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How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

how to become an occupational therapist

Chances are you already know about the great work occupational therapy assistants do helping people of all ages live their lives to the fullest. You’ve also likely heard that the OTA profession offers one of the best-paying careers requiring an associate’s degree and is in high demand. Across the nation, hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes and corporations (to name a few) are turning to OTs and OTAs for help with a wide range of “occupational” challenges for patients of all ages — from behavioral issues and developmental disabilities to work-related injuries and complications of aging, like the loss of motor skills or dementia.

All of this makes this the perfect time to start your career in OT. Today, we’ll discuss how to become an occupational therapy assistant — from finding the right program to applying for licensure as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA).

OTA working with patient on leg mobility

Did you know?

With a median pay of $59,010, the fast-growing OTA profession frequently appears on lists of top-paying careers requiring an associate’s degree.

How to Become a COTA in 7 Steps

1. Find the right program for you.

Becoming an OTA begins with finding the right program for your needs. Put some thought into what you are looking for in an OTA school. You might even consider separating your wants from needs. This way you’ll know what to search for — and what is most important to you — when you begin researching OTA programs.

Questions you should ask yourself about choosing an OTA program include:

  • Do you prefer the convenience and flexibility of online coursework, or is a lecture-based, on-campus approach to learning the fundamentals of occupational therapy more your speed?
  • Do you intend on working while studying to become an OTA?
  • Do you have previous college experience?
  • Are you looking to start as soon as possible or down the road?
  • Is relocation for OTA school possible or do you need something that allows you to learn where you are (with some travel)?

Is St. Catherine University’s Online OTA Program Right for You?

One of the many benefits of St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program is that it is set up to accommodate learners across the country while still providing essential hands-on learning and in-person fieldwork experiences. How so?

With St. Kate’s Online OTA program, the majority of your coursework will be completed online, allowing you to finish your coursework when and where it is convenient for you.

On our Canvas e-Learning platform, you will find:

  • Interactive exercises
  • Videos
  • Discussion forums
  • Chat sessions
  • Course calendars
  • Assignments
  • Quizzes

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t get hands-on experience. About once a month, you will travel to your cohort’s learning site in either California, Texas or Virginia for a one-day lab session. You’ll also travel to your Level I Fieldwork placements at two diverse settings, each taking place over three-day consecutive sessions with a STK Level I Fieldwork educator on site. Your full-time Level II Fieldwork placements are typically near where you live and occur during your fourth semester and consist of two different settings. This hybrid program makes it possible to earn your Associate of Applied Science in OTA degree without relocating for OTA school.

OTA programs near me - Whether near or far, our online OTA program is for you.

You don’t need to move for OTA school.

Our 16–24-month program puts a quality OTA education within reach, wherever in the United States you call home.

2. Talk to an admissions counselor.

Before you apply for OTA school, you need to talk to an admissions counselor. Your counselor will walk you through the admissions process from start to finish, so there are no surprises, as well as discuss your previous education, reasons for wanting to become an occupational therapy assistant and finances to ensure a good fit for the program. This will also give you a chance to ask any questions you have and get to know your counselor, as you will be in regular contact throughout the process.

3. Apply for the OTA program.

Once it has been determined that you are a good fit, you can begin the formal application process. Keep in mind that it is not a requirement that you have already completed your prerequisites. After completing and submitting your application, you’ll need to send over your official transcripts from any post-secondary institution you attended. (This includes transcripts for any advanced placement courses you took during high school.)

Your admissions counselor will then review your previous course history to determine which, if any, of the four prerequisite courses you’ll need to complete to be eligible to begin the program. He or she will also evaluate whether you will need to take any of the six required Liberal Arts & Sciences (LAS) courses, which may be taken before or during your time in the Online OTA program. When choosing your curriculum path, keep in mind that these courses involve a lot of reading and writing. For this reason, we recommend taking your LAS courses prior to beginning the OTA program.

Online OTA program - 2 people looking at a laptop

4. Fulfill any prerequisite courses.

Once you and your counselor have agreed on a plan for tackling any prerequisite or LAS courses, he or she will assist you with signing up for these courses, which can be taken online through St. Kate’s. To be eligible for the Online OTA program, you must complete the four prerequisite courses with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5.

5. Complete the program.

Following the satisfactory completion of your prerequisites, you’re ready to start your Online OTA coursework. If you already meet the LAS course requirements or plan to take your LAS and OTA courses concurrently, it’s possible to graduate from St. Kate’s Online OTA program in as few as 16 months. However, many students prefer to get their LAS courses out of the way before beginning their OTA courses, in which case you’ll graduate in as few as 24 months.

6. Take the NBCOT.

As with many other healthcare professions, earning a degree is a major milestone on the way to professional practice, with successful completion of the program allowing you the opportunity to sit for the board exam to become a COTA. In the case of occupational therapy assistants, that exam is the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification Exam.

While this may seem intimidating, you should feel good knowing that St. Kate’s has built extensive NBCOT prep into the Online OTA program — something most programs do not offer. As part of the NBCOT Prep Coaching Program, you will take a 200-question practice exam during your third semester. Following this practice exam, we’ll develop a unique seven-week study plan 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.

7. Apply for COTA licensure.

After graduating from an accredited OTA program, completing the fieldwork requirements, and passing the NBCOT exam, the only remaining step toward becoming a COTA is to apply for licensure in your home state (or any state you wish to practice in) and pay any associated application fees. Keep in mind that every state has its own regulatory body, so the application process will vary from state to state.

Become an OTA.

To find out whether the St. Kate’s Online OTA program is right for you, give us a call today to talk to an admissions counselor.

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