Best Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs

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by Michelle Kelley

Updated September 21, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
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Occupational therapists (OTs) work with individuals who are injured, ill, or who have disabilities. They use therapeutic methods and assistive technology to help their patients develop or recover skills needed to perform everyday tasks.

Aspiring OTs should earn their master's or doctoral degrees from programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

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There are two main doctorate in occupational therapy programs. Entry-level programs can provide fundamental skills and experience and prepare students for certification and licensure as OTs. Post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy programs are geared toward individuals who have already obtained their OT licenses. These learners can enhance and develop skills to be innovators or take on leadership roles in the field.

Entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy programs can cost approximately $43,000-$108,000 and take students 3-5 years to complete. Tuition for online post-professional programs usually costs about $15,000-$37,500. Full-time students with a master's degree can often complete post-professional programs within two years.

Occupational therapy is a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for occupational therapists will increase 17% between 2020 and 2030. Occupational therapists earn a median annual salary of $86,280, as of May 2020.

Keep reading to learn more about earning your doctorate in occupational therapy and what you can do with the degree.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Program?

If you're interested in human anatomy and behavior and want to make a difference in people's lives, a career in occupational therapy may be right for you.

There are two main types of doctoral programs in occupational therapy: entry-level programs and post-professional programs.

Most entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy programs include 92-116 credits of coursework. Students in entry-level programs also typically complete 24 weeks of fieldwork and a final project.

In contrast, post-professional programs typically include 30-36 credits of coursework. Most post-professional programs require students to hold a master's degree.

Currently, there are no fully remote accredited entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy programs. However, some entry-level programs are partially available online.

Fully online doctorate in occupational therapy programs are post-professional programs for licensed OTs.

Before 2007, occupational therapists could enter the field by earning ACOTE-accredited bachelor's degrees. OTs without master's degrees can attend post-professional bridge programs to earn their doctorate. Bridge programs typically include 40-54 credits of coursework and take 2-4 years to complete.

Online and on-campus doctorate in occupational therapy programs offer courses in psychology, clinical kinesiology, and therapeutic techniques. Depending on the program, students can choose a specialization or track. Common specializations include productive aging, mental health, and low vision rehabilitation.

Some schools offer Ph.D. degrees in occupational therapy or occupational science. These programs help prepare students who want to pursue teaching and research careers. Ph.D. programs in occupational therapy usually include 60-90 credits and may take up to six years to complete. Tuition for some Ph.D. programs is around $40,000. However, some graduate schools may cover the cost of tuition.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Program?

Counseling Theories and Practice

This course introduces students to various theoretical frameworks in counseling. Students also learn how to apply theoretical concepts in their counseling practice. Through lectures, presentations, and group activities, students improve their counseling skills and deepen their knowledge of the therapeutic process.

Managing Healthcare Delivery Systems

Students learn about the U.S. healthcare system's organizational dynamics and structure. The course also addresses best practices in healthcare services.

Drugs, Medication, and Society

Students study commonly prescribed medications in behavioral healthcare. Course materials address how medications affect cognition, emotions, judgments, and motivation. The course also considers mood-altering drugs and drug addiction.

Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

This course addresses the special educational needs of children with autism spectrum disorders. Students study the nature of autism spectrum disorders and learn effective teaching methods and strategies.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

This course introduces students to fundamental concepts in behavioral analysis, such as determinism, empiricism, parsimony, and selectionism. Students learn various approaches to behavioral analysis and how they differ.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Program?

Online doctoral programs in occupational therapy often have different admission requirements than entry-level, on-campus programs. Fully online doctorate in occupational therapy programs are mainly post-professional programs.

Therefore, they require applicants to hold degrees from ACOTE-accredited schools. International applicants typically need degrees from programs accredited by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.

Some occupational therapy Ph.D. programs also require applicants to hold degrees from ACOTE-accredited programs. In addition, some Ph.D. programs require applicants to interview with program faculty.

Application

Students can apply to many ACOTE-accredited programs through the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service. However, applicants to online post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy programs usually submit their materials directly to schools.

Test Scores

Some occupational therapy doctoral programs require GRE scores, but many do not. Like college entrance exams, GRE scores help admission committees assess each applicant's academic potential.

Letters of Recommendation

Many occupational therapy doctoral programs require applicants to submit letters of recommendation. Consider asking your professors, mentors, and past employers for recommendation letters. Provide your recommenders with due dates and clear instructions on how to submit their letters.

Resume and Work Experience

Applicants to online post-professional occupational therapy doctoral programs must be licensed OTs. Some programs also require applicants to have one or more years of clinical experience. When applying to programs, update your resume to reflect your recent accomplishments. Your resume should include your work history and relevant volunteer experience.

Essays

Some online occupational therapy doctoral programs require each applicant to submit a graduate essay or statement of purpose. Before you begin writing your essay, read the prompt carefully. Then, create an outline. When you've finished your first draft, ask for feedback from peers and mentors.

Official Transcripts

Academic transcripts help admission committees identify qualified applicants. Admission committees also use transcripts to determine if admitted students should be awarded credits toward their degree.

Unlike other post-professional degree programs, few online occupational therapy doctoral programs offer academic credit for life and work experience. However, some programs accept transfer credits from applicants who have taken qualifying courses at other schools.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy?

Career Outlook

The BLS projects that jobs for occupational therapists will increase 17% between 2020 and 2030. The projected overall job growth for all U.S. occupations is only 8% during this period. Occupational therapists earn a median annual income of $86,280, as of May 2020.

If you're a practicing OT, earning your online doctorate in occupational therapy could enhance your skills. A post-professional doctorate could also qualify you for roles in healthcare management or postsecondary education.

According to the BLS, medical and health service managers earn a median annual income of $104,280, as of May 2020. The BLS projects that medical and health service management jobs will increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030. Jobs for postsecondary teachers are also projected to grow at a faster-than-average rate. Postsecondary teachers earn a median annual salary of $80,560.

See where a doctorate in occupational therapy can take you. Learn more about healthcare careers.

Career Paths

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists help their clients with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities perform everyday tasks. OTs often assist their clients in using adaptive equipment, such as leg braces and wheelchairs. Some OTs teach life skills to individuals with mental health issues and disabilities. OTs typically work in hospitals, nursing facilities, and clients' homes.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $86,280

Medical or Health Service Manager

Many medical and health service managers direct healthcare facilities. Some manage nursing home staffing, operations, and finances. Others oversee hospital departments, such as nursing or surgery. Medical and health service managers also include health information managers responsible for patient records.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $104,280

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with disabilities live and work independently. They assess their clients' abilities and limitations and develop treatment plans. Some rehabilitation counselors focus on helping their clients succeed at work. These vocational rehabilitation counselors evaluate their clients' performance on tasks and suggest modifications to their work environments.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $37,530

Substance Misuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

Substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work with clients with a substance-use disorder and/or psychological issues. Individuals trained as OTs use various methods to help clients with mental health problems. Some teach clients social skills and stress-management techniques. Others work with employers to create workplace accommodations for clients.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $47,660

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities. In addition to teaching, they may conduct research, publish articles in academic journals, and review other scholars' work. Some postsecondary teachers also mentor graduate students. Graduates of Ph.D. programs in occupational therapy often pursue careers in postsecondary education.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $80,560

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Continuing Education

Occupational therapy doctoral programs offer the highest level of academic training for OTs. However, occupational therapists must be licensed to practice.

To be eligible for licensure, OTs must graduate from an ACOTE-accredited entry-level occupational therapy program. They must also pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. Other requirements for licensure vary by state.

OTs can also earn certification through the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). The AOTA offers board certifications in pediatrics, physical rehabilitation, mental health, and gerontology.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Program?

Cost

Online post-professional occupational therapy doctoral programs typically cost $15,000-$37,500. Some on-campus post-professional programs cost significantly more.

When comparing the cost of on-campus and online programs, consider housing, transportation, and technology costs. Factor in expenses other than tuition to help determine the true cost of earning your degree online.

Program Format

Synchronous online learning offers classes at scheduled times. Learners can interact with their instructors and fellow students in real time. Asynchronous online learning allows students to log in to courses on their own schedule. These students have the flexibility to do schoolwork while maintaining other obligations, like work and family schedules.

If you want to earn your doctorate in occupational therapy remotely, determine which of these online learning formats works best for you.

Also, some schools offer accelerated doctoral programs in occupational therapy. Consider an accelerated program if you want to earn your degree in less time.

Location

Think about the location of the schools you apply to, even if you decide to enroll in an online program. Online doctorate in occupational therapy programs sometimes require students to complete some coursework and/or obligations on campus. If you need to travel to your school to meet degree requirements, you may want to enroll in a program close to home.

Accreditation

Various organizations award academic accreditation to schools and programs that meet high educational standards. The ACOTE accredits all entry-level occupational therapy master's and doctoral programs. However, several different associations and commissions accredit post-professional programs.

Choose an independently accredited occupational therapy doctoral program. Doing so will help ensure the legitimacy of your degree.

Student Support

Look for online doctorate in occupational therapy programs that offer student services for remote learners. Student services include faculty mentoring, career planning assistance, library help, and online tutoring. Some schools also offer academic and financial services for active-duty military and veterans.

2021 Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs

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Best Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs

  • Boston University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    A private college in Massachusetts, BU hosts a primarily online doctorate in occupational therapy. The degree serves both bachelor's and master's degree holders. BU offers most course content online, but candidates must attend campus sessions at the beginning and end of the program.

    Applicants must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited occupational therapy program. The program does not require GRE scores or any other standardized test scores. Applicants must also submit two letters of recommendation and answers to three short essay prompts.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $895
    • Program Length: 16-18 months
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 33-37 credits
    • Format: Online/Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Quinnipiac University
    Location

    Hamden, CT

    A private college in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac offers one of the top online doctorate in occupational therapy programs. This post-professional degree serves practicing occupational therapists, training students as leaders and researchers. The program operates primarily online, but students must also attend a one-week campus residency session.

    Applicants should hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. Quinnipiac does not require the GRE or other test scores. However, applicants must also hold occupational therapy board certification and current employment as an occupational therapist.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $1,015
    • Program Length: Two years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 32 credits
    • Instruction Style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online/Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Temple University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $23192

    A major public college based in Philadelphia, Temple offers a clinical doctorate in occupational therapy. The program trains therapists for leadership roles in both academic and clinical settings. While most courses operate entirely online, degree candidates must attend 2-3 on-campus meetings.

    Applicants must hold a master's degree in occupational therapy with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants with a GPA below 3.0 must also submit GRE scores. Applicants must also hold state occupational therapist licensure.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $975
    • Program Length: Two years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 31 credits
    • Format: Online/Hybrid
    • School Status: Public
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • St. Catherine University
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    One of Minnesota's top Christian colleges, St. Kate's offers the state's only doctorate in occupational therapy. The post-professional degree serves working occupational therapists who want to move into advanced practice. The program builds skills for academic, clinical, and community occupational therapy work.

    Program applicants should hold a bachelor's degree in any field with a minimum 3.2 GPA. Applicants must also hold a minimum of 50 hours of occupational therapy experience in at least two different settings.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $1,132
    • Program Length: Two years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 35 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Gannon University
    Location

    Erie, PA

    A Catholic college based in Eerie, Pennsylvania, Gannon hosts a fully online doctorate in occupational therapy. The program trains practitioner scholars who understand research, theory, and clinical treatment. Students can focus on one of eight knowledge areas, with options including advocacy, research, and policy development.

    Applicants should hold either a master's degree or a bachelor's degree with significant professional experience. Candidates should also hold occupational therapy licensure in their state of practice. The program requires all applicants to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $770/credit
    • Program Length: Two years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 34 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • George Washington University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Serving practicing occupational therapists, GWU's clinical doctorate in occupational therapy uses a flexible, fully online format. The degree highlights leadership skills for both academic and clinical settings. Candidates choose from concentration areas in teaching and learning, clinical research, and advanced practitioner.

    Program applicants must hold occupational therapist licensure. Applicants should also hold either a bachelor's master's degree in occupational therapy. The program requires a minimum 3.0 GPA.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $980
    • Program Length: 2.5 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
    • Instruction Style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • University of Kansas
    Location

    Lawrence, KS

    Tuition

    $18415

    A major public college based in Lawrence, KU offers a doctorate in occupational therapy. This post-professional program enrolls practicing occupational therapists, with a fully online curriculum that serves working students. The degree focuses on professional leadership, evidence-based practice, specialty practice, and teaching.

    Applicants must hold either a bachelor's or master's in occupational therapy with a minimum 3.2 GPA. KU also requires applicants to hold current occupational therapist licensure.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $122
    • Program Length: 2+ years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Barry University
    Location

    Miami, FL

    A Catholic college in Miami Shores, Florida, Barry hosts one of the state's best online doctorate in occupational therapy programs. This fully online degree offers flexibility for working occupational therapists. Candidates can also earn up to six graduate credits for professional occupational therapy experience.

    Applicants must hold a master's in occupational therapy with a minimum 3.2 GPA. Applicants must also submit GRE scores, though the program does not maintain minimum score requirements.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $666
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs

What can I do with a doctorate in occupational therapy?

An entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy program can help you gain the fundamental skills and fieldwork for this career. It can help prepare you to pursue certification and licensure to be a licensed occupational therapist.

A Ph.D. in occupational therapy could qualify you for postsecondary teaching positions at colleges and universities.

Many practicing OTs earn their post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy online. Earning this degree may be a good option if you're a licensed occupational therapist interested in teaching, managerial, or leadership roles. Graduates may also find work as mental health or vocational rehabilitation counselors.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in occupational therapy online?

Most online post-professional doctorate in occupational therapy programs take students about two years to complete. Students who enter these online programs without first earning their master's degrees often take 2-4 years to earn their doctorates.

Entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy programs include more requirements than post-professional programs. Most students in entry-level programs earn their doctorates within 3-5 years. Ph.D. programs also take several years to complete. Some Ph.D. programs in occupational therapy can take students 4-6 years to finish.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists earn a median annual income of $86,280, as of May 2020. However, salaries vary by state. The highest-paying states for occupational therapists are Nevada, California, and Arizona. In Nevada, OTs make a mean annual wage of $111,270, as of May 2020.

Not all graduates of doctorate in occupational therapy programs work as OTs. For example, Ph.D.s in occupational therapy often pursue careers in higher education. According to PayScale, as of November 2021, occupational therapy professors earn an average annual salary of about $82,610.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a doctorate in occupational therapy?

Graduates of occupational therapy doctoral programs can earn higher salaries as medical and health service managers. According to the BLS, the highest-paid medical and health service managers work in Washington, D.C., New York, and Hawaii. In Washington, D.C., they earn a mean salary of $157,590 per year.

The BLS reports that child daycare services pay occupational therapists the highest average salaries. OTs working for child daycare services earn a mean annual income of $106,070, as of May 2020. OTs who hold management positions or work in retirement communities also enjoy above-average salaries.

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