How to go to OT graduate school after being out of school for a long time – Step 1 AKA, Step 1 of I’m changing careers to be an OT, help, what do I do? >
September 21, 2021
So, after deciding you want to be an OT, you are daunted by the prospect of making it happen. You say to yourself, “Dude, I want to be an occupational therapist, but I have to go back to school – and it’s been sooo long.” Your brain continues with more self-doubt by saying, “Maybe it’s too late, I won’t be able to afford it? Besides, I was an art history major and studied some science but that was in 2010 and I don’t remember any of it. I don’t have time to take all of these classes again and then graduate school!” Or you’re thinking, I’m ready, it’s time to make this happen. In either case, you just need some sort of road map of what it will take to go back to school. For me I had no road map. I knew no occupational therapists who were recent grads, except for that one who became a regular at my bar (see my last blog) but that was after I started the process. So, I was left to internet searches and a few somewhat impersonal informational sessions at a few graduate schools (USC was not one of the ones that was impersonal – Thanks Dr. Nxumalo and Dr. Bennett!).
If you are like I was (changing careers) and are trying to figure out how to go to OT grad school, I’ll be spending the next few blogs talking about my experience of going back to school. Hopefully reading these blogs will give you some helpful tips on what steps to take. However, please note these steps are what I did, and what worked for me. They are in no way the only way to get yourself to OT graduate school. Find what works for you.
Step 1: Taking pre-requisite classes so you can apply to graduate school
After making the decision that I wanted to be an OT and finding out about needing to go to graduate school to get a license, I went down the rabbit hole investigating what the requirements were to apply to graduate school. (Perhaps a similar search has caused you to land on this page.) Unfortunately, my liberal arts degree from the 90s was not going to be enough. One key thing I kept seeing on graduate school websites was there were a bunch of classes I needed to take, but because I had a liberal arts degree, I did not take most of those classes. Also, for the one or two classes I did take, because I took them when I was in college more than 7 years ago, I would need to take them again…bummer. Most schools require the pre-requisite classes to be taken anywhere from 5 years to 10 years before attending graduate school. USCs requirement is you need to have taken your pre-requisites within 7 years of enrollment.
So, what classes do you need to take to apply to OT graduate school. Most OT grad schools but not require: Anatomy, Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Anthropology or Sociology, and some sort of medical terminology class and sometimes Statistics. Interestingly, one graduate school I thought about applying to, not USC, required all applicants to have taken Chemistry and Physics. Chemistry and Physics? No offense to chemists and physicists but no thank you!
Click here to find the pre-requisites to apply to the USC Entry-Level OTD with links to possible courses:
USC Admissions Process
Once I knew what pre-requisites most OT graduate schools required, I began to think about where I could take classes for the least amount of money. I just couldn’t afford to spend that much money on classes, and my wife was already a bit wary of this midlife career change and its impact on our finances and time. (How to make the change from a working adult to student and adjust your finances and time to attend graduate school will be coming up in Step 3 and 4.)
For me the most logical way to complete my pre-requisites was going to community college. (Big shout out to LaGuardia Community College and LACC!) It was affordable, I was also able to complete all the prerequisites for approx. $50 a credit, and it offered me the most flexibility around scheduling so that I could continue to work full-time. I was able to get online classes, and weekend and evening classes. Also, because many community colleges are on a quarter system, I was able to take more classes in a shorter amount of time. In addition, it was a great way to slowly get back into going to school and not feel totally overwhelmed. For me I hadn’t been to school in a very long time…scary. I was able to start slowly by taking one class per semester. I was able to complete all of my pre-requisites in less than two years. However, in the midst of that I did eventually start working a part-time job which freed up more time to double up on classes and accelerate completion…more on that in my next few blogs.
One thing to remember if you decide to go to community college to complete your pre-requisites. Make sure to register for Anatomy and Physiology classes early. They often fill up very quickly because most if not all health profession graduate schools require applicants to take these classes. They are very much in demand and can be closed on the first day of registration.
You might be saying, as I did, “Why do I have to take all of these classes. It seems like so much time and money! I’ve already got a college degree, isn’t that enough?”
Well kind of but after being in graduate school for a little more than a year now, I understand the reason and value in taking all of these pre-requisite courses. Yes, my college degree and your college degree probably gave you important skills needed to handle the academic rigor of graduate school, however, these pre-requisite courses provided me with an important base of knowledge specific to occupational therapy, and I find that this knowledge comes up almost every day I’m in graduate school. In fact, all of the classes that I have taken in graduate school have at some point referred back to things I learned in each of those pre-requisite courses. Just yesterday something from my developmental psych class came up … Albert Bandura and social learning theory anyone?...and that DCML pathway I learned about in my physiology class comes up all of the time, who knew how important that would be to so much of what OTs do on a daily basis!
So, hop on it, and get em done!
Good luck with your pre-requisites and welcome back to school if you just started taking your pre-requisites or are currently taking them.
An OT walks into a bar . . . >
September 5, 2021
In September about three years ago, I was bartending in Brooklyn, NY and a group of teachers, some regulars of mine, walked into the bar with their new colleague, an occupational therapist. This OT had just made the switch to occupational therapy from another career. Just like I was attempting to do! At this point, I had started the process of switching careers, I had just finished taking my first pre-requisite class for OT grad school at a local community college, and I had not really had the chance to have any long in-depth conversations with anyone who had gone back to school to be an occupational therapist. In many ways I was still in the dark not only about the profession but what exactly I had got myself into — pre-requisites, needing volunteer hours, grad school applications — what? Also, I had been wanting to get a chance to do some observation/volunteer work in adult inpatient acute settings and had been having difficulties securing any place that would allow me to do so. Fortunately, this occupational therapist turned out to be the friendliest, most helpful person. They broke down the next steps I would need to take to achieve my short term and long-term goals — great activity analysis. They then connected me to a volunteer opportunity at the local VA hospital in Brooklyn, where I first heard about the USC occupational therapy program (Thanks Anita K., USC Class of 2012) and learned so much about the day to day of an occupational therapist at the VA.
Over the next year whenever that occupational therapist walked into the bar, they would always give me what I now know was invaluable information about the profession of occupational therapy. To this day, I credit them for not only giving me a very clear idea of their own experience of changing careers and becoming an occupational therapist, but more importantly I am grateful for getting a first-hand view of what my future path might entail. Through interacting with this occupational therapist, I came to realize that it wasn’t crazy to be going back to school after being out of school for so long and that becoming an occupational therapist was what I thought it would be and more. In the end, I credit those conversations and that opportunity at the VA for helping me to learn so much about the profession and providing me with a fuller understanding of what I had got myself into. Before that occupational therapist walked into the bar, I thought I knew why I was making this career change but didn’t quite know how. I was becoming an OT because I wanted to work one on one with people to do those things that are important and meaningful to their lives, and I felt I could not continue to do the work I had been doing. Also, I have seen the beauty and impact of occupational therapy in action. I witnessed occupational therapists help students find the joy of being a student, and I have seen the transformative effect of occupational therapy in helping people like my proud mother, who had Parkinson’s, to maintain a sense of dignity while adapting to living with a degenerative disease. Despite this knowledge my ability to interact with an occupational therapist helped me to clarify why and also how I would make this career change. Being able to have conversations with an occupational therapist helped me to go into this new career with a sense of purpose and understanding which I carry with me to this day.
Thank you Sadie, that OT that walked into the bar, and to all of the occupational therapists: Maurice, Anita, Leah, Heather, Elena, Ryan, and so many who took the time to talk to me about how to become an occupational therapist. You not only helped to clarify why I was becoming an occupational therapist but helped to get the process started. I wouldn’t be here in my second year of graduate school without your freely given insight, advice, and much needed guidance.