Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tips for Applying for MSOT Programs

Hey guys!

I started this post last year in hopes to share my knowledge and then shared it later than I wanted to. I hope it helps someone! Note: This is not any kind of official information. It's just my personal experience I am sharing with you. :)

This is an informative post for all students interested in pursuing a Masters or Doctorates in Occupational Therapy. I know a few students follow my blog just because we are interested in the same field so I thought I'd share some words of advice!

I wrote a whole post on the application website many accredited programs use called OTCAS here. 

This post will focus more on interviews and application processes. 

I applied to 4 schools:
1. University of Southern California
2. Brenau University
3. Washington University in St. Louis
4. Winston Salem State College

I used this grad school list to look at a list of ranked programs and research specific schools that peaked my interest. There will probably be more updated lists now as well but this is the one I used as the time. 

I went through the list and found programs that were in a suitable location, rank, etc and directly found their OT page through Google. Once I found it, the first thing I looked at was...
1. Are they an accredited program?
2. What are their prerequisite classes?
3. What kind of program is it?

I didn't look at cost because I honestly think it's more stressful to worry about money when you haven't even gotten into the program yet. Just focus on the now and worry about the money later. Federal loans and financial aid can cover your entire tuition. I also believe that a higher education is an investment towards your future, so the loans are an investment in you as well.

Once I knew the program was accredited, I looked at the prerequisite classes they required. Most programs required the classes to have been taken within the past 5 years and showed other options to a certain category. Generally speaking, the main prerequisites I came across were:

1. Anatomy and Physiology (Either separately with lab or together in 2 parts with lab as well)
2. An elective like Anthropology, Philosophy, etc.
3. Human Development (whole lifespan, not just child development)
4. Medical Terminology
5. A upper core science with lab (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc)
6. Statistics

Some schools require more and some less, but based on my research, these were very common classes for every program. 

I took all of the above in 1 year, including the summer semester. I broke up my semester strategically and took Stats, A&P 1, and Med Term in one semester. Then Chem in the summer, and finished up with A&P 2 in the fall. Courses with labs add up so I didn't want 2 courses with labs in one semester. Some people do it, but I wanted to make sure my science GPA was strong so I didn't. The science GPA is a separate component that schools will look at in your application outside of the cumulative GPA. Make sure it's strong!

The only school that interviewed was Brenau University. They were really special because they really want well-rounded students. They aren't looking for all academic students but people who have a good personality through their interview. Their interview process was 3 hours, broken up into a 3-person group interview (very casual), 30 minute essay prompt, 1 hour Q&A with current students in the program, and another 30 minute advising with their admission's counselor. It was a really great experience because you get to see the OT campus and get a vibe of the school in person before hearing back from them. :)

My longest application was definitely USC's. All 4 of my schools processed applications through OTCAS but most of them required a supplemental application through their website. Brenau's was very brief and more of a less a repeat of my general information. USC's application was very long, requesting fields of research interest and a second essay. The essay was definitely something to take advantage of since they offered you to tell them more about you outside of the OTCAS personal statement. 

WUSTL and WSSC had little to no supplementary applications. It was mostly through OTCAS and that was it!

I always knew OT was very competitive but it's really hard to "place" yourself in the ranking if you don't know exactly how competitive you are as a student. From my experience, these factors will highlight you as a good candidate:

1. 3.5+ GPA overall and a 3.0+ Science Courses GPA

I had a close to 3.7 undergrad GPA and a ~3.7 for my Science GPA. I really took the time to make my prereq grades shine and committed 100% to the Anatomy/Physiology classes. They really want to know you can handle the hard science classes because otherwise, you will be weeded out in the program. 

2. GREs - On or above the requested cut-off. Good Analytical Writing Score

I had very average GRE scores and luckily, some of my programs didn't even take it as a requirement in judging my resume. It is just a standardized test and don't panic if you didn't do so well on it but everything else is strong. I did however do very well in the Analytical writing section and WSSC actually specified that they were looking for good Analytical scores. If the school as a cut-off, it's a general threshold they recommend students to reach. But even if you are shy a few points in a section, you can still get into the program.

3. Great writing skills that show through your personal statement or essay prompts

I don't consider myself a great writer but I'm not a bad writer. I had my personal statement revised between 2-3 friends and consistently edited it until I felt it was perfect. Make sure to have someone proofread your essays if possible. If you're in your undergrad currently, there should be a writing center that can help you out for free. If not, ask a friend or family member. It's good to get a second opinion on what you have written since you are so close to it that it will sound okay or make sense to you. Make sure you are telling a story and answering the "Why?" question for every sentence. Don't have plot holes in your personal statement!! I also think focusing on a specific story or idea is best for an essay as it gives it more purpose and direction rather than being vague and broad about everything.

4. A personable and friendly character who can excel in teamwork via the interview

You're going to be working with people everyday. No one wants to see that you are good on paper and find that you can't communicate with people in person. But this doesn't mean you should try to NOT be yourself. Brenau asked me questions about myself like how I got to this point and why, what OT means and why is it unique to other therapies, and what classes am I looking forward to in the program. It's more about how you "vibe" with the interviewers and other students if it's a group interview. Be supportive of other's answers but don't listen in so hard that you forget your answer while waiting your turn. Show that you care about this industry and advancing your career while highlighting some shadowing or experiences you had in the past that helped you get here. Don't oversell yourself and make the interviewers feel that you are desperate. Treat it more like a conversation between 2 passionate people talking about the same thing.

5. Any research background/experience such as being an author, presenting at a conference, etc.

Since there aren't many OT bachelors programs, we are all coming from different walks of life. I was fortunate in that I studied Psychology and applied for a Senior Practicum. I got hands on data entry, analysis, poster presentation, first author at a conference practice. But if you have nothing like this, that's okay. It's really about how you answer these questions in person or in writing. Many students take research-based classes as a prereq or through their program. Look over your previous coursework and experiences to find places where you had some research experience. I included my research-related coursework in my resume at the bottom just to show that it wasn't completely new to me. Through my Psych program, I took Research methods and Stats in 2 classes along with upper level Psych courses where I had to do my own research for big essays. That's all experience reading articles and writing so it still says something about you!

6. Unique letters of recommendation from shadowed OT, Previous Bosses, and Academia

Although I have no idea what the letters looked like that I sent in, I really tried my best to send in diverse letters. OTCAS requires at least one OT to write you a letter. This made me nervous at first because I didn't understand how I could get the OT to get to know me when I was watching her session with clients everyday. I realized it was more about asking questions during their session that you were curious about and showing your interest. In between slower times and during breaks, we got to know each other more personally as well since they usually ask what schools you are applying to. Those are your moments to shine. If possible, try shadowing at a center or clinic that's less busy where you get to pair up with one OT. I shadowed at a large hospital with 7-10 OTs on one floor and just observed them all at once. I wasn't able to forge any close relationship with any of them which meant I had no letter. The Children's therapy center I found next was just as busy but they allowed me to follow one OT and come in much more flexibly since hospitals have really strict visitation and immunization rules. And don't be afraid to ask them for a letter... they went through the same thing going to school and you're unlikely the first person to request a letter from them. All the OTs I know would be happy to help-- think about it-- our job is to help people!

When deciding on a program, I think it's best to look at a combination of things to make sure it matches your personality and future goals. Some programs are a lot more research heavy while others are more of a mix between hands on skills and theory. Based on the prereqs, you can also gauge that more per program. I also read each program's OT page to see if there was anything unique about the program that I thought I would enjoy. 

In the end, I heard back from all of my programs by early April. I decided to attend to USC for a few reasons. 

1. They are the number one.  
2. They offer elective classes during your second year.
3. You get much more fieldwork time than other programs.  Three 10 week inversions for level 1 fieldwork and two 3 month level 2 fieldworks during the summer.  
4. Their respect for diversity. 
5. Because California weather can't be beat. 

I must say. .. I am happy with my decision. 
Feel free to ask me any questions!

Goods luck everyone! ! 

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