Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) are important in helping individuals with physical or mental disabilities gain or regain skills necessary for their highest quality of life. Keys to this job include providing support, compassion, and guidance to patients as they progress through their individualized treatment plans. OTAs work under the supervision of an occupational therapist responsible for performing initial assessments and writing treatment plans. Ultimately, the goal of an OTA is to assist patients in attaining or regaining the skills they need to lead a more independent life.

The required education to become an OTA typically takes two years, with both didactic and clinical components. During the didactic component, students learn anatomy, physiology, pathology, and kinesiology while they gain hands-on experience through a clinical component. Some courses may be completed online as well. With this training, OTAs can help patients improve life skills by providing various services such as teaching them how to dress or eat more independently or helping them perform activities of daily living like bathing or grooming.

Being an occupational therapy assistant can be highly rewarding. Not only are they able to help people with physical or mental disabilities achieve their highest potential, but they can earn a comfortable living doing it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), job openings for OTAs are expected to increase by an impressive 25 percent between 2021 and 2031. 

Occupational therapy assistants are important in helping individuals with physical or mental disabilities gain or regain skills necessary for their highest quality of life. Keep reading to learn about the education, licensing, and certification requirements to become an OTA.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Specializations & Degree Types

Students must complete an associate degree in occupational therapy assistant from an accredited institution to become an OTA. These programs are typically two years long and include coursework such as Introduction to occupational therapy, advanced interpersonal and communication skills, and therapeutic techniques for children. Upon completing the program, graduates must pass the National Board of Certification for Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification exam to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants.

Admissions Requirements for Occupational Therapy Assistant Programs 

The requirements for admission to a two-year associate’s occupational therapy assistant program include a high school diploma or equivalent with coursework in math, science, and social sciences with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher, along with prerequisite coursework such as physiology, psychology, and general biology. 

Candidates for admission may be required to complete an entrance admission exam and submit additional admission materials such as letters of recommendation, personal essays, and a current resume.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Accreditation

Aspiring occupational therapists must complete an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredited program to be eligible to practice occupational therapy. ACOTE is the official accrediting body of the American Occupational Therapy Association. It is recognized by the United States Department of Education as a reliable authority on the quality of education programs in this field. 

ACOTE-accredited programs provide students with a comprehensive education that meets national standards, ensuring graduates are well-prepared for their careers. Completing an ACOTE-accredited program also makes graduates eligible to sit for the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.

On-Campus Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree Programs

Jefferson Community and Technical College

Jefferson Community and Technical College’s occupational therapy assistant program is a three-semester-long associate’s of applied science. During this program, students learn how to promote and maintain health for those with physical or psychological dysfunction. Students gain experience implementing occupation-based interventions using a client-centered approach and learning new concepts and techniques to interact with clients of all ages through self-care, work, play, or leisure activities. 

Graduates of the program will be trained to contribute to the therapy process under the supervision of an occupational therapist and are eligible to sit for the NBCOT exam. Enrollment in this program is selective, so students should attend a pre-admission conference to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. 

  • Location: Louisville, KY
  • Duration: Three semesters
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $637 per credit

Gateway Community College

The associate of applied science in occupational therapy assistant degree at Gateway Community College allows students to gain specialized skills in rehabilitative services for individuals of all ages, particularly those dealing with physical, psychosocial, or developmental impairments. This program is led by experienced instructors with decades of experience in this field. 

After completing the program, students can take the NBCOT and obtain a state license as occupational therapy assistants. Graduates of this program can find entry-level work in rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, schools, nursing facilities, and other settings.

  • Location: Phoenix, AZ
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $767 per credit

McLennan Community College

At McLennan Community College, students can complete their occupational therapy assistant associate of applied science degree.  This program is an invaluable opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in occupational therapy and start a growing career. Students will acquire knowledge and skills in theory, lab practice, and clinical settings for two years to be outstanding occupational therapy assistants. Upon graduation will be eligible to become licensed OTA professionals.

Occupational therapy assistants ensure people of all ages can participate in everyday activities important to them. This school focuses on a holistic approach to addressing physical, psychological, and cognitive aspects. This program begins each spring semester and is offered in a full-time, on-campus format. 

  • Location: Waco, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $181 per credit

Austin Community College

The two-year associate of science in occupational therapy assistant at Austin Community College prepares students to work under the supervision of an occupational therapist to help patients re-engage in everyday activities.  In addition to didactic coursework, students will complete clinical experiences throughout the greater Austin community. Admission to this program is highly competitive as they only accept 14 to 15 students per year but receive over 50 applications. 

Graduates of this program have worked in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, mental health facilities, private clinics, schools, and home health care agencies. This program prepares students for licensure; in the past three years, 100 percent of students who have taken the national certification exam have passed.

  • Location: Austin, TX
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $25,216 total program cost

College of Western Idaho

Upon completing the occupational therapy assistant associate’s of applied science at the College of Western Idaho, graduates are prepared to pursue licensure and certification in this field. This degree program is grounded in the idea that meaningful activities should permeate every person’s life. 

In just two years, students will learn to utilize a problem-based theoretical approach to ensure clients receive the best care possible. There is also a strong emphasis on developing essential critical thinking skills and professional competencies to work in multidisciplinary teams. 

Course content includes didactic and practical learning components like lab sessions, service learning, and fieldwork experiences. The class sequence is designed to enable students to adopt a holistic approach with their clients that acknowledges the uniqueness of each person, group, and population across the lifespan.

  • Location: Nampa, ID 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $306 per credit

Online or Hybrid Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree Programs

In-person training is a central part of occupational therapy assistant programs, so there are only partially online program options. However, here are five programs that offer hybrid learning options. 

Casper College 

The associate’s of science in occupational therapy assistant at Casper college is a six-semester program, including two eight-week fieldwork placements. Courses are designed to build upon the knowledge gained in preceding sessions, and the small faculty-to-student ratio ensures students get maximum attention from their instructors. A summer session is required to complete this degree in sequence. 

The two prerequisite courses for the program can be taken online or in person, allowing students to explore this field without needing to be on campus. Once admitted to the full program, there are several hybrid classes and some entirely online courses to allow as much flexibility as possible when completing this hands-on intensive degree.

  • Location: Casper, WY
  • Duration: Six semesters
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $357 per credit

American Career College 

Through the occupational therapy assistant program at American Career College, students gain the knowledge and skills to create, implement and evaluate care plans, and assist patients and caregivers in understanding their conditions. This program teaches how to consider cultural backgrounds when providing care and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to give the best treatment possible.

With a blend of online and in-person courses, students will have a high degree of flexibility while completing their degree. Graduates will know how to provide care to various populations, such as children, youth, and adults, in clinical settings, community and state hospitals, adult day care centers, and long-term care facilities.

  • Location: Anaheim, CA
  • Duration: 20 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $59,346.50 for the entire program

St. Catherine University

With over 80 percent of coursework completed online, the occupational therapy assistant associate of science degree at St. Catherine University is one the programs that offer the most distance learning options. Students can live anywhere so long as they are willing to travel to the skills labs in California, Minnesota, Texas, or Virginia eight times throughout the program. The 720 hours of required fieldwork can be completed at a site near the student’s home.  

 A unique aspect of this program is the seven-week NBCOT prep coaching program that all students complete as part of their degree. This course prepares students to sit for and pass their national certification exam. A low 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures students receive personalized attention even while completing coursework online. 

  • Location: California, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia
  • Duration: 16 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $815 per credit

Joyce University of Nursing & Health Sciences

The 66-credit hour occupational therapy assistant associate of science degree at Joyce University of Nursing & Health Sciences takes five semesters. The blended format offers both online and on-campus instruction, providing students with the knowledge and experience needed to work with individuals or groups experiencing difficulties completing everyday living tasks. These difficulties can be due to physical/mental health issues, developmental or learning disabilities, or aging. For distance learners, attendance at the Draper, Utah campus is required for labs during the program’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th semesters.

A key component of this program is the 16 weeks of Level II Fieldwork, where students will use the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework to provide appropriate interventions to a diverse population. Faculty or clinical educators can guide and oversee these learning experiences and clinical decision-making.

  • Location: Draper, UT
  • Duration: 20 months
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $38,175 for the entire program

Bristol Community College 

Bristol Community College’s occupational therapy assistant associate of science degree offers two curriculum delivery options. Students can complete their studies through a traditional on-campus format or a hybrid one with online coursework. Both options are based on the college’s New Bedford campus, where students will gain clinical skills and knowledge through classes, labs, fieldwork, and off-site learning. With the traditional option, courses are offered Monday to Friday during the day. Online courses are available from Thursday to Friday. 

Required clinical fieldwork includes days, evenings, and weekends for the first three semesters and full-time fieldwork during the fourth semester. Computers are integrated throughout the program to ensure students have the most up-to-date digital literacy skills.

  • Location: Fall River, MA
  • Duration: Four semesters
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Tuition: $426 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Becoming an occupational therapy assistant typically requires a two-year associate’s degree, including clinical internship experience.

How To Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or earning a GED is necessary to enter an occupational therapy assistant program as it provides the basic educational foundation in sciences such as biology, anatomy, and physiology. Other courses, such as English, math, and computer technology, are necessary for success in this field. 

Step 2: Complete an Occupational Therapy Assistant Education Program (16 months to Two Years)

Aspiring occupational therapy assistants must complete an associate’s degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). These programs can be completed in as little as 16 months, although most run for two years. Programs include supervised fieldwork and on-site clinical training to ensure students have the hands-on skills necessary to succeed in this career. 

Step 3: Earn National Certification (Timelines Vary)

Upon completing an associate’s degree for occupational therapy assistants, graduates must pass the national certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). This certification demonstrates a high level of competency in this field, and many states require it to be eligible for licensure. 

Step 4: Apply for a State License (Timelines Vary)

Occupational therapy assistants are required to be licensed to practice. Licensure is obtained through the state where they practice and requires graduation from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program and passing the NBCOT exam.

What Do Occupational Therapy Assistants Do?

Occupational therapy assistants typically work under the supervision of an occupational therapist in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, private clinics, schools, and home healthcare settings. Day-to-day duties can include:

  • Providing direct patient/client care 
  • Conducting assessments to observe, identify, and analyze disability and activity limitations
  • Designing individualized treatment plans with input from the supervising therapist
  • Implement occupational therapy interventions in collaboration with other health care professionals as appropriate
  • Monitoring and adjusting treatment plans based on individual patient/client needs
  • Educating patients/clients upon discharge to ensure successful adaptation to their home environment
  • Documenting goals, outcomes, treatments, interventions, and follow-up activities
  • Supervising assistants, aides, or students performing support or auxiliary services
  • Ensuring the safety of all patients/clients during treatment sessions
  • Participating in professional development activities

Occupational Therapy Assistant Certifications & Licensure

Occupational therapy assistants are required to hold a state license to practice in all 50 states. Licensing requirements will vary by state, and will typically include the following:

  • Completing an OTA educational program. Many states require that the program be approved by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT)
  • Hold the NBCOT certification 
  • A completed application
  • Application fee payment
  • Proof of US citizenship or right to work 
  • Pass a background check

To become certified, an OTA must pass the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Candidates must graduate with an entry-level occupational therapy degree from an ACOTE-accredited OTA program to be eligible for this exam.

How Much Do Occupational Therapy Assistants Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) estimates that the 43,810 occupational therapy assistants in the US earn $66,280 per year on average. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $47,940
  • 25th percentile: $57,470
  • 50th  percentile (median): $64,250
  • 75th percentile: $76,270
  • 90th percentile: $85,580

Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an occupational therapy assistant: 

Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) care for patients under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. PTAs work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and private practices. Their primary duty is to help patients with exercises designed to improve their strength, coordination, balance, mobility, and range of motion. They may also assist physical therapists with treatments such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, hot/cold packs, traction, massage, and aquatic therapy. In addition to providing direct patient care services, PTAs often help with administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and maintaining medical records.

  • Typical Education: Associates
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

Become a Medical Assistant 

Medical assistants provide administrative and clinical assistance to doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician’s offices. They are typically responsible for a variety of tasks such as taking patient vital signs, preparing treatment rooms for exams, entering patient data into electronic medical records, drawing blood samples and preparing them for lab testing, scheduling appointments, and performing basic office duties such as answering phones and filing paperwork. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or on-the-job training
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Healthcareer Association, American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA), National Center for Competency Testing, and American Medical Technologists

Become a Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy technicians assist pharmacists in the day-to-day operations of a pharmacy. They help fill prescriptions, operate computerized systems, manage inventory and medical records, organize and maintain pharmaceutical supplies, and answer customer questions. Often they also help with billing and insurance procedures. Pharmacy technicians must be familiar with federal drug distribution laws and adhere to state and organization regulations.

  • Typical Education: Certificate or on-the-job training
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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