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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

Why study occupational therapy?

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Do you want a career that helps people directly? Are you looking to work in the health and social care sector? Occupational therapy could be your calling. In this guide, we explore what occupational therapy is, how you can train and what you need to achieve to be accepted onto either an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in this subject area. We also spoke to a student who is studying for a master’s degree in occupational therapy in the UK to give you some unique insights into this course.


What is occupational therapy (OT)?


Occupational therapists help people to overcome particular physical or mental challenges, enabling them to live as independently as possible. The term “occupational” refers to everyday, practical activities that people do in their lives to function and live freely. It is a branch of health care combined with social care, that focuses on both the mental and physical health of patients in addition to their overall well-being.


The goal is to provide people and communities with practical support and advice so that they can live their lives to the fullest. An example might be assisting an elderly person with physical exercises to get them walking more often. As an occupational therapist, you can work with people of all ages from children to the elderly and those living with physical and mental disabilities. This line of work can take place in a variety of healthcare environments such as social services, care homes, hospitals, and housing. 


As an occupational therapist, your job is to empower people and develop confidence in those facing particular challenges. To be successful in this line of work, you’ve got to be empathetic, understanding, patient, a good listener and communicator in addition to being adaptable to the needs of different patients.


How to become an occupational therapist


The typical route into OT is to gain a degree in occupational therapy. This could be at the undergraduate level which takes three to four years of full-time study to complete. Alternatively, you could study occupational therapy at the postgraduate level once completing another subject as your bachelor’s degree. This usually takes two years of full-time study to complete at a master’s degree level. 


What will I study in occupational therapy?


The modules covered in an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in occupational therapy vary according to the university. These degrees are typically either bachelor of science (BSc) or master of sciences (MSc) programmes. There are many overlapping topics and essential theories that you need to cover to qualify. Some of these are as follows:


  • Foundations of occupational therapy
  • Health and well-being
  • Research methods in health and social care
  • Occupations in context
  • Occupational performance
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Occupational therapy and physical challenges
  • Psychosocial occupational therapy
  • Professional practice
  • Therapeutic processes


Make sure you compare the course content for the universities that you are most interested in. You may also find that some universities offer placement modules that will provide you with real-life hands-on experience, developing your practical and theoretical knowledge as a trainee occupational therapist.


Nick Taylor, an occupational therapy master’s student at the University of Brighton shares his experience of the course. Nick said, “The university teaching is based on problem-based learning (PBL). Through this concept, we have learnt about various conditions (both physical and mental health) and cases whereby someone's occupational performance has been affected. We have learnt to use skills, knowledge, and evidence to create treatment plans.”


Find out more about universities offering occupational therapy courses at universities in the UK:



Entry requirements


Undergraduate occupational therapy degree


Before being accepted onto an occupational therapy degree course, you’ve got to make sure that you meet the university entry requirements. So, you should have three A-levels (or equivalent), ideally including a science subject. Specific entry requirements for occupational therapy degrees do vary across different institutions but generally, A-level grades of BBB is required for undergraduate study. BTEC qualifications may also be accepted by certain institutions. 


If you are a non-native English speaker and an international applicant, you will also need to prove your English language proficiency. In the UK, international students will usually need an IELTS score of 7.0 overall with no component less than 6.5 in all sections of the exam. Confused about English language test scores


Make sure you check the university websites for specific entry requirements. If you do not meet these requirements, you could consider a pre-sessional course to improve your English language skills before applying for the undergraduate degree.


Postgraduate occupational therapy degree


If applying for a master’s degree in occupational therapy, you will usually need at least a 2:2 / C grade / GPA of 2.7-3.0 in your undergraduate degree. Your previous degree does not necessarily need to be related to occupational therapy, but it is desirable to have relevant work experience which includes voluntary work. 


Nick decided to gain some work experience before starting his course. He outlined his journey saying, “I was introduced to OT by a family member. From there, I decided to do some volunteering at a mental health centre in London. I particularly enjoyed how engagement in leisure activities can improve someone's mood and well-being. I then went on to apply for the course!”


As an international student, you will also need to prove your English language skills for master’s courses conducted in English if you are a non-native speaker. Again, many universities require an IELTS score of 7.0 with no less than 6.5 in all sections for a masters in occupational therapy. Find out more about moving from undergraduate to postgraduate study.


Want to study in the USA? Check out the following institutions offering occupational therapy courses offered in the USA:



What is the expected salary of an occupational therapist?


Starting salaries for occupational therapists range from GBP 24,000 to GBP 30,615. With experience this can increase to GBP 31,365 to GBP 37,890 while consultants can earn GBP 45,753 to GBP 62,001 (Graduate Prospects 2020). 


Salaries will vary depending on where you wish to work. For example, in Canada, the average salary for occupational therapists is CAD 76,811 (Talent.com 2021) while in the US you can expect to earn USD 84,950 per year (U.S. News & World Report 2019). If you want to stay in your study destination to work, check out our other article on international student work rights to see how to go about getting a work or post-study visa.


Do you feel like occupational therapy is the right career for you? Use our course matcher tool or follow the links provided above to find an occupational therapy course and study destination.

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