Becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) is a great choice if you want a stable career with good pay and plenty of job opportunities. This career field allows you to have a fruitful career while making a meaningful difference in the lives of countless children, adults, and seniors with disabilities.
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons of becoming an occupational therapy assistant and know it is the right career path for you, you can get started by enrolling in an accredited program. Generally, you must get an associate’s degree from an accredited program and complete some fieldwork before you will be eligible to enter this field.
An OTA program will help you meet both of these requirements, and doing this takes approximately two years. Such programs will help you develop the fundamental traits, skills, and experience required to accomplish the duties of an occupational therapy assistant. This typically includes education in subjects such as physiology, psychology, rehabilitation theory, and gerontology. It also generally involves mandatory fieldwork, though the amount of experience required varies from program to program.
Completing an OTA program will also prepare you to pass the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. In fact, many programs require you to take this exam as part of the overall educational experience. This is a necessary step to acquiring state licensure in practically every state, though it’s important to review your state’s unique licensing requirements.
It’s clear that, if you want to get started on the path to becoming an OTA, you’ll need to seek out an adequate program. But where can you find one? To begin, click on your state below. This will direct you to more information on local schools that can help you get started in your new career.
As you explore your options, you may find that neighboring states have more programs that appeal to you. While it’s reasonable to expand your search in this manner, keep in mind that OTA programs are often designed to help you meet that state’s certification requirements. Therefore, you must be vigilant when assessing whether a specific program will help you get certified in the state that you intend on working in.
Types of Occupational Therapy Assistant Programs
As you explore your local options, you may find a variety of different types of programs. Each of these has its own benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your resources, current educational background, and preferences, you may be better served by a particular type of OTA program. These include:
Traditional Degree Programs
These are programs at traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Accreditation differs from school to school, but you can find accredited schools for both entry-level and advanced courses. It takes approximately two years to get an associate’s degree in occupational therapy, which is generally required for state licensure.
Distance Education/Online Programs
Online programs can grant you a lot of flexibility as you seek out an education. Some programs may have a hybrid format, in which you attend some classes physically and some online. Unfortunately, however, no entry-level programs are offered completely online. You can find a list of AOTC-approved distance programs online.
These are designed for current occupational therapy assistants who want to become occupational therapists. This can be an effective way of understanding the differences between these professions and transitioning to a lucrative position later in your career.
To reiterate, entry-level students will need to earn an associate’s degree at a traditional two-year program. While other options can be useful for advanced degrees or for continued education, they are not suitable for newcomers to this field of work.
Note that, during your search, you might find occupational therapy “aide” programs that look promising. Attending these programs will not equip you with the knowledge or skills needed to perform the duties of an assistant; keep in mind that occupational therapy “assistants” and occupational therapy “aides” are two different professions.
Tips to Evaluate OTA Programs
As you review your options, note that there are many factors to consider when selecting a school. This includes accreditation requirements; a common accreditation body for this purpose is the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. With the exception of a few states, you will need to complete a program that has been accredited by this organization in order to qualify as an OTA.
Other factors include the length and cost of the program and available financial aid. Some programs can be completed more quickly than others, and some will cost more than others. To determine if a program is right for you, it’s helpful to do some calculations and explore your financial aid options to get an accurate idea of which programs are viable options. Indeed, there are many scholarships and grants for occupational therapy students. By being thorough in your search, you can find an OTA program that best meets your needs.