Extracurricular Preparation Overview
Preparation for OT school involves engaging in experiences that develop and demonstrate skills in communication, leadership, community service, research, and familiarity with the profession. What you do with your time helps define who you are on your application. OT schools will learn what you care about and who you are through experiences that align with your interests and goals. Keep in mind that activities complement your coursework, but will not compensate for low grades. Both are important!
- Keep a detailed record of all hours and experiences — document contact information and reflections on each activity. Most students track hours and experiences on an Excel spreadsheet.
- All activities should be completed during your undergraduate study.
- Try to complete activities consistently throughout the school year.
- Be intentional and deliberate in planning your experiences, so you are prepared to apply when the time comes.
Observation hours should be one of your first experiences as a pre-OT student. Observing occupational therapists in action will help you gather the information you need to commit to the profession fully. Shadowing requires professional dress and conduct.
Competitive applicants shadow at least 2 different occupational therapists and accumulate 75-150 hours of shadowing. For some schools, this can be grouped with patient contact experience, if you work in an OT setting.
Because you are preparing for a humanitarian profession, it is important to have volunteer experiences that demonstrate a consistent and long-term commitment to serving others in your community. Look for service opportunities with an underserved population, in your community, or on campus. Volunteer activities need not be medically related but should be meaningful to you. Quality of the experience is more important than quantity.
Competitive applicants complete at least 3 different experiences and gain 200-300 hours of volunteer experience during their undergraduate study—this is in addition to any church service.
As an occupational therapist, you will be a leader in many ways. Professional schools admit students who have experience making and recognizing the consequences of their decisions. Leadership involves teamwork and builds solid communication skills. Examples of leadership could be mentoring, tutoring, society presidencies, student government, in a job, coaching, or church callings.
Competitive applicants complete 2 different experiences and gain 50-100 hours. At least half of your hours need to be non-church related.
OT schools desire applicants who understand scientific literature, know how research is performed, and can distinguish credible research. Any research, as long as it is hypothesis-based and utilizes the scientific method can build your experience. As you do research, make sure you understand the hypothesis, the procedure, and your responsibility in the project. You can count research projects done in your courses, you can participate in research through faculty-directed work, or find other research internships nationwide.
Not required for OT school, but makes you a more competitive applicant.
Interacting well with patients is one of the key indicators of a successful future provider. Some OT programs do require contact with patients in an occupational therapy setting. In some cases, these hours can be combined with shadowing hours. It is highly recommended that you check individual school requirements to determine if patient exposure hours and observation/shadowing can be combined, or if they have separate requirements for each area.
It is highly recommended that you check individual school requirements for OT clinical observation and patient contact hour recommendations.
While OT schools do not have requirements for hobbies, they are interested in well-rounded students who know how to balance work with recreation. Hobbies and interests can make your application unique to you.
To be competitive, you should strive to meet the requirements in each individual area. One activity should not be counted in two areas. This is called “double-dipping,” and makes it appear you are not taking the time to develop yourself fully. While an activity may be both volunteer and leadership, you will list the experience as a single experience on your application—recognizing there may be overlap in some experiences.