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Why the OTD is Right for Me ⟩
February 18, 2022, by Alyssa


Hello! At the time I’m posting this, many of you are likely hearing back from OT schools and deciding where you want to go. If so, congratulations! And welcome to the best career ever.

In the spirit of USC Chan admitting its first-ever class to the new entry-level OTD program, I wanted to share more about why I’m choosing to stay to get my OTD here even though I’m part of the entry-level MA program.

USC was the only entry-level MA program I applied to - the rest were all entry-OTD. Given that I already had a master’s, I figured the next obvious step was to pursue a doctorate, and I didn’t think through the distinction more than that. So when I accepted my offer at USC, I had practically already decided that it was going to be a 3-year commitment.

Now that I am at the end of the MA program here, I’ve done more reflecting on what the OTD means to me and why I think it’s important for my career –

1. Mentorship
My biggest draw to pursuing my OTD is an additional year of mentorship in a clinical setting. Sure, by the end of this year I will have technically completed all of the requirements to start practicing, but I think that the unique structure of an OTD compared to a first year on the job provides more opportunity for guidance and relationship building with your supervisor.

2. Leadership
The OTD also aligns with my interests in leadership roles within the profession. A guest speaker in class mentioned that sometimes a doctorate is required to have a seat at the metaphorical and/or physical decision-making table in some organizations, and I want to be there. 

3. Timing
I feel lucky to be able to continue on to getting my OTD now rather than returning after a few years of work. Right now, my role as a student defines many aspects of my life, and I am feeling progressively more ready to close this chapter. Of course I’ll still be learning every day at work from my future colleagues and clients, but I don’t think starting work then returning for another degree would have worked for me.

As a bonus, staying for the OTD means spending another year in close connection with the wonderful friends and professors I’ve built relationships with here in LA 😊


Taking That Leap of Faith ⟩
February 11, 2022, by Marvyn

Admissions International Life Hacks Living in LA

This time last year, I took a leap of faith. I was contemplating for such a long time if I were to apply for the Post-Professional Master’s program or not. It took me a couple of factors before I could hit the submit button. Allow me to elaborate.

A Master’s program is so daunting! Can I even do it??
If you have read my previous blog about my undergrad experience, I am not a perfect student. If anything, I’m faaaar from being perfect. Not that imperfection is unacceptable, but taking a program that is a Master’s level is A BIG DEAL. It’s a huge step further than a bachelor’s degree. My mind, when I was thinking about applying, was spinning in circles. I was asking over and over “Do you think you can handle the challenges?” “Are you capable to take on this huge step in your life??” AND A BUNCH MORE.

What helped me go through it is to reflect on my “WHY”. I knew that I wanted to learn more about occupational therapy, most specifically at the best university for the program. So, instead of thinking of the intimidation of a big dream like this coming to a reality, I focused on the goal. Eyes on the prize. I wanted to become more than what I am now, and that I am willing to go through all hoops and hurdles to get there. So ultimately, learning how “to let go and to believe in myself” is the best way to go. Trust me, you CAN do it.

What would my family and peers think of me just abandoning them for so long??
It varies from person to person, right? It’s true, I am privileged to say that my family is my best support system ever. Even though I knew that this is a very big dream for me to achieve, I am lucky enough to have a family that supports me in any of my dreams. The same can be said about my friends too! As much as I thought they would be disappointed in me, they all ended up being my biggest cheerleaders.

Believing in yourself is one thing but having someone else believe in you too helps a lot. Trust me when I say that support system doesn’t have to be high maintenance. You can have relationships in life that can propel you to do great things without holding you back. Stick with them and you’ll feel confident in taking such a huge endeavor such as this.

I’ve never lived outside my home country for this long, HOW CAN I SURVIVE?!
Living in a foreign country for a long period of time really is a game of survival. There’s really no way to sugarcoat it. But, I will let you in on a not-so-secret secret: It’s definitely do-able. I have had many anxiety-driven nights back at home thinking about things to prepare, anticipate, and worry about living in LA for so long. But once you find out where you will be staying and mapping out notable places to do essential stuff, you are pretty much set! If there’s any advice I can give you on this problem, it’s that: Once you set your feet on the ground, find as many people as possible, especially in the Chan community. You’ll find quickly that there are a bunch of people who can help you survive the LA grind. I mean, look at the last blog I wrote about things to do in LA! I wouldn’t have been able to do all that had I not have the friends I newly found throughout this journey!

Circling back, I definitely think these factors have been major themes that worry me before I hit the SUBMIT button in my application. But like I said, I took that leap of faith. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, whispered a little prayer, and let my finger go heavy on my laptop’s trackpad. I feel the vibration on my finger signifying a click and the rest is history!

At the end of all this, I’m so glad I took that leap. I cannot express how thankful I am to myself for grasping the courage and going for it. It really takes some nerve to be able to trust the process and let Destiny do their work. It’s only a matter of time.

If you’re still contemplating or having any questions with your application process, you can always contact me (and my other co-ambassadors) here: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


To All the Waitlisted Applicants Ambassadors Have Loved Before: P.S. We Still Love You ⟩
January 27, 2022, by Teresa


If you’re reading this, it’s likely you were waitlisted. If you were waitlisted, you’ve probably been binge-reading some blog posts from ambassadors of years past. You know the ones I’m talking about — those from Calvin, from Liz, from Marilyn, from Daniel, from Kat. Maybe you’ve read them twice. Who are we kidding? You eat, sleep, and breathe their words. You hang onto their stories because they give you hope. They provide comfort when you feel most uncertain, guidance when you can’t find it in those around you, and you exit the tab feeling reassured that everything is going to be okay.

Not too long after, your family asks, “Hey, have you heard back from USC? I know you’ve been waiting.” Maybe you open social media or scour online forums and see all the other students who got in. Or you just interviewed for a part-time job in the meantime and they ask, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Suddenly, things once again do not feel like they’re going to be okay. So you read another blog, go through the same motions, and continue a vicious cycle that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end until you finally get the “Congratulations!” email. Even though you know it’s a vicious cycle, you can’t help but feel this way because your life feels like it’s at a standstill, your future lies in the hands of someone else, and you have no control over any of it.

I know the feeling. Replace all the “you”s above with “I” and they were my same thoughts two years ago when I was waitlisted. Although so much time has passed, I still remember it vividly. If you’re looking for another comforting blog, I’m sorry to inform you this is not it. Generations of ambassadors before me have discussed being waitlisted and I highly recommend them all. Here, I want to share with you some things on my mind during this time, never admitted to anyone else, instead internalized, and took with me into the program which manifested as “imposter syndrome.” (But we’ll talk about that another time.) Looking back, I wish I could go back in time, give myself a hug, reframe the negative self-talk, and instead tell myself what I really needed to hear.

“I wasn’t accepted because I am not good enough.”
Maybe you don’t feel you accurately conveyed who you are through your essay (as if anyone could in “X” amount of characte–). Maybe you’re doubting if it was because of the typo you caught after submitting or your improper grammar, even though English isn’t even your first language. Maybe your GPA wasn’t as high because you went to a competitive school, or you worked multiple jobs during college to pay bills and tuition, or you have other living, breathing human beings relying on you for their survival. Do not write any of these off as “excuses” — all of these are very valid. I’m here to tell you all of that is okay, you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone, and this absolutely does not define your worth as a future OT and more importantly, as a human.

“If I don’t get in this year, I should work even harder to get in next year.”
I remember repeating this to myself and to others so often that as I reflect back on it, I want to cry because of how much my heart aches for this person I used to be. In retrospect, I was working so hard that I can’t imagine how I could have worked any harder for the next application cycle. I took on more shifts as a rehab aide and became one of the first people in my circles with COVID. Listen — nothing is worth risking your health. As future OTs, we need to deemphasize “hustle culture,” especially when it infringes upon our health and happiness.

“Even if I do get in now, it’ll only be a pity acceptance. I didn’t deserve it or earn it.”
So yes, if you get accepted now, it’s because someone who was offered a spot turned it down and chose another path for themselves. My advice? I’m a firm believer in putting out the type of energy into the world that I want in return, so for whoever’s spot you’re “taking,” wish them well as they continue on their OT journey. And once you’re in? Focus on yourself and not how others are doing in comparison to you. You’ve been given a clean slate to start over and move forward.

“Everyone else who got in before me will have more time to prepare.”
Even while you’re waitlisted, begin to think about how you’ll handle housing, transportation, and finances. Beyond that, there is little to no preparation required of you. I know people who were accepted the week before, the day before, and even a day after the program had already started. It all works out and here at Chan, they do everything in their power to make sure it does–you need only ask for help. If you were accepted, if you were waitlisted, if you were none of the above and just a random person reading my blog by happenstance, go and LIVE YOUR LIFE!!! Go climb a tree, take a spin class, jump off a plane whilst strapped to another person and relying only on fabric to catch you, learn to sew, hug your dog, kiss your cat, touch some grass, LIVE LIFEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! I believe there is no better preparation for starting a graduate program than living your life to the fullest. It is so powerful and restorative to just do something for YOU with no underlying objective other than it would make you happy. It doesn’t advance your career, it doesn’t serve others, it might not even make sense to the world. Take this time to really focus on what makes you happy and think about how you might embed it into your life once you get into school. Engage in your favorite occupations. But safely. I think I’m legally obligated to clarify that I am not liable if you climb a tree. Just kidding (kind of). Live your life. Y’all be safe, though.

“Everyone is going to be so close already and I’m going to feel like an outsider.”
At the start, interactions are so face-value. It’s a lot of small talk, niceties, and formalities. Lots of reading and re-reading your carefully curated introductory profile before posting it. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started the program and got to hear people’s thoughts in class that I thought, “I could really get along with this person on so many levels.” Like yes, it’s so lovely to learn that someone is from the same area as you or that you share the same favorite ice cream flavor, but I came to USC Chan to make meaningful connections with like-minded people whose vulnerability encourages me to grow as a future OT and as a person. Two years later, I’m still having moments like that and making new friends. Don’t worry, there’s time.

“Everyone’s going to know.”
Nobody’s gonna know. How would they know? In fact, most of my classmates who are reading this are probably finding out this information about me for the first time. If you don’t want people to know, you don’t have to tell them. However, if you choose to and people view you differently as a result, it says nothing about who you are.

And most importantly, “I am not going to get any swag.”
“I do not have enough swag,” Teresa writes while sitting atop her mountain of USC Chan pens and foam fingers. “I definitely have more room on my backpack,” she convinces herself while being crushed under the weight of the many buttons she has accumulated over the years. Obviously, I’m kidding. But also . . . get your Chan swag! There will be so many future opportunities and I encourage you to take advantage of them all.

I was actually waitlisted at all three schools I had applied to and told myself I’d commit to wherever I heard from first. I was accepted to all three, with USC being the first and it happened to be my top choice — a big reason for that being the holistic admissions process implemented here and the way Dr. Anvarizadeh spoke about it so passionately. Even though I believe this process to be the most equitable and forward-thinking for the advancement of the OT profession, as with most systems, it is not fail-safe and I knew that going into the application process. I trusted the process anyways, everything worked out how it was supposed to, and I have no regrets, including being waitlisted. It reminded me that who you are on paper and were in the past does not define who you are today and more importantly, who you are on your way to becoming. I feel immensely honored to join the incredible group of ambassadors who were waitlisted and are now some of the most influential mentors I’ve ever had. So whatever the outcome, just know that I’m right here waiting alongside you to join us, too.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you’d like to connect!


How to go to OT graduate school after being out of school for a long time/Step 4 — Getting letters of recommendation ⟩
January 12, 2022, by Guy


This will be my last blog about how to go to OT graduate school after being out of school for a long time. No matter where you apply, you will need to have letters of recommendation. Knowing how to get letters of recommendation is not only useful for the graduate application process but some of the tips mentioned below can also be applied to other aspects in life. I guarantee that later in life you will need people to serve as a reference for your personality, character, and professional abilities. This will never go away. Trust me on this. At some point, you will need to ask someone that is not your friend or family to vouch for you personally and professionally. Although I put this as the last step, I must emphasize — DO NOT DO THIS LAST. In fact, this is one of the easier things you can start to do once you have decided that you want to go back to OT graduate school after being out of school for a long time.

Like the other steps, what I have written is what worked for me. You may decide to do something different. Remember, do what works for you. You do you!

Whenever I see the words “please submit letters of recommendation” or “provide professional references”, I always get stuck trying to figure out who I should ask. You might feel this way too. For some of you, this might be based on thinking you have no one to ask. For others, you might have an idea of who to ask but are unsure of what they might say. For almost everyone, there is the problem that once you do have an idea who to ask, you don’t know how or when to ask. All are very important concerns that you will need to figure out on your own, or with a trusted friend or mentor prior to asking someone to write a recommendation for you.

For those of you who think you don’t have anyone that can write a recommendation for you because you don’t know anyone other than your family and friends, or are an introvert or feel that you don’t think anyone would want to vouch for you as a future occupational therapist, let me stop you right there. Remember, you’ve already done this process before. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t. You did it to get into college. You’ve done it to apply for jobs, perhaps to rent an apartment, or even to adopt an animal. All have required you to get someone that is not your family or friend to vouch for you as a person. Applying to graduate school is no different. In fact, some of those people you used for recommendations in the past might work for this situation too.  You may be thinking, “Ok, but I’ve never been an occupational therapist before, so what can they possibly say to vouch for me to be an OT grad student?” Remember, admissions departments are trying to determine whether the program will benefit you and if you will benefit from the program. It’s important for them to find out why you are passionate about occupational therapy, what type of work ethic you have, and if you are an empathetic and caring person. Hearing from people who know you can help them answer these questions. What I did was I made a list of people who might be able to answer these questions. Remember we have been adulting for a while so there are probably a lot of people we know who would be happy to recommend you. People I thought of included a former supervisor, former colleagues, a pastor, a mentor, a fellow volunteer at a community service project I had done, and people in my prior career network. You are bound to come up with at least one or two people when you think back over the past 5/10/15 or even 20 years post-college.

If you still can’t think of anyone, you will be meeting a lot of people as you take classes and volunteer in preparation for meeting the graduate application requirements. In both areas, you will interact with people who will want to learn about your reasons for changing careers and wanting to be an occupational therapist. People will want to know you. If you haven’t already, allow these people to get to know you. Go out for a coffee with them, talk to them about your future, get their feedback on things you’re encountering or questions you have. As difficult as it might be, especially for us introverts, do all you can to make yourself known. I know this is hard. But don’t’ forget it is so much easier for people to write a recommendation for you if they know you. While I was initially reluctant to get to know new people, I got to know one of my community college instructors who showed genuine interest in me. I put myself out there by going to office hours and having meaningful conversations with them about my future professional goals. Even though I only knew them for about a year, when I thought about who I should get to write a recommendation they were one of the first people I felt confident would be able to speak to my character and abilities as it related to going to graduate school in occupational therapy.

Now, for those of you who have a list of people to ask but are unsure of what they might say about you. Here are some questions I used to determine if they were the right person to ask for a recommendation:

  1. How do I know them?
  2. Have they known me a long time? Do they know me well?
  3. When was the last time I spoke to them? What was the conversation? Did it end on a positive note?
  4. Have they ever shown any interest in my professional goals, interests, or life pursuits?
  5. Have they privately and/or publicly given me positive or negative feedback about my character, or professional skills?
  6. Have I ever read anything they have written? Was the writing clear?
  7. What do they think about my change in career? Are they supportive or shocked?
  8. Will their recommendation/perspective complement the other recommendations?

Once you have decided who to ask, do not wait. People need a lot of time to write a recommendation. If you can give them at least a month that would be great. Start by calling them or meeting with them in person. If you can’t speak to them directly leave a message and then follow up with an email. My conversations were easy because I had already been speaking to many people about going back to school. But if you haven’t talked to the person for a long time, start your discussion by catching up with them, and then once you start talking about what you are currently up to just say: “Hey, you know how I used to talk about going back to graduate school in occupational therapy, well I actually am starting to apply to schools now and I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me?”

To this day whenever I have asked for a reference or letter of recommendation, no one has refused. However, if someone does tell you they can’t write a recommendation, accept it and move on to the next person. Most likely the reason will be due to time. (This often happens when you ask professors who are maybe already writing a lot of recommendations while also trying to grade midterms or finals.) If they do agree to write a letter, make sure to send a follow-up email with simple instructions on what they need to do as well as a clearly indicated deadline. One week prior to the deadline check in with them if they have not submitted the recommendation. Once they have submitted the recommendation, make sure to send them a very sincere thank you email or better yet a card via snail mail! Finally, regardless of whether you get into graduate school or not, don’t forget to contact them after you find out. If you get into the school of your choice thank them again for their help and let them know your next steps. Also, if you didn’t get into graduate school, thank them again for their help and let them know your next steps. People like to know what happened!

Oh, one other response you might encounter when asking people to write a recommendation is the person you ask might ask you to write the recommendation for them. I always find this to be odd. While it cuts out the mystery of what they will say, it also means they really don’t know you or have very little to write about you. Either way they are not really recommending you but are signing off on you recommending yourself. Which is strange. I don’t do this but know people who have . . .

FYI — For my application, I ended up asking three very important people in my life. I asked a former pastor of mine who I had known for many years and helped him to do volunteer projects. I asked a former supervisor, who I had known for years. It’s funny because I just had a long phone call with her the other day. I also asked a person I met during my journey going back to school, the amazing occupational therapist I spent many hours observing while volunteering at an inpatient rehab. However, I had a list of about 6 people who I felt comfortable asking to give me recommendations or references. I keep in touch with them and am so grateful for their support.

I hope you have cultivated similar relationships with sincere and kind people who are supportive of your professional development and willing to say how amazing you would be as a graduate student and an occupational therapist. If this hasn’t happened get started today by reaching out to people from your past or starting new relationships if you can. As you continue to figure out how to go to OT graduate school, I hope that this blog entry as well as the ones I wrote before were helpful. I wish you the best of luck getting back into school after a long time. Remember it’s never too late to start something new!


Fight, Fight, Fight On! ⟩
November 19, 2021, by Teresa

Admissions Classes Diversity Living in LA

Tomorrow is the big game and with it comes the long-standing question of Los Angeles: “USC or UCLA?” Forget sideline reporters, say goodbye to sports commentators, play-by-play who? I believe I am the most qualified individual to provide an answer for these reasons:

  1. I went to UCLA
  2. I go to USC
  3. Refer back to reasons 1 and 2

All jokes aside, when I committed to USC for graduate school, I had some concerns about how I would transition from the nation’s #1 public university into the #1 occupational therapy program. Without further ado, here is one Brojan (Bruin turned Trojan, or vice versa)’s totally impartial, and absolutely not at all biased, take on my experiences at both schools.

Quarter System vs. Semester System
At UCLA, we followed a quarter system, meaning each term was 10 weeks long, three terms each academic year. Because of how fast-paced this was, I thought a semester system would be an easy adjustment but sometimes, it still feels like my mind functions on 10 weeks’ time. Kind of like when you return from traveling somewhere really far and have to readjust to the time difference. Yeah — just like that, but for a much longer period of time. For example, I am currently entering week 14 out of 16 and my mind is saying to the semester, “You’re done. You’re done. You should be three weeks into the next term already.” Because 16 weeks and NOT 10? The math is just not mathing for me. What does make sense for me, however, is how nice it feels to have time to sit with content, follow up about anything I need clarification on, and really feel like I’m learning and not just regurgitating. And it doesn’t hurt that with the longer terms come longer breaks!

Public University vs. Private University
Growing up, the words “private school” sounded so elite and since public school was all I had known, attending a public university like UCLA after high school felt like the natural progression, so I didn’t even bother applying to USC.

A photo of Teresa in May 2012 standing in the USC Bookstore. She has superimposed a bear emoji on top of her face. She is wearing a UCLA shirt and gesturing to the USC shirts hanging in the store.

Sophomore me visiting the USC Bookstore on a high school field trip in May 2012. The irony is not lost on me that I now have the sweater in the background, which I am currently wearing while writing this.

When applying to OT school, a part of me still held the notion that private = elite and public = diversity, but that myth was quickly dispelled when I met my classmates, who are each so different and unique in their backgrounds, life perspectives, age, appearance, and interests, thanks to the holistic admissions process implemented at USC Chan. The insights shared by my classmates both in and out of the classroom have been quintessential to facilitate my learning as I continue to develop my clinical identity. I feel an immense sense of pride knowing that my classmates will be entering practice as some of the most culturally responsive clinicians this field has to offer and that their clients and future generations will be able to see themselves in their providers.

My family always emphasized that education is an investment to give myself the best chance at life, so when deciding which program to attend, what better is there than the best? I could think of no better place to invest in myself than at USC Chan, which, in case you forgot, is the #1 occupational therapy program in the nation, and it shows. It’s pretty surreal to walk the halls of the Center for Health Professions (CHP) and know that it’s the birthplace of sensory integration, occupational science, Lifestyle Redesign, and so much more. Occupational therapy students all over the world are learning through textbooks written by the same professors you get to see face-to-face everyday. Since starting this program, it’s been clear that our faculty, staff, ambassadors, student leaders, and alumni are committed to fostering a space where the next generation of occupational therapists can both advocate for our profession while challenging it to change to meet client needs.

Undergraduate Degree vs. Graduate Degree
The pursuit of my undergraduate degree was filled with twists and turns regarding what career I wanted that degree to lead to — pediatrician, lawyer, software engineer, teacher, and at one point, even paleontologist! I am always amazed (and slightly jealous) when I hear Bachelor’s to Master’s students share why they chose to pursue OT when they were a senior in high school, because I didn’t know about OT until I was 20. While I don’t regret my journey because it’s what led me here today, I will say school was so much harder when I didn’t know what I was meant to do. It was also so much harder when I couldn’t imagine myself ever using organic chemistry or multivariable calculus in my career, yet still had to take those classes in order to get my degree. To this day, the fact that I know how to draw molecular structures using benzene rings or chair conformations has not served me. Not once!

Entering graduate school provided an opportunity for a clean slate. I was able to start over as a student at a new school but this time, as a student with a strong understanding of what I wanted while taking courses focused on what I was interested in. By acknowledging that all of the content I learn in the classroom could be applied to practice, being a student has become a more engaging and meaningful experience.

So, USC or UCLA?
This question is hard to answer because ultimately, I am so thankful to both. My experiences at UCLA led me here to USC, where I find myself growing professionally and personally everyday. Both allowed me to be close to home and near my family, who I wouldn’t be here without. At one, I was able to identify my weaknesses and at the other, take a strengths-based approach. This past weekend, I showed my friends Silvia and Vanessa around UCLA, where we sat next to Janss Steps and talked for hours.

My friend and fellow ambassador Silvia is just out of frame, sitting on the grassy knoll next to Janss Steps at UCLA

Sitting on the grassy knoll next to Janss Steps at UCLA. Pictured: Silvia Hernandez-Cuellar.

A picture of three girls. From left to right is Silvia, myself, and my friend and classmate Vanessa.

Me and my pals (and USC Chan classmates), Silvia and Vanessa ElShamy.

While walking the same paths I used to take to class, I remembered how I felt there when the thought of becoming an occupational therapist seemed like a distant, unattainable dream because I couldn’t see past who I was on paper — just another GPA, GRE score, and 1000 words. And becoming a USC Chan occupational therapist? Dream on.

Look at you now. Fight, fight, fight on. 💙🐻💛✌️❤️

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