Tips about how to do something are great; they give you a starting point when you have no idea where to begin. Tips about what not to do when attempting something are even better because you get to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make your own. Thankfully, I’ve made a few mistakes when applying to Occupational Therapy school and now you get to reap the benefits of not being like me. Read on to discover my list of 11 things not to do when applying to OT school.
DON’T apply before you are ready to actually go to school
You may have just finished your undergraduate degree and believe that going to school right away for another 2 or 3 years makes the most sense instead of taking a year or two off, but make sure to step back and assess your situation. Talking to others about this decision may make it easier, but make sure to weigh your options and pay attention to that little voice inside of your head.
It is okay to take time off to relax, retake some classes, shadow some more therapists, and really make sure that this is the career you want to pursue. Then you can take the time to choose the right program for you.
DON’T apply to a school before you attempt to visit the campus
Graduate school will take up a large chunk of your time and energy and it is important that you feel comfortable in the environment the school provides. The websites schools have can only tell you so much about a program, but you can really understand where you could fit in once you are actually on campus. The aesthetic is less important than other factors when applying, but is still important when you are making a large investment into your future.
DON’T knock out certain schools because of high tuition
This one might sound crazy, but it’s not. I believe that if you are in love with the way a program is run, you need to apply. If these six reasons for being an OT resonate with you, identifying the right program for you is an essential first step. Every OT school is different and builds a different kind of therapist with various strengths and experiences. There is a reason you are being pulled to that certain school, and if they believe they are worth one tenth of a million dollars just let them show you why they think so. Loans are a thing and grad school is where they are VERY useful. There are also plenty of scholarship dollars available for students if you are able to look.
DON’T expect to get into the school you want right away
As you’ve probably figured by the high standard of GPA, shadowing hours, and experiences required to even apply to any OT school: this field is competitive. There is a lot of prep work involved in getting into school, and if you’ve got a specific one in mind it is important to recognize you might not get in the first time. This is OKAY. The important thing to decide is whether starting right away is more important than getting into your favorite college. Make sure you research multiple colleges to see if there’s more than one you’d be happy at. I applied to 3 and that was still a low number when I talked to my peers.
DON’T think it will be an easy task
Applying to college after graduating was a pretty simple task. A lot more people apply to a 4-year college than grad school so there was a plethora of information when I had decided to continue my education after high school. That information was easier to find and navigate when compared to the information available about applying to OT school.
There is also a lot more to do and understand in an application for a specialized program, so it is advised to start way EARLY and talk to as many people as you can. The internet does have websites/communities of information on schools and policies, so seek them out sooner rather than later
DON’T forget to ask for help
Not everyone decides to apply to grad school and it is important to find someone who has had the experience to help guide you through the process. A mentor or a friend who is already in an OT program would work well as they went through the very same steps you will. If you do not understand a section of an application, don’t be afraid to call up the admissions office and ask them questions. These people are here to help clarify anything that might be confusing and are mostly happy to know someone is interested in their school. It is also important to have someone check your applications for mistakes in spelling and grammar, or to suggest adding anything you may have missed before submitting.
DON’T get discouraged about a lower GPA
GPA is important; it shows your test-taking ability and how well you can study. These things are crucial in succeeding in a grad program, but not they are not all that OT schools are interested in. I would argue that the experiences outside of the classroom are even more important in an application than grades. A student that can make B’s while maintaining a job, volunteering 3 times a week, while also researching with a professor seems much more impressive than the student who only studies and gets a 4.0. A wide range of experiences could help set you apart from the pack, so don’t doubt yourself before you try. In the end, if it doesn’t turn out that the lower GPA got you into school you can always retake the classes that gave you trouble and try again the next application cycle.
DON’T push off applications until the last minute
I repeat: don't. This one is tricky because your mind thinks that once you press submit, all will be well and submitted. Truth is, the OCTAS application takes 6+ weeks to process so it must be finished and turned in that amount of time before any specific app is due. Also, don’t forget that official transcripts take time to process and letters of recommendation have to be in as well. Both of those things can be a bother to get from the right people if you are in a rush for time.
DON’T forget to triple-check deadlines
Every school has a different timeline and none of it makes sense. This is the time to mark up your calendar with specific due dates and reminders for apps. Make sure to re-check these deadlines religiously. Schools are allowed to move deadlines any time that they please, so don’t be the last person to realize these changes!
DON’T be afraid to set up interviews with admissions before the app due date
Even if you do not currently go to the school for undergraduate education, it is important to meet with staff at prospective schools. This is where you get to understand the philosophy of the program from someone who lives it every day and where you can ask as many questions as you want in real-time. I can’t tell you how many times I met with faculty at a school and realized that the school I was at was not for me. There is just so much more you can understand in person. Emails and calls are great, but it’s also very good to stand out from the crowd and have a one-on-one with someone who might read your application in the upcoming months.
DON’T forget to finish your OCTAS app 6+ weeks before the due date of an application
This. This is everything. Learn from my mistakes and don’t let that processing time-frame be the reason that you didn’t get an interview with some of the schools on your list! Recommendations, transcripts, and observation hours all need to be in this early as well so be ahead of the game just in case someone who is in charge of one of those important aspects keeps forgetting to upload their part.
Now, go! Go learn and apply all of the knowledge you have gained today on your journey towards becoming an occupational therapist. Don’t make my mistakes and remember to learn from the ones you might make along the way. Missteps are good teachers as long as you don’t lose sight of your goal! And now that you're getting started, check out our list of things you should do when applying to OT school. The path to OT school is a long one, but probably one of the most rewarding you could ever embark on. Good luck and don’t give up!