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Best Online Master's Degrees in Occupational Therapy

Oct 20, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Occupational Therapy Degree?

Online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degrees aim to prepare students to work directly with patients to provide rehabilitation following an injury or overcome physical difficulties due to a disability. The work of occupational therapists (OTs) differs from physical therapists in that OTs focus on helping patients to regain independence in completing activities of daily living such as dressing, eating, and performing other actions that require fine motor skills. OTs work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, and with patients ranging from early childhood to old age. Students will take classes on advanced anatomy and therapeutic techniques and will complete fieldwork assignments to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

The Best Online Master's Degrees in Occupational Therapy

Study.com sorted through hundreds of programs to find these affordable and accessible online occupational therapy master's degree programs that can boost the careers of working occupational therapists or occupational therapist assistants; some are also open to students entering fresh from other fields. Our list includes online and hybrid programs (as fully online programs are few and far between), but these hybrid programs allow you to take many of the courses online and complete the fieldwork requirements at a variety of locations. These top programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education of the American Occupational Therapy Association and prepare students to take the national certification exam for occupational therapists that is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. All programs involve hands-on work in the field and would be good choice for anyone looking to take this career path!

1. Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12,105 97% 69% 100% No Yes AP Credits

Our top ranked school is the Omaha-based Nebraska Methodist College The faculty of their hybrid Master of Occupational Therapy program hail from a variety of backgrounds and a range of experience in the field that they can pass on to their students. Courses are taught both online and on campus, and OT students can do their fieldwork at a growing number of sites around the country that work with the college - and hands-on fieldwork starts right away in the first semester. The school boasts that 93% of students in the program passed the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists test in 2019.

2. Mount Mary University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$15,472 58% 65% 99% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, WI, has two options for an online occupational therapy graduate degree. Their hybrid Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program is taught by faculty with a remarkable range of expertise in the field, offers flexible schedule and hands-on training options, and is open to students with a bachelor's degree in any area. A fully online post-professional Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program designed for working occupational therapists is also available. This flexible program can be completed part-time in only nine months - allowing current OTs to keep working while advancing their skills!

3. New England Institute of Technology

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$14,420 63% 51% 94% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

The amount of individualized attention available to students in East Greenwich, Rhode Island-based New England Institute of Technology's hybrid Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program may be deduced from its average class size of just 20 students and 90%, graduation rate! This program is specifically for those who already have certification as an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), and the hybrid format includes online courses, hands-on fieldwork, and weekend classes for ultimate flexibility.

4. Shenandoah University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$22,665 74% 60% 100% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

Winchester, Virginia-based, Shenandoah University has a hybrid Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program that gains our attention thanks to small classes, hands-on learning, and faculty mentorship. Over 50% of the coursework is offered online, and students can begin hands-on work with community partners during their first semester! Through a partnership with Loudoun Therapeutic Riding in Leesburg, Va., students get to work with patients on horseback riding as part of their occupational therapy.

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Occupational Therapy

As there is no bachelor's degree for occupational therapy in the US, students with diverse undergraduate majors are welcome to apply to online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy programs. However, certain prerequisite courses are required prior to admission, which may guide a student's choice of undergraduate degree. Most programs require applicants to have completed classes in the physical and behavioral sciences. For that reason, common undergraduate degrees include psychology, biology, kinesiology, exercise science, or health sciences. Some universities may offer a pre-occupational therapy track that fulfills necessary prerequisite science courses.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Occupational Therapy

After the completion of a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, students have the opportunity to pursue advanced study in the form of a PhD or Occupational Therapy Doctor (OTD) degree. PhD programs prepare occupational therapists for careers in postsecondary education or research, while OTD degrees are for those pursuing advanced practice and specialization. PhDs can generally be completed in 4-6 years, while the OTD may take between 2-4 years depending on full-time or part-time status. Both options are offered in either on-campus or hybrid formats.

Why Should I Get an Online Occupational Therapy Master's Degree?

Online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degrees are a convenient option for those who cannot or do not wish to attend classes on-campus. Generally, theory courses can be completed by students on their own time while simultaneously attending the required fieldwork experiences in-person. Occupational therapy is a field suited for those interested in working with other people in a healthcare setting. Practitioners must be patient, good problem solvers, and detail-oriented.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Occupational Therapy

Because a master's is the entry-level degree for practice, students generally follow a set curriculum and do not choose from electives or specialisms. However, aside from core classes in advanced anatomy and the study of issues within the field of occupational therapy, other core classes may vary by program. This is something for students to consider when choosing an online master's program.

Occupational Therapy Foundational Courses

Online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degrees focus on a core curriculum that introduces students to the science and practice of occupational therapy. Since the education for this field begins at the master's level, topics are fairly consistent across all programs and include classes such as:

  • Foundations in occupational therapy
  • Advanced anatomy
  • Kinesiology
  • Contemporary issues in practice
  • Fieldwork

Fieldwork is ongoing throughout the entire degree program and exposes students to a range of settings and patient populations.

Occupational Therapy Specialist & Elective Courses

Generally, master's programs in this field do not give students much choice in terms of specialization areas or electives. For those who go on to pursue a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, more flexibility exists for study within a specific area. However, certain programs may offer some classes that are not available at other universities. These options may include topics such as:

  • Leadership and management
  • Assistive technology

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in subject?

It generally takes anywhere from 2 to 3.5 years to complete an online master's in occupational therapy. Program length depends on part-time vs. full-time course load and whether the degree factors in time needed for fieldwork. The time to complete an online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree does not include any outside time devoted to prerequisites classes.

Licensure & Certification in Occupational Therapy

The field of occupational therapy is regulated in all 50 states, so those wishing to enter practice must be certified and licensed. Students must first graduate from an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredited program delivered either on-campus or through a hybrid format. Then, graduates will need to pass a certification exam given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Finally, after achieving a passing score, candidates should complete an initial license application for the state in which they plan to practice. Requirements for additional documentation vary by state licensing board and may include a university transcript, background check, or state-specific exams on rules and regulations.

Choosing an Online Occupational Therapy Master's Program

Due to the fact that online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy programs are hybrid and cannot be offered 100% online, location is an important factor for prospective students to consider. While some universities may allow students to choose their own fieldwork placements anywhere in the US while completing online classwork, many will require students to complete local placements and attend some on-campus activities or lectures. Some other important considerations for prospective students may include:

  • Accreditation status of program and university
  • Class sizes
  • Course offerings
  • Professor specialization areas
  • Fieldwork locations
  • Networking and professional development opportunities
  • Cost

Many states such as Texas, Washington, and Minnesota offer several affordable master's programs for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Admissions Requirements for Online Occupational Therapy Master's Programs

Interested applicants must meet certain requirements in order to be admitted to online Master of Science in Occupational Therapy programs. Most universities require at least a 3.0 GPA for a bachelor's degree in any subject. Prerequisite courses are also standard for admission to prepare students for more advanced study. Some common prerequisites may include:

  • Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Anatomy & physiology
  • Behavioral sciences

Additionally, applicants may be asked to provide GRE standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and/or proof of work or volunteer experience in occupational or physical therapy. Some programs will invite students who are initially successful to attend an interview before making a final decision.

What Can I Do with an Occupational Therapy Master's Degree?

A Master of Science in Occupational Therapy can lead to a career as a practitioner. Occupational therapists (OTs) generally work directly with patients to help them improve dexterity and movement after an illness, accident, or complications due to a disability. OTs may choose to work with specific patient populations such as children, veterans, or older adults. Because of this, workplace environments include schools, clinics, hospitals, care homes, and outpatient settings. Individuals with a master's can also become postsecondary teachers or work in management or administration. Upper-level positions outside of practice include titles such as clinic manager and health services director.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Occupational Therapy

The Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that job growth for occupational therapists will grow 16% between 2019 and 2029. This is classified as much faster than average when compared with all other occupations. Demand for OTs stems from an aging baby boomer population as well as an increased need for services for children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Those with a master's in occupational therapy will enjoy job security and prospects over the next ten years, and are expected to be needed well into the future.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists (OTs) work with children, adults, and the elderly in various settings. The OT field aims to increase patient independence through therapy that increases fine motor skills and improves movement. The goals of therapy are unique to every patient, but overall, the focus is a return to functioning in all areas of daily life including personal care, nutrition, and work.

To become an OT, interested individuals must first complete a bachelor's in any subject with specific courses in the social and natural sciences. Next, students need to enroll in an accredited Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree program and satisfy coursework and fieldwork requirements. Graduates must pass a certification exam after which time they may apply for licensure in their state of residence.

According to the BLS, OTs earned a median salary of $84,950 in 2019. However, pay differs by setting and patient population. For example, those working in nursing homes earned an annual median salary of $90,830. On the lower end of the salary range, OTs working in the K-12 educational setting made around $74,670. This field is expected to grow 16% over the next ten years.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) work with occupational therapists and provide support in several areas. Some of the duties undertaken by OTAs include helping patients with exercises, documenting progress, and completing administrative tasks. They may also set up and take down therapy equipment in the treatment areas.

Students interested in becoming an OTA must first earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Occupational Therapy Assistant from an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredited community college or technical school. These degrees are generally two years with a full-time class load. After graduation, candidates need to pass an exam delivered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) prior to state licensure.

The BLS projects that jobs for OTAs will increase by 35% between 2019-2029. As of 2019, OTAs earned a median annual salary of $61,510 with those working on skilled nursing units making slightly more at $66,750 per year. Conversely, those earning the lowest salary in 2019, $52,460, worked in educational settings.

Occupational Therapy Professional Organizations

Professional organizations can help students and those working in the field advance or gain more practical knowledge. Two such organizations include:

  • American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA): founded in 1917, the AOTA has over 65,000 members located across the US. Members of the AOTA enjoy benefits such as continuing education opportunities, access to peer-reviewed scientific journals, and the ability to post their resumes in a members-only area. Individuals can also designate three special interest sections that grant them voting rights and the possibility to engage in leadership positions.
  • World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT): an international organization, the WFOT approves OT programs worldwide and promotes the field as an art and science. Individual members are eligible for research funding and receive various publications, including journals, that present the latest research within the field of occupational therapy. Membership also includes access to the Occupational Therapy International Online Network (OTION) and members-only forums.

Financial Aid, Scholarships & Grants for Online Master's in Occupational Therapy Programs

Those pursuing a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy who need help paying for school can apply for financial aid. Federal financial aid is offered to US students and can be used to cover tuition, fees, and textbooks, as well as associated costs including housing, computers, and supplies. These loans must be repaid after graduation, but students are given a grace period of six months before the first payment is due. To determine eligibility, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online.

In addition to financial aid, students may wish to apply for scholarships and grants. Scholarships are generally open to any interested students, but grants are need-based. One available scholarship for female students is the AOTA E. K. Wise Scholarship which seeks to build a diverse workforce for occupational therapists. Applicants must be current members of the American Occupational Therapy Association and demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and commitment to community service. Annually, three successful candidates will receive $2,500.

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