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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Occupational Therapy

Editor’s Picks: Online Schools for Occupational Therapy

Value
The best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for value is offered by San Jose State University, a public university in California that offers an online post-professional Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. The university had an annual return on investment of 8.6%, according to PayScale.com’s 2012 ROI rankings. For students receiving financial aid, that percentage went up to 8.1%. Making the university an even better value is the fact that out-of-state students who enroll in the distance education program pay the same tuition rate as California residents.

Career Support
San Jose State University wins the award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for career support because of the vast array of online tools available through the university’s career center. Online features include a job and internship guide, online workshops on relevant topics like job fair success and resume writing, a resume toolkit and resume samples, and an online mock interview tool called Perfect Interview. Other services include self-assessments, assistance finding jobs or internships, tips on interviewing and professional etiquette, and 24/7 access to SpartaJobs, an online jobs database just for SJSU students. Online students can also keep up with career center information and events through the center’s Facebook page and blog.

Financial Support
The award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for financial support goes to Texas Woman’s University, a public university in Denton, Texas, that offers a hybrid Master of Occupational Therapy bridge program for practicing, certified occupational therapy assistants. The university’s financial aid staff are dedicated to helping students find ways of paying for their education, including loans, grants, or scholarships. A variety of scholarships are available specifically for students in TWU’s occupational therapy program, including corporate scholarships. Students can also spread out the cost of their tuition using an installment plan.

Student Engagement
Student engagement can be difficult to achieve in an online master’s program because students seldom, if ever, see their professors and classmates in person. However, Shenandoah University, a private institution in Winchester, Va., promotes student engagement by featuring a hybrid master’s program in occupational therapy. While the bulk of the program is delivered online, students still must report to campus one day a week so that they can interact with their professor and fellow students, providing valuable face-to-face time in a challenging program. Also contributing to greater student engagement are the community-based experiences offered every semester where students participate in hands-on learning experiences with real clients in their local area. For these reasons, Shenandoah University wins the award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for student engagement.

Disability Support
San Jose State University wins the award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for disability support. The university’s Disability Resource Center is dedicated to providing services to eligible students who have a documented disability. Aside from offering disability management counseling, the center offers appropriate accommodations for those with disabilities, including testing accommodations, alternative media, educational assistants, note-takers, priority registration, and more. Aside from offering services to people with physical disabilities, the center serves students with learning disabilities by providing assessments on a case-by-case basis, according to the university website.

Learning Support
The best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for learning support is offered by San Jose State University, which offers a wide array of student resources and services for online occupational therapy students. The Academic Success Center provides a variety of services including peer mentoring, the career center, writing center, the help desk for IT support, and more. Online students also have access to advising, financial aid help, and tutoring (through the SJSU writing center).

Faculty Credentials
The award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for faculty credentials goes to Virginia Commonwealth University, which offers an online post-professional Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. The majority of VCU’s faculty possess a Ph.D., and research interests are varied, including sensory integration and processing in children with disabilities, gerontology research and practice, low vision rehabilitation, neurological and cognitive rehabilitation, community-based treatment, and racial/ethnic issues for individuals with disabilities, according to university faculty bios.

Faculty Accessibility
Shenandoah University wins the award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for faculty accessibility because its hybrid format allows students to interact directly with professors on a once-a-week basis. The face-to-face time that takes place in the hybrid format encourages a “mentorship type learning model” among students and professors, according to the 2011-2012 Division of Occupational Therapy Student Handbook. Students can ask their professors questions in person while at the same time enjoying the flexibility of the primarily online format.

Alumni Engagement
The best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for alumni engagement is offered by San Jose State University, which features an Alumni Association directly affiliated with the university’s Department of Occupational Therapy. The association, called Hands of Change, is dedicated to helping its members stay connected to the department through events, networking opportunities, mentoring current students, supporting OT research and curriculum revision, and more. In addition, all SJSU alumni can take advantage of career support, join the SJSU alumni network and connect locally through various chapters, and stay connected online through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Myspace.

New Online Student Orientation
The award for best online master’s degree in occupational therapy for new online student orientation goes to Quinnipiac University, a private institution in Hamden, Conn. The university prefers that online students show up to campus for the orientation so that students can meet the online learning staff and their fellow classmates in person, but also allows students who are unable to make it in person to take an online orientation in real-time, according to the program website. The online orientation includes videos that explain the various academic and student support services the online student will need to access, such as library services, tech support, financial aid services, the registrar’s office, and more, according to the university website.

Explore a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Occupational Therapy is an educational track for those who wish to pursue careers as occupational therapists or occupational therapy (OT) teachers. From this program, students will gain the technical, problem solving, and analytical skills necessary for a career in OT. To enter an OT master’s program, students must have a bachelor’s degree, most usually in sociology, psychology, biology, or liberal arts. Additionally, many school’s admission requirements stipulate that students must have completed one or more volunteer internships in an OT setting.

A master’s degree is a typical requirement for one to become an occupational therapist. This degree customarily entails between 30 and 45 credit hours or about two years to complete, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, part-time students and those whose bachelor’s degree did not include the necessary prerequisites will take longer to attain their degrees. In many cases, students who have completed OT master’s work at another school may find that schools only allow you to transfer over six credit hours. Upon graduation, students will be prepared to undertake the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification process to become licensed occupational therapists, or Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR); this is legally required in all states to practice under that title.

Class Curriculum

Courses are meant to prime students with the technical skills and contextual scientific knowledge to succeed in their careers. Students will learn OT practices and techniques in their application classes and OT theories and current trends in their professional practice courses. Students also get to choose electives, like pediatric care and holistic care, after they’ve completed their core curriculum. Core courses are commonly:

  • Introduction to Occupational Therapy. An introductory course in occupational therapy familiarizes students with the philosophy and historical development behind modern OT, and the career and responsibilities of an occupational therapist. It also touches on the various health environments in which occupational therapists may work.
  • Current Issues in Occupational Therapy. In this course, the current major issues and trends that affect the practice of OT will be examined. These include morals/ethics, societal expectations, issues facing the OT professional community internally, and much more.
  • Research in Occupational Therapy. How to structure research, research designs, and research proposals, is taught to students. They will also learn various research methods, how to analyze their collected research, and how to apply it in their work as occupational therapists.

In an OT master’s degree program, students will be expected to complete a series of reading assignments, and engage in class conversations, in which they will discuss those readings and apply them to OT situations. A huge course work component for a M.S. in OT is field work, commonly known as Level II Fieldwork. Usually lasting 24 weeks, students, who are supervised by experienced professionals, will work in an area that interests them professionally. Some schools combine this with students’ capstone, a project occasionally required by program curriculum. Those whose capstone project is combined with their internship will find they must develop a research project that applies to their fieldwork; a short research paper usually accompanies this project. For those whose capstone project does not include field work, they will simply investigate an area of professional OT interest in an effort to increase their skills and knowledge. Again, a short research paper is usually required.

Building a Career

Graduates of an OT master’s program will possess OT practical and technical skills and knowledge. They will be prepared for careers as occupational therapists and occupational therapy teachers. Below you’ll find details on both of these careers, including salary estimates. Please note that although these estimates are based on national data collected by government agencies, they are still only estimates. Salary and job descriptions cannot be guaranteed in any situation; they are both contingent on a variable group of circumstances.

The vast majority of occupational therapists work in hospitals and professional therapy offices. The BLS also released statistics in 2011, indicating that occupational therapists earn salaries of $73,820 annually. And the outlook for this occupation is positive, with employment forecasted to increase by 33%.

Another vocation master’s degree earners go into is teaching. OT professors teach master’s-level OT students the basics of OT, such as patient psychology, the various physical disabilities they will treat, and patient care methods and techniques. Teaching OT requires a doctorate, though many schools will hire those who have finished all of their doctoral work except for their dissertation. Salaries vary depending on where one teaches. According to the BLS, professors at the college, university, and professional school level earned $107,150 in 2011, while those who taught at junior colleges and in medical and surgical hospitals made $64,850 and $94,710, respectively. The BLS does not report the job outlook for teaching in this area; however, given that employment of occupational therapists is expected to grow, one can safely assume that employment for teachers in that area will also grow as well.

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