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Occupational Therapy School: Application Process


The Application Process

Occupational Therapy programs admit students once a year, usually in the Fall.

Applications are submitted at least 12-13 months in advance of the desired enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, and successfully take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) if necessary.

While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.

Requirements vary from program to program. Research programs early for specific information about requirements.

Before submitting applications, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your Preprofessional advisor is happy to do this for you.

The Occupational Therapy Application includes 5 main components

  1. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE)Many schools
  2. Primary Application
  3. Letters of Recommendation
  4. Supplemental Materials—Some Schools
  5. Interviews

Follow social media of programs of your interest, visit their website, attend webinars, and visit their campus if possible.

Choose schools that are of serious interest to you, but give your list enough variety to maximize your chances for admission.

Types of Schools to Consider

  • one or two “reach” schools where your GPA and GRE might be on the low end
  • at least one to two solid "back-up" schools at which your chances are very good
  • several school where you are likely competitive, but in the middle of the pack

On average, students apply to 5-10 programs. Assess your credentials realistically and give your school selection careful thought. 

Ask these questions as you select schools you want to apply;

  • Size of School and size of individual classes.
  • Location and environment--do you prefer a large metropolitan area or a smaller city atmosphere? What about surrounding area, quality of life, etc.?
  • Cadaver labs and other facilities--quality of cadaver/simulation labs, tutoring and other academic support services, adequate staff, study/meeting space, open hours, etc.
  • General “personality” of School--what are your impressions from their faculty representatives you meet?  Are you looking for an intense, more competitive environment or more of a community feeling?
  • Special interest areas: combined degree programs; specialized courses, student organizations in your area of interest; early decision program availability, etc.
  • Student/faculty ratio.
  • Student body--How do you fit in with GPA and Standardized Test Score averages of students previously admitted? How balanced and diverse is the student body? How is the student morale? Do students have input in operation of School?
  • Faculty diversity—Are they largely all from the same background or relatively diverse with respect to race, creed, gender? Are they well-balanced in educational experiences or only from the same School or schools? What is the extent of their research and professional activities? 
  • Faculty-student relationships--Are faculty accessible and committed to teaching? Is there an “open door” policy?
  • Opportunities for clinical programs, research, international clinical rotations, student-run free clinics etc.
  • What student support programs are available? If applicable, what minority or disabled student services are available?
  • What are the board certification exam passage rates? Are graduates finding employment in the geographic areas you are interested in? What are the average or median salaries of graduates?
  • Tuition costs. You cannot ignore the cost, but neither can you use it as your only criterion. Consider the cost and potential indebtedness along with the other factors, and make sure you are choosing the right schools for the right reasons.

Many Occupational Therapy Programs require the GRE,   although the University of Utah (UUOT) does not.  The GRE is administered throughout the year. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by spring the year before you wish to enter an OT program will enable you to apply earlier. More information on the GRE, including sample questions, can be found on the GRE website

October is the latest GRE accepted by most programs for their following Fall entering class. 

While the score is good for 5 years, many OT programs require your score to be no older than 3 years.

GRE structure:

  • 2 multiple choice sections which are scored on a scale of 130-170
    • Verbal Reasoning
    • Quantitative Reasoning
  • 1 Analytical Writing essay that is scored on a 6 point scale.

Average scores on multiple choice sections is around 150.

University of Utah Continuing Education offers GRE Prep Course. For more information, please click here.

Primary Applications are processed through a central application service called the Occupational Therapy Central Application Service (OTCAS).  Primary applications are not school specific. The same information is sent to all schools to which you are applying.

OTCAS is available online in mid July through spring of the following year. Program deadlines vary and range from Fall to early Spring. UUOT’s deadline is usually in November.

However, because many schools use a rolling admission process (they begin reviewing applications and admitting before deadlines), it will enhance your chances if you submit your application early regardless of when you take the GRE. OTCAS and UUOT recommend you submit your application a month before the deadline at the latest.

Make sure you will have plenty of time to fill out the application. Completing the application will take at least one week, and most students take several weeks. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!

The OTCAS Application will include:

  • Your GRE score, if applicable
  • A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit.
  • A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
  • A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as a Veterinarian
  • Letters of Recommendations

NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.

The personal essay is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as an occupational therapist. Remember, why you want to be an OT is different from how you were inspired to become one. Describe your current passion for the field with specific examples from recent experiences. Try to choose a theme rather than random thoughts. The primary application activities section provides a list of accomplishments. Your personal essay is an opportunity to provide additional, more in-depth information.

REMEMBER, your audience is smarter, has more medical knowledge, and knows what is like to be an occupational therapist. However, it's important to demonstrate your understanding of the field.

Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, OT, OT student, parent, advisor, Writing Center, tutor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback.  Do not ask too many people to read it. Having too many opinions can become confusing.


DO answer the questions “Why do you want to be an occupational therapist?”

DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.

DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming an occupational therapist

DO limit the number of “I” statements you use

DO share your background if it is appropriate

DO describe meaningful experiences

DO use all five senses as you tell your story

DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation


DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, occupational therapists you shadowed)

DO NOT summarize or simply repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application

DO NOT use overly flowery language or words you do not know how to use

DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations

DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know

DO NOT try to make jokes

DO NOT use foreign language

DO NOT begin your essay with a quote


Submitting Letters of Recommendation

You will have your letters submitted to OTCAS. From there they will be distributed to the OT programs to which you apply.  These schools will request Letters of Recommendation (LORs) after they receive your OTCAS Primary Application, so do not delay submitting your primary application while waiting for letters to arrive.

Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 2-3 letters.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

  • Ask if potential writers if they feel capable of writing a supportive letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
  • Get business cards with your recommenders’ contact information.
  • Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession. You could also include a snapshot, a copy of a paper or assignment from their class, or transcript.
  • For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, the PPA Advising office provides a Guide for Letter Writers.
  • Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum. Follow up to make sure that your letters have been sent.
  • Send thank you notes.

For more detailed check out our “How To” Guide

In addition to the OTCAS Primary application, OT programs may require applicants to send additional materials directly to the institution, known as supplemental materials. OT programs may not consider an applicant’s file or offer acceptance until all required materials are received. Deadlines for supplemental applications vary, but you should complete them sooner rather than later.

Supplemental materials may include a graduate school application, original foreign transcripts, additional essays or other items. Failure to submit all required OTCAS and supplemental materials by the program’s deadline may jeopardize an applicant’s eligibility for admission consideration.

Supplemental fees are paid directly to the individual schools when you send in the additional materials. Some OT programs that require supplemental material will first review your OTCAS application, then will notify candidates who have been selected to complete the application, other schools will send them to everyone who applies.

The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a program has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most OT Programs hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember:  the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting.  Be on your best professional behavior all day!  The UUOT program interviews all applicants on one day in mid -February.

Interviews can take many forms, so it is important to research your schools and be prepared for each kind. The PreProfessional Advising office can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.

The most common types of interviews are:

  • One-on-one interview
    • Usually one or two 30-45 minutes interviews
  • Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
    • 7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the prompt and any follow up questions, or play out the scenario with a trained actor.
  • Group interview
    • May be either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or in a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.

PreOT Mock Interviews Offered Through PPA

The PreProfessional Advising Office offers traditional one-on-one mock interviews for current and former University of Utah preOT students. 

  • Our tranditional mock interviews are one hour long.  The first half will consisit of the actual interview and the second half consists of the advisor providing verbal feedback.
  • To schedule a traditional mock interview, please call our office at 801.581.5744 to have our reception team schedule this appointment.  Students cannot schedule these mock interviews online; they must call.  If a student schedules a regular 45-minute appointment online, the advisor will not conduct the mock interview



General Timeline

When to Submit

Applications are submitted at least 12-13 months in advance of the desired enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, and successfully take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) if necessary.


It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to medical school but your timeline should be flexible. Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.

Check Specific Deadline Dates

For specific application deadline dates, you should always check the OTCAS website.

Prior to Applying

Letters of Recommendation

Talk to potential writers of your Letters of Recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write the letters. The PPA Website has helpful information on asking for letters and guidelines that you can give to your writers.

Continue Extracurriculars

Continue with your volunteer, work or research activities until you have received an acceptance letter from a medical school.

Do not stop these activities until you have an official offer of admission. It may take two or more application cycles to gain admission, so you need to be continually improving your application until you do.


Prepare for and take the Graduate Record Exam. Try to take it by May of the year you submit your application.

Research Programs

Research programs using the list on the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) website

The Application Year

July - August

  • Primary Applications through OTCAS opens in mid July. Begin to fill out primary applications as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully
  • Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities you have attended to be sent to OTCAS
  • Request LORs to be sent to OTCAS
  • Take GRE (UUOT recommends you take it before October 1st)

September - March

  • Complete supplemental applications AS THEY COME IN
  • October is the latest GRE most Veterinary schools accept for the following Fall.
  • Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October
  • Prepare for and attend interviews. Interviews occur from October – April
    • UUOT Interviews all applicants one day in February
    • The PPA Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview
  • Respond to admissions offers

April - May

  • Continue to respond to admissions offers
  • When you make a final decision, withdraw other admissions offers promptly


Local Programs

UUOT Program

UUOT Information Sessions:  Occuring monthly, students are encouraged to attend an info session prior to meeting with an advisor.  

Last Updated: 8/21/23