5 Tips for What to Expect in OTA School

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If you’ve found this article, you’re probably excited about the prospect of becoming an occupational therapy assistant, but maybe you’re wondering what to expect in OTA school. Well, we are here to help!

In this post, you’ll discover what it’s like being a student in St. Kate’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program and how we make it possible to complete your education in as few as 16 months.

1. Dedicate Your Time to the OTA Program

St. Kate’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) associate degree program is fast-paced, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. During the 16-month program, you’ll complete a total of 71 credit hours.

Because we’re preparing you to get into the workforce sooner, the curriculum is jam-packed with everything you’ll need to know to become a confident and capable OTA. To do that you’ll have to be committed to your coursework for the duration of the program.

You’ll start the program by enrolling in one to three semesters of Liberal Arts and Sciences courses, followed by the four-semester OTA professional course sequence.

These LAS courses are offered 100% online and help to make you a well-rounded OTA. You’ll need to put in the time to do well in these courses, as you must have a 2.5 grade point average across the four LAS prerequisite courses to move on to the OTA professional courses.

two OTA students studying together with books and laptops

The OTA courses comprise a series of predetermined courses in a fixed, four-semester sequence.

During the OTA Professional Course Sequence, you’ll be expected to attend and participate in a total of 8 skills labs. These labs take place once a month over each of the first three semesters of the sequence.

In your last semester of the sequence, you’ll participate in two eight-week long fieldwork experiences. Fieldwork is full-time, in-person learning.

We’ll break down the details of each part of the curriculum later in this article, but as you can tell from this overview, you’ll need to be ready to dedicate most of your time over the next 16 months to your OTA program. You’ll have a lot to learn in a short amount of time.

2. Travel for OTA School

You can likely expect to travel. Although our program is 80% online, you’ll still need to attend in-person labs and fieldwork.

As mentioned above, during your time in the online OTA program, you’ll complete a series of 8 skills labs in a real-world rehabilitation setting at a designated location within your program area.

St. Kate’s offers Online OTA program labs in California, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia. During your admissions process, your counselor will work with you to select a lab location that works best for you.

OTA students practicing skills in skills lab

Keep in mind, you’re not required to be a resident of the state where your skills labs will take place. You just have to be willing to travel to your assigned lab location.

For example, you can live in Pennsylvania and enroll in our Virginia-based program, provided you have the means and ability to travel to Virginia 8 different times while in the program.

As for your fieldwork, it can be completed in all states except Puerto Rico. We have a dedicated fieldwork coordinator who works with students to identify approved fieldwork locations that best fit their needs.

Fieldwork can take place in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, outpatient centers and mental health facilities. There should be a lot of different options your counselor can help you explore to find the right fit for you, and somewhere you’re willing to travel to.

You might consider making a travel budget, comparing lodging costs and planning out where you’d like to travel to.

3. Make Connections

You’ll have a cohort throughout your program that you’ll be able to connect with, lean on and study with. All of you will be going through the program together, and we bet you’ll develop some pretty solid connections.

A cohort can be a great source of networking, managing stress, and of course, friendship.

“My cohort is a small, tight-knit group. We will text, we will ask each other questions and we'll help each other. I think that's really important especially in this kind of program, to have a support group like that. When you're having trouble with fieldwork, or on a project, they're there to support you. You're in this together, you're part of this team, and you're working together. That's really bonded us together, so it's nice to know that you're not alone.” Kristi Baker, Class of 2021.

OTA school students in classroom studying together

4. Make Compromises to Reach Your OTA Goals

As we’ve outlined throughout this article, becoming an OTA takes hard work and dedication. During your 16 months in the program, you may need to be prepared to miss out on some events or social aspects. Between coursework, skills labs, fieldwork and studying, making time for other things is going to be tricky if you want to be successful in the program. It’s important to keep your goals in mind and remember why you enrolled in the program and that this level of time commitment won’t last forever.

“It’s hard staying up late studying, making sacrifices where I missed things that I would have not liked to have missed. But in the end, I'm going to get to be in a field that really is impactful in people's lives. For me, it's foundational to helping people have a great quality of life. And that is what I'm looking forward to the most, and what makes it worth it.” Kristi Baker, Class of 2021.

5. Take the NBCOT and Become a COTA

Through your fieldwork experiences, you’ll find right where you fit in as an OTA and hopefully find a passion in the field. You can expect to graduate ready to take the NBCOT and start a fulfilling career as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA).

At St. Kate’s, we’re dedicated to your success. We offer support during and after the program through our NBCOT Prep Coaching Program. The program provides graduates with a study plan and one-on-one coaching that helps prepare them to sit for the NBCOT Exam.

Earn Your OTA Degree from St. Catherine in as Few as 16 Months

If you’re considering becoming an occupational therapy assistant, you owe it to yourself to talk to an admissions counselor from the St. Catherine University Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. As the first university in the nation to offer an occupational therapy assistant program, we set the standard by which all OTA programs are judged. With St. Catherine’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program, you can be an occupational therapy assistant in as few as 16 months.

Give us a call today, or fill out the form, to talk to an admissions counselor about whether our program is right for you.

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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