Difference Between MSOT, OTD, and PhD Programs

Q&A

Q: What is the difference between an OTD and PhD program? Which degree would be a better fit for me?

A: First, let’s go over the OT mandate for entry-level occupational therapists.

According to the AOTA, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE®) has mandated that the entry-level degree requirement for the occupational therapist will move to the doctoral level by July 1, 2027.

The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE®) has mandated that the entry-level degree for the occupational therapy assistant will move to the baccalaureate level by July 1, 2027.

Those who graduate before the mandate will still be able to practice with the degree they earned (“grandfathered” or “grandmothered”).

Pre-2027

Students may still apply and enroll in a master’s (MSOT) program in occupational therapy, sit for the board exam, and practice as entry-level occupational therapists.

MSOT is generally going to be cheaper and shorter (2.5 years vs. 3 years for OTD/PhD).

OTD Programs

However, an OTD provides several advantages over a MSOT. According to Boston University, “both the entry-level MS and OTD programs provide students with the skills to work as an occupational therapist in diverse practice environments (e.g., hospitals, schools, community centers, homes) with a range of clients (individuals, groups, populations).

In addition to achieving excellence in clinical practice, the BU entry-level OTD program prepares students for leadership roles in teaching, clinical research, management, or advocacy”.

Q: What about PhD in OT?

A: An entry-level doctoral program (OTD program) prepares students to sit for the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®) exam and work as a registered occupational therapist.

A PhD prepares students for academic careers in research and teaching. The PhD program is not designed to prepare students to become certified occupational therapists. Some students may choose a research-based PhD after completing a clinical doctoral program (Boston University, 2021).

Tips

  • OT schools may now differ in which types of applicants or requirements they have for each entry-level degree. For example, some schools may only accept OTs who have experience working as OT assistants into their MSOT program. Read each school’s requirements carefully.
  • Currently, students who are looking to practice as OT clinicians and who graduate with a MSOT are likely to earn similar salaries as OTDs. This may change in the future.
  • It is possible to apply to a MSOT and OTD program, but be sure to check each requirement.
  • OTCAS is a centralized website to apply to multiple OT schools. Some schools (e.g., private schools) may require an additional application, while some may not.
  • Tuition for private schools often does not factor in in-state or out-of-state compared to public schools.

Good luck!

Jeff is a licensed occupational therapist and lead content creator for OT Dude. He covers all things occupational therapy as well as other topics including healthcare, wellness, mental health, technology, science, culture, sociology, philosophy, and more.