4 Tips for Going Back to School for a Career Change as an OTA

Two ota students studying

Job satisfaction is an important part of life. Very few people want a career that leaves them eager for the end of the day and counting the hours until the weekend. Unfortunately, many young adults choose to seek professions that they find aren’t as fulfilling as they had suspected. Maybe they didn’t do enough research into the field. It’s also possible that they have simply outgrown their current career.

Many people find themselves looking for a new career after already experiencing one field. In fact, the coronavirus pandemic seems to be a big factor in an uptick of people leaving their current careers to pursue new interests.

Forbes states that people who are currently shifting careers are generally folks who have been established in their positions for a while. The data shows that every age group above 25 saw an uptick in resignations between August 2019 and August 2020.

Often referred to as “The Great Migration/Resignation,” this phenomenon shows employees ages 30-35 had a 21.5% increase in resignations, while ages 35-40 had 19.6% while ages 40-45 experienced the biggest shift with a 25.1% increase in resignations, suggesting that employees more rooted in their careers have steadily continued to make a career change.

And while the idea of going back to school for a career change can be frightening to consider, changing to a career you are passionate about can be incredibly rewarding and as the data shows — you’re not alone.

Another great example of this is a former St. Kate’s student, Kelly, who found her calling while working as an elementary school teacher. Kelly noticed many of her students would get treatment in occupational therapy. As she learned more about OT, she realized a new career might be closer than she thought.

“I was very overwhelmed with so many students and liked that occupational therapists could help students one-on-one and really make an impact and improve their education and lives,” she says of her switch from teacher to occupational therapy assistant (OTA).

Choosing to return to school to pursue a career change in occupational therapy can be both rewarding and fulfilling for many, like Kelly. Consider these tips if you are looking for a new career.

1. Understand that there’s a difference between dissatisfaction in your career and finding a different job.

Before you commit to a second career as an occupational therapy assistant, make sure you are in need of a new career and not just a new job. You don’t want to go back to school, train and start a whole new life only to find yourself missing your past field. You may just find that you are unsatisfied in your current position and simply need a new company to work for.

Look for these signs to determine if you are ready for a change in careers:

  • You’ve worked for a couple of different companies and still aren’t satisfied.
  • You find yourself going through the motions at your job.
  • You feel no pride in your work.
  • You actively dream about working in a completely different field.
  • You wonder how your current skills would translate to other positions.

Research any new careers you are contemplating. Many of the skills you currently use can translate to a new position, and you may find that you enjoy a general field, such as marketing, but don’t enjoy the position you hold.

2. Research your new career path.

Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for in a career or are leaning toward a particular profession, it’s a good idea to research demand and earning potential. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great place to start, offering in-depth information on more than 800 professions.

It can also be helpful to talk to people in the field. You might even ask about job shadowing to see what it’s like. (Don’t know anyone in a certain profession? Try reaching out to local professionals via LinkedIn.)

Every career is different, making detailed career-specific research necessary. For some career changes, it could just take finding someone willing to give you a chance or selling an employer on your willingness to learn new skills. Others may require a certification, a specific degree (or degrees), professional licensure, or some combination thereof.

3. Look for the traits you are seeking in a new career.

The last thing you want is to start a second career that you end up unhappy at. Make a list of the traits you wish to have in a career. Do you prefer working in a more creative field, or something more analytical? Are you seeking a place where you work individually or with a team? Do you want to work with clients or be behind the scenes?

Working in the occupational therapy field as a second career allows you to employ many skills and work in a fulfilling setting.

Those who work as occupational therapy assistants are able to:

  • Work with a variety of different clients daily.
  • Work with occupational therapists to execute plans.
  • Help clients adapt to injuries, disabilities and developmental problems to live functional lives.

4. Get the best education for your new career.

Once you have a good idea of the basic path to your new career, it’s time to research educational programs to help you get there (if required). Keep in mind that many universities offer programs designed specifically for career changers by allowing them to use their existing college credits to graduate sooner.

As a word of caution, before choosing any school, be sure it is accredited at the state, national, and (if applicable) degree level — otherwise, you could be in for a very unwelcome surprise when it comes time to apply for jobs or to take any required licensure exams.Some career switches are easier and don’t require returning to school. You may find that your experience and previous education allows for more movement from one field to the other. For example, you may be able to go from a career in public relations to a career in writing.

However, if you are looking at a completely different field, you may have to go back to school. After all, you can’t exactly learn how to work in a healthcare setting while writing press releases.

If you choose to seek a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you can attend St. Catherine University to earn your OTA degree online.

You will complete your classes in an engaging online platform, practice your skills in labs and work with real patients during your fieldwork. St. Catherine will leave you completely prepared for your new career as an occupational therapy assistant.

Plus, our program is doable for people who have families. Take it from August 2021 graduate, Kristi Baker: “The first thing that drew me St. Kate’s OTA program is that it was online. I wanted to be able to still do things with my children while I earned my degree. My family is one of the most important things to me, I adore my children, and they're just a really important aspect of my life. I was able to still do those things and take classes as well.”

Why should you choose a career as an occupational therapy assistant?

Those who have already worked in another field understand how much work goes into developing a career, including building a strong professional network. You will hold an advantage over newer students who aren’t familiar with building networks to improve their chances of landing a job.

Those who work in occupational therapy get a unique opportunity to work closely with patients of all ages and help them adapt to illnesses and overcome new hardships.

Many college-aged students choose a major based on future financial growth instead of following their passion. As a second-career student, you have already experienced how a career can be unsatisfying, and you can now follow your dreams and help people.

Make the Switch to OTA

Are you ready to pursue your new dream? Talk to an advisor today about enrolling in St. Catherine’s online OTA program.

outside shot of st. kate campus

The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained