If you’re looking to find well-paid, in-demand, and meaningful work in the healthcare field, becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) may be an ideal fit for you. Job growth for OTAs is projected to increase by a massive 34% from 2020 to 2030, compared with an average of 7% across all other professions. Becoming an OTA also positions you with one of the best-paying jobs you can get with an associate’s degree—with a median annual wage of $61,730, and top-earners in the field bringing home over $80,000 a year. In addition, OTAs make their living helping others, which is just one of the many reasons OTAs report high levels of job satisfaction.
If you are considering becoming an OTA, the first step is to find what schools offer occupational therapy assistant programs. Consider when selecting the best OTA school for you, including accreditation, prerequisites, program length, cost, and more. To help you find the perfect fit, we’ve put together a list of the top nine things you need to know when considering OTA schools. By paying attention to these key factors, we hope you’ll be empowered to find the best OTA program for you.
When you’re choosing an OTA school, one of the most important details to research is whether the program is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The accrediting branch of the AOTA is known as the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), and their accreditation ensures that an OTA program meets specific training and educational standards. That means that, practically speaking, ACOTE accreditation validates the overall quality and integrity of a program and will improve your post-graduation job prospects.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you must graduate from an ACOTE accredited program in order to be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. And if you want to apply for financial aid, or at some point you choose to transfer your credits to another school, you’ll need to be enrolled in a program with institutional accreditation.
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One of the great benefits of becoming an OTA is that it doesn’t require extended schooling, unlike certain degrees of nursing. In fact, you can begin your career right after completing your associate degree. But keep in mind, the required time commitment varies from school to school, so make sure to check the length of each program before you apply.
Many schools (including Joyce) now offer accelerated OTA programs, so you can complete your studies in even less time. In an accelerated program, lab work, coursework, and fieldwork are concentrated into a shorter time period to allow students to finish their training sooner. Accelerated programs are typically more rigorous, but many students find that the time and money they save makes it worthwhile. With Joyce’s accelerated program, you can start your new career as an OTA in just 20 months.
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Program costs can vary greatly between different OTA schools, so it’s a good idea to research tuition fees before you decide to apply. Most programs offer some level of financial aid, but the types and amounts of scholarships and grants can vary greatly—both between programs and from state to state. At Joyce, we are committed to making college accessible and affordable, and we offer a variety of financial aid options for those who qualify. If you are seriously considering an OTA program, make sure to meet with a Financial Aid Representative to see if you qualify for tuition assistance.
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You don’t need to have a college degree in order to apply for an OTA program. However, many schools—especially those with accelerated programs—require you to have successfully completed specific general education courses before you can enroll. Some programs also expect OTA students to have prior observational experience in occupational therapy. Make sure that you research each school’s required prerequisites before you apply. At Joyce, we focus solely on what you need to learn to become a successful OTA, and no prerequisites are required to enroll in our program.
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These days, you also have the option of completing your OTA degree online. Online programs offer more flexibility for students with busy schedules and of course, allow you to study remotely. However, there are currently no accredited entry-level OTA programs offered solely online. As we mentioned earlier, it can greatly undermine your career prospects if you graduate from an OTA program that is not accredited. In addition, online schools generally don’t have very favorable reputations amongst employers, which will make it more difficult to find a job after you graduate. Online programs also lack the hands-on training that is such a beneficial aspect of a good OTA school.
If you are trying to choose the best program format for you, make sure to reflect on your personal needs and learning style. What kind of format will work best with your schedule? Do you learn better in a hands-on environment or through explanation? Does one-on-one interaction with your instructors matter to you?
At Joyce, it is our belief that hands-on, experiential learning is the best approach for preparing students with the real-life skills to become OTAs. Our state-of-the-art-facilities offer students an ideal, in-person learning environment with cutting-edge technology, life-like lab environments, and a highly relevant curriculum to prepare students with the skills to be successful OTAs. To help support students’ education, some of Joyce’s program courses are also offered in an online, asynchronous format.
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A strong OTA program will equip students with the tools to successfully complete the exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). To become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA), you will need to pass the national certification exam. Because certification is such an important step in becoming an OTA, check to see if the program you’re considering includes NBCOT test preparation as part of their curriculum. Joyce’s OTA program has been designed specifically to prepare its graduates to pass the NBCOT exam, which is why we include a NBCOT Review course in the fifth and final semester of our program.
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Before you choose a school, take some time to review the course curriculum. Some OTA programs focus primarily on pediatric care, while others focus principally on later adulthood. The NBCOT exam requires knowledge across the lifespan, and therefore you should pick a program that has a curriculum to adequately prepare you for the NBCOT exam. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming an OTA is the diverse job opportunities available to you. In addition to inpatient and outpatient clinic settings, OTAs can also work in schools, helping children overcome learning difficulties. They can work with individuals in their homes, in rehabilitation hospitals, or in nursing homes. So, if you already know what population you want to work with once you’re credentialed, make sure that the OTA program you choose supports this career path.
No matter their focus, the best OTA programs offer a variety of learning environments, including laboratories that provide students with the opportunity for experiential learning and didactic coursework to help students gain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to become successful, professional OTAs.
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One of the hallmarks of a good OTA school is its accomplished instructors. That’s why it’s important to choose a school with an experienced faculty and a good teacher-to-student ratio. At Joyce, our OTA instructors are highly experienced and specialized working professionals, who are dedicated to providing our students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the OTA field. We also keep our class sizes small, so you can build relationships with your instructors and get the personal attention you need to succeed.
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Every program you’re looking at will help you get your OTA degree, but what about after you graduate? Make sure to check that the OTA schools you’re considering offer post-graduation employment assistance, as that assistance can provide a big boost to your career prospects.
At Joyce, we are committed to providing our graduates with effective resources for new employment opportunities. Upon completion of the Joyce OTA program, our dedicated career services team provides students with job placement assistance for life. That’s just one of the reasons our OTA students give us a 92.4% satisfaction rating.
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