Career Advice

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Become an OTA and give new hope to your patients.

Perhaps you have considered becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). If you are looking to limit the number of years spent in college while pursuing a career that not only pays well, but also allows you to make a difference, becoming an OTA might be right for you.

OTAs work under the direction of an occupational therapist (OT), helping individuals of all ages and abilities develop, recover, or improve the skills they need for daily life and work. While the OT evaluates patients and develops their treatment plans, the OTA works directly with patients to put those plans into action. Read on to learn how to become an occupational therapy assistant.

Following are steps you will need to take to become an OTA:

1. Find the right program for your needs.

Before choosing a school, you need to do your research to make sure it’s right for you.

Questions to ask yourself when looking for an OTA program:    

  • While learning the fundamentals of occupational therapy, would you prefer the flexibility of online coursework, or is an on-campus, lecture-based course structure appealing to you?
  • Are you ready to start the program now, or not quite yet?
  • Do you intend to work while studying to become an OTA?

Is the Harcum College Online OTA program right for you?

The majority of Harcum’s coursework is completed online, which allows you to work on your assignments when and where it is convenient for you. Of course, there are still deadlines, but you will enjoy the freedom to study at the time of day and location that suits your schedule.

We offer three start dates per year — in January, May, and August. If you’re looking to start your education as soon as possible, our program might be right for you.

OTA instructor with students in a skills lab

Our OTA program covers four semesters over a period of 16 months. It is best not to work full-time while you are enrolled in the program, as much of your time will be devoted to schoolwork.

2. Talk to an admission counselor.

Before you apply for OTA school, you should first talk to an admission counselor. If you choose Harcum, your counselor will provide a thorough overview of the admission process and discuss your previous education. They will help ascertain your reasons for wanting to become an occupational therapy assistant and help determine whether you will need to apply for financial assistance. Your Harcum admission counselor will be available throughout the admission process to answer any questions you have.

3. Begin the admission process.

Once you decide on an OTA program, you can start the admission process. After submitting your application, you will need to have your official college transcripts sent to the admission office. You should also submit any transcripts for advanced-placement courses you completed during high school.

Your admission counselor will review your transcripts to determine which OTA core requirements and general education requirements (if any) you’ll need to take before starting the OTA program. To be accepted to the Harcum College OTA program, you must complete these courses with an average grade of C or higher. And you can take the courses online directly through Harcum College.

Student on the phone with admissions

It is important to note that if you already took the OTA core requirement and general education courses or plan to take them simultaneously with your OTA courses, you can graduate from the Harcum College Online OTA program in as few as 16 months. If you prefer to complete these requirements before beginning your OTA courses, you can graduate in as few as 24 months.

4. Complete the OTA program.

At Harcum, in addition to completing 72 credit hours of online coursework, you will attend labs at our Sun City, AZ learning facility, where you will develop hands-on skills. Next, you will complete fieldwork assignments, where you will first shadow OT professionals, then treat patients under supervision.

Now is a great time to become an OTA. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of occupational therapy assistants will grow 30 percent from 2018 to 2028. And as of May 2019, the BLS lists the nationwide median annual wage for an OTA at $61,510 — making it one of the most lucrative professions in the country requiring only an associate degree.

5. Sit for the NBCOT.

Before you can become a licensed certified OTA (COTA), you must sit for and pass the board exam, which is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). You can opt to take the exam either in paper format or online. If you find such tests intimidating, take comfort in knowing that Harcum has included NBCOT preparation in its online OTA curriculum. If you do not pass the exam, you will have to wait 45 days to retake it; however, there is no limit on the number of times you can take the exam.

6. Apply for COTA Licensure.

After graduating from our accredited OTA program, completing the fieldwork requirements, and passing the NBCOT exam, you must apply for licensure in your home state (or the state in which you wish to practice) and pay the associated application fees. Every state has its own regulatory body, so the application process varies.

Once you have your COTA license, you can go to work as an OTA.

Your schooling doesn’t end when you land your first job. In most states, continuing education for OTAs is required. This is to ensure that you retain the education you already have while staying up to date on new developments in the field. Each state requires a different number of hours of continuing education.

Start Your Journey Today.

Now that you know how to become an occupational therapy assistant, reach out to a Harcum College OTA admission counselor. They can answer any questions you might have and get you started on the application process.

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