How to Become an Occupational
Therapy Assistant

Best Education Tracks, Key Skills, and Top Certifications

Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, help people get back on their feet after injuries. They champion the general recovery of a diverse pool of patients. If you are passionate about the medical field and helping others, you should look into this occupation.

This comprehensive guide can help you learn how to become an occupational therapy assistant. Read below to learn more about occupational therapy assistant responsibilities, education, and skills.

What Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

An occupational therapy assistant is a medical professional who helps occupational therapists. Together, they help patients who are recovering from injury and have difficulty performing daily tasks. You will find occupational therapy assistants in wellness, mental health, pediatrics, and rehabilitation.

What Type of School Should You Attend
to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

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To become an occupational therapy assistant, you should attend a vocational school, community college, or university. Although these schools offer different kinds of programs, they can all help you in your occupational therapy journey.

Best Occupational Therapy Assistant Education Tracks

If you want to become an occupational therapy assistant, you need to get a formal education. You need to learn specialized skills and become licensed in the field. Read below to learn more about the best education options to become an OTA.


Vocational School

A vocational school, or trade school, can give you a hands-on education experience. All you need to enter one of these programs is a high school diploma or a GED. An occupational therapy assistant program will help you learn topics like human anatomy, communication, and physiology.

The tuition for an occupational therapy assistant trade school program may differ from one school to the next. You should do your research before you apply and make sure the program is right for you. Some occupational therapy assistant and aide programs are even offered online, so you can choose to study from home.


Community College

An Associate Degree in Occupational Therapy or a similar topic can help you land a job in the field. These programs usually last two years and vary in tuition, so take a look at prices in your area. A degree program at a community college is a step up from a vocational school and can help you prepare for a career in occupational health.

As part of the curriculum, you will learn about human anatomy, physiology, procedural patterns, principles of occupational therapy, and health conditions in occupational therapy. These courses are more academic compared to a hands-on vocational program.


Occupational Therapy Assistant Degrees

Bachelor’s degree programs can prepare you for the workforce as an occupational therapy assistant. You can get in-depth training in only four years. Some even offer internship and co-op opportunities, so you can get experience in the field before you even graduate. They can help you upskill or increase your knowledge in a specialty field.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has an online occupational therapy assistant program database. This can help you find the best bachelor’s programs offered by online colleges. You can also search for master’s degree programs to learn even more about occupational therapy. However, you don’t need a master’s to become an OTA.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant A Step-by-Step Guide

If you are wondering how to become a successful occupational therapy assistant, keep reading. Your education is important, but you should follow a few other steps beyond that. This step-by-step guide can help you become an OTA.

Get an education

Before you start getting certifications and licenses, you have to get an education in occupational therapy. You can attend a vocational school, community college, or university.

Get experience in the field

Most states require two months of experience before you can start practicing, so check the requirements in your location. Most of the time, this experience is provided as part of your diploma or degree program.

Sit for the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam

Once you graduate, you can sit for the COTA exam. Passing this exam will earn you a certificate from the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). You can’t practice in the field without it.

Find a job

Once you complete these steps, you can become an occupational therapy assistant. Look for jobs in your area and decide which area of practice will suit you best.

Continue learning

As an occupational therapy assistant, you should always stay up to date with current standards in the field. In most states, you will need to complete mandatory continuing education programs. Furthermore, some OTAs go on to become occupational therapists, which requires more education.

Key Occupational Therapy Assistant Skills

Key Occupational Therapy Assistant Skills

To be a successful occupational therapy assistant, you will need a few vital skills. You should have both soft skills and hard skills to be the best OTA you can be. Read below to learn more about three essential occupational therapy assistant skills.


Sometimes, occupational therapy is an emotionally grueling process for patients. Having extensive knowledge of human behavior and performance will help you identify a proper treatment plan. You should be able to focus on a patient’s individual abilities and personality.

Familiarity with Medical Equipment

To give your patients the best service possible, you need extensive knowledge of medical equipment. Your knowledge and application of medical technology will help your patients get the most out of your care. You can use this technology and equipment as a tool to help patients get better.

Healthcare Administration

You may find yourself working in conjunction with many medical professionals. This means you will need some experience in healthcare administration to execute your duties effectively. You should keep track of your patients’ progress and communicate with therapists and other assistants.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary and Job Outlook

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of an occupational therapy assistant is approximately $65,734. Salaries range between $52,000 and $75,000. The highest-paid occupational therapy assistants make about $83,500 per year. You can scale up the ladder by adding skills and getting more experience.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that occupational therapy assistant job opportunities will grow by 35 percent by 2029. This growth is well above the national average, which means OTAs have a great job outlook. This need for occupational therapy assistants is not going to slow down anytime soon.

Min salary


Average salary


Top salary


Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Requirements

To become an occupational therapy assistant, you need a diploma or degree and a certification to practice. You can easily move up in the field if you do well in your entry-level job. Becoming an occupational therapy assistant is also a good starting point if you want to become an occupational therapist.

Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Requirements

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

An occupational therapy assistant works with occupational therapists to provide care to patients. As an OTA, you can help people recover from injuries or surgeries. Daily responsibilities can vary from scheduling appointments to creating treatment plans. Read below to learn more about OTA roles and responsibilities.

Rehabilitates Patients

It is your primary responsibility to help your patients relearn activities as part of physical rehab. You could help teach them how to stand, walk, and even run. You will work with an occupational therapist to make treatment plans and teach the patient how to recover on their own.

Supports Patients Emotionally

Occupational therapy is not an easy process, so you should provide patients with the necessary support. You will help patients integrate new habits into their routines. Some patients may have a mental illness or struggle to regulate their emotions. You can teach them coping mechanisms to help them take care of themselves once they are discharged.

Keeps Records

As an occupational therapy assistant, you must keep tabs on every patient. This is essential because you need to track responses to medication and develop better methods when necessary. You should make sure each patient’s file is up to date with relevant information.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Certifications and Licenses

Before you start working as an occupational therapy assistant, you need the right credentials. You can also take extra certification exams to advertise a more specialized skill set. Read below to learn more about different certifications you can get as an OTA.

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)

The COTA exam is the standard certification for any occupational therapy assistant. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) offers this exam. It offers a study guide and different practice questions to help you prepare. Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements before you apply.

Certified Health Coach (CHC)

If you love working with patients to help them reach their goals, this certification is a great option. The CHC certification will help you better communicate with patients and create personalized health plans. All of the exam content is offered as independent study material. Keep in mind that you will need a National Society of Health Coaches (NSHC) membership.

Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)

You can find many specialization exams for OTAs, but the Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist is one of the best. You will need to participate in in-person, hands-on training to learn how to treat people who have had strokes. The classes last 32 hours total and are offered by the American Stroke Association.

How to Prepare for Your Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Interview

How to Prepare for Your Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Interview

If you want to be confident, ready, and successful in your OTA job interview, you should research and practice. Make sure you put your best foot forward and demonstrate your skills and experience.

Below you will find common occupational therapy assistant interview questions to help you ace your job interview.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Why do you want to become an occupational therapy assistant?
  • Would you describe yourself as a patient person?
  • What are the significant milestones you have experienced in the industry?
  • How do you deal with a difficult patient?
  • What are your weaknesses as an OTA, and how are you working to improve them?

How Long Does It Take to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

If you get an associate degree, becoming an occupational therapy assistant can only take two years. However, a bachelor’s degree or higher will take at least four years. Either way, you need to sit for the COTA exam.

Associate degree


Bachelor’s degree


Master’s degree


Should You Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant in 2021?

Yes, you should become an occupational therapy assistant in 2021. If you want a job in the healthcare industry, this will make an excellent career path. The fulfilling job allows you to work directly with patients and administer personalized care.

Occupational therapists need assistants to provide the best care possible. OTAs are essential practitioners who work in hospitals, offices, and even nursing homes. You will have a wide range of options to choose from if you choose this career.

Occupational Therapy Assistant FAQ

Is it difficult to become an occupational therapy assistant?

Yes, it can be difficult to become an occupational therapy assistant. It will take long classes and experience to succeed. However, you only need to go through two years of education to start practicing.

Are registered nurses or occupational therapy assistants paid more?

According to PayScale, an RN makes about $65,957 per year and an occupational therapy assistant makes about $46,719. Registered nurses are paid more than occupational therapy assistants.

What are the disadvantages of being an occupational therapist?

As much as becoming an OTA is a fantastic career choice, it can be challenging. The medical field can be strenuous and require long hours.

What is the difference between a physical therapist and an occupational therapist?

An occupational therapist helps you get back on track after an injury or surgery, and a physical therapist helps treat the injury itself. They are both vital to the recovery process.

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