial.
- Applicants are required to enter three evaluator names on the OTCAS application and may list a maximum of five. You are required to list three even if the programs to which you are applying only require two.
- Electronic submission of letters is preferred by all professional schools application services. Follow specific instructions in your application on what information to provide to your letter writers to formally ask for the LOR.
- Never physically collect a letter from a letter writer yourself!
- If you need to collect letters early, utilize services such as VirtualEvals. Be sure to note which of these third-party services your professional school application service integrates with for uploads.
- When asking for a LOR, it is a good idea to give your letter writers:
- copy of your transcripts
- your resume/CV
- copy of your personal statement
- Give your letter writers the general courtesy of information about the letter writing process, including deadlines, how they will upload the letter, and by telling them when you have inputted their contact information so they can keep an eye on their email for instructions.
Your personal statement is the part of your application where you have an opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your GPA, test scores, and experiences. Your personal essay should address why you selected Occupational Therapy as a career and how an Occupational Therapy degree relates to your immediate and long term professional goals. Describe how your personal, educational, and professional background will help you to achieve your goals.
The personal statement should be one-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarters single-spaced pages in 12 point Times Roman font with 1” page margins and no more than 7500 characters including spaces.
Edit, edit, edit! Seek multiple opinions from at least 4-5 different people and NEVER turn in a personal statement with grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes.
For more information on how to write a personal statement for professional school, please attend a Personal Statement workshop. Dates and times for all workshops can be found on the PPAC website.
Attributes and Competencies
It is important for you to understand the important competencies, attributes, and characteristics that schools are looking for in their applicants. This is vital to the “holistic” admissions process. Research the competencies each school is seeking. The AAMC publishes “Anatomy of an Applicant” which gives a thorough review of competencies. Although targeted for MD students, the information can also serve as a guide to PA students.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required by most Occupational Therapy schools. The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in graduate and professional school. It includes the following topic areas.
Verbal Reasoning — Measures the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from discourse, reason from incomplete data, understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent, summarize text, distinguish major from minor points, understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts, and understand the relationships among words and among concepts. There is an emphasis on complex verbal reasoning skills.
Quantitative Reasoning — Measures the ability to understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve problems using mathematical models, and apply the basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. There is an emphasis on quantitative reasoning skills.
Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, including the ability to articulate and support complex ideas with relevant reasons and examples, and examine claims and accompanying evidence. There is an emphasis on analytical writing skills.
Find out where you can take the exam and what preparation you need to succeed. More information can be found at the ETS website.
- Occupational Therapy schools admit students once a year with the application cycle opening mid July.
- Applications are submitted 12-15 months before the desired school enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary prerequisite coursework (and successfully take the GRE). All prerequisites must be posted to your transcript prior to starting professional school, and the timing is sensitive.
- While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.
- Occupational therapy school requirements vary from school to school. Research schoolsearly for specific information on their requirements.
- Before any submitting application, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your Pre-professional advisor is happy to do this for you.
The Occupational Therapy School Application includes 4 main components
- Personal Information
- Academic History
- Supporting Information
- Program Materials
What Programs do I Apply to?
Visit each professional schools respective website; they have tons of tools for prospective students! Research!
We also encourage students to use the OTCAS for a list of participating programs.
Generally, students will want to consider the following when deciding where to apply:
- Mission statement and focus
- Programs offered (Phd, dual degree, research)
- Curriculum and teaching methods
- Support and wellness structures in place for students
- Preparation of students for graduation;
- GPA/test score requirements
- Specific or unique prerequisites
- Size and demographics
- Cost to attend; scholarships
For a template to help with your research, please email the PPAC at: email@example.com.
Primary Applications are processed through the centralized application service, OTCAS, and are sent to all schools you designate on the application.
Applications open online in July each year to allow applicants to start their applications. As mentioned, ensure you are paying attention to deadlines for submission for each school to which you are applying! Deadlines vary between October-June.
Read all instruction manuals and directions carefully! When available before each application cycle, download the instruction manual on your computer to have access to at all times while filling out the application.
Be prepared months in advance for the cost of submitting applications to OT school. Fee assistance is available through each application processing service, but will only cover a limited number of programs.
Note: When prompted, please release your information back to UNLV PPAC. This helps us advise other pre-med students and gives us accurate historical data on where our students have applied, been accepted, and matriculated to. Your personal information will be kept confidential at all times.
Once occupational therapy schools receive your verified primary application, they will send out instructions for “Secondary Applications.” Deadlines for completing secondary applications range from 5 business days to a month, so pay attention! These applications are created by each specific school so, therefore, are different lengths and ask different types of questions, depending on what the school is trying to ascertain from you. Often, they are essay style questions, so allow adequate time. Follow directions carefully and be aware there will be an additional cost to submit your secondary applications on top of your primary application fees.
Secondary applications are automatically sent from some schools and others will screen applicants for metrics, experiences, LOR’s before sending. Each school is different! If you decide at the point of receiving a secondary application that you are no longer interested in attending that school, that’s ok! You are not required to send back the secondary at that point.
Submit your secondary as soon as you are comfortable with your responses (ensuring you are still before deadline) so you can be reviewed and, hopefully, extended an invitation.
Getting an invitation to interview is a great sign! This means the admissions office has decided you are qualified and they want to get to know you better! This is your face-to-face opportunity to impress the admissions committee. Your job is to turn that invitation to interview into an invitation to attend. The best way to do that is to prepare.
Most professional schools hold “interview days” in which they bring in a group of applicants for a day or two. During those days, you may engage in any of the following: your actual interview, written essays, the Standardized Judgement Test (SJT), school tours, and/or “meet ‘n greets” with faculty and staff. Please remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. You never know who is watching so be on your “best behavior” all day!
There are several types of interview formats used by professional schools. The most common are the KIRA Video, Multiple Mini Interview (MMI), Traditional format, and Group Interview.
KIRA Interviews: The Kira Talent Video Interview is a recent concept and is a highly convenient way of interviewing applicants. The 3-6 question interview not only allows you some time to prepare, but also allows you to have practice sessions before going ahead with the actual recorded interview. The interview questions assess factors such as leadership potential, communication skills, comprehension, drive etc. All that is required is a computer with a webcam and microphone or a phone with internet access.
Multiple Mini Interview: The MMI is an interview format where you are given a scenario/question and a predetermined amount of time to answer. These questions are typically ethical scenarios such as: “You are counseling a parent who states she will be “sneaking” some of her child’s ritalin for herself. How will you handle the situation?”
Traditional: These are the most common, where you are interviewed by 1-3 people at a time. You will be asked questions about your application, why you chose to apply to their school and why you decided to pursue pharmacy.
Group Interviews: These activities include more than one applicant. They can either be to determine your ability to work with others by giving you group activities to solve a problem, or asking one question where everyone has to answer.
Application Year Timeline
July – August
- The Primary Application Service (OTCAS) opens in July. Begin to fill out the primary application as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully.
- Make final decisions on which schools to apply to and submit primary applications.
- Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to the appropriate Application Services
- Application Services verify primary applications, and notify applicants of verification or problems with verification
August – January
- OT schools begin sending secondary application instructions to applicants (if invited to complete a secondary application, begin and submit sooner rather than later).
- Prepare for and attend interviews.
- The PPAC Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office at 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview.
- Continue to complete and submit secondary applications (check deadline dates).
- Send schools application updates if acceptable.
- Continue to check school application status website for each individual school.
- Admissions committees meet and decide status: accept/reject/waitlist. Applicants notified.
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October.
January - April
- Newly admitted applicants must notify Application Services and the school that they plan to matriculate of their decision. Admits with multiple acceptances must choose one school and withdraw their applications from other schools.
- Applicants on waitlists are notified of an admission offer (typically, schools confirm their class by the end of April.)
June - August
- Orientation and school year begins. An applicant on a waitlist can no longer be offered a position at another school once orientation begins.