Hello, friends! Today I am feeling so many emotions regarding my journey to becoming an OT. My program recently sent me an email including our orientation day and the first day of the fall semester, and it just got REAL. Like wow, I am really doing this?? I know that the process can be overwhelming and difficult, so I would like to share with you my personal journey with the tangible steps I personally took to get into my top OT schools.
Before I proceed, I just want to caution you that this is MY personal narrative of what worked best for ME. Thus, I cannot guarantee that you will be offered an acceptance if you do every single thing that I did. However, I am here as a resource and as a guide to share what could work. Every situation is different and everyone’s journey is so unique, so I want to validate and uplift that throughout your OT pursuit!
SO! You may be a recent college grad, a current undergrad, or even a high schooler and exploring all career options for yourself. It doesn’t matter where you are in your educational journey, this post can still be applicable for you!!
You’ve dipped your toes in the requirements necessary to get into OT school and now you may be feeling overwhelmed and thinking to yourself, I have ALL of these requirements that I have to do in order to get into OT school and I don’t know where to start. Trust me, I was in the same boat as you were not too long ago. I get it – the struggle is reaaalll. BUT lemme tell you, as long as you put your mind to it and remember your Why OT? you will persevere and make it through!
This is what my journey looked like throughout the years in a nutshell:
- 2015: It was my senior year of high school and I decided that I wanted to explore OT as a career after ditching the pediatrician dream. I applied to colleges as a psychology major because it seemed to complement OT very well. I later changed my major to Human Development because it encompassed a more holistic view of people that intrigued me and seemed more applicable to OT in my eyes.
- 2016: I had a freak-out moment and decided for a few months that I actually did not want to pursue OT and instead wanted to merely become a psychologist or a teacher (a large part of it was influenced by hearing daunting stories about anatomy and physiology). However, my major advisor helped me reason through my anxieties about pursuing this career.
- 2017: I began to seek internships and volunteer opportunities related to OT. I became acquainted with a pediatric outpatient OT clinic but was unable to volunteer there due to lack of transportation. I later was accepted to another competitive internship where I finally was able to rotate through different departments that housed OTs.
- 2018: I wasn’t getting the observation hours I felt that I needed to be competitive for OT school, so I took a break from actively seeking OT observation hours by focusing on graduating college and preparing to study abroad. I also attempted to do OT-based research in Ghana (where I studied abroad); however, access to OTs were non-existent at my placement and, thus, I was unable to observe OT in another country.
- 2019: I came back to the States and began my pre-OT grind. I completed my remaining prerequisites such as Anatomy, Physiology, and Abnormal Psychology. I also sought out additional volunteer opportunities and began to build bonds with the OTs that I shadowed.
- 2020: I now felt ready to apply to OT programs after countless hours completed, prerequisites finished, and some money (emphasis on the some) saved up. I continued to do research and began reaching out to schools before applications opened (for me, they opened around mid-July) to ensure that I was on the right track with my OT school preparation. Fast forward to the end of the year – I got accepted to all the schools I applied for!
- 2021: I am now transitioning to matriculating to the OT school of my choice by finding housing, working on scholarships, and orienting my mind on personal and professional development.
So, if you do the math, becoming an OT has been a part of my vision for at least six years. I didn’t even realize that I was subconsciously in the process for so long!
I also wanted to highlight the different moving parts of assembling your OT application (note: all of these requirements greatly vary upon program, so always do your research beforehand!). This is a general outline of what I had to complete in order to submit a competitive application down below:
- OT Prerequisites
- Though you can apply to OT school being any major, you do have to take a multitude of prerequisite courses that assesses your preparedness for the rigor of the academic curriculum. This can include many different courses, but generally, you will have your anatomy, physiology, statistics, psychology, human development, and biology classes. My school of choice also required a sociology course, medical terminology, and an English course. I saw that some schools even require physics or an art course, so it all depends on what the school is looking for!
- OT Observation Hours
- Most schools require a minimum number of observation hours when applying for their schools. They seriously range from no hours at all to upwards of 80-100 minimum hours of shadowing or observing. If the school says that they do not require observation hours, I still say go for it because if anything, it will help you solidify whether or not this career is for you. When completing my observation hours, I kept a running log of the days, times, the OTs I shadowed, and a summary of what I observed that day. This later helped me accurately record my hours on my application. Moreover, the summaries of my observation days tremendously helped me develop ideas for my personal statement.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Make sure to have a list of recommenders who you know you well and can attribute to the versed, positive qualities that you want highlighted in your LOR. Shy away from choosing a professor that you had very limited interactions with or an OT who you did not really work with because those recommendations will likely not truly highlight your work ethic, personality, etc. in the way that is reflective of you. I personally handpicked professors, work supervisors, and OTs I personally connected with to write my recommendations. Also, ensure that you ask weeks, if not months, in advance for a recommendation to allow your recommenders ample time to write a glowing recommendation. It looks professional on your end that you’ve thought about this process and will ensure that your recommenders are not stress-writing your recommendations.
- Some schools will ask you to attach a resume or a CV to your application, so you should be ready to have a polished and current document to submit with your application. If it is not asked of you, you can always use them as a guide to fill out the extracurriculars/volunteer section of your application.
- Personal Statement
- Honestly, my advice to you is to try to at least plan an outline or jot down ideas months in advance to get into the mode of writing your statement. I struggled with this part of the application because I initially was not being my authentic self and was composing what I thought the OT admissions committee would like to see. However, I scrapped my initial draft and then began to finally write my story. At the end of it all, I produced a much more compelling personal statement. It is okay to take a break from writing! I did not perfect my personal statement until about a month/month and a half or so.
- A word of advice: Have people that you trust read your personal statement. It is your narrative that allows you to shine among many applicants, so if you can choose folks around you that can give you constructive feedback, that would be ideal! I personally had about five folks read my personal statement constructively. This may have been too many, but it all depends on what you feel that you need for your writing process. Have friends, OTs, professors, family members, and/or acquaintances/near-strangers read your personal statement for varying perspectives. They can offer lots of insight on grammar, content, voice, and even affirmations on your writing skills (which I totally needed). And most importantly, at the end of the day, you can choose to accept or reject any of the suggestions that you receive because it is your narrative.
- The GRE
- To be honest, I really don’t have anything to say about the GRE because I avoided the GRE like the plague. Thankfully, all the schools I was interested in initially did not require it! You can email me to hear my personal thoughts about why I did not take the GRE, lol!
- Supplemental Apps
- Some schools will require that after your first general application you submit a secondary or supplemental application. Some schools are generous in the fact that you just have to answer a few more short answer/essay questions in addition to your personal statement, but other schools require an entirely different application (which you usually have to submit an extra payment for as well). Be ready to elaborate on your personal statement or highlight other parts of your life not yet shown on those applications.
- The Interview Process
- Once your initial application has been moved onto the next stage of the admissions process, most schools will invite you to interview with them. Due to the pandemic, all of my interviews were via Zoom. However, this did not necessarily make the situation less stressful, for I really had to ensure that my personality shined through via a computer screen. For me, the interview process actually went a lot more smoothly than I anticipated! My interviews ended up being an intellectual conversation regarding my thoughts about OT and how my upbringing has shaped me to become the person who I aspire to be.
- Here are a few quick tips on conquering the interview:
- Prepare! I don’t know about you, but actually giving a strong and meaningful answer for “how do you define OT?” was a lot more difficult than I expected. To prepare, I Googled ‘common OT school interview questions’ and got a plethora of questions to practice answering. I also Youtubed OT interview questions and saw how different people answered different possible questions. What really helped me was to write out my answers on notecards and use them as a guide (note how I did not say ‘memorize notecards’) to jog my memory of important aspects I wanted to discuss in an interview. Lastly, I practiced my interviews in front of the mirror and with a friend via Zoom to stimulate how my actual interview day would go. Preparation for interviews also means DO YOUR RESEARCH on the program that you are interviewing for! This includes the school’s mission statement, faculty, or any other interesting facts that initially drew you to the school. Interweaving these details into your answers will further reassure the interviewers that you’ve done your research and that you are serious about your potential commitment to the school.
- Speak with confidence and power! In the interview, the interviewers are genuinely not trying to trick you. They want to get to know the real you. Thus, it is important to be confident in yourself. You have already done the hard work of putting together a competitive application, so now this is your chance for your personality to shine through! Confidence goes a long way, so be your authentic self and that will help you stand apart among hundreds of other applicants.
- Write thank-you notes! Once you have completed your interview, if you have access to your interviewer’s email, write a thank-you note to them! They are helpful because they first will allow the interviewer to remember who you are. But most importantly, it shows that you valued the time spent conversing with them. Again, I had Googled example thank-you notes and tailored them to make them more personal and salient.
Overall, I have bombarded you with a LOT of information. To conclude, here are some takeaways that I learned throughout my application process worth mentioning:
- Network, network, and NETWORK!!! I mean get on social media and follow OT-related folks, don’t hesitate to post a question or ask for help in that Facebook group, and build connections with the OTs, your professors, etc. who can guide you in your pursuit to becoming an OT. I met SO many people who have been beyond helpful through networking these past few years!
- Save money because those applications can get SO expensive, especially if you are submitting secondary applications as well! Also, if you qualify, some schools can give you a fee waiver – so take advantage of that by planning ahead!
- Your personal statement is what it is – YOU. Make sure that it truly shows the raw, authentic, and genuine you because at the end of the day, that is what the admissions committee wants to learn and discover – YOU! Even after all of the revisions and peer-editing, you get the final say on your personal statement.
- BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! I cannot emphasize this enough. When I had let go of this unnecessary fear and doubt that I tried to plague my mind with, I finally let my confidence shine through in every aspect of my application and interview process. Remember, you have been working at this for a long time and it is now manifesting right in front of you. Claim your acceptance into your top school. It is hard for others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.
I hope that this information was useful, reader! Remember, you are amazing for even making it this far in pursuing your OT journey. Wherever you are in your journey, always affirm yourself throughout the process. Becoming an OT is no easy feat – I have only made it to the ‘getting accepted into OT school’ part of the journey and still have a long road ahead of me. If you ever have any questions or clarifications, I would love to further discuss my points with you! OT needs YOU, so you will conquer!
Peace and love,