Occupational therapists help people across the lifespan live full lives and complete everyday activities. This guide details the academic and job planning information you need to gain entry into this field or advance your career.

Read on to learn more about common admission requirements and typical courses in online doctoral programs in occupational therapy. This guide also covers possible careers in occupational therapy and answers to a few frequently asked questions.

What Are the Best Occupational Therapy Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Picks:

Rank School Location
1 Barry University Miami, FL
2 Boston University Boston, MA
3 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY
4 Gannon University Erie, PA
5 George Washington University Washington, DC
6 Misericordia University Dallas, PA
7 Mount Mary University Milwaukee, WI
8 Quinnipiac University Hamden, CT
9 St. Catherine University Saint Paul, MN
10 Temple University Philadelphia, PA

There are two main types of online doctoral programs in occupational therapy. The first is an entry-level program, in which students gain the fundamental skills and field experience needed to work as licensed practitioners. Alternatively, post-professional programs help already licensed occupational therapists develop the specialized competencies needed for leadership roles in the field.

In both cases, students should attend a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and/or the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT).

How We Rank Schools

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read more about our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Accredited Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs

School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Barry University

Miami, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 36%

Motivated learners can complete Barry's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy in two years. Core courses focus on issues like theories of practice, leadership, and research. Students customize the degree by selecting 18 elective credits and choosing a location to complete a 16-week internship.

Barry's career center provides degree-seekers with interviewing, resume, and job search resources. Online services include a networking guide and tips on how to negotiate salaries. Students can also perform virtual mock interviews.

Barry accepts applications year round, and incoming students can start the occupational therapy program in the spring, summer, or fall semester. Students may submit a portfolio highlighting their proficiencies and previous accomplishments for review, earning up to six credits.

Boston University

Boston, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 88%

BU's post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy features a rigorous curriculum with core courses in educational theory and practice, social policy and disability, and outcomes in measuring and monitoring. Additional requirements include two practica, a capstone, and a doctoral project.

Nearly 100% of the program's alumni find a job within 180 days of graduation. BU helps students succeed by offering networking guides, a job board, and a blog.

Prospective students must have a BS and MS in occupational therapy and submit two recommendation letters. Additional requirements include providing answers to three essay questions. Incoming learners work with a financial aid advisor to research and apply for institutional aid.

Eastern Kentucky University

Richmond, KY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 47%

EKU's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy may appeal to prospective students who already hold a master's degree in the field. The 40-credit curriculum includes coursework in culture and diversity, policy analysis, and applied research. Additional requirements include a four-part leadership seminar and an applied research project.

EKU's career website conveys essential skills through virtual events, cover letter and professionalism advice, and interview practice sessions. Students can also access Handshake -- a central hub for additional resources like job boards and a counseling appointment calendar.

In addition to a master's degree, applicants must be certified by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Additional requirements include GRE scores. EKU's Foundation Scholarships require a separate application.

Gannon University

Erie, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

Practicing occupational therapists can enroll in Gannon's post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy program. The 34-credit curriculum emphasizes emerging models of practice, advanced occupations, and advanced leadership and ethics. In their fourth semester, students complete a capstone project that involves an extended essay and an oral report.

About 97% of students who earn a graduate degree from Gannon find employment within a few months of graduating. Occupational therapy students can prepare for success by using the university's career posts and guides.

Admission requirements include a master's degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a state occupational therapy license, and a recommendation letter. Gannon does not charge fees to online degree-seekers. Incoming students can apply for the university's dozens of institutional scholarships by completing an additional form.

George Washington University

Washington, DC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 82%

GW's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy includes courses in assessment strategies, leadership, and research skills. Students can personalize their program by selecting multiple electives. Additionally, learners work with an academic advisor to create a custom capstone experience.

GW's career services office provides degree-seekers with networking guides, resume and cover letter critiques, and interview preparation sessions. GW also hosts the Graduate Student Career Series -- workshops that cover different career tracks.

Applicants must submit two recommendation letters, a 500-word essay, and graduate transcripts. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency. Prospective students should contact the Office of Student Financial Assistance to learn more about institutional, private, and federal financial aid opportunities.

Misericordia University

Dallas, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

Misericordia's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy includes required classes in professional behaviors, environments and contexts, and community-based practice. Additional requirements include a comprehensive exam. New college students who enroll in the entry-level program can earn a bachelor's and doctorate in six years.

Almost 100% of Misericordia's occupational therapy alumni start a career soon after earning an occupational therapy degree. The university contributes to learners' success by offering access to various software suites, such as Handshake and Vault.

The occupational therapy program admits both new college students and professionals who already hold a master's degree. Both academic tracks use a hybrid curriculum, meaning that prospective students should live near Misericordia's campus in Dallas, Pennsylvania. The program does not award institutional aid to occupational therapy learners who already hold a master's degree.

Mount Mary University

Milwaukee, WI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 51%

Occupational therapists who want to develop new skills may be interested in MMU's doctorate in occupational therapy program. Courses emphasize topics like occupational justice, service delivery, and research in occupational therapy. Most degree-seekers can complete the program in two years.

MMU's career development website provides many valuable resources to degree-seekers and alumni, including access to student support consultants. These advisors connect students with resume assistance and networking advice.

Admission requirements include an occupational therapy license, at least one year of professional experience, and a minimum 3.5 graduate GPA. MMU also asks all applicants to interview with the program director.

Quinnipiac University

Hamden, CT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 77%

Quinnipiac's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy uses a mostly online curriculum, although degree-seekers must take a one-week course on the university's campus in Hamden, Connecticut. The curriculum covers evidence-based practice, critical inquiry of scholarship, and leadership in higher education. Full-time learners can earn their degree in two years, and the university offers a bridge program for current occupational therapy undergraduates.

Quinnipiac's career development office networks with top employers to provide degree-seekers with job opportunities. Nearly 98% of alumni achieve professional success.

Prospective students must work full time or part time as an occupational therapist. Admission requirements include an essay and a background check. Quinnipiac participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program -- a service that lowers tuition rates for veterans.

St. Catherine University

Saint Paul, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 56%

The doctorate in occupational therapy program at St. Kate's includes a 35-credit curriculum and features classes like the social determinants of health, educational methods, and program evaluation. Learning outcomes include the ability to make ethical decisions in the workplace. Degree-seekers must maintain a minimum 3.0 graduate GPA to remain in good academic standing.

Over 80% of St. Kate's graduate student alumni find a job that relates to their degree. Degree-seekers can explore top jobs on the university's career development website. This website also provides informational videos on different job hunting topics.

St. Kate's awards transfer credit on a case-by-case basis. Students typically graduate in two years.

Temple University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

Temple's online doctorate in occupational therapy emphasizes peer collaboration and faculty mentorship. The program includes both synchronous and asynchronous elements, allowing students to connect with their cohort. Distance learners also complete 2-3 on-campus experiences throughout the program.

The program's 31-credit curriculum includes required courses in current and emerging issues in public health and health professions and leadership in the health professions. Students also complete a capstone project, fieldwork, a professional portfolio, and a clinical experience.

Applicants must be licensed occupational therapists who hold a master's degree in the field. All students in the program pay the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency.

Towson University

Towson, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 73%

TU's doctorate in occupational therapy program prepares students without a background in occupational therapy for a fulfilling career helping others stay safe. The three-year, 96-credit program includes required coursework in kinesiology, issues in occupational therapy, and academic and clinical education. The program culminates in a research project. Students complete requirements through a combination of on-campus, online, and hybrid classes.

TU's career center provides learners with career roadmaps, Handshake software, and online advising appointments. Students can also access cover letter guidance and salary negotiation best practices.

Admission requirements include a minimum 3.25 undergraduate GPA, prerequisite courses, and volunteer hours. Maryland residents pay the lowest tuition rate at this public institution. TU's fellowship opportunities require a separate application.

University of Kansas

Lawrence, KS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

KU's online doctoral degree in occupational therapy helps occupational therapists advance their careers. This entirely online program emphasizes evidence-based practice, professional leadership, teaching, and specialty practice. The curriculum includes two practicum experiences and a capstone.

Over 90% of KU alumni experience a positive career or education outcomes shortly after earning a degree. Degree-seekers can prepare for a new job or professional advancement by taking advantage of KU's resume critiques and networking guides. The university also provides students with customized business cards.

Admission requirements include graduate transcripts, an occupational therapy license, and a background check. This program does not require standardized test scores or recommendation letters. The university does not charge out-of-state tuition to learners enrolled in online programs.

University of South Dakota

Vermillion, SD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Learners who want to earn a post-professional doctorate can enroll in USD's doctor of occupational therapy program. The five-semester curriculum features coursework in advanced research design, leadership in healthcare, and applying evidence-based practices.

USD's career professionals connect students with a private job board, virtual workshops, and networking opportunities. These resources help nearly 35% of the university's occupational therapy students finalize career plans before graduation.

Admission requirements include two recommendation letters, a professional summary statement, and a copy of a valid occupational therapy license. Learners start the program in the fall semester. Students who excel in their first two semesters may qualify for the VanDemark Scholarship.

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 70%

The U's post-professional doctoral degree in occupational therapy can be earned entirely online through an asynchronous curriculum. Learners and professors interact through discussion boards. The two-year curriculum includes required courses in program development, evidence-based practice, and contemporary theories. Learners customize their program by choosing two electives.

Nearly 95% of occupational therapy alumni earn employment soon after graduation, and roughly half continue working in Utah. The U's career services website prepares students for the job market by providing them with a three-part career success pathway.

Admission requirements include an occupational therapy license, at least two years of work experience, and three recommendation letters. Students living in a state with membership in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education may qualify for in-state tuition.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

VCU's post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy program includes coursework in clinical reasoning, advanced theory in occupational therapy, and program development and evaluation. The program delivers all coursework online and asynchronously through the Blackboard platform.

Over 80% of alumni attain a job that relates to the degree they earned at VCU. Degree-seekers can explore relevant job openings and attend virtual advising sessions on the university's career services website.

Prospective students must have a BS or MS in occupational therapy, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and GRE scores from the last five years. VCU considers transfer credit on a case-by-case basis. Virginia residents receive a significant tuition discount.

Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Program Overview

To earn an online doctoral degree in occupational therapy, you may need to complete anywhere from 40-100 credits. Doctoral programs are rigorous and usually take 3-5 years. Most programs include intensive research and clinical experiences.

Entry-level programs typically include core coursework in human anatomy, pathophysiology, and neuroscience. To satisfy ACOTE requirements, entry-level programs require Level I and Level II fieldwork experiences, as well as a 16-week experiential component and a culminating project.

Post-professional doctor of occupational therapy programs center on management and data analysis. Courses include evidence-based practice, social policy and disability, and outcomes measurement and monitoring. Post-professional programs generally culminate in a scholarly project that requires critical analysis of clinical theory and research.

Common Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Degree Courses

Pathophysiology

In this foundational course, students examine the etiology and pathogenesis of diseases as they manifest in body functions and structures. Participants learn to identify signs and symptoms of diseases and their subsequent impairments. This course focuses on how these impairments limit activities that cause occupational and performance issues.

Patient Care

Students learn the basic skills needed to work as rehabilitation personnel. Covered topics include universal safety precautions, sterile procedures and isolation techniques, ambulation with assistive devices, and environmental barriers. Learners explore professional issues related to documentation and role differentiations and receive an introduction to bloodborne pathogens.

Promoting Health and Wellbeing

This advanced course teaches students to improve the health of patients who experience chronic disease or age-related changes. Topics cover epidemiology and public health, helping future occupational therapists understand their capacity to prevent disability and activity limitations.

Healthcare Management

This course covers the U.S. health system and the social forces affecting service delivery and policy development. Students explore their role as a manager, learning how to conduct market analysis; process patient cases; and facilitate operating, capital, and cash budgeting. They also learn how to assess risk to help their organizations make strategic decisions.

Social Policy and Disability

This course covers current perspectives on disability. Topics include medical and universal models for health and social services delivery systems. Students also examine cultural assumptions about the nature of disability and quality of life and the implications these beliefs have on therapy practice.

Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor's or Master's Degree

    To pursue an online doctoral degree in occupational therapy, you typically need a degree from an accredited institution. Post-professional programs require an ACOTE/WFOT-accredited master's in occupational therapy. Although entry-level programs usually accept any bachelor's degree, applicants may need to complete prerequisite coursework.

  • GPA Minimum

    Doctoral programs often require a 3.0 minimum GPA. However, competitive universities typically maintain higher standards, particularly for math and science courses. Some schools allow you to make up for an inadequate GPA through relevant work experience or exceptional GRE scores.

  • GRE Scores

    While there is a growing movement for holistic student evaluation, many schools still require standardized test scores because they value streamlined and data-supported evidence of academic potential. Some schools waive the GRE requirement if you have an ACOTE/WFOT-accredited degree and a high GPA.

  • Essay

    An essay allows prospective schools to assess your personal qualities, academic interests, and professional goals. An essay also gives you a chance to set yourself apart from other applicants.

  • Professional Experience

    Most applicants demonstrate professional experience by submitting a resume or CV and recommendation letters. Many schools also interview qualified applicants.


Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Career Paths

While professionals can work as an entry-level occupational therapist with a master's degree, ACOTE/WFOT-accredited doctoral programs provide additional education in theory development, policy education, and community advocacy. A doctorate in occupational therapy is the terminal degree in the field.

Occupational therapists conduct individual evaluations to help clients determine specific goals. Based on these objectives, occupational therapists implement customized interventions to improve each client's ability to perform daily activities.

All U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico require that occupational therapists have an official license.

Related Careers

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an occupational therapist do?

Occupational therapists help people of all ages engage in activities they need or want to do. For example, these practitioners may assist children with disabilities, ensuring they can fully participate in social situations and school. Occupational therapists may also help patients recover from injury and accommodate cognitive and physical changes related to old age.

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

Physical therapists help patients strengthen motor functions, while occupational therapists improve a patient's ability to perform work-related or otherwise meaningful tasks. Physical therapy emphasizes bodily functions related to strength, balance, and range of motion. Occupational therapy encompases several rehabilitative techniques, including memory organization and problem-solving.

Is an occupational therapy degree hard?

Difficulty is highly relative based on an individual's academic interests and strengths. To prepare for clinical training and dissertation research, students should prepare to take courses in human anatomy, pathophysiology, kinesiology, and psychology.

How much does an occupational therapist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists earn a median annual salary of $84,950. This position is also projected to grow by 18% between 2018 and 2028 -- more than three times the projected growth for the average occupation in the U.S.

How long do you go to school to become an occupational therapist?

To work as a licensed occupational therapist, you need at least a master's degree. This process takes about two years after you have earned a bachelor's. By earning a doctorate (which takes 3-5 years), you can develop the advanced research, clinical, and management skills required for leadership positions in diverse healthcare settings.

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Additional Reading and Resources

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