University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Redesigning Lives Globally
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Academics

Academics

M.A. in Occupational Therapy (Two-Year): Curriculum and Requirements

The two-year core curriculum includes three practice immersions in Adult Physical Rehabilitation, Mental Health, and Pediatrics, as well as elective options. Courses focus on the basic professional content required for academic program accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education® (ACOTE)*. Topics include medical sciences, occupational development and performance, and the various areas of practice. Hands-on experience is introduced early in the program in order to support you in honing basic technical skills and integrating this practice with theory. In the second year of the program, you will begin to tailor your electives to support a specialty focus of your choice.

First-Year Coursework

In the first year, students learn the fundamentals of professional practice as well as the powerful relationship of occupations to health. You will complete two of the required practice immersions in addition to core courses focusing on content spanning all areas of occupational therapy practice, such as:

  • Behavioral neuroscience
  • Research and evidence-based practice
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Therapeutic use of self
  • Communication skills for effective practice

Second-Year Coursework

In the second year, students complete a final practice immersion and develop a community-based occupational therapy project utilizing the research and clinical skills gleaned from coursework. In the final semester, you will participate in an advanced seminar in occupational science, and complete a two-week externship designed to enhance your communication and leadership skills. Students also benefit from an individually tailored plan of elective coursework.

Electives

The electives you select are the building blocks for your preparation in a specialty area. To fulfill your elective units, you can take courses offered by the Division or by USC’s other professional schools, or you can design your own elective course.

Division Electives include:

  • OT 500abc Clinical Problems in Occupational Therapy
  • OT 555 Seminar: Implementation of the Advocacy Model
  • OT 560 School-based Practice
  • OT 564 Sensory Integration Theory
  • OT 571 Assistive Technology
  • OT 572 Ergonomics
  • OT 573 Hand Rehabilitation
  • OT 574 Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation
  • OT 575 Dysphagia Across the Lifespan: Pediatrics through Geriatrics
  • OT 576 Universal Design
  • OT 578 Therapeutic Communication for the Healthcare Practitioner
  • OT 583 Lifestyle Redesign®
  • OT 590 Directed Research

Read Course Descriptions here.

Other USC School Electives (400 level classes and above)

Occupational therapy elective course work may be combined with four units from another school within USC, such as the:

  • USC Marshall School of Business
  • USC Davis School of Gerontology
  • USC Sol Price School of Public Policy
  • USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

You will begin specialization and create your own individualized professional pathway through the combination of elective courses that you choose, allowing you to jump-start your career in your occupational therapy practice area of choice.

For example, a student interested in pursuing a career as an occupational therapist specializing in pediatrics might take the following combination of elective courses:

  • OT 560 School-based Practice
  • OT 564 Sensory Integration
  • OT 575 Dysphagia Across the Lifespan: Pediatrics through Geriatrics

OT 560 provides in-depth learning experiences for practice in school settings while OT 564 provides a comprehensive overview of one of the most prevalent intervention theories used in pediatric therapy and OT 575 provides assessment and intervention training to help patients who may be struggling with atypical swallowing.

How you choose to design your pathway will be based on your own practice and research interests as they develop through your experiences in fieldwork and in the foundational core courses of the program.

To further tailor the curriculum to your career goals, you may be granted the option of taking more elective coursework in other USC schools in lieu of division electives.

Fieldwork

USC offers fieldwork placements at more than 850 sites, in 39 states and five countries. Level I fieldwork is embedded in each of the practice immersion courses (OT 501 Adult Physical Rehabilitation, OT 502 Mental Health, OT 503 Pediatrics) and occurs one full day per week for ten weeks and a full-time week during the fourth or fifth week of the experience. Level II fieldwork consists of two 12 week full-time experiences in distinctly different practice areas, and is typically completed during two 12 week summer sessions (after the first spring semester and after the second spring semester). Students who do not engage in Level II fieldwork following the first year of the professional program will complete two Level II experiences sequentially during the second year of the program, typically summer and fall semesters. Fieldwork provides invaluable hands-on experience in the key practice areas of occupational therapy. Our team of academic fieldwork coordinators will work with you to find a placement that corresponds with your interests and desired geographic location. Level II fieldwork is required for the master’s degree at USC and is also required to apply for eligibility to take the NBCOT examination.

Comprehensive Exam or Master’s Thesis Option

During the second year of the program, you are given the choice of whether to pursue the master’s thesis option or the comprehensive examination option.

Comprehensive Examination Option

Most students will choose the comprehensive exam option. The comprehensive examination is given at the end of the fall and spring semesters each year and enables you to choose three elective courses (at least two from within the division). A minimum of 80 units, including fieldwork units, is required to graduate with this option.

*A student who fails the comprehensive exam may take it a second time. A student who fails the exam a second time will be terminated from the program.

Master’s Thesis Option

The thesis option provides an opportunity to conduct and report on an original piece of research. Thesis work typically begins either during the spring, summer or fall semester of the second year and usually requires an additional one or two semesters. This option requires four units of electives, either in the department or outside the department, and two or more semesters of OT 594 (Thesis) for 2 units each semester. A minimum of 76 units, including fieldwork units, is required to graduate under this option.

Requirements for Graduation

In order to graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Occupational Therapy on the comprehensive examination track, you must have completed:

  • 68 units of required OT
  • 8 units of OT electives
  • 4 units of electives from either in or outside the Division
  • GPA of 3.0 or better (both applied and overall)
  • The comprehensive examination with a passing score

In order to graduate with a Master of Arts degree in Occupational Therapy on the thesis track, you must have completed:

  • 68 units of required OT coursework
  • 4 units of electives from either in or outside the Division
  • At least 4 units of thesis coursework
  • GPA of 3.0 or better (both applied and overall)
  • A master’s thesis accepted by both your committee and the thesis editor of the graduate school

Graduation

Upon successful completion of all courses and either passing the comprehensive examination or having your thesis accepted by the Graduate School, you will be awarded the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree. Comprehensive Exam Option students usually will have met all requirements for graduation in August of their second year following completion of their second fieldwork. Thesis option students typically take an extra semester or two to complete their thesis.

National Board Certification

Once students have successfully completed all professional course work including the required number of fieldwork hours, they are eligible to sit for the professional examination offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy® (NBCOT). Candidates should visit www.nbcot.org for specific information on the examination process. A felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure. Students who pass this examination earn the designation “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR) and, after ensuring compliance with various state licensing regulations, can begin practice as an occupational therapist.

*The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education® can be contacted at: ACOTE, c/o Accreditation Department, American Occupational Therapy Association®, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda MD 20814-3449, www.acoteonline.org, (301) 652-6611 x2914