Grad school applications. Just hearing those words brings back thoughts of long nights, a plethora of tabs open on my web browser, and checklists upon checklists in my journal. Applying to graduate school is a long and hard process, but being organized and being aware of what you’re up for can make the process much more manageable, and a less daunting task. As someone who went through the process without anyone around with any knowledge for themselves, I had to learn it all on my own and make sure that I was on top of deadlines and requirements at the same time.
So now, I’m going to share what I learned.
First of all, the earlier you know you want to be an OT, the better. (But honestly, don’t worry if you’ve figured it out after you’ve already graduated, or you’re in your senior year of undergrad). As soon as you figure out that OT is right for you, begin researching programs at schools that you are interested in. Although most programs have the same requirements, there are always those few that require one extra class or a certain number of reference letters or shadowing hours. You want to be sure that you can fulfill all the requirements that these programs have listed before application season comes around. This will help you avoid the stress of being unprepared, or having to wait for the next application season.
Here is a basic list of requirements for program admissions (taken from my school’s website; the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences):
- A bachelor’s degree
- Personal Statement
- Classes: Physics, Biology, Anatomy & Physiology 1 & 2, Human Growth and Development, Psychology, Sociology, Medical Terminology, +/- a few other courses depending on the program
- Min. GPA of 3.0
- Two or more reference letters from licensed OT’s or professor
- Minimum of 80 volunteer or observation hours in an OT setting
Once you’ve outlined all of the requirements for the programs you are interested in, make a plan to get it all done. If you still have a couple of years to graduate, great! You have plenty of time to get this all done. I sat with my academic advisor and made a plan to finish my degree as well as to make sure that all of the prerequisite classes were included in my schedule in a way that was manageable. If you don’t have enough time to finish it along with your degree, or you’ve already graduated, start taking these classes at a local college. But before signing up though, be sure to email or call your program of interest to make sure that the class will fulfill their requirement.
GRE stands for Get Ready Early. Not really, but I only had one month to study for the GRE and I can say for sure that if I had started earlier, my score, although it was good enough to get me in, would have been so much better. I used Magoosh, an online study program that I credit with getting me the score that I got in the time I had. They have detailed study plans tailored to the amount of time you have and although it’s rigorous work, that just what you have to do to do well.
(Do you see a theme here yet? Organization is key.)
Volunteering and observing. Two key things when you are interested in health care. You never really know if you want to do it until you experience it first hand. One of the amazing things about OT is that you can work in such a wide variety of environments! So do it, shadow as many specialties and in as many environments as you can to get the full scope of what you’ll be able to do. (This doesn’t look so bad on your resume either…) Don’t be afraid to call up a therapy center or send them an email and ask about shadowing a therapist, many places might have a waitlist, and putting yourself out there is the best way to make sure you get a spot.
Another aspect of this is reference letters. When you are shadowing therapists, make sure that you spend enough time to get to know them, ask them questions, and be genuinely interested in what they do. This is your opportunity to really learn about the profession before you’ve spent all the time and money getting the degree, and showing your interest and eagerness to learn will get you a good reference letter from the therapists you shadow. Something that I did after every volunteer opportunity, job and shadowing experience, was to ask for a letter of recommendation, even before I knew of deadlines. I kept all of these letters in a file so that when the time came, I had everything I needed.
On the OTCAS, or the central application, they will give you a link to send to the OT’s you’ve shadowed or employers you’ve worked for so that they can submit the letter of recommendation, so it is a good idea to make sure that you are memorable to these important people. If they don’t remember you, why would they write you a letter?
The last thing I’ll go over in this blog is personal statements. The program will give you a topic along the lines of explaining why you want to study OT. So tell them. Why do you want to invest your time and money into this program? What are your passions, what is your inspiration? Be real. And show them what you have to offer; what are you going to bring to this field? Why are you different? After you’ve written your paper, get as many people to read it as possible. Sit on it for while, go back and read it again. If you give yourself the time, you won’t be in a rush to get it done and thus leave room for mistakes.
Finally, application season will roll around. And it doesn’t have to be hectic. You want to apply one year before your expected starting date. So if you want to start the program in the Fall of 2020, you will apply during the Fall of 2019. Once OTCAS opens up for the term you want to apply for, make an account, check off the programs you are interested in, and start uploading the information required. OTCAS shows you all of the deadlines for the programs you are interested in, but beware, you want to submit these application BEFORE the deadlines. OTCAS needs time to process the documents you submit to ensure that it fulfills all of the requirements. My suggestion is to submit your applications at least 3-4 weeks before the deadline, this will give them plenty of time to inform you if you missed a step or need to upload anything else.
Now it’s time to relax. Sort of. It’s pretty stressful waiting for decisions, but use this time to prepare for interviews (because you’ll hopefully be called for an interview). Look up common interview questions and have people come up with questions, physically write down your answers, and have friends help you with mock interviews. Your personal statement will be a big help in this department because now you’ve already thought about and written about your passion and your reason for wanting to do OT. But don’t forget about all of the other questions that could be asked, maybe I’ll write a blog with interview questions that I was asked…
So there you have it! This is a basic, and partially detailed? layout of how to apply to OT school. It’s quite a process, but let me tell you, it is so worth it. Out of the five programs I applied to, I only got into one. I’ll be starting in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited.
So get out there, get those shadowing hours, study hard, and make yourself proud.