three girls in scrubs

Pre-Occupational Therapy

Admission to Occupational Therapy school is a competitive process. It is vitally important that Pre-Occupational Therapy students prepare themselves to be competitive applicants during their undergraduate years. Applicants are evaluated on a holistic level, with consideration on GPA, GRE scores, Occupational Therapy shadowing/experience, and volunteer and leadership experiences.

Prerequisite Courses

Your Pre-Health counselor will help you plan your pre-requisite courses, ensuring a doable sequence and proper timeline. It is recommended you prioritize the registration of prerequisite courses over major and general education requirements as you may often finish some requirements during the application process.

Note: The prerequisites listed here are a general guideline of common courses required by Occupational Therapy programs. Occupational Therapy programs determine their own individual requirements. It is important for you to research the specific requirements for each school you are interested in applying to. It is your responsibility to research the specific requirements for each school you are interested in applying to. If you have questions, always contact each individual program.

Required by most Occupational Therapy programs with a grade of C or better (generally avoid online pre-req. options):

  • General Biology: BIOL 1010 (Many schools prefer Biol 1610/1615)
  • General Chemistry/lab: CHEM 1110 or  Chem 1210/1215 (Some schools don't require chemistry but it is also needed as a prerequisite to Physiology.)
  • Physics : PHYS 1010 (Many schools require PSYS 2010/2015, check with your prospective program) University of Utah will also accept Kinesiology or Biomechanics
  • Human Anatomy: ZOOL 2320/2325
  • Human Physiology: ZOOL 2420/2425
  • General Psychology: PSY 1010
  • Human Development Life Span: PSY 1100
  • Abnormal Psychology: PSY 3400
  • Medical Terminology I: HLTH 1300 (Required for University of Utah)
  • Introduction to Sociology and/or Cultural Anthropology: SOC 1010 and/or ANTH 101G (Both are required for University of Utah)
  • Principles of Statistics or Stats for Behavioral Sciences: MATH 2040 or BESC 3010

In addition, some schools require the following courses:

  • First Aid: HLTH 1200 or Advanced First Aid Certification
  • Public Speaking: COMM 1020
  • Technical Writing: ENGL 3300 or ENGL 4310
  • Studio Arts Course

To see what your program requires see:

AOTA: Find Schools


NOTE: GPA is a vital part of your application to Occupational Therapy programs. OT programs will consider your science GPA, non-science GPA and cumulative GPA. All grades received for college credit will likely be calculated into your GPA, even if you have retaken courses. If you have taken any courses at a different school or if you have retaken courses, your UVU GPA will not likely reflect the accurate GPA calculation for OT schools.


  • Include every course you have taken for college credit even if you have retaken the course.
  • Include transfer credit from other schools you have attended.
  • Biology courses include BIOL, MICRO, BOT and ZOOL.
  • Physics courses include ASTR.
  • Exercise Science courses that are science based (Kinesiology, Biomechanics, etc.) should be calculated with the science GPA.
  • Pass/Fail courses are not included in the GPA.
GPA Calculator


The GRE revised General Test is a standardized examination required by many OT programs as part of your application. Research your schools of interest to determine if you need to take the GRE.

The GRE underwent a major revision in August 2011 and is administered via a computer-based format on a year-round, first-come, first-served basis. Plan to register for the GRE early and take it at least 6 weeks prior to your earliest application deadline.

The GRE revised General Test measures:

  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Analytical Writing
About the GRERegister for the GRE

Studying for the GRE

Note: UVU does not endorse or recommend specific GRE preparation courses or materials. Research potential study methods and determine which ones fit your needs most appropriately. The GRE is a challenging exam that merits careful preparation. Plan to study for the GRE for several weeks in the way that fits your budget, schedule, and learning style best.

Kaplan Test PrepBYU Test PrepU of U Test Prep

Free Study Materials:

ETS Material

Extracurricular Activities

Extra-curricular activities help Occupational Therapy programs evaluate your potential as a clinician and professional. They can help you stand out as an applicant and demonstrate your motivation for pursuing a career in healthcare.

Consider planning out your extra-curricular activities by semester, just like your pre-requisite courses. Starting early helps avoid the stress associated with cramming everything into the last few semesters prior to the application.

Minimum Recommended Extra-curricular Activities

  • OT Experience: 50-75 hours in at least 2 different settings
  • Volunteer Service: 45 hours during each of the pre-OT years including the year of application
  • Leadership: 2 different leadership positions during the pre-OT years


What is it?

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life, but there are many benefits to volunteering including skill development, meeting others, having fun, and a variety of other reasons. Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving of yourself without the expectation of compensation. Compensation includes payment, stipends, or grades for a class.

Being involved in 2-3 service opportunities will benefit you more than having several brief experiences. The number of hours each year we typically see from students who get accepted to occupational therapy programs are 45 hoursVolunteer service can be done with any group or organization and does not have to be healthcare related, but it can be helpful to look for opportunities that will take you out of your comfort zone and show a diversity of experience

It is important that you find something you can be dedicated to and passionate about. You will find the experience that much more rewarding. And remember, you are not just checking off boxes to get into a health professions school. You are making a difference in your community and learning valuable lessons about yourself and the world around you.

How do I do it?

It is up to you to find the volunteer experiences that are the best fit for you. One of the first places you can start looking is UVU's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center. This office maintains information on volunteer needs in the community in many different areas. There is a very good chance you will find something there that interests you. Other good resources include United Way and the website U Serve Utah maintained by the state.

UVU Volunteer CenterU Serve UtahUnited Way of UC


Why should I do it?

Shadowing provides an opportunity for you to gain exposure to the healthcare field you are interested in and develop a clear understanding of what life in that profession entails. It is a chance to observe a professional as they go through a routine day seeing patients, completing paperwork, talking with insurance companies, etc. Because shadowing is meant to be just observational, it does not fulfill other requirements to gain hands-on experience interacting with patients. Go to the Healthcare Experiences link for information about the hands-on experience expected by health professions programs.

Professional schools want to know you have had enough experience with professionals in the field to know that it is something you really want to do and that you have a good understanding of what your life will be like. In addition, it is a great opportunity to ask questions and develop rapport with professionals. You will likely need at least one letter of recommendation from someone in the field you have chosen. You will get a better letter if you spend some time getting to know the people you shadow.

Plan to shadow each professional for a minimum of 9-12 hours. The number of overall shadowing hours we typically see from students who get accepted to occupational therapy programs are 50-75 hours of shadowing/experience.


What is it?

Research is more than just reviewing what others have already done and summarizing it in a long research paper for class. Research revolves around a specific hypothesis and follows the scientific method. Most research is experiment, survey, or observationally based. Research does not have to be limited to healthcare or science fields and instead, may cover diverse subject matters. 

Examples of research:

  • Working in a genetics lab to determine how gene therapy influences deafness in mice
  • Collecting sea snails and observing how quickly they reproduce and in what conditions
  • Conducting interviews with women about how religion influences their self-efficacy
  • Experimenting with how fire-fighters get dressed to increase response rates in emergencies
  • Surveying teens about their views of sexuality

Why should I do it?

Many health professions programs will require you to assist in research, understand how to interpret research, or even run your own research projects. Moreover, you will likely have opportunities to participate in research as a way of receiving financial compensation or to improve your attractiveness to residency programs. Completing research in your undergraduate coursework shows your potential to be successful in graduate level research you are proving that your learning curve will not be too steep because you have done this before.

Research gives you a competitive advantage for occupational therapy programs.

What are the expectations?

Many students wait to start working on research until their sophomore or junior year because research often requires enough coursework to provide a strong academic background and an introduction to research principles. Regardless, research should typically be completed prior to the application in order to qualify for credit on the application. Research may be in any subject, as long as it is hypothesis-based.

  • Research must be hypothesis-based
  • Research must be supervised or mentored by someone familiar with research processes
  • Research must follow scientific processes and is not simply reading about research that is already completed
  • Your hypothesis may be your own or you may assist in another person's research
  • Research is typically completed outside of class and not as part of your major
  • Plan on at least 50 hours to be competitive

How do I do it?

There are a few different ways to participate in research.

  1. Create your own project
    1. Develop a hypothesis for a subject of your choice
    2. Approach a professional who knows how to conduct research and ask for his or her help as a mentor
    3. Work with the professional to complete the research following sound scientific principles
  2. Help a professor with his or her own project
    1. Approach a professor to see if he or she is participating in research
    2. If YES, ask if you might be able to participate/assist.
      1. Follow the professor's expectations to complete the research
    3. If NO, ask if he or she knows 2-3 people that might be able to help
      1. Use that reference to approach the referral
      2. Repeat steps until you find a professor who will accept your assistance
  3. Find a professional (healthcare professionals, research organizations, other universities, etc.) to help with an existing project
    1. Approach a professional to see if they might accept your assistance OR
    2. Apply for a research position/internship like you would apply for a job
    3. Follow the professional's expectations to complete the research

Healthcare Experience

What is it?

Healthcare experience outside of shadowing usually includes volunteering or finding employment in a healthcare setting, usually with direct patient contact (i.e. offering clinical care and not just working in a healthcare environment). Many students will consider getting a basic certification or may find opportunities that offer on-the-job training.

Examples of healthcare experience:

  • Volunteering with hospice
  • Working full-time as a paramedic
  • Taking a C.N.A. certification course and finding a position at a local hospital
  • Receiving on-the-job training to work as a Physical Therapy or Occupational Therapy Tech
  • Getting an internship with the 30-Day Heart Challenge

Why should I do it?

Health professions programs will have greater confidence in your ability to interact positively with patients and withstand the rigor of a career in healthcare if they know you have already been part of the industry. As you work in healthcare, you will develop concrete examples of yourself showing compassion to patients, working with a team of healthcare providers, and solving problems. These experiences will likely assist you in your application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interviews. Additionally, many health professions programs actually REQUIRE healthcare experience or patient contact.

What are the expectations?

Research the requirements for your health professions program to ensure you are meeting their expectations for healthcare experience. Some programs will specify the hours required and may require the experience to be paid. The recommendation for pre-occupational therapy healthcare experience is 50-75 hours of shadowing/experience.

How do I do it?

How you choose to get healthcare experience will depend on the qualifications of the jobs or volunteer opportunities you are seeking. Many positions in healthcare require a certification (e.g. C.N.A., medical assistant, paramedic) while others are more flexible and require on-the-job training. Sometimes approaching organizations directly is more effective than simply responding to job ads online. Many students will also offer to volunteer for free, which sometimes leads to paid employment.

For assistance looking for and applying to healthcare jobs, contact the UVU Career Development Center.

Choosing a Occupational Therapy School

Admission to Occupational Therapy school is a competitive process. It is vitally important that Pre-Occupational Therapy students prepare themselves to be competitive applicants during their undergraduate years. Applicants are evaluated on a holistic level, with consideration on GPA, GRE scores, Occupational Therapy shadowing/experience, and volunteer and leadership experiences.

Work closely with your Pre-Health counselor who can assist you with:

  • Prerequisite academic planning
  • Extra-curricular considerations (i.e. shadowing, Occupational Therapy experience, volunteering, etc.)
  • OTCAS and the application process
  • GRE planning
  • Writing personal statements
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Mock interviews

Choosing the right OT school for you takes significant research.

Things to Consider When Choosing an Occupational Therapy School

  • Degrees awarded (i.e. combination BS/MOT; MS; OTD, etc.)
  • Admissions criteria
  • Location
  • Cost
  • Quality and reputation
  • Mission, philosophy, values
  • Curriculum and program delivery
  • Internship/externships
  • Specialties
  • Research interests
  • Career resources and job placement
  • Licensure test scores
  • Facilities
  • Faculty

OT programs vary in their admissions requirements, program delivery, degrees awarded, missions, and quality. It is important to research Occupational Therapy schools to determine which schools fit your interests and needs most.

Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service (OTCAS)

Many Occupational Therapy programs use the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service (OTCAS). OTCAS allows you to apply to several schools without filling out multiple applications. OTCAS usually opens early July and runs for nearly one year per admissions cycle. Follow the application instructions required by each school you plan to apply to.

Plan to apply to Occupational Therapy school as soon as prerequisites are completed (or almost completed), starting in July. Ideally, students will apply to OT programs approximately one year prior to graduation.

OTCAS usually opens early July and applicants will typically apply one year prior to admission. The OTCAS application is subject to small changes each year, but generally you should plan to include:

  • Letters of recommendation (up to 3)
  • Official transcripts from every college/university attended
  • Personal statement, approximately 4500 characters up to 7500 characters, with spaces
  • Summaries of extra-curricular experiences
OTCAS Website