2022 Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Occupational Therapy

By Jennifer King Logan | Updated 6/14/2022
2022 Best Online Doctoral Degrees in Occupational Therapy Badge

Occupational therapists treat patients who are injured, ill, or have a disability by helping them develop or recover daily life skills. Occupational therapy is a growing field with a projected increase in demand of 17% over the next decade. There are many online degree programs available, which allow working professionals to advance their careers in this rewarding field. Students hoping to become licensed occupational therapists will need a doctorate in the field. 

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2022 Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Occupational Therapy

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 University of Nevada at Las Vegas 81 81 $81,563
# 2 #2 Thomas Jefferson University 66 $73,779
# 3 #3 The George Washington University 65 $73,328
# 4 #4 University of Alabama at Birmingham 65 $73,211
# 5 #5 Temple University 65 $73,192
# 6 #6 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center 64 $72,884
# 7 #7 IUPUI 63 $72,502
# 8 #8 St. Catherine University 60 $71,366
# 9 #9 Nova Southeastern University 58 $70,551

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2022 Online Colleges Offering Doctoral Degrees

Ranking Details

#1 University of Nevada at Las Vegas

  • Salary Score: 81
  • Median Starting Salary: $81,563
  • Locations: Las Vegas (NV)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) is a large, public institution that offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy. This program requires 36 credit hours, two capstone courses, and a research project. UNLV prepares working occupational therapists to teach, advance their clinical practice, and assume leadership roles, so graduates of this program go on to be full-time professors for master’s level classes, fieldwork coordinators, healthcare administrators, and researchers. This program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule.

At UNLV, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is fully online. UNLV’s online students can access all university resources.

#2 Thomas Jefferson University

  • Salary Score: 66
  • Median Starting Salary: $73,779
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

The Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) is a medium-sized, private institution. TJU offers an online Post-Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy requiring 33 credits if the student has a master’s degree or 46 credits if they have a bachelor’s degree, and it can be completed in two to three years with a full-time schedule. Some core courses in this program include Visionary Practice Development & Evaluation and Leadership: Moving Beyond Traditional Roles. TJU’s program requires a Clinical Fellowship and a capstone project. Graduates go on to become head researchers and leaders in clinical, education, and health care communities.

At TJU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online and asynchronous.

#3 The George Washington University

  • Salary Score: 65
  • Median Starting Salary: $73,328
  • Locations: Washington D.C.
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

George Washington University (GWU) is a medium-sized, private institution. It offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy aimed at preparing working occupational therapists to become clinician scholars. GWU teaches basic research, client-oriented research, and population-based research through its 36 credit hour program. Including the capstone project, this degree can be completed in 2.5 years with a full-time schedule. This program offers three concentrations: (1) Teaching & Learning, (2) Clinical Research, and (3) Advanced Practice. Graduates go on to become teachers, researchers, administrators, and specialists.

At GWU, students use Blackboard to access their coursework — which is fully online and asynchronous.

#4 University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Salary Score: 65
  • Median Starting Salary: $73,211
  • Locations: Birmingham (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a medium-sized, public university. It offers an online Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy that prepares graduates to work in rehabilitation facilities, community programs, and educational settings. The program requires 40 credit hours and a capstone project. As a whole, students can complete the program in 2.5 years with a full-time schedule. The degree program allows students to choose one of three specialization tracks: (1) Low Vision Rehabilitation, (2) Healthcare Quality & Safety, and (3) General.

At UAB, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online.

#5 Temple University

  • Salary Score: 65
  • Median Starting Salary: $73,192
  • Locations: Philadelphia (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Temple University (TU) is a large, public institution offering an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy, which requires 21 credit hours. Students can complete the online degree in one year with a full-time schedule. This program is a great fit for those moving directly from a master’s program into a doctoral program. TU prepares graduates to be innovative leaders who deliver diverse and inclusive therapy. Some classes for this degree include Occupation-based Theories & Participation and Outcome Measures & Program Evaluation, and there's also a final capstone project.

At TU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is synchronous and 100% online.

#6 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

  • Salary Score: 64
  • Median Starting Salary: $72,884
  • Locations: Lubbock (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) is a small, public institution that offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy. The degree requires 27 credits if the student has a master’s degree or 33 credits if they have a bachelor’s degree. Overall, it can be completed in two to three years with a full-time schedule. Along with a capstone project, core courses include Evidence-Based Practice, Principles of Management & Leadership in Health Care, and Curriculum Design & Teaching in Health Professions. Graduates enter fields ranging from insurance and policy to academics and management.

At TTUHSC, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online.

#7 IUPUI

  • Salary Score: 63
  • Median Starting Salary: $72,502
  • Locations: Indianapolis (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is a large, public institution. It offers an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy that consists of 30 credit hours and can be completed in one year with a full-time schedule. This program prepares licensed occupational therapists to advance their career, rise to leadership positions, or begin teaching after graduation. IUPUI’s program offers classes, such as Teaching in Occupational & Rehabilitation Services and Introduction to Dissemination & Implementation Sciences, and it requires an advanced practice capstone project. Graduates are eligible and expected to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

At IUPUI, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is 100% online.

#8 St. Catherine University

  • Salary Score: 60
  • Median Starting Salary: $71,366
  • Locations: Saint Paul (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) is a large, private institution. St. Kate’s offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy requiring 35 credit hours and a doctoral project. The program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule and students learn to lead and influence change in health, education, and community settings. Core classes include Social Determinants of Health, Organizations & Systems, and Academic & Clinical Education. Graduates of the program work as faculty, supervisors in school settings, and interdisciplinary/interprofessional advisors.

At St. Kate’s, students use Brightspace to access their coursework, which is fully online and asynchronous. However, two in-person visits to campus are required at the beginning and end of the program.

#9 Nova Southeastern University

  • Salary Score: 58
  • Median Starting Salary: $70,551
  • Locations: Fort Lauderdale (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a medium-sized, private institution. NSU offers an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy, requiring 39 credit hours and a capstone project. This program focuses on using evidence-based practices to help occupational therapists advance their careers and better assist their clients. Some core courses for this degree include Theory Development for Models of Practice, Advanced Policy Issues, and Community Program Development. NSU’s online program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule, and graduates go on to direct and lead innovative programs, establish private practices, and work with policymakers.

At NSU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is hybrid. Most coursework is online, but students are required to visit campus once a semester for an in-person seminar that lasts 3-4 days.

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Overview of Online Occupational Therapy Degrees

When people become chronically ill or disabled, occupational therapists are needed to help them adapt to their situation and develop new skills for daily living. As healthcare professionals, OTs must learn to work with patients, assessing their needs and determining different types of therapy interventions. Future occupational therapists must also gain a thorough understanding of medical science, anatomy, and physiology.

Individuals can earn occupational therapy degrees at all levels of higher education, from associate to doctoral degrees. Currently, pre-occupational therapy undergraduate programs and master's programs in occupational therapy are taught traditionally through on-campus courses, although some schools may give students the option of taking some of their courses online. Programs that combine online and on-campus classes are often referred to as blended or hybrid programs.

Students who are considering earning a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) have two options:

  • Post-professional doctorates are for practicing occupational therapists who have earned master's degrees and met the clinical practice requirements for licensure. Post-professional OTD students can earn their degrees primarily through online learning, although they will most likely be required to attend at least a few on-campus learning activities.
  • Entry-level doctoral programs are for those who hold a bachelor's degree in pre-occupational therapy or a similar field. These OTD programs require an additional 24 weeks of hands-on fieldwork experience, as well as 16 weeks of experiential learning activities, which is why they are generally offered as on-campus or hybrid programs.

Often requiring the completion of 31-33 credit hours, online OTD programs typically take three or more years to earn, depending on whether students are full-time or part-time.


Program Requirements

For online OTD programs, applicants will need to submit transcripts of previous college coursework, a personal statement illustrating how they plan to utilize their doctoral degree, and other relevant documentation. Applicants should already have a strong foundation in research principles and know how to apply them to their OT practice when they begin an OTD program.

Although many post-professional OTD programs are designed to accommodate working OT professionals by offering online courses on a part-time basis, all programs include some amount of on-campus learning. Students should carefully review any on-site program requirements prior to submitting their applications for enrollment to ensure that the program meets their needs.

Applicants should already have a strong foundation in research principles and know how to apply them when they begin an OTD program.

In addition to lecture-based and research-oriented courses, doctoral programs often require a capstone project, enabling students to work with a faculty mentor to more closely examine their chosen OT specialization. Many OTs focus on a specific age group, such as pediatrics or gerontology, or on patients with a particular condition, such as autism, diabetes, brain injuries, or mental health issues. OTs can also develop expertise in using certain treatment methods, including assistive technologies, kinesiology, nutrition, or environmental modification.

Curriculum

Doctorate of Occupational Therapy programs are typically geared toward practicing OTs who are seeking advanced clinical or academic roles. These rigorous programs help students advance their understanding of clinical practice and administration, public policy, advocacy, education, and research methodology. Coursework usually focuses on topics such as:

  • Leadership
  • Ethics
  • Advanced OT theory
  • Program design and evaluation
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Occupational science
  • Evidence-based practice

Accreditation for Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

For students planning to enroll in online occupational therapy programs, it's essential to look for accredited schools. To earn institutional-level accreditation, a college or university must be independently evaluated by an approved agency that has been authorized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. The school's programs, faculty, and student resources must meet national standards for academic rigor and quality.

Specific programs can also be accredited by other approved agencies, and the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education is the approved agency for evaluating OT programs. ACOTE is the advisory council of the American Occupational Therapy Association, which is the leading professional organization for this field. To find accredited online programs, students can visit the ACOTE, CHEA, or USDE websites.

By enrolling in an ACOTE-accredited program, students can feel confident they are getting a credible, quality higher education. For undergraduates, it is also a requirement to qualify for financial aid, to transfer credits to another educational institution, and to be accepted into most advanced degree programs. According to AOTA, ACOTE-accredited programs include all of the coursework needed to help prepare students to sit for the national certification examination.


Careers for Occupational Therapists

Within the field of occupational therapy, there are three primary career opportunities, each with its own functions, educational requirements, and salary expectations. They are:

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat patients who are injured, chronically ill, or disabled by helping them develop, recover, improve, or maintain the skills needed for daily life at home and at work. They often recommend and teach patients how to use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and hearing aids. In addition to working with patients in healthcare facilities, OTs frequently go to a patient's home or workplace to evaluate the spaces, make recommendations for improvements, and educate people who help care for the patient, such as family members.

To become licensed occupational therapists, students must earn either a Master of Occupational Therapy, a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, or an OTD, including completing a minimum number of hours of clinical practice. They must also pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. Occupational therapists' advanced education and skills result in the highest salaries for this field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for occupational therapists is $86,280, although home health OTs earn a median salary of $91,830 and those who work in nursing care facilities earn a median salary of $92,260. Because OTs are often called upon to work with older patients, and because the U.S. population is aging, demand for professionals is expected to increase by 16% through 2029, resulting in 22,700 new jobs.

Occupational Therapist Assistants

Occupational therapist assistants administer care, prescribe therapeutic regimens, and observe and record patient progress. Under the guidance and supervision of a licensed occupational therapist, OTAs use their formal training to provide support for, and frequently carry out, treatment. To become licensed, OTAs must earn associate degrees from accredited technical colleges or universities, complete clinical practice requirements, and pass the NBCOT exam. The median annual wage for OTAs is $62,940, and this high-growth occupation is expected to grow by 35% over the next decade, which is much higher than the average for all occupations.

Occupational Therapist Aides

Occupational therapist aides differ from OTAs in that they do not need to have a college degree or be licensed in order to do their work. Occupational therapist aides generally have a high school education or GED, and most receive their training on the job. They perform tasks to support OTs and OTAs, such as cleaning equipment or treatment areas, scheduling appointments with patients, or assisting with forms and paperwork. Per the BLS, the median annual wage for aides is $30,180, and the need for aides is projected to increase by 20% over the next decade.

Alternative Career Paths

Most graduates with degrees in occupational therapy go into clinical practice, meaning they are working directly with patients. However, some may choose to use their knowledge and skills in non-clinical roles, such as healthcare administration, case management, or teaching. There are also several alternative career paths available to occupational therapists. Some OTs may be interested in working as self-employed life or wellness coaches, medical equipment sales associates, assistive technology professionals who work with prosthetics and other devices, or social workers.

Another field that may be of interest is physical therapy. Physical therapists also focus on treating, rehabilitating, and preventing further injury in patients who are dealing with injuries or chronic illnesses. However, their purpose is to improve range of motion and help manage pain. Physical therapists often perform their work in healthcare facilities, where they provide treatment and teach patients specific exercises that facilitate healing. To become a physical therapist, students must earn a doctoral degree in physical therapy instead of an OTD, and then meet all licensing requirements for PTs. Physical therapists can expect to earn a median annual wage of $91,010, and the BLS notes that demand is expected to increase by 18% through 2029.


Licensing Requirements for Occupational Therapists

All OTs and OTAs must be licensed or registered by their state's regulatory board in order to practice. Occupational therapy aides do not have to be licensed. While each state has its own licensing rules, every state requires that OT and OTA candidates pass the NBCOT exam and pay state licensing fees. Students should confirm their state's licensing and registration requirements before enrolling in an educational program.

NBCOT is a non-profit credentialing agency that offers certification for those in the occupational therapy profession. The online exam includes questions about the proper procedures for acquiring patient information and assessing patients' needs, particularly when it comes to determining interventions and treatment plans. In order to take the NBCOT certification examination, applicants must complete the following requirements:

  • Graduate with an occupational therapy degree from an accredited school and submit official transcripts
  • Fulfill minimum fieldwork or practicum requirements
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the English language
  • Agree to uphold the NBCOT code of conduct

In addition to being a requirement for state licensure, NBCOT certification increases the chances of landing a job because it demonstrates to the public, as well as future employers, that a graduate has excellent skills and is qualified to handle the responsibilities of this occupation. Passing the exam qualifies graduates to use the Occupational Therapist Registered or Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant title. Licensed professionals must renew their certification every three years, which includes completing a certain number of continuing education units.

NBCOT certification demonstrates to the public, as well as future employers, that a graduate is qualified to handle the responsibilities of this occupation.

Additional Certifications for OT Professionals

Beyond NBCOT certification and state licensure, there are many other types of certifications that OT professionals can obtain to demonstrate advanced skills and specializations. The cost and time commitment to earn these qualifications vary. In some states, one or more certifications may be required for specific occupations, so students should check with their state regulatory boards for full details. Some of the possibilities include:

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Certification: The Red Cross offers a program that trains and certifies individuals to handle cardiac and breathing emergencies. Students can take CPR classes in person, online, or through a hybrid format.

Basic Life Support Certification: Also available from the Red Cross and taught through a combination of live and online classes, the basic life support program teaches advanced skills in CPR for those employed in health professions. Students also learn to use a defibrillator and to clear obstructed airways in adults and children.

Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist: With this certification, healthcare professionals are prepared to assist patients with diabetes in managing their condition. Students learn to help patients achieve behavioral changes, follow treatment plans effectively, and optimize outcomes.

Certified Autism Specialist: OTs interested in working with children diagnosed on the autism spectrum may want to seek certification in this area. Certification assures parents that an OT has received special training in comorbidities, behavior modification, program development, and communication.

Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist: Occupational therapists with this neuroscience certification are more likely to work with older patients. The preparatory courses teach students a variety of methods for measuring and assessing patients and developing tailored treatment plans for neurorehabilitation.


Is an Online Occupational Therapy Degree Worth It?

To become licensed occupational therapists, students must earn a master's degree or doctoral degree in occupational therapy. However, this is not the only possible career path for those who want to work in this health profession. Students may also want to consider becoming occupational therapy assistants or aides, neither of which require advanced degrees. Before committing to an occupational therapy program, and particularly to an online doctorate, prospective students may want to consider some specific advantages and disadvantages:

Potential Benefits

  • OTs and OTAs earn respectable salaries. According to the BLS, once they've obtained a license to practice, graduates with master's degrees or doctorates can expect to earn median salaries in the range of $76,560 to $92,260, and associate degree holders can expect to earn median salaries in the range of $51,520 to $67,760.
  • Doctorates prepare graduates for additional job openings. Informal surveys conducted by AOTA have shown that a doctoral degree in occupational therapy may qualify graduates for unique positions in research and academia that are not open to master's degree holders.
  • Going online gives doctoral students more options. Pursuing an OT doctorate online allows full-time working students to choose from a broader selection of programs that fit their career objectives and budget without having to move to a new location and find a new job.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Becoming a professional OT requires a significant investment. Completing the educational requirements to become an OT is a fairly long and potentially expensive process. Licensed professionals typically spend an average of seven years earning a bachelor's and then an advanced degree.
  • Occupational growth projections must be kept in perspective. Although the BLS predicts that demand for all types of OT professionals will increase by 16-35%, it also notes that there is some concern regarding the financial prospects for professionals. Some insurance providers do not cover OT services, and many potential patients will not want or be able to pay out of pocket. Thus, demand for service providers may impact the number of jobs open to OT and OTAs.
  • Online students can feel disconnected. In the online environment, some OT students may struggle to establish relationships with peers and build a professional network that can be helpful later in their careers.

Ultimately, after considering the pros and cons of the career overall and the educational options for each of the common occupations in the field, prospective occupational therapy students must make their decisions based on their personal circumstances, goals, and financial resources.

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