We get a LOT of questions about becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) through our Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program. Two questions on many future OTAs’ minds are “What is OTA school like?” and “Is OTA school hard?”
It’s true that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become an OTA, but you’ll never be alone in your pursuit. From the moment you talk to an admissions counselor to the day you test for the NBCOT® exam following graduation, you’ll have a lot of great support to help you along the way.
As an OTA student, you will come to rely heavily on the support of your peers and instructors, forming lasting friendships and connections in the process.
So what is OTA school like, and why is peer support so critical?
St. Kate’s Online OTA Offers Online and Hands-On Learning
As the first school in the United States to offer an occupational therapy assistant program, we know what it takes to prepare someone for a career as an occupational therapy assistant. Fifty years later, we distilled this knowledge into our first-of-its-kind Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program.
This program allows students all over the country to earn Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in OTA degrees in as few as 16 months. Featuring a curriculum that is 80% online and 20% on-site, our Online OTA program provides the skills and knowledge you need to be an OTA, with the greater convenience of e-Learning.
The Convenience of Online Learning
For many students, our Online OTA program is a blessing, providing them the opportunity to pursue a career in occupational therapy where they otherwise could not due to their location. Recent graduates like Alexandra and Michelle, who live hours from the nearest OTA program, are a testament to this.
For Michelle, a mother of three, moving for school was out of the question — and driving three hours each way, several times a week (or more) was not feasible. When would she find time to study or do her homework? To spend time with her family? To be a mother?
It wasn’t until she discovered St. Kate’s Online OTA program that her dream of becoming an OTA was truly within reach.
“The online program is allowing me to stay home, study during the day while the kids are at school and at daycare, and I can still be a mom at night,” said Michelle, a recent graduate. “I was excited knowing that I could start a program working from home, studying from home, and ultimately become an occupational therapy assistant in 16 months.”
Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, you can log in to our Canvas online learning platform when it’s convenient for you. There you’ll read assigned materials, engage in simulated activities, watch and listen to lectures, and complete assignments and quizzes. You’ll also participate in online group discussions and virtual office hours, where you and your classmates can ask questions in real-time (and all benefits from each other’s questions).
Skills Labs and Fieldwork Provide Hands-On Experience
Complementing the online portion of the program are the skills labs and fieldwork. In your labs, you will have face-to-face contact with your lab instructors and colleagues, and gain invaluable hands-on experience.
“Our skills lab instructor is amazing,” Michelle says. “She is very kind, she is very willing to answer any questions that we have, and she is always there for us when we need her.”
What makes our program unique is how we accommodate students across the country, with one-day skills labs about a month apart. Because you are not required to live near the program, most participants travel to their skills labs (as well as their Fieldwork I). To save money, some even stay with friends they’ve made while in the program.
We even work with our students to identify local practices so that they can complete the bulk of the fieldwork (known as Fieldwork II) locally. This way, you get the experience you need without having to relocate, as is the case with many programs.
Maintaining a Sense of Community in an Online Learning Environment
While the convenience of online learning is appealing, a lot of prospective students want to know what the experience will be like. Many have never taken online classes and worry they won’t interact with their professors and classmates, or have a support network to lean on. Others who have taken online classes have horror stories about instructors who were, at best, slow to respond and at worst, uninterested in their success.
Something you’ll notice right away with our program is the sense of community between your colleagues and instructors.
Our instructors go to great lengths to provide the kind of attention you’d expect from an on-campus experience. In fact, many of our students report talking to their professors more than they ever did during their previous, on-campus college experiences.
“The teachers will bend over backwards. They put their phone numbers out there, their email… I think some you can even text,” says Robert, a graduate of the Online OTA program. “If you sent an email, they always responded within 24 hours.”
One other great benefit of St. Kate’s Online OTA program is the regular virtual open sessions. Held four to five times a semester, these online sessions allow current and prospective students to ask any questions they have about the program, as well as interact with St. Kate’s faculty.
Collaboration Is Key
Returning to the question of “Is OTA school hard?” we cannot stress enough the value of building strong connections with your classmates. Having a strong support network in place will help you greatly.
Everyone in your cohort has the same goal: to become an OTA. Take advantage of that. Become friends. Get to know each other every chance you get, whether in-person at your labs or online. Exchange phone numbers, have regular Skype meetings, become friends on social media, get dinner together after skills labs — find an accountability buddy (or two, or three). Seek out each other’s help when you need it, and be willing to help.
As Alex says, “Definitely collaborate and get to know your cohort. It’s very important. It’s a fast-paced program, and you can build some lifelong friendships.”
During the program, Michelle regularly “met up” with her classmates using Google Hangouts to host group study sessions and to talk over assignments. She also recommends using Google Documents to share notes and peer review each other’s work.
With so many ways to stay connected, distance doesn’t have to be a barrier.
Of course, family support is also critical. Alex and Michelle both report enlisting friends and family to help them practice and complete video assignments.
“My husband has been my guinea pig for when I’ve had to do range of motion exercises, transfer exercises,” says Michelle. “For our transfer video, I actually met up with a friend of mine, and she participated in the video with me, and she was my guinea pig.”
You’ll Be Supported Even After Graduation
Of course, the support you’ll receive does not stop on graduation day.
The last step toward becoming an OTA is to pass the NBCOT® exam. Preparing for the NBCOT can be intimating — after all of your hard work, everything hinges on passing that one exam. No pressure, right?
That’s why we created the NBCOT Prep Coaching Program. During your third semester, you’ll be given a 200-question practice exam. You’ll then receive a customized seven-week study plan based on your results, along with participate in weekly group study sessions with your peers and meet one-on-one with a licensed occupational therapist coach who will provide you guidance.
Additionally, St. Kate has a number of resources to help you find jobs, hone your interviewing skills, and negotiate pay, to name just a few.
Become an OTA in as Few as 16 Months
If an OTA career is for you, St. Catherine can help you get there. Give us a call at 877.223.2677 or fill out the form to the right to have an admissions counselor call you — and be sure to ask your admissions counselor about attending the next virtual open house.