Choosing your major is a major decision. It can affect your job prospects and your future. Does this mean that if you study for a degree that may seem unrelated to occupational therapy that your life is over? Not really. In fact, many of my peers in my cohort had a variety of majors and they still got accepted.
For all you chemistry majors out there – I majored in Chemistry and got accepted to an OT graduate program. While occupational therapists do not really work in the lab mixing chemicals, chemistry has a strong background in the sciences, and research – all of which apply to occupational therapy as a whole.
Before we get into the Q&A, it can be insightful to look at what graduate programs are asking students to take for pre-requisites from my OT program:
- Human Anatomy with lab (completed within the last 5 years).
- Human Physiology with lab (completed within the last 5 years).
- Lifespan Development (or Developmental Psychology).
- Introduction to Psychology.
- Abnormal Psychology (Psychopathology).
- Statistics (math or psychology only, not business).
- Medical Terminology (1 unit or more).
- Introduction to Sociology or Cultural Anthropology (recommended, but not required).
This is important to know because some degree you study for as an undergrad will fulfill some of these pre-requisites, and “kill two bird with one stone”. Should you stress about which major will fulfill all of these pre-requisites? Not at all, but it would save you a lot of time so that you won’t have to enroll in these courses after you get your undergraduate degree. In fact, many students enroll in classes at a Junior College to meet these requirements. This is also a good time to get your shadowing hours and diversifying yourself as a candidate. I worked as an EMT and took my prerequisite courses at the same time.
What are some majors you have seen students obtain? What do you recommend I go for?
- Kinesiology & Exercise Science
- Athletic Training
I already have a _______ or _______ major! Do I still have a chance?
If you majored in liberal arts, English, hospitality, or even music – why not still apply? I think every major has something to offer in education to occupational therapy as our profession is about living our lives by participating in meaningful activities. To encourage you all, some of my peers majored in some of these less common, less related majors as well! Why? If you have a strong pre-requisite GPA that shows that you can excel in these challenging courses for a graduate program. Sure it may be competitive, but work on strengthening your overall application and you will stand out and have a very high chance of becoming accepted!
How about a pre-OT major?
There are two schools of thought here. It makes sense to be a pre-OT major if you really want to do OT right? Yes, certainly. If you didn’t go this route it’s not the end of the world as mentioned before, other majors are accepted for graduate programs (otherwise we won’t have many OT’s in the field!)
Some may say pre-OT is not as a good idea and to instead go for another major – in case OT does not work out for you. I would opt for a non-pre-OT major if I was still uncertain about my future and whether OT would be right for me vs. PT, PA, nursing, MD, etc.
You can’t go wrong with either decision of pre-OT vs others if you know for sure you want to become an occupational therapist or even a physical therapist or speech therapist! Graduate schools receive a variety of applicants from diverse backgrounds (they like this) as statistically most OTs are female & caucasian.
What if I am not sure at all?
Think about what interests you. I chose chemistry because I wanted to be a pharmacist. I liked problem-solving puzzles, working with numbers, research, working with my hands – some of these skills directly relate with OT.
As many students are pursuing medicine, many majors may be impacted I am sure. In my opinion, it does not really matter at the end of the day since students will need to take all the pre-requisites to demonstrate their competency with the sciences, medicine, etc. If I was on the admissions committee, I would look more at the applicants personal statement, resume, and performance during the interview.
Psychology is a good major to pursue for OT. Did you know that occupational therapists have a strong foundation in working with mental health. It’s true!
Should I change majors then? I am almost done with _____.
This may depend on how close you are completing the program for your major. If you are very close, I would finish it personally. If you just started and decide to choose something more related like psychology or a science major – then it may be worthwhile because it can be used for another career like PA, PT, pharmacy, etc.
Should I become an OT or a RN?
Background: I am married to a nurse.
Both are good careers. Check out my career comparison table to help you make a decision. I am of course biased towards OT, but RN can be very a rewarding career as well. In my opinion, the exposure risk for nurses is too high for my comfort level – with diseases such as COVID-19 and needles, nurses are more likely to contract such diseases. That’s not to say the exposure risk for OTs is not high, but the scope of practice is so different that our chances are lower. For comparison, OTs are working in the ICU with COVID-19 patients too for therapy, but nurses are in there every day and for longer durations.
If you are a creative person who likes to solve problems then OT is more for you. If you like structure – actually RNs can have quite unstructured shifts…I would still choose OT. If you really like medicine, following protocols, then I would say choose RN over OT as it’s more focused on working with medications and hands-on skills. However, OT hand therapy (CHT) is a good specialty to look into as well as they follow protocols similar to nurses.
Should I minor in something?
This never hurts – unless it hurts your GPA. If you can maintain a competitive GPA and minor in other subjects – go for it! Even something like Spanish would be a good decision, as you could use it every day on the job. Being bilingual is makes you a very strong job candidate overall.
I have been out of school for a while and was just working. What do you suggest for pre-OT?
Making the transition back to school can be difficult – especially if you have been out of school for a very long time. I made this transition, so so can you. I will say that one barrier that has lead to some students being less successful is childcare. It’s not like you can abandon your children. Especially with COVID-19, many working parents were faced with staying home to care for their children – at least in America. Have a back-up plan for what you will do and how you will maintain good grades if you children had to be out of school. Online pre-requisite classes is a good option, but some classes like science labs will need to be in person.
You can either work part-time or stop working and commit to taking the pre-requisite courses and getting all A’s. Yes, aim for all A’s. Take it seriously and think of it as an investment in your future occupational therapy career. Money will always be a problem and who couldn’t use more of it. Consider starting a side-hustle. Here are some of my favorites that are worthwhile.
Are online classes a good option?
If online classes are new to you – it is becoming more of the norm, even necessity with COVID-19. Most OT programs have temporarily moved to teaching online. So yes – online is a great option and has benefits of avoiding virus exposure and to maintain a good work – life balance with your family.
I have more questions! Can you answer some of them?
Yes! – Comment below.
- Set small goals and bigger goals.
- Set a timeline for these goals.
- Have a back-up plan.
- Study hard and get good grades.
- Every class, major, work, etc. will contribute to your unique experience for when you write your personal statement.
- Take good care of yourself and learn ways to manage your stress.