Faculty / Staff Resources Student Resources
University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
X/Twitter Facebook Instagram LinkedIn YouTube

Student Blog


Lessons I Did NOT Expect OT School to Teach Me ⟩
April 2, 2024, by Natalie

Classes Life Hacks School/Life Balance

Hey everyone! I am back with a new list that I hope you will relate to, save, and refer back to when needed. Looking back at my last two years, these lessons I have learned have helped me grow as a person, as a professional, and as a future clinician. These lessons are not listed in our “Program Outcomes” or “Learning Objectives”. They are lessons I think everyone eventually learns, but that I learned when I felt challenged and pushed past my comfort zone.

Grades do not matter as much as you think. The Division has strict rules about the grade students are required to earn in any course in order to have those course credits apply towards earning the degree. According to the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy (2023) student handbook:

The minimum passing grade in all OT required courses is C or above . . . To be eligible for graduation, a graduate OT student must achieve a final overall cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above AND a GPA of 3.0 or above on all courses applied to the entry-OTD degree (p. 15).

As long as you reach that required grade point average, there is no need to stress about every grade point percentage. No future client will ever ask you what grade you got on your adult rehab midterms; they will just be happy that you know what you need to know in order to help them. That being said . . .

You know so much more than you think. There have been too many times when I stress over an upcoming exam or feel a little reluctant to raise my hand in class because I feel unsure about my response, and more often than not, I come out doing pretty well! I do study and prepare for those exams and practicums though, I just usually feel I need a few more days to review. Personally, I have noticed that as long as I complete my readings and assignments and pay attention in class, my brain retains so much more than I realize.

Do not let your imposter syndrome get the best of you. You are capable, smart, and will be an amazing OT one day. You belong here at the top OT program in the nation, and you have the necessary tools and skills to earn your degree. When the imposter syndrome does hit, because it always does at some point, remember why you chose to pursue OT and what motivates you the most to always show up. Turn on music that helps you feel confident and powerful and push past the feelings of not being capable.

Remember that you are your harshest critic. It is important to keep in mind that you are likely the only person who expects you to do amazing in every single aspect of your life all the time. Obviously, give your best in everything that you do but recognize that your best may fluctuate depending on how many things you have going on at any given time. I read something once that said, “If one day, all you can give is 40% and you give that, you gave your 100% that day.” Being able to prioritize tasks and dividing your energy and focus in order for you to complete everything you have to get done is a really difficult but crucial skill that grad school will teach you if you have not learned it already.

Do NOT compare yourself to others. Everyone will tell you this tip from the start and it is easier said than done to learn, but the sooner you stop comparing yourself to others, the better. Save your energy and mental health and just do you.

Know yourself well. Know your strengths, your limitations, what strategies work for you, what type of help you need and when you need that help in order to keep yourself afloat. Also keep in mind that the strategies that work for you may change based on the situations or assignments you have going on. Adapt as needed and trust your gut.

Put your oxygen mask on first. With how busy grad school can get, it is so imperative that you take care of yourself first before anything else. You need to ensure you do what is needed for yourself in order to put your best effort forward in the work, activities, events, organizations, and relationships you are a part of. Taking care of yourself helps you avoid burnout and trust me, it is such a better option than trying to overcome the burnout.

Mistakes happen and are not the end of the world. In fact, mistakes help you learn! I have learned the most when I make mistakes because as human beings, we don’t like being wrong. It is better to make mistakes in class or during OT school than it is when you are out in the field later on (. . . and even then, those mistakes are okay too! Acknowledge the error, do your best to fix it, and move on!)

Trust the process. A lot of different things in OT will stress you out and may feel out of your control. Sometimes the material in a course is not coming together the way you thought it would. The course material will come together eventually (again, this varies per person: ask for help as you feel you need). The fieldwork process may be particularly stressful if you want any one specific site or practice area. You will get the experience required in order to earn your degree and sit for the NBCOT, even if it is not exactly what you want. In my mental health immersion I wanted to be placed in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and was placed in a Transitional Supported Housing Program. Looking back, I would not trade that experience for anything in the world.  Every single alumni member I have spoken to, whether they are on the faculty or not, have told me to trust the process, after assuring me that they too felt similarly when they were a student.

Generalist versus Specialist. This one probably feels out of place and is very OT school specific compared to the rest of these lessons — I know what these words mean, but in terms of being in OT school, I had to learn what that meant for what I was learning in class. There are so many different specialties that OTs can gain knowledge in and it is hard to remember that as an OT student I need to focus on learning enough about everything in order to pass the certification exam as well as be able to practice in almost any setting that I choose. My time for specializing in specific topics will come, as will yours.

There you have it! I hope this newfound knowledge inspires you and helps you feel prepared for when these lessons inevitably sneak up on you. If you have any questions or would like to chat, feel free to reach out to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and I will get back to you as soon as I can! Fight on!!


Come Learn About Scholarships!! ⟩
March 11, 2024, by Natalie

Life Hacks

The price tag for attending USC Chan (or honestly, any graduate school program) can be a pretty large stressor. Don’t get me wrong, it pays to be at the top OT school in the nation, but that does not invalidate the stress that tuition can cause. Luckily, the faculty and staff understand this and there are scholarship opportunities for students, both within and outside of the Chan Division listed on the USC Chan website. Here are a few resources that are available to students and are definitely worth checking out:

USC Chan Internal scholarships: This is the link to the internal scholarships available from the Division. For prospective Entry-Level OTD students who are applying to USC Chan, these scholarships typically open around the same time the program application opens and for the largest scholarships, the applications is due at the same time as your program application. There are additional scholarships that you can also apply for in your second and third years of the program. To see the scholarships and the eligibility criteria for each one, select your program and year from the drop down list, select the scholarship you are interested in learning more about or applying for, and read all about it!

External Scholarships that USC Chan shares with students: this is a list of various scholarships that the Division put together in order to share with students. These are external to the Division, meaning students who are interested in applying for them should take a close look at the information available, ensure the information is still current, and apply according to the instructions listed for each one. I have noticed that the external scholarships seem to be more likely to require letters of recommendation than the internal scholarships. Just another great reason to try to make great connections to the faculty!

Financial Aid Office: The Financial Aid Office has their own website (specific to graduate level students at that) with a ton of useful information that students should keep themselves up to date with. Regularly checking this website will be useful to stay on top of different scholarships available to students as well as important information such as when FASFA is due. One of the tabs on this website leads students to be able to filter through scholarships

Scholarship Universe: This is an online tool that is available to students to see the many scholarships available to them. Students can filter through all of the scholarships listed to determine eligibility and easily keep track of the scholarships they are in the process of applying for or have applied for recently once they have signed into their account.

A couple of other notable scholarships directly associated with USC (thought not Chan) include the USC Norman Topping Student Aid Fund and the Town and Gown of USC Scholarship. Both scholarships are merit-based scholarships and they have so much aid available to distribute far and wide!

If all else fails, keep in mind that there are so many different scholarships available in so many different ways. I have learned about a ton of scholarships through social media. It is as simple as finding accounts whose target audience are students, or searching for posts that include “#scholarships”. Some scholarships are shared with students via emails from Chan faculty. There are scholarships available through AOTA that are OT-specific too! Keep an open mind to all the possible places you can use to look for scholarships and never be afraid to apply to as many as you possibly can. There is so much more money out there waiting to be awarded! Best of luck, please feel free to reach out to us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you have any questions!


In the words of Elle Woods, “What? Like it’s Hard?” ⟩
February 15, 2024, by Natalie

Admissions First-Gen

GRADUATE SCHOOL. Sounds scary doesn’t it? Being a first-generation student, I struggled to create a mental picture of myself at undergrad, let alone at grad school — but I made it through undergrad. I had all the support from my family and friends and was raised being taught there isn’t anything that can get in my way, and that if it felt like there was, to persevere and create my own path. So that’s what I did. But what no one told me was that the application process would be even scarier.

The application process for OT school was overwhelming to me. I began researching programs and their application requirements in late 2018 but only applied in the 2021 application cycle. At the time, I noticed that almost, if not all, the schools required applications be submitted through OTCAS and also had their own program specific requirements. Some schools required applicants to submit a supplemental application or submit an application to the graduate school at their university, required additional volunteer hours, or needed supplemental forms. I can fill another 4 pages to talk more about MY specific application process adventure, but instead I want to give all of you some information and tips that I think would have been useful to know before starting the process.

  1. Start earlier than you expect to. In doing my research and trying to find advice on how to navigate the timeline for submitting applications, I found a really cool schedule that gave me a monthly overview of what to complete in that month in order to submit my applications with a month or two to spare. Even with the timeframe laid out for me, some of my steps took longer to complete and I found myself being happy with having more time.
  2. Triple check the due date. The programs I applied to required that my application be verified by the due date. OTCAS will handle the verification process for your application, but in order to ensure it gets verified in enough time to meet the deadline, you need to submit your application three weeks earlier. It is completely possible for an application to get verified within a few days, but why stress yourself out with something that is so out of your control?
  3. Organize the requirements for your different programs in a way that makes sense for you. Because having multiple programs with different requirements can be overwhelming, it can be super helpful to organize the requirements in a list, table, chart, etc. I made a list for myself for each program, but looking back, a Google sheet or Excel sheet would have been more fitting. Seeing all of the programs and the requirements organized but in one place can be helpful, and using the Google/Excel sheet allows you to strikethrough or highlight the completed cells.
  4. Budget accordingly. Grad school applications can get expensive. OTCAS charges about $160 for the first program you apply to and around $70 for EACH additional program. On top of that, some schools have their own additional application fee. OTCAS does have a Fee Application Program which provides a waiver that covers the cost of the first program you apply to. (Note that these waivers are limited and come on a first come first serve basis.) Once you are accepted, many of the schools also require a deposit (not USC) to save your spot and those fees vary in price.
  5. Reach out to schools directly for help. It might feel a little daunting to reach out to a school to ask questions to clarify their requirements (especially if you are like me and overthink everything). Keep in mind, schools want you to apply to their programs. They want to hear from you, want to answer your questions, and want to do whatever they can to make this process easier for you. And no, they won’t be keeping track of the questions you ask or assessing you in every single interaction you have with them — if that were the case, that would be listed as an application requirement.
  6. Familiarize yourself with OTCAS. Most of the schools require applicants to submit their applications through the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service (OTCAS). Using OTCAS allows you to submit all of the requirements that overlap across the programs you plan to apply to, helps track your progress, and as I mentioned earlier, completes the verification process for you. As with anything new, it can be confusing to use without spending time to familiarize yourself with it first.
  7. Lean on your support system! I don’t need to tell you that your family and friends are there for you and want to see you succeed — that’s a given. But your support system is probably bigger than you realize — the OTs that you shadow, any mentors you have, they’re all there for you too and they have been through the application process before, giving them a specialized and extra relevant perspective.
  8. Be strategic with your personal statement. Most OT programs are working towards trying to diversify their student populations (yay!) and in doing so are looking for well rounded individuals. Sure your grades and past GPAs are important, but so are your personal statements, through which the admissions teams are getting to know YOU as a person. Furthermore, because OT is as holistic as it is, I believe there is an even greater importance in making sure your personality (and not just all your achievements) shines through your personal statement.
  9. Don’t underestimate yourself. To be fully transparent, I applied to USC Chan just for fun, and even worried I wouldn’t be accepted to any of my programs because of how long I had been out of school. Looking back, I can definitively say I applied to way too many programs and really should have had a bit more faith in myself. Now I can’t guarantee anything, but if you’re spending your time reading blogs like this to better prepare for the process, I bet you are an amazing candidate and will make it to where you want to be.

This is a long list of suggestions and advice, I know. I hope it helps you channel your inner ✨Elle Woods✨ throughout your application process! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of my fellow ambassadors at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you have any other questions. Best of luck and Fight On!


OT Didn’t Choose Me, I Chose OT ⟩
January 19, 2024, by Natalie

First-Gen What are OS/OT?

Now this isn’t one of those admirable stories where the storyteller explains how occupational therapy has always been a part of their life — in fact, I did not know OT existed almost until the end of my undergraduate career. This story is one about unexpected chances [coincidences instead of unexpected chances?] and for that, I am forever grateful.

From a very early age, I was taught the importance of higher education and encouraged to know what career path I wanted to take. For the longest time, I saw myself pursuing medical school to become a pediatrician, until I also saw myself as a firefighter, a police officer, a lawyer, a teacher . . . the list goes on. I was coming up towards the end of my junior year of college when I felt the impending need to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. *cue the internal panic*

At the time, I was taking a course titled “Psychology of Aging” and one of our assignments was to find and research a profession that works closely with older adults. I completed my assignment, talking about how cool art therapy sounds. I was so excited to have found a potential career path that would allow me to help people through art. My partner then recommended I speak to his sister, who “probably has experience with art therapy but I think also does a whole bunch of other cool things with her clients as an occupational therapist?. . .” I was so curious to learn more about this “occupational therapy” so I spoke to his sister and she shared all her knowledge and experiences with me. And the rest is history from there . . . (just kidding, is it ever that easy?)

As I learned more and more about OT and what it is, what it looks like, and how broad the profession is, I felt both thrilled and confused. There was so much to learn (which still applies now), and the more I searched, the more I found. The best part of this process — and most telling — was that every time I learned something new, I felt further captivated by OT. I soon realized that this is THE profession for me — it gives endless possibilities for what populations and practice settings I can work with/in and blends my interests for art and science well.

Additionally, despite all of the information I found about the profession when I went digging for it, I was baffled to discover how widely unknown OT is. It seemed as if having a personal experience with OT was the only way people knew about it. I mean, I only learned about it by chance. I quickly realized this lack of recognition of the field meant underserved populations likely have limited-to-no access to the types of services occupational therapy can provide, and that didn’t sit well with me. Because of this, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in OT where I can work within those underserved communities and hopefully serve as an advocate for both my clients and the profession.