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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
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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. Example requirements matrix
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!


Tips for Your Personal Statement ⟩
November 4, 2022, by Leah

Admissions Life Hacks What are OS/OT?

Here are some tips and tricks on what helped me write my personal statement 😊

1. Reflect on what matters to you and see how it aligns with the school’s mission

I thought, why do I want to be an OT? I read through the division’s mission and most resonated with its commitment to inclusion. I then jotted down experiences and parts of my life that I most valued and thought related to this theme of inclusion.

2. Try finding a theme between your experiences to create a cohesive story.

This was a piece of advice I received from a previous mentor. I knew I had valuable experiences volunteering at an oncology camp, working in permanent supportive housing, and then working at a multiple sclerosis clinic. Still, these all felt like such different populations, so I needed to figure out how to share my story without feeling like I was jumping all over the place.

My mentor asked me questions such as:

How did one experience influence or lead to another?
What did you value in each of these experiences?
How did you continue to grow throughout these experiences?
Is there a commonality in how these experiences made you want to be an OT?

3. Get other eyes on your writing!

I know it can feel uncomfortable or even embarrassing to have other people look at what you have written. Still, I found it helpful to overcome that fear and get other people’s input. I wanted to see if my writing was conveying the message I wanted to share. For my statement, I had willing co-workers, mentors, and even roommates read through my essay. I received input such as: “this section is confusing” and “wow, I loved this story, focus more on that!” The most helpful thing I did was read my statement out loud with my roommate. I could identify awkward phrases, grammatical errors, and unnecessary words. Reading out loud was the most helpful in cutting my statement down to the required character count.

For all those applying this cycle, you got this!!

Leah Mary

September 30, 2022, by Leah Mary

Admissions Life Hacks School/Life Balance

Congratulations! You made it into USC’s Occupational Therapy Program, you should feel incredibly proud of yourself. I have no doubt you will go on and do great things.

But . . . how the heck are you going to pay for this program??? Being a topic program doesn’t come cheap. I wish I had a handbook to guide me when I was first navigating this program. I was often confused from the website and overloaded with information. Because of that, I missed important deadlines for big scholarships. So I find this topic extremely important and I want to make sure that this information is easily digestible and available to students.

I’m going to highlight a couple of websites, scholarships, and strategies.

  • Scholarships and awards from USC and other bodies
    This link will take you to a comprehensive list of scholarships. It will tell you the amount the award is worth and the eligibility requirements. (I USED THIS SO MUCH.)
  • OT External Scholarship Opportunities, from Columbia University
    This is another website I used from Columbia University with another comprehensive list of scholarships.
  • Town and gown of USC Scholarship
    $15,000 for the academic year for graduate students and PP-OTD students and it is renewable! Deadline for the application is December 1st.
  • Division Internal Residencies
    If you decided to do the PP-OTD and an internal residency, those come with a scholarship of 2/3 tuition. The deadline for the internal residencies is the end of Oct 1st.
  • Merit-Based Scholarship
    If you decide to do the PP-OTD but do an external residency, students admitted to the program will be automatically considered for Merit-based scholarships which cover around 1/3 tuition.
  • Residencies External to the Chan Division
    If you are a licensed and registered therapist by the time of your residency, you can negotiate with the residency sites on paid positions. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions to your site because it is important that both your educational and financial needs are met.

My biggest advice is to apply to everything and ask questions. The famous Michael Scott once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take — Wayne Gretzky.” It’s a funny but very true quote. I know these scholarships take a long time to complete or asking for paid positions during your residency can be an awkward conversation, however if you don’t apply or ask, I can tell you 100% you won’t get them. So I urge you to take those shots.


My Grandma and Why I Chose OT ⟩
September 23, 2022, by Aisha

Admissions Diversity What are OS/OT?

When my aunt first told me about OT, I was intrigued! I still didn’t quite know what OT was, but I liked the idea of a profession that considers a person’s mental and physical well-being. As a high school student, psychology captivated me because it emphasized the importance of mental health. At the time, I had concerns for my mental health and wellness. However, my mom was apprehensive about sending me to a therapist whose values didn’t align with ours. It was the catalyst that inspired me to strive towards becoming that person for people in my community. In college, my OS minor courses taught me how occupations could impact all aspects of an individual’s health.

I first witnessed the power of occupation with my grandma. She suffered a stroke several years ago, and I observed this lively woman, who loved to belly dance and cook, develop symptoms of depression and decline in function. I vividly remember bringing her to the dance floor at my cousin’s wedding. We were spinning around, dancing, and having a good time. From behind her wheelchair, I saw she was moving BOTH of her arms and raising them higher than she had in a long time! When I looked at the pictures later that evening, I saw the pure joy on her face. That picture reminded me how powerful meaningful activities could be in motivating people and supporting health and well-being.

My grandma and me on the dance floor

My grandma and me at my cousin’s wedding!

After her stroke, my grandma was sent home from the hospital with no rehab services. The disparities in the healthcare system and the limited access to resources impacted her recovery. I want to help ensure underserved communities have access and the knowledge to advocate for resources/services. OT, a profession that holistically considers the person, their environment, and the occupation and focuses on what matters to the patient, is the perfect way for me to pursue that goal. I want to be that person my younger self and individuals like my grandmother needed while consistently practicing cultural humility and respecting unique cultures.


From Enemies to Friends . . . to Lovers: My Occupational Therapy Journey! ⟩
September 22, 2022, by Yoojin

Admissions First-Gen What are OS/OT?

(Spoiler: they fall in love at the end!)

When I tell folks that I’ve known about OT since before I even knew how to spell the words, they tell me how lucky I am to have discovered my passion at a very young age, especially in such a niche profession.

And don’t get me wrong, they’re totally right! I see how there is a perfect plan for me, part of which is to attend OT school to become an occupational therapist. However, like most people outside of the healthcare community who know what OT are: there’s a good chance it’s because they or a loved one have experience with receiving therapy services.

My love story with OT starts like this: OT wasn’t always a great passion of mine. In fact, at one point in my life I despised it so much I didn’t want to go into the healthcare field at all! (Here’s some context about me now: those around me can attest that OT is one of my favorite things to blabber about. In fact, someone I met recently asked, “So, is OT just like, your thing, Yoojin?” after I spent a good chunk of our conversation talking about my first Level II fieldwork this past summer. Well, maybe I should’ve dialed it down . . . he was a physical therapist after all 🤔).

Similar to a relationship between a pair of friends or lovers, it’s hard to remember the rockier parts of my relationship with OT because it’s at such a healthy state right now. But as I look back on my journey of grace, forgiveness, and love in my relationship with OT, I know it’s one that I really want to share. So here it goes . . .

I wouldn’t exactly say that I “discovered” OT, because that would imply that I was in search of something of the sort. Hm. So would it be more like I was “inescapably, involuntarily compelled into learning about OT”? That makes it sound like someone committed a crime against me. Well, that’s exactly how I felt throughout my childhood as a family member of someone who’s receiving OT services. I was too young to stay home alone, so I was forced to tag along. To almost every. Single. Appointment.

This meant I missed out on playdates and hanging out on the playground after class, both foolish, yet simple pleasures for a little selfish, elementary-aged Yoojin. But, I mean, why was I forced to play the third parent and the unpaid translator (shoutout to us first-gen children of immigrants!) rather than play tag or house? I cringe now at my shallow desires, but my years of frustration from holding such roles grew into a seed of bitterness in my heart toward OT and the clinic, the place where my childish dreams laid to rest. As much as I knew how much it strained my parents to be caregivers and parents, I pushed them away and continued to wallow in my self-pity.

It wasn’t until years later when it came to applying for college when things finally started to shift, and I took several weeks to reflect on what I really wanted to do. After countless talks with my mentors, late nights thinking, and tears spilled over wondering if I was destined to do nothing, I realized that OT was the only profession that I’d spent hundreds of hours observing and knew for a fact what I’d be getting myself into: a selfless, fulfilling, individual-oriented profession that works to improve the lives of clients by helping them achieve their personal goals.

During this time, my family and I exchanged so much grace and forgiveness. I fell more in love with OT as I rediscovered it on my own terms. Since applying and getting into the BS-MA (now the BS-OTD) program right here at USC, I’ve grown so much appreciation and love for this profession and never looked back. Love truly does conquer all! In my case, I was able to loosen my hardened heart filled with misplaced hatred for OT and foster it into a deepened empathy for my future clients’ needs. Give me all those cheesy pins and notepads that say “I ❤️ OT,” because I really, really do!

Me, over-the-world at the Admitted Student Reception in 2018!

Me, over-the-world at the Admitted Student Reception in 2018!

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