University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) Degree | Curriculum and Requirements

The USC Doctorate of Occupational Therapy degree requires satisfactory completion of 60 units beyond the baccalaureate degree. Students with a master’s degree in occupational therapy may apply for Advanced Standing, which requires 36 units beyond the first graduate degree (these students do not take the 24 units of foundation courses listed below). If not admitted with advanced standing, a student may receive partial credit for coursework taken for a previous graduate degree.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for admission to the OTD program are expected to have at least a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university and must be certified or licensed as an occupational therapist or be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy® (NBCOT) examination at time of matriculation. Domestic students not certified upon matriculation must pass the NBCOT examination by the end of the first semester of the program to maintain enrollment. At the discretion of the OTD director, some international students may not be required to obtain NBCOT certification. A minimum GPA of 3.0 (A = 4.0) and the following minimum scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), taken within 5 years of planned enrollment, are required: 153 or above on the Verbal section, 144 or above on the Quantitative section, and 3.5 or above on the Writing section. Applicants must have earned a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in the 400- and 500-level required courses. At least three letters of reference, an autobiographical statement of purpose and a current resume are required. Applicants’ leadership potential, previous academic record, clinical experiences and professional accomplishments will also be considered.

Application Procedures

Applications are accepted on a continuous basis. For consideration for fall semester admission, applications must be received by October 1 for maximum funding consideration. Applications received after October 1 will be considered on a space-available basis. Application requirements include:

  1. USC Online Graduate Application;
  2. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy online supplemental application for graduate admission;
  3. Three letters of reference;
  4. Autobiographical statement of purpose;
  5. Transcripts from all colleges/universities attended; and
  6. GRE General Test scores.

Required Occupational Therapy Foundation Courses (24 units required)

The following courses, also part of the USC Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy degree program, are required of all students in the OTD program. However, students who have taken equivalent courses as part of degree programs at other accredited institutions may request partial credit for some of these courses. Our OTD adviser will be happy to work with you to investigate potential waivers which can be granted for students who have obtained master’s degrees from accredited institutions other than USC.

  • OT 515 Neuroscience of Behavior (4 units)
  • OT 525 Qualitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice (4 units)
  • OT 534 Health Promotion and Wellness (2 units)
  • OT 538 Current Issues in Practice: Adulthood and Aging (2 units)
  • OT 540 Leadership Capstone (2 units)
  • OT 545 Advanced Seminar in Occupational Science (2 units)
  • OT 518 Quantitative Research for Evidence-Based Practice (4 units) or
    OT 581 Quantitative Research for the Practice Clinician (4 units)
  • OT 500-level Electives (4 units)

Read Course Descriptions here.

Required Occupational Science Advanced Courses (8 units required)

All OTD students are required to take an intensive course in occupational science during the fall semester, which gives students the grounding to understand the complexities surrounding everyday living and social engagement in the world. Additionally, it equips the student to conceptualize program innovation, to persuasively articulate the unique contribution occupational therapy makes in meeting societal needs, and to be well informed of the science supporting clinical practice. In the spring semester, all OTD students take a second core course during which they complete a proposal by midterm that describes the innovative project they will then implement as part of their program of study. In this course they are exposed to leadership-related content, business writing, grant and proposal development and implementation, fiscal management and the design of occupational science-based innovations.

  • OT 620 Current Issues in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy (4 units)
  • OT 621 Occupational Therapy Leadership: Contemporary Issues (4 units)

Elective Courses (4 units required)

All OTD students take at least one course (4 units) at the 500-level or higher at another USC academic unit outside the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. The coursework must clearly relate to the student’s professional goals and remain consistent with the objectives of the OTD program. For example, a student who developed an Lifestyle Redesign® program to support environmentally sustainable habits took coursework in the USC Marshall School of Business to refine her business presentation and communication skills. Another student, completing his residency in a violence prevention program, took a course on nonprofit organization management. A third student, completing her residency in a Lifestyle Redesign® weight loss program, selected a course from the Keck School of Medicine of USC on health promotion. A fourth, who secured a leadership position in a residential aging-in-place program, took her elective courses in the USC Davis School of Gerontology. Finally, students who wish to pursue more intensive study in occupational science may be granted permission to use their elective units to concentrate in Division-based 600-level occupational science courses associated with the PhD program. Examples of “cognate” courses past OTD students have taken include:

  • MKT 526 Advertising and Promotion Strategy Explains the use of argument, emotion, endorsements for persuasive ads; tools for analyzing ad effectiveness, budgeting, media planning and scheduling; principles of pricing for creative promotion. At the USC Marshall School of Business.
  • GSBA 599 Business Fundamentals for Non-Business Professionals Directed research course at the USC Marshall School of Business.
  • PPD 545 Human Behavior in Public Organizations Behavior in organizations; focus on personal, interpersonal and group level factors that influence such behavior. At the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.
  • PM 562 Intervention Approaches for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Approaches for modifying health behavior in various settings and within diverse populations. Emphasis on practical considerations necessary to design and implement interventions with demonstrated effectiveness. In the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
  • SOWK 603 Merging Policy, Planning and Research for Change in Families and Childrens’ Settings Development and evaluation of service programs for children and families incorporating social welfare policy, macro practice and research skills. At the USC School of Social Work.
  • PM 536 Program Evaluation and Research Overview of concepts, tools, data collection, analysis methods and designs used to evaluate health promotion programs. Examples from substance abuse prevention, family planning and reproductive health programs. In the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
  • PYSC 544 Psychophysiology Recent research on relations between basic psychological states (e.g., cognition, learning, emotion) and physiological response processes (e.g., autonomic responses, covert muscle activity). At the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
  • JOUR 504 Public Relations Research and Evaluation Covers the use of primary psychographic and demographic research, pre- and post-campaign testing and other highly 
quantifiable research techniques in program development and evaluation. At the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

Residency Requirement (24 units required)

The doctoral residency is a crucial element of our OTD program. We believe that immersion in specific practice contexts (whether they be clinical, policy-related, educational or research focused) gives occupational therapists the skills and expertise to move occupational therapy forward. As a result, our OTD program involves 24 units taken over three semesters. You will work in carefully selected settings (which may be the one in which you have had experience) with the guidance of a mentor. For example, you may work alongside a master clinician in lymphedema treatment, interact with a policy think tank or teach undergraduate students studying occupational science. Usually, students on the clinical track complete their residency at a center of clinical excellence in their area of interest: students on the policy/administrative track are placed in advocacy organizations; and students with a research focus have participated on interdisciplinary research teams.  Students can also apply to the Keck Medical Center of USC Physical Rehabilitation Fellowship Program.  The KMC USC Fellowship Program is a dual program in which students enrolled in the OTD program concurrently participate in the KMC USC AOTA Fellowship Program.

An OTD residency placement may be paid or voluntary, depending on the resources of the site. One of the three semesters, usually summer, students will participate onsite 40 hours a week and will not take any other classes. During the other two semesters of residency, students will participate part-time for a minimum of 20 hours a week. This experience is overseen by an advisory board composed of Chan Division faculty, which must approve each student’s residency plan prior to enrollment.

Students will complete 24 units of OT 686 residency. At least 20 units applied toward the OTD must be successfully completed before enrolling in OT 686 unless advanced standing has been granted. Students may complete their residency over three consecutive semesters (6 units, 6 units and 12 units) or over four consecutive semesters. It is highly recommended that one semester of OT 686 be enrolled full-time (12 units without any other simultaneous course enrollment). Full-time residency ensures the opportunity for full immersion in residency.

Important Notes for International Students

Students educated outside the United States must have graduated from a program approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT). USC maintains additional admissions requirements for international students, including English language competence as measured by the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) examination. Please bear in mind that certification through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy® (NBCOT®), which is necessary to practice as an occupational therapist in the United States and is required to be completed by the end of your first semester of the OTD program, can take up to six months. A felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT® certification examination or attain state licensure. Please view for more information.

Portfolio Requirement

In the final semester of enrollment, each student will submit a portfolio demonstrating competence in his or her chosen leadership concentration. The final portfolio will include documentation of both written and oral presentation skills and expertise as designated in the residency plan.

Clinical Experience Criterion

Our OTD program is based on customization, as each individual student’s program is designed in accord with his or her needs and ambitions. We realize that students with considerable clinical expertise may seek to take more coursework and less residency than is typical. However, students with less than three years of clinical experience as a registered and/or licensed occupational therapist at time of admission may be required to complete at least 8 units of clinical occupational therapy courses, which may include::

  • OT 500abc Clinical Problems in Occupational Therapy (2-4 units each)
  • OT 560 Contemporary Issues in School-based Practice (4 units)
  • OT 564 Sensory Integration (4 units)
  • OT 572 Ergonomics (4 units)
  • OT 574 Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation (4 units)
  • OT 583 Lifestyle Redesign® (4 units)
  • OT 590 Directed Research (1-12 units)
  • OT 610 Sensory Integrative Dysfunction (4 units)

Read Course Descriptions here.

WASC Accreditation

USC has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of six regional accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, since 1949. View the student learning outcomes (PDF) for our academic programs.