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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
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. 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.


23 Truths for 2023 ⟩
January 18, 2023, by Yoojin

Community First-Gen School/Life Balance

Happy New Year Chan! I compiled some of my favorite quotes. There’s a good mix of bookmarked lines from cherished books, reminders for when life is a little rough, and encouragements to live a compassionate and sacrificial life.

  1. “To me, there was magic in learning.” — Michelle Obama, Becoming
  2. “Occupational therapy is more than a job. For many it is a calling. We felt drawn to it.” — Amy Lamb, OTD, OTR/L, FAOTA
  3. “Do what is good. Advocate for what is right. And fight for what is important.” — Bryan Morales
  4. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
  5. “There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.” — John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
  6. “It always seems impossible until it is done.” — Nelson Mandela
  7. “I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself.” — Michelle Obama, Becoming
  8. “We don’t do all our growing up between birth and adolescence or even our twenties. If we’re fortunate, we never stop.” — Diane Guerrero, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided
  9. “The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional.” — Max Lucado, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World
  10. “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” — Bob Kerrey
  11. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” — Plato
  12. “We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up.” — 2 Corinthians 4:8
  13. “An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.” — Tara Westover, Educated
  14. “Why can’t I just eat my waffle?” — Barack Obama
  15. “Listening to an underserved population is how you begin to understand them and serve them better.” — Constance Wu
  16. “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” — Proverbs 17:17
  17. “Being yourself is all it takes. If you want to impress someone don’t be someone else just be yourself.” — Selena Gomez
  18. “Living without passion is like being dead.” — Jungkook
  19. “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” — Eleanor Brownn
  20. “Family is the most important thing in the world.” — Princess Diana
  21. “It was possible, I knew, to live on two planes at once — to have one’s feet planted in reality but pointed in the direction of progress.” — Michelle Obama, Becoming
  22. “Fall seven times, get up eight.” — Naoki Higashida
  23. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy


New Year, New Me? ⟩
January 17, 2023, by Tania

Classes Community Diversity First-Gen School/Life Balance

Starting a new year can feel weird at times because there is this weird societal pressure of being the best new version of yourself. However, if you ask me, I am already a different person from 5 months ago. In fact, each day we evolve. At times, we sit reminiscing on the things we didn’t accomplish the years before. Our minds go on and on about the should haves and could haves but we don’t have control over those anymore.

Maybe this year is not about reinventing or being the newest best version of yourself but instead about being patient, caring, and loving to the person you are right now. I invite you to instead or in conjunction with writing new year’s resolutions, take the time to celebrate ALL your accomplishments (big and small) and appreciate your life’s journey. This year block the outside noise!

This is because as first-generation, low-income, Latinx students we usually carry the weight of our families. We are forced to create our paths, we navigate unknown territories and we receive plenty of no’s along the way. Being the first in the family to do something different requires many “mistakes” that later turn into lessons for those that come after us. However, the beauty of being a first-generation, low-income, Latinx student is that we don’t take NO for an answer. It may take us longer, it may take us a few tears, and it may take us finding different ways to get there, but we are determined to accomplish what our heads and hearts set themselves to do because our families already sacrifice too much. We know how it was before so the only direction is forward. In my case, little Tania didn’t wake up every day at 3 am to commute across the US-Mexico border for 10 years for today’s Tania to give up now.

Little me would be so proud to see what was once a dream is now a reality. Present day Tania is working towards becoming a doctor in occupational therapy and accepted a paid residency at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD)!

This 2023 there is no newest best version of me and there is no need for the newest best version of yourself either. So as hard as it can be, appreciate the now and be patient with who you are because past you once dreamed of who and where you are today. I’m sure little you is proud of how far you have come and your validation is the one that matters!


Latinx Heritage Month Celebration ⟩
November 29, 2022, by Tania

Community Diversity First-Gen Getting Involved

Asociación Hispanohablante de Terapia Ocupacional (AHTO) is a student organization in the Chan Division, with the goals to improve the educational experience of Latinx students and to provide care/resources to the Spanish-speaking community. We are a group of aspiring OTs passionate about working with underrepresented and underserved communities. AHTO hopes to support the retention of students of color within the division and to advocate for the needs that our community requires. AHTO is a student organization made by the students and for the students.

We all know the importance of representation in higher education and healthcare. Therefore, the AHTO board worked together to create several events in celebration of Latinx Heritage Month.

The first event was café con pan dulce, which allowed students to connect over some cafesito and conchitas. That same day during lunch students gathered to play Loteria, which is similar to Bingo.

The next event was Case Studies en Español, and this event was made possible with the collaboration of Dr. Celso Delgado Jr.. Our two presenters, Dr. Marilyn Thompson and Dr. Daniel Padilla reviewed two different case studies in Spanish and provided tips on how to best serve the Spanish-speaking community.

We also had a social at a local Latinx-owned restaurant, Casa Fina Restaurant, to support businesses in the community. We enjoyed good food, good music, and great company. We had over 30 people at the event. It was beautiful to see so many people in one room building community.

We closed the celebration with Dia de Los Muertos. Students enjoyed tamales, pan dulce, and crafts.

AHTO hopes to create a safe space and a home away from home for those in the division. We understand that there have been other Latinx organizations before us that maybe have not lasted, but the fact that an organization keeps arising time by time lets us know the need for support in the division and the willingness of our community.

If you are a student and you are interested in getting involved, stay on the lookout for elections next semester!

If you are staff / faculty and wonder how you can best support our student group here are a few ways:

  1. Attend our events
  2. Promote our events
  3. Advocate for funding for student orgs
  4. Ask us what we need

Special thanks to Dr. Celso Delgado Jr. and Dr. Danny Park for their collaboration and support!

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