Hey readers! Today I am sitting down and answering all of your questions about OT school, being an OT student, and OT in general. I collected these questions on my Instagram page, so if you have additional questions, comment below or send me a message on IG. I will add more questions and answers to this post as I receive them. I hope you find this helpful!
Q: How do I decide which OT programs to apply to?
A: This is a personal choice and you should choose whatever school is right for you. A few things that I took into consideration when I applied to OT school included location, type of program, and start date. I really wanted to save money on rent while in OT school, so I only applied to schools in Massachusetts. I am lucky that there were a handful of programs to apply to in my area and that I have the ability to live with my parents during grad school. If that isn’t an option for you, you may want to take into consideration cost of living wherever you apply. By type of program, I mean OTD vs. MSOT. I personally wanted to earn an OTD degree, but I didn’t rule out MSOT programs during the application process. (More on that below.) Finally, I wanted to pretty much go right into grad school after my undergraduate graduation. Whether you feel the same way or want to take some time off, you’ll need to take into consideration the program’s start date.
Now that I am in OT school, some other things that I would take into consideration when applying to OT school include:
- Opportunities to engage in interprofessional practice – Do you get to collaborate with students in other programs at all? (e.g. PT, SLP, NP, PA, etc.)
- Opportunities to learn in or serve other countries – Some students in my program were able to go abroad during our program, which was an amazing learning experience.
- Opportunities for fieldwork – What kinds of connections does the program have, and what kinds of fieldwork placements will you get?
Q: How do I decide between two equally well-ranked programs?
A: Again, this is a personal choice. I chose my program for two reasons: financial aid and personalization during the interview process. I was accepted to three equally well-ranked programs in Boston, but only one offered me a scholarship. This alone was a selling factor for me. Secondly, I just got a really good feeling at the school that I chose. (I know, this may sound cheesy). If you have the opportunity to interview in-person or take tours of the schools you are applying to, I highly recommend going. In comparison to the interview process at other schools, the school that I chose made me feel really good. From the moment I received the interview call to the actual interview, I felt like the IHP truly wanted me. I felt like the professors and students there were trying to impress me, rather than feeling like I was just another number at other schools. They knew personal details about my application and asked me about those personal experiences. I hope you have an experience like that as well, because that experience really solidified my desire to go to the IHP!
- Consider finances – How much money will you need to take out in loans to go to that school? Did any school offer you a scholarship? Can you live with family, or will you need to pay for rent?
- Consider ability to have a part-time job – Some programs are set up in a way that will allow you to have a part-time job. During interview day, you will likely be able to talk to current students, which is the perfect time to ask about this. I am able to have a part-time job at the school that I go to, which is very helpful.
- Consider location – How easy or difficult will it be to go home for holidays? Will you have to travel far to get to school? Do you want to travel far, or do you want to be close to home? This may be a great time to travel across the country, or you may be a home-body like me.
- Consider interprofessional opportunities – Like I mentioned above, some schools (including my own) provide opportunities to learn with other professions. This is a really great experience to practice patient-centered care and learn how to advocate for OT’s role on the care team.
- Consider clubs and extracurricular activities – I also loved that my school has a SOTA club (student occupational therapy association), as well as other clubs that students can be part of!
Q: OTD vs. MSOT?
A: I have an entire blog post dedicated to this debate, which you can read here. A few things to think about are length of school, desire to do research, and professional opportunities once you are a practitioner. When I applied to OT school, there was a mandate for all entry-level occupational therapists to earn an OTD degree by 2027. However, this mandate was removed (read more in the full blog post). At the time that I applied to OT school, this was a major factor. I felt like if everyone would have an OTD eventually, I would want to have one as well. Now that this isn’t the case, here are some other things to consider when you are deciding between doctorate or masters degrees.
- Length of school – I’m not going to lie, it would be really nice to be graduating this May (which would be the case if I was in a masters program). Doctoral programs are typically 3 years (full-time) and masters programs are typically 2-2.5 years (full-time).
- Desire to do research – One of the main differences between doctorate and masters programs for OT is the amount of research you will do in an OTD program. In my program, we have three semesters of research class followed by a semester of implementation and summation of our research project. This may sound daunting, but it has been really cool to dive into the research on a topic that I care about. I am excited to develop my research methods and disseminate my findings next spring. This is a great learning opportunity and skillset to have on your resume.
- Professional opportunities – One thing that OTs with an OTD degree may have as an advantage is opportunities to progress professionally once you graduate OT school. With the additional research and leadership experience that OTD students gain in school, we may be eligible for promotions not long after graduation.
Q: What is your best advice for an OT student moving across the country for grad school?
A: Join clubs, say “yes” to getting together with peers in your program, and put yourself out there! I did not move across the country for OT school, but a lot of people did. I imagine that it can be scary, but everyone in my class is so welcoming and have become great friends. Do your research on the place you are moving to, visit before you make the move, and make sure you are in an apartment/area where you feel safe.
Q: What are your best interview tips?
A: I recently interviewed for one of my level II fieldwork placements, which you can read about here! In this post, I offered suggestions about how to prepare for a level II fieldwork interview. Whether you are interviewing for a fieldwork placement or OT school, here are a few tips:
- Dress professionally – Put your best foot forward!
- Come prepared with questions – Write down a few questions for the placement or school ahead of time. It looks good when you have questions prepared, especially because interviewers will often ask what questions you have. Otherwise, it seems like you think you know everything already!
- Arrive early – Arrive 15 minutes early to ensure that you find the building/office on time. Also, don’t sit in the waiting area scrolling through your phone. I recommend silencing it or turning it off and leaving it in your purse/pocket from the moment you walk through the door until you leave.
- Update your resume – Be sure to update your resume/CV ahead of time and come with a printed copy for your interviewer.
- Say “Thank You” – Always send a “Thank you” note or email after your interview!
Q: How do I prepare for fieldwork?
A: Here is the link to a blog post all about making the most of level I fieldwork. I have yet to prepare for level II fieldwork, but I will be doing so this upcoming May-June. I will take you along for the ride for that! Until then, come of my recommendations for preparing for level I fieldwork include:
- Ask lots of questions – No question is a bad question!
- Come with an open mind – You may see or hear things that you are uncomfortable with, have never seen before, etc. Be open to learning!
- Share your interests with your supervisor – It is great to make connections with the OTs you shadow. Share what you are interested in, and you never know what opportunities may come from it. Of course, always be optimistic and interested in what they are showing you as well.
Q: How to I get observation hours prior to OT school?
A: Reaching out to a hospital, school, or clinic is daunting, but do it! Odds are that they will be happy to have a pre-OT student shadow for a day or more. I recommend reaching out to multiple settings (e.g. inpatient hospital, outpatient hand therapy, schools, pediatric clinic, etc.). It is best to have experience in more than one setting, since OT is so broad. Furthermore, if you are able to shadow for enough time where you feel like you have gained the trust and respect of the OT, consider asking for a letter of recommendation for OT school. It is great to have at least one letter of recommendation written by an OT. Here is a link to a blog post with tips for OT observation hours!
Q: How do I know if OT is right for me?
A: Trying to decide if OT is right for you? Check out this blog post about some key characteristics that most OTs tend to have. I love OT, and I hope you do too.