Best Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Degrees

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree?

An occupational therapy associate degree is a two-year program designed for students to pursue entry-level jobs in the occupational therapy field as well as transfer to a more advanced bachelor's program. Most of these programs are for occupational therapy assistants and are commonly titled as an Associate of Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant. Occupational therapy requires hands-on training, laboratory work, and clinical skills development, so there are not many online programs available in the field.

However, there are hybrid programs available, where students can take classes online and complete training and labs in person. Schools that offer these programs usually make them available at multiple locations, so choosing a program closest to you is easier. Certified occupational therapy assistant programs prepare students to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. These programs may also be suitable for occupational therapy aides who want to advance their careers.

Who Should Pursue an Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree?

If your goal is to become an occupational therapist or an occupational therapist assistant, then an online associate degree in occupational therapy may be right for you. The hybrid model that online programs offer gives students the chance to earn an education while maintaining busy work schedules, family and personal commitments, or other obligations that might conflict with a traditional program.

These programs are usually offered part-time as well. If you have commitments that make it difficult to pursue a full-time traditional program, then this model may be the right choice. Occupational therapy assistant programs are also suitable for students who wish to transfer to a bachelor's program, due to their flexible transfer credit policies.

Application, Admission, and Enrollment for Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree Programs

Applying for an associate degree program in occupational therapy is a bit more complicated than other associate programs. Because occupational therapy assistant is a health program, there are certain prerequisites that students will need to meet. However, this doesn't mean you needed to complete a bunch of math and science courses in high school to qualify, although that may help. The first part of the application/admissions process is to submit your high school and/or college transcripts with a minimum GPA of 2.5 (some colleges accept a 2.0). This is for general admission to the school.

Then comes the enrollment process. Academic advisors guide you in getting the right materials, choosing a major, enrolling in a program, and registering for classes. While it is different for every school, OTA students typically start out as general liberal arts and sciences students; that is when they can complete the prerequisite courses for the OTA program. Prerequisite courses include college development, human anatomy, medical terminology, and psychology, and a minimum GPA of 2.5 is required. As long as these courses are completed or will be completed by the time the OTA courses start, students are then accepted into the OTA program and can begin taking courses related to that field.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree?

Online programs can usually be completed faster than traditional programs because of their flexibility, but because occupational therapy assistant programs also require an in-person component, the online courses follow the traditional academic structure, which is 2 years of full-time study for associate programs. But since part-time programs and transfer credits are common, it may take more or less than 2 years to complete.

A more accurate way to measure completion is through credits. Each degree program requires students to earn a certain number of credits to graduate. Associate programs require around 60 credits. Each class you take is worth a number of credits, which add up to a total number each semester. So, a transfer student who has completed a few courses in their old program may be able to apply the credits earned in those courses towards their new program. This means they will have fewer credits to earn, so they may be able to complete the program faster.

How Much Does an Online Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy Cost?

Tuition varies by school, but there are some notable differences across the board when it comes to online tuition for associate degrees. First, online students usually don't have to pay room and board because they're not living on campus. If they live on their own, then the cost of living (housing, food, transportation, etc.) will be greater than if they are living with family, but each student's situation is unique. Many associate programs charge students per credit instead of general tuition. For example, a school may charge $200 per credit, so if you have fewer credits to earn, you pay less tuition.

There are also fees to consider. Online students usually must pay a technology fee. Additionally, there are books and supplies to pay for, which may not always be included in a student's tuition.

While each situation is unique, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) does have some insightful information about the average cost of an associate's degree. According to the NCES, students who attended a public 2-year college in the 2018-2019 academic year, who lived off-campus with their families, had an average total cost of attendance of $9,400.

Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree Coursework

The coursework for online occupational therapy associate degrees is split between general education, major-specific courses, and practical skills labs or fieldwork. Students usually begin with general education courses, such as psychology, anatomy, algebra, medical terminology, and composition, before moving on to courses that are specific to their field of study. Common courses in occupational therapy associate programs include:

  • Introduction to occupational therapy
  • Growth and development
  • Professional growth and community engagement
  • Mental health in occupational therapy
  • Pediatric practice

Labwork and field experiences, which are required to be done in person, are taken alongside these courses. Labs simulate a rehabilitation therapy practice where students can develop their skills, while fieldwork experiences put students in a real professional setting with actual clients, under the supervision of a professional. Labs and fieldwork last around 16 weeks.

What Can I Do With an Online Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy?

Careers for those with a degree in occupational therapy include occupational therapy aide and occupational therapy assistant. The two jobs may sound very similar, but each is unique with different responsibilities.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides can work in many different settings with various populations. A few places where these professionals can work include physical, occupational, and speech therapists' offices, private, state, and local hospitals, nursing care facilities and home health care services, and local, private, and state educational services. Some of the populations they can work with include the elderly and children with developmental disabilities. If you earn an advanced degree in occupational therapy, such as a master's, you can become an occupational therapist and even have a career specialization.

Begin a Career as an Occupational Therapy Aide

An occupational therapy aide is a bit like an assistant to the occupational therapy assistant. They work under the supervision of occupational therapists but they perform tasks that make both the therapist's and assistant's jobs easier. Some of these tasks include preparing the treatment areas and setting up equipment, performing clerical tasks, such as answering phones and scheduling appointments, cleaning equipment and treatment areas, helping with billing and insurance forms, and transporting patients to where they need to be. Other duties include gathering laundry, putting equipment away, and filling out any paperwork that may be needed.

Occupational therapy aides need at least a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for the job. They are usually required to complete training, usually by a more experienced aide or a therapy assistant. How long training lasts depends on the employer, but it can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. A few training topics include infection control measures and procedures, and how to properly set up and take down equipment. Occupational therapy aides also need certification in basic life support (BLS) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapy aides have a median annual wage of $30,180 as of 2020.

Begin a Career as an Occupational Therapy Assistant

An occupational therapy assistant, also known as an occupational therapy technician, works under the guidance of an occupational therapist to provide rehabilitative therapy to help people live and work. An example of this would be teaching an injured worker how to move in a way that makes up for the motor skills their injury has caused them to lose, so they can reenter the workforce.

Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in the development and administration of treatment plans. Some of their job duties include leading children in play activities that promote socialization and coordination, helping patients complete stretches and other therapeutic exercises, recording patients' progress and reporting to occupational therapists, and completing administrative tasks.

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate degree from an occupational therapy assistant program, which is common at community colleges and technical schools. The degree must be accredited, and at least 16 weeks of fieldwork is required. CPR and BLS certification are also required.

Occupational therapy assistants can also become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) by taking the NBCOT exam. Certification must be maintained through occupational therapy continuing education. BLS states that as of 2020, occupational therapy assistants have a median annual wage of $62,940.

Accreditation for Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree Programs

It is important to attend an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. It is not only a requirement for a job, it's also a requirement for certification. Accreditation ensures that you are getting the best education possible; accrediting bodies evaluate programs to see if they meet rigorous standards set by industry professionals.

There are 2 types of accreditation; institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation applies to the schools a whole. Programmatic accreditation applies to the individual program.

The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) grants accreditation to occupational therapy assistant programs. However, if you are seeking an online program, it's important to note that the ACOTE does not grant accreditation to programs that are entirely online. The association only grants accreditation to in-person and hybrid programs.

Transfer Options After Completing an Online Occupational Therapy Associate Degree

A common path to pursue after earning an occupational therapy assistant associate degree is a Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a concentration in Occupational Therapy. These programs are available in online/hybrid formats and are suitable for working occupational therapy assistants.

These programs sometimes require applicants to have an occupational therapy assistant associate degree, so the credit transfer process may be smoother than if you tried to apply with a different degree. Some associate programs have credit transfer programs where the process of transferring from one program to another is made easier. Students usually receive guidance about the right courses to take; the program can be for transfer to a bachelor's degree at the same school or to a different school. Additionally, since a master's degree is required to become an occupational therapist, many schools have bachelor's-master's bridge programs.

Bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits, so an associate transfer student would only need to complete around 60 credits to earn their bachelor's degree. Online students may wish to continue studying online, or they may want to try a traditional program. The credits earned in an online program are no different than those earned in a traditional program, so no matter what your decision is, as long as you've taken courses in the right subjects, transferring should be a smooth process.

What Are Other Occupational Therapy Degree Options?

Aspiring occupational therapists need at least a master's degree to begin practice, so you'll need a considerable amount of education beyond the associate's degree level if this is a career you wish to pursue. Each degree level has its own teaching purpose. For example, bachelor's programs are designed for students to take classes to prepare for graduate programs, and graduate programs are designed for hands-on training to prepare to become an occupational therapist.

Online Bachelor's Programs in Occupational Therapy

Some online bachelor's programs in occupational therapy can be done completely online because they are non-clinical, meaning there are no clinical fieldwork requirements. They are usually known as a Bachelor of Science in Health Science with a concentration in Occupational Therapy or Pre-Occupational Therapy. The courses in these programs provide the foundational curriculum needed to pursue a graduate program and cover topics such as anatomy, psychology, and nutrition, among others. These programs usually last about 2 years for people who have transferred.

Online Master's Programs in Occupational Therapy

A master's degree in occupational therapy, or a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT), is the last education requirement in order to become a licensed occupational therapist. These programs are increasingly available in hybrid formats, but no online-only option is available because students need to complete fieldwork experiences. Students learn about occupational therapy at an advanced level, with courses in anatomy, neuroscience, therapeutic interventions, the practice of occupational therapy, and more. These programs last about 2 years and prepare students to take the occupational therapist portion of the NBCOT exam.

Online Doctoral Programs in Occupational Therapy

Online doctoral programs in occupational therapy are typically post-professional, meaning they are for people who already have a professional degree in occupational therapy. They are usually titled 'Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD)' and are designed for professionals who are looking to study and evaluate the field of occupational therapy, as well as become educators or advance their careers in advocacy and leadership.

Students take several courses in clinical theory and research evaluation, leadership and advocacy, higher education, and health and wellness. Some schools have concentrations that allow students to choose a specific topic to focus on, such as occupational therapy education or mental health in the occupational therapy field. Students must complete a capstone project at the end of the program. OTD programs usually last around 2 years.

Online Certificate Programs in Occupational Therapy

There may be certification programs for occupational therapists, but these are not the same as a certificate program. There are no certificate programs in occupational therapy because it doesn't meet any of the minimum education requirements for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. However, aspiring occupational therapy aides can find occupational therapy online courses, either through an OTA associate program or by taking short-term classes.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Occupational Therapy Online Associate Degrees

A common way to pay for school is through financial aid, which comes in many forms. Federal financial aid is available to students who complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and who have good academic standing, demonstrated financial need, and a valid social security number. Federal aid is usually grants, loans, and work-study programs. Other types of aid include scholarships, awards, and fellowships, and can require any number of criteria. Several scholarships are available for students of all types, whether it be online students, those seeking an associate degree, or those studying a specific subject such as occupational therapy.

The American Occupational Therapy Foundation offers several scholarships through its scholarship program. Two that are open to associate-level students include the Carlotta Welles Scholarship of $500 and the AOTA Assembly of Student Delegates (ASD) Scholarship. State associations also offer scholarships to occupational therapy students. The Ohio Occupational Therapy Association offers its student members several scholarships, including one for occupational therapist assistant students who are enrolled in an accredited program in Ohio.

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