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Guide to Selecting a Postprofessional Education Program in OT

Frequently Asked Questions

Why go back to school? What would an advanced degree do for me?

  • Look at the job market and where people (especially occupational therapy practitioners) with advanced degrees work. What will the degree allow you to do? What degrees do those persons you will be working with have? Where do you want to be in your career in 5 to 10 years?
  • What are the salary ranges of the positions for which you might qualify? School systems, for example, have salary ranges based on level of education and experience. AOTA has survey information for members (for purchase) regarding salaries in a variety of positions.
  • In 2007 the entry-level for OT will move to the postbaccalaureate level. Bachelor entry-level degrees earned prior to this date will be honored, but some therapists may choose to advance their academic credentials.

What kind of degree?

What new knowledge and skills do you want or need to reach your career goals? What is the best way for you to achieve these? Is an academic degree what you need or will continuing education provide the skills/knowledge that you are seeking?

  • Consider the variety of postprofessional degrees and distinguish the differences between MA, MS, MHS, PhD, EdD, ScD, OTD. It is important to know what a terminal degree is. This is the highest academic degree that can be earned in a field. It is required for an increasing number of academic positions, especially with entry-level advancing to the postbaccalaureate entry-level by 2007.
  • Match the degree to what you want to do and where you wish to work. For example, the PhD is a universally recognized terminal research degree for those who wish to work in an academic research setting.
  • Look at the courses offered and the texts and readings, projects, etc. that the program course of study involves. Check the bookstore, program catalog, and Web site to determine whether this matches your interests and objectives.
  • Determine the implications of a degree in occupational therapy, interdisciplinary, or related discipline to your goals.

How?

  • Contact the specific academic programs for admission criteria and visit a library that has current brochures and catalogs or their website to get a general idea of the programs and requirements. You will most likely be required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and have a minimum score and minimum grade point average that will vary with each program.
  • If you are a foreign graduate, what visa issues and restrictions might you face? Contact the international student office at the universities you are exploring.
  • What are the residency requirements of the program? Some programs are taught by distance technology, others on campus only, and others some combination in between. Residency usually refers to on campus study, although this may differ with the program and context. What technology do you need to participate?
  • What other requirements are there for completion? For example, is a thesis or dissertation required? Fieldwork experience? Is the academic program full-time or part-time study?
  • How long has it taken students to complete the program?

Where do I go?

  • What are your restrictions? Consider tuition costs, residency requirements, relocation costs, and opportunity to continue working. Is there a part-time option?
  • When do classes meet? How often is each class taught?
  • What financial aid is available? Some graduate programs offer teaching and research assistantships that pay a stipend and partial tuition. Some employers and other organizations might subsidize graduate study. Check financial aid resources in the library and through the program and university. Some students also work part- time as an occupational therapy practitioner. If this is your plan, you will need to assess the availability of employment opportunities.
  • Which program will provide you with the quality you are seeking? AOTA does not rank academic programs. Some ranking systems exist and the criteria and sources used need to be carefully considered. How well respected is the program by others in the field? Respect outside of the field? Additional things to look for:
    • Type of institution: What is the focus? Research? Teaching?
    • Type of program: What specialty areas are offered, for example, research, community practice, leadership, clinical specialization/practice, or education? What is the philosophy and mission of the program?
    • What does the program expect of its graduates?
    • How many faculty hold doctorates and in what areas? What additional credentials do the faculty have? What have been their contributions to knowledge and how current are these contributions? Author searches can be run on faculty and program and faculty webpages also should provide valuable information.
    • What is the stability of the program? How many faculty are tenured or on continuing contract? In process? How many will be on sabbatical or preparing for retirement?
    • What is the postprofessional faculty to student ratio?
    • How accessible are the faculty? What are their teaching, dissertation and advising loads?
    • Whose academic work would you like to be part of? What opportunities are there to work with faculty mentors? Are faculty interests compatible with your interests and intended area of study?
    • What projects, grants, and research are ongoing?
    • Who, where, how many, and what are the graduates of this program doing now? How has their postprofessional degree influenced this?
    • How many students are in the postprofessional program and what are the opportunities for professional exchange and discussion? What is the usual size of a class?
    • How often are classes taught? What is the average length of the program?
    • From where do the students come? What is the typical postprofessional student like?
    • Under which college is the school housed? Is it in a medical school, graduate school, college of allied health, education, etc.? How does this affect the postprofessional program?
    • What resources are there for students, such as computer access technological support, and libraries.
    • How long has the program existed?
    • Do you feel comfortable with the faculty and students? What is the quality of their interactions?
    • How many students apply to the program? How many are admitted? How many drop out?
  • How much will convenience versus quality considerations influence your choice?

Last Update: 2/10/06