How to Become an Occupational Therapist?

Are you thinking of becoming an Occupational Therapist or already started your career and planning the next step? Learn how to become an Occupational Therapist, what skills you need to succeed, how to advance your career and get promoted, and what levels of pay to expect at each step on your career path. Explore new Occupational Therapist job openings and options for career transitions into related roles.

Steps to Become an Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist treats ill, injured, or disabled patients and helps them resume or maintain participation in a variety of tasks. If you're empathetic and have strong communication skills, you might consider a career as an occupational therapist. In this article, we cover the steps required to become an occupational therapist.

Earn an undergraduate degree.

To become an occupational therapist, most companies want you to have at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as health sciences, psychology, or biology. However, if you have an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, you might need to take a few supplemental courses before you apply to graduate school. However, if you want to be an occupational therapy assistant rather than an occupational therapist, you'll only need an associate's degree.

What type of degree should you pursue to become an Occupational Therapist?

88% of people working as an Occupational Therapist earned a Bachelor's Degree

What skills do you need to be an Occupational Therapist?

  • CPR
  • Excellent Communication
  • Written Communication
  • Computer Literacy
  • Critical Thinking
  • Researching
  • Raising
  • BLS Certification
Based on resume data from Glassdoor users who reported working as an Occupational Therapist in the United States.

Obtain a graduate degree.

Once you secure your undergraduate degree, the next step is to enroll in a graduate degree program. You can choose between a Master of Occupational Therapy or a Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. Both include the supervised fieldwork hours you need to sit for the licensure exam. If you're more interested in leadership roles and advocacy, it's best to pursue the doctorate program. The master's degree program typically takes two years to complete whereas the doctoral degree option takes three years.


Become certified.

After you complete either the master's or doctoral degree program, the next step is to obtain certification. You must pass the National Board of Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination to practice in the United States. Also, certain states have their own licensing requirements, so check with your state's occupational therapy regulatory agency to determine if you need other certifications. Although the state requirements might vary, they generally require the score from the NBCOT exam, academic transcripts, and a background check.


Choose a specialization.

Depending on your passion, you can select an occupational therapy specialty certification perfect for you. Two types of specializations are available, and they include either board certification or specialty certification. To qualify for board certification specialties, you must have five years of experience, 5,000 hours in any capacity in that certified area, 500 hours of delivering occupational therapy services in that certified area, and a reflective portfolio. To qualify for specialty certification specialties, you need 2,000 hours in any capacity in that certified area, 600 hours of delivering occupational therapy services in that certified area, and a reflective portfolio.

The nine available certifications are:

  • Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A).
  • Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A).
  • Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES or SFES-A).
  • Gerontology (BCG).
  • Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A).
  • Mental Health (BCMH).
  • Pediatrics (BCP).
  • Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR).
  • School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A).

Maintain licensure and certification.

To maintain your license, you typically need to complete continuing education courses. The NBCOT certification is granted for three years, so you will need to complete certain requirements before you can renew your license. Some of these tasks include volunteering, attending workshops, and reading peer-reviewed journals. Also, if you've opted for specialty certifications, you must renew these every five years.

Occupational Therapist Career Path

Occupational Therapist

8+Years of Experience
$75K - $124K /yrMost Likely Range
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10% advanced to

Senior Occupational Therapist

2 - 4Years of Experience
$86K - $140K /yrMost Likely Range
Learn More

Adjunct Occupational Therapist

No Years of Experience Reports
$77K - $117K /yrMost Likely Range
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Total Pay Trajectory

Occupational Therapist Career Path

New Grad Occupational Therapist
Occupational Therapist
Senior Occupational Therapist
Occupational Therapist Manager
Adjunct Occupational Therapist
Assistant Director of Occupational Therapy
Associate Director of Occupational Therapy
Director of Occupational Therapy
Senior Director of Occupational Therapy

Related Careers in the Healthcare Industry

Interested in other Healthcare careers? Below are occupations that have high affinity with Occupational Therapist skills. Discover some of the most common Occupational Therapist career transitions, along with skills overlap.

25% skills overlap
3% transitioned to Therapist