FAQ About the Entry-Level Master's and Doctoral Degrees for Occupational Therapist
1. What is an entry-level degree for occupational therapists?
An entry-level degree for occupational therapists is the degree required to enter the profession and to be eligible to sit for the Occupational Therapist Registered OTR® examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®). Occupational therapy requires that the entry-level degree be a postbaccalaureate degree. Currently, occupational therapist entry-level degrees are either master’s or doctoral degrees. Students who have successfully completed an accredited entry-level degree program may be eligible to sit for the national certification examination as an occupational therapist. Please refer to individual institutions offering occupational therapist entry-level degree programs for details and prerequisite information.
2. What is the difference between an occupational therapist entry-level degree program and a postprofessional-level degree program?
Entry-level degree programs prepare students to sit for the NBCOT Occupational Therapist Registered OTR® examination. Students may enter occupational therapist entry-level programs with any of a variety of undergraduate degrees or as undergraduates in a combined undergraduate/graduate program. Persons matriculating through an occupational therapist entry-level program have not yet finished all components to be able to sit for the national certification examination. A student can only qualify to take the national certification examination only if NBCOT requirements are met (see http://www.nbcot.org/ for additional information). Entry-level programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) (see www.aota.org/educate/accredit for additional information) at an institution accredited by recognized institutional accrediting agencies. Postprofessional programs are not accredited by ACOTE and admit students who already have an occupational therapist entry-level degree.
3. What is the difference between an entry-level master's and an entry-level doctoral degree?
Both degree levels are currently routes of entry to the profession and are accredited by ACOTE. Both degree levels prepare graduates to be entry-level practitioners. The doctoral degree offers additional semesters of study focusing on clinical practice skills, evidence-based practice, research skills, administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, and theory development. Both degree levels require Level I and Level II fieldwork experiences. In addition, entry-level doctoral students must complete an additional experiential component (16 weeks) and culminating project.
4. What is the difference between an MOT, MA, or MS degree that is awarded at the completion of my master's degree program?
These are all appropriate degrees to award at the completion of an entry-level occupational therapy educational program. The degree awarded is an institutional prerogative based on consistency with the mission and structure of the college or university.
5. How does an entry-level doctoral program compare to an entry-level master’s program?
Educational curricula vary among master’s and doctoral programs and are based on institutional prerogative. The variance in curricula can create confusion when comparing programs and degrees. The requirements for admission into the programs may differ; however, according to the ACOTE Standards for an Educational Program for the Occupational Therapist, by 2010 all doctoral programs must require their applicants to hold a baccalaureate degree or higher prior to admission, whereas that is not a requirement for the master’s programs. Based on the ACOTE Standards, there are greater expectations for entry-level doctoral student outcomes related to technology; program development; staff development; synthesis and practice of advanced knowledge; and demonstrated competency in clinical practice skills, research skills, administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, or theory development. Some master’s degree programs already require some of the expectations outlined for doctoral programs; again, this depends on institutional prerogative in the design and implementation of the educational program. A Descriptive Review of Occupational Therapy Education is available on the AOTA Web site (http://ajot.aotapress.net/content/61/6/672.full.pdf ).
6. What is a combined entry-level bachelor's/master's degree program?
A combined bachelor’s/master's program is an accredited program that accepts students without a bachelor's degree, awards a baccalaureate degree, then, on completion of the master's-level academic coursework and fieldwork, awards an entry-level master's degree in occupational therapy. Successful completion of the master's degree portion of the program would be required for eligibility to sit for the national certification examination administered by NBCOT.
7. Can entry-level-prepared faculty teach in colleges and universities?
Entry-level-prepared occupational therapists may be able to teach at a college or institution. It depends on the institution. Someone with an entry-level doctoral degree may be hired as a faculty member and teach in a college or university. However, each institution has specific requirements for faculty members, and individuals with an entry-level degree may or may not meet these qualifications. Entry-level-prepared master’s or doctoral graduates may qualify for faculty positions in occupational therapy assistant education or occupational therapist education programs depending on other related experience, degrees, and ability to conduct research. Hiring practices vary within institutions and may include other factors, such as the educational format in which the program is offered (e.g., face-to-face instruction, independent study, distance education) and the expectations of the institution offering the degree. Persons with an entry-level doctoral degree have been hired in teaching, research, and administrative positions at the university and college levels. As the number of therapists with an entry-level doctoral degree increases, there will be a larger critical mass affecting this issue.
8. Can entry-level doctorally prepared faculty members obtain tenure?
The tenure and promotion process is determined by each college or university. The occupational therapist entry-level doctoral degree is a terminal degree, as defined by the Commission on Education. However, some research institutions require an academic terminal degree for tenure based on institutional goals. Rank, promotion, and tenure are processes determined by individual institutions.
9. Will entry-level doctorally prepared therapists earn more money than entry-level master’s prepared therapists?
Preliminary informal surveys of entry-level doctoral graduates indicate that the doctoral degree does not guarantee advanced salaries. However, many entry-level doctoral graduates are able to pursue and fill unique positions due to their advanced education. In some situations, such as with designated positions in school systems, the acquisition of a relevant advanced degree or doctorate may qualify an individual for an increase in salary. More data continue to be gathered to determine salaries of therapists holding entry-level and postprofessional doctoral degrees.
10. What is the rationale for selecting an entry-level master’s or doctoral degree?
Successful completion of an entry-level degree is a requirement for taking the national certification examination. Both the entry-level master’s and doctoral degrees meet this requirement. Doctoral degree programs are required to provide more preparation in such areas as leadership, advocacy, policy analysis, theory, and research.
Prospective students should consider a variety of issues when deciding which degree best meets their needs. They should ask themselves these questions:
- What are my future career goals?
- Does the degree contribute to accomplishing my short-term and long-term goals? (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2007, p. 676)
In addition, they should consider location, costs, availability of financial support, length of program, full- or part-time programming, format of program (e.g., on campus or distance learning), admission requirements, program requirements, faculty, alumni, and the institution (AOTA, 2007).
11. How many occupational therapist entry-level programs currently exist?
AOTA provides lists of accredited and developing entry-level occupational therapist degree programs. Refer to the AOTA Educational Resource Web page at www.aota.org/educate/schools for links to specific institutions offering the occupational therapist entry-level degree.
12. Are occupational therapist entry-level degree programs accredited?
Yes, ACOTE develops and maintains the accreditation standards for occupational therapist entry-level programs, as well as accredits those educational programs that meet the standards. Any occupational therapist entry-level degree program must meet these minimum standards. The standards for the doctoral programs are different than the standards for master’s programs, reflecting the different roles graduates are prepared to assume.
13. Is there some type of regulatory process to maintain consistency among the different occupational therapist entry-level educational programs?
ACOTE Standards for an Educational Program for the Occupational Therapist establish minimum standards that must be met by all accredited occupational therapist entry-level programs. These standards maintain consistency of content among the programs. Programs may include additional content in the program of study and may deliver the content in different ways. Programs also need to meet the mission of the institution.
14. AOTA’s program listing indicates that the program I am attending is on Probation. Why was my program placed on Probation?
If a program is not in compliance with one or more ACOTE Accreditation Standards, ACOTE may change a program’s status to Probationary Accreditation for any of the following reasons:
- The areas of noncompliance are so serious that the capability of the program to provide acceptable educational experiences for the students is threatened.
The program has failed to document significant progress toward compliance with one or more cited areas of noncompliance.
The program is in jeopardy of having its accreditation status withdrawn due to the mandated time limit for carrying areas of noncompliance.
Click on “Disclosure Statement” under the program listing to obtain more information about the reasons that the program was placed on Probationary Accreditation status. Programs on Probationary Accreditation status must submit a report to ACOTE documenting plans to return the program to full compliance with the Standards within the U.S. Department of Education–mandated time period for correction.
Probationary Accreditation is an accreditation category. During a period of Probationary Accreditation, programs are recognized and listed as being accredited and its graduates are still eligible to sit for the national certification exam.
15. Can students pursuing an occupational therapist entry-level degree obtain financial aid?
Financial aid for entry-level and advanced degree education is available from a variety of federal, state, and private agencies, and institutions. Individuals interested in finding out about financial aid may use a variety of resources, including but not limited to the U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov/finaid/info/find/edpicks.jhtml?src=ov).
16. Will it be easier to compete in the job market with a doctoral degree than a master’s degree?
The market value of an entry-level doctorally prepared therapist is a complex entity. In a rapidly changing health care environment, professionals with additional education, additional experience, and advanced degrees will be more desirable. However, demonstrated competence is the true advantage. More compelling data on employment outcomes and other information describing the impact of doctorally prepared therapists are still forthcoming.
17. What does the clinical portion of the entry-level profession program curriculum consist of?
Occupational therapist entry-level programs must meet minimum educational standards set by ACOTE for fieldwork (see www.aota.org/educate/accredit for more information). A minimum of 24 weeks of full-time fieldwork is required. In addition, doctoral-level students need to complete an experiential component to develop advanced skills beyond the generalist level in one or more of the following areas: administration, leadership, program and policy development, advocacy, education, or theory development.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2007). A descriptive review of occupational therapy education. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 672–677.
Clark, F. (2003, June). Positioning yourself to make a difference in the future. Presentation at the Education Special Interest Section Workshop at the annual conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Washington, DC.
Glazer, J. (1988). The master’s degree. ERIC Digest. ERICEDRS, 19880101.
Krutis, S. (2002). Consider doctoral education. OT Practice, 7(22), 19–22.
Professional Program Directors Educational Council (PRODEC). (2002, November 16). Minutes from the PRODEC meeting, Chicago.
Pierce, D., & Peyton, C. (1999). A historical cross-disciplinary perspective on the professional doctorate in occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 53, 64–71.
Professional Program Directors Educational Council (PRODEC). (2002, Nov. 16). Roundtable summaries from the PRODEC meeting, Chicago.
Royeen, C. B., & Stohs, S. J. (1999). Should the clinical doctorate be the standard of entry into the practice of occupational therapy? In P. A. Crist (Ed.), Innovations in occupational therapy education (pp. 171–177). Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association.
August 8, 2011