Is OTA School Hard? It Depends on the Effort You Put In.

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OTA students sitting at table studying

Maybe you’re set on becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), or you’re still debating whether OTA is the right career for you. Whatever the case, you likely have some questions about OTA school, like “How does it work?” and “Is OTA school hard?”

While these are great questions to ask, there’s really no one right answer. That’s because everyone is different — one person’s strength may be another person’s weakness.

For students in St. Catherine University’s online OTA program, pursuing an online-based education can be rigorous and requires a lot of organization and effort, but it is all for the sake of beginning a rewarding career.

Below, we outline a few of the common reasons why some view OTA school as difficult as well as how we at St. Catherine University’s online OTA program support you throughout your OTA journey. We’ll also provide suggestions for making the process of becoming an OTA more manageable.

Balancing OTA School with a Full-Time Job

We’re often asked whether it’s possible to work while in the program, and the answer depends on you. Some people can’t imagine working a full-time job and then going home to study after, while others find it quite manageable.

Before deciding, be realistic about any commitments you have (children, family, work, volunteering, etc.) and talk it over with anyone who may be affected — especially if you anticipate needing additional support during your time in the program.

Success Tip: Utilize Features of our E-Learning Platform

We understand you may have a busy schedule, so to help with that, we use an e-Learning platform. Thanks to St. Kate’s blended learning model, comprised of 80% online and 20% on-site curriculum, you will have the flexibility to complete coursework at a time that adheres to your schedule, while meeting deadlines given by instructors. Yes, the curriculum is fast-paced, but Canvas, the e-Learning platform you’ll use throughout your online OTA education, has interactive presentations and activities to guide you toward success.

Traveling for Skills Labs and Level I Fieldwork

One of the great things about St. Kate’s Online OTA program is that much of the coursework can be completed on your own. This includes assigned readings, online activities and discussion posts, and even some hands-on practice through video assignments.

Learning specialized OTA concepts online is just one part of your education, though. The next element will require you to apply the skills you’ve learned online in a real-world setting. This is done through a number of hands-on skills labs and fieldwork hours.

OTA students practicing skills in skills lab

Some OTA programs only offer skills labs and fieldwork locations to students who live within a close radius. This limits students, especially those with families, from earning their associates degree in occupational therapy. However, this is not the case at St. Kate’s University. At St. Kate’s, the OTA program uses distance learning to accommodate to students across the country — not only those who live in California, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia, where we have skills lab and Level I Fieldwork partners.

Success Tip: Make the Most of Distance Learning

At first, the idea of traveling for skills labs and fieldwork may seem daunting, but St. Kate’s makes it convenient for you to attend all labs and fieldwork hours in a logistically efficient and organized way, regardless of where you may live. Since the program is 80% online, it gives you the opportunity to travel to the 12 skills lab sites and Level I fieldwork facilities (that are close in proximity) once a month, in the same weekend, instead of relocating.

Connecting with Your Instructors and Cohort

A concern many online learners have starting out — especially those who’ve never participated in online learning — is that they’ll feel alone in the program. Without the face-to-face instruction typical of a post-secondary degree program, some students may fear they will never be able to communicate with their instructors and cohort. This is certainly not the case with St. Kate’s Online OTA program.

Although it may seem like a challenge to connect with peers when learning online, St. Kate’s makes it easy and convenient to do so. With small cohorts, students get to know one another on a personal level, and therefore feel more comfortable communicating with each other digitally.

Additionally, the instructors are accessible by phone or email, and are extremely responsive.

Success Tip: Connect with Your Academic Success Coach

If you ever find yourself feeling alone, however, don’t be afraid to contact your academic success coach, who can help guide you through course material and offer other support resources.

“Every two weeks my academic advisor will contact me to see if there’s anything she can do to help me succeed,” says Tiffany, a former St. Catherine Online OTA program student.

Whether you need help studying for an upcoming exam or just want to talk about the program, your success coach is there to provide you with helpful resources to keep you engaged and on track. For example, if staying organized is not your forte, your academic success coach will provide you with a time management chart. This chart will outline your core obligations and responsibilities, helping you visualize where your time is spent most.

“The academic success coaches have our best interests at heart,” says Michaela, another former St. Kate’s online OTA program student. “You aren’t just another number.”

Keeping Organized in an Online Coursework Environment

Organization is a critical success factor in any post-secondary degree program, but it takes on added importance in an online learning environment.

From learning about the history of OT and basic human needs to mastering the process of setting goals and documenting patient evaluations, online OTA programs cover a vast amount of information in a condensed time period so it’s important that you remain organized and on track.

Our Online OTA program affords you a great deal of flexibility to finish your coursework where and when it’s convenient for you — so long as you submit any assignments by their due dates. However, with this freedom comes added responsibility. Without the daily classes you would attend in a traditional, campus-based program, it could be easy for some to miss important deadlines or to put off assigned coursework, which can cause you to fall behind if you’re not careful.

student sitting at desk studying with laptop and textbook

Success Tip: Develop Routines

For this reason, we recommend that you keep a calendar to manage your time in addition to the one built into our Canvas learning management system (LMS). This will help you stay organized and on track with all your coursework.

It’s also beneficial to develop a routine so that study becomes a habit. By making time to study, you are setting it of equal importance to other things, such as classes. Since this program is mostly online, you must have discipline to get the most out of the it, and this requires setting time aside to complete coursework and study.

Once you are organized and have established healthy study habits, the online environment will become less stressful and your experience will be that much more manageable.

Passing the NBCOT exam

Earning your OTA degree is a huge accomplishment. Not only does it show that you have proven your competency in both the classroom and clinical setting, but it confirms that you are ready to step into a lifelong career as an OTA. There’s just one more step to overcome before you can officially become a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) — passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.

two OTA students studying together with books and laptops

Success Tip: Participate in St. Kate’s NBCOT Prep Coaching Program

If preparing for the NBCOT seems overwhelming to you, we suggest you participate in our NBCOT Prep Coaching Program (NBCOT PCP) to help you overcome your fears and anxieties surrounding the exam. NBCOT PCP is a non-required program built on three major components: preparation, coaching, and performance.

First, you will take a 200-question practice exam. Shortly after, you will receive a personalized seven-week study plan that hones in on the concepts that need strengthening, based on your results. Along with your study plan, there will be weekly group sessions that you and members of your cohort can attend. Lastly, you’ll have the opportunity to sit down with a licensed occupational therapy coach who will give you invaluable insight and guidance.

Will You Rise to the Opportunity?

Pursuing your online OTA education is difficult, but with the right tools and resources, it’s certainly possible. Now that you understand what it takes to find success in St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program, it’s time to begin your OTA education. Reach out to an admissions counselor today.

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