COTA vs. OTA: Why It’s Worthwhile to Get Certified

STK OTA helping elderly man in a kitchen setting

OTAs register with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy and hold state licensures, too. When they complete and pass the NBCOT examination they become entry-level COTAS (certified occupational therapy assistants.)

Certification May Be Required

In all 50 states, as well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam, occupational therapy is a regulated health care profession, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association. These areas have approved legislation requiring occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to acquire a license to practice therapy.

You must complete specific standards to receive a license, which are designed to demonstrate that you have attained a particular level of knowledge, experience, and competency in order to deliver high-quality services in a safe way.

State licensing rules specify the conditions that must be satisfied before an OTA can practice. NBCOT is an additional step to licensing that qualifies OTAs even further to give life-changing care.

Becoming a COTA Builds a Foundation for Higher Learning

If your long-term aim is to become a Registered Occupational Therapist, certification will also qualify you to pursue a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT).

Aside from preparing you to give quality care, there are other advantages to becoming a certified occupational therapy assistant. You can also add “certified” to your employment title after passing the NBCOT-COTA test, which can make you stand out to employers in the area.

OT student sitting at desk with elderly woman filling a pill divider

COTA vs. OTA: Career Outlook

If you are considering a career as an occupational therapy assistant, there are many more career options for certified OTAs.

Career Options for OTAs

You’ll find that working as a COTA or an OTA allows you to work in many different environments. Some settings you may not have considered include:

  • School Systems: Work with children who struggle with handwriting or need help with fine motor skills, or you may work with children with autism and other disabilities.
  • Geriatric Care: COTAs work with geriatric patients to help them maintain a level of independence. You may teach them how to cook meals, a new daily grooming routine, or cleaning their homes using adaptive equipment.  You may also work with patients to help them in the use of a wheelchair or walker and to maintain mobility to complete functional tasks.
  • Mental Health Facilities: You may find yourself working here with a patient to help teach them essential job skills or working on a routine that allows for emotional control and independence.

What Is a COTA?

A COTA is certified to practice in occupational therapy. COTAs work in conjunction with occupational therapists to create and implement treatment plans and work with patients toward established goals. A COTA’s shift can look different day-to-day, but they are constantly creating adaptive solutions, interacting with people from all walks of life, and assisting people to live active, independent, and meaningful lives across a variety of settings.

Common duties a COTA carries out include:

  • Evaluating clients to see how occupational therapy services may benefit them.
  • Gathering data on client medical history.
  • Collaborating with occupational therapists for treatment.
  • Recording patient progress.
  • Maintaining a safe and clean treatment area.
  • Offering clients and their family education and support.

How to Become a COTA

St. Catherine’s online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) associate degree program prepares you to be a confident COTA through online learning, in-person labs and fieldwork experiences.

Completing a program like the one at St. Kate’s is the first step toward becoming a COTA. During the program, you will complete a total of 71 credit hours in as few as 16 months. Our program uses a hybrid model that offers 80 percent online and 20 percent in-person learning.

You’ll take liberal arts and sciences courses, then, immerse yourself in the OTA professional course sequence. You’ll receive a comprehensive education that allows you to earn a degree and sit for the NBCOT® Exam, which is necessary to pass to become a certified occupational therapy assistant.

What is NBCOT Certification?

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT) certifies occupational therapy professionals — including COTAs. The organization creates, implements, and actively reviews its certification process to hold only the highest standards. 

Successful completion of the St. Kate’s Online OTA program prepares you to sit for this exam, which aims to ensure that you are prepared for anything that comes your way as a professional COTA.

The NBCOT exam encompasses questions to assess your capabilities in these key areas:

  • Collaborating and gathering information
  • Selecting and implementing interventions
  • Upholding professional standards and responsibilities

This might sound like a lot to grasp, but rest assured St. Kate’s will be with you each step of the way. If you choose to utilize our test preparation opportunities, you’ll take a 200-question practice exam and then work through a seven-week study plan created specifically for you based on your test results. You will also have one-on-one meetings with a licensed OT practitioner coach to go over test prep, as well as participate in weekly virtual group study sessions. At St. Kate’s, your path to becoming a COTA is clear — you just have to take the first steps.

Become a COTA

With so many benefits for earning certification for OTA professionals, occupational therapy assistants have many great opportunities ahead of them. Want to learn more? Contact an advisor about earning your OTA degree from St. Catherine University.

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