To begin, I will be 100% honest about applying to grad school – it’s stressful. It will test your ability to make decisions. It will test your creativity and determination. It will test your patience. But, it’s all minute stress compared to the imminent stress that grad school itself will bring.
Below are some tips, tricks, and insights to applying to grad school for a MSOT program.
Step 1: Do your research.
When you start looking for grad schools offering MSOT programs there’s a lot to take into consideration. Where do you want to go to school? Will you commute or live on/near campus? What kind of program does each school offer? Is it a full-time, standard program? Is it a weekend-hybrid program? Does the school require you to take the GRE? What are the pre-requisites required to apply to the program? Do they have a supplemental application in addition to the OTCAS application? Attend graduate open houses or program information sessions for the schools you are interested in applying to. Do your research, take notes, and write down any important dates and deadlines.
Step 2: Get ahead on application pre-requisites and other requirements
Make sure you have fulfilled all of the course pre-requisites to apply to the MSOT you are interested in. Most pre-requisite requirements include some form of anatomy & physiology, psychology, sociology, lifespan development, and statistics. Check the website for the program you are interested in so that you know exactly what courses you need to be considered for the program.
Also, begin researching potential locations for observation hours in the OT setting. It would be in your best interest to chose a variety of settings and populations. This will strengthen your application and give you irreplaceable observation experiences in the field of OT. Contact the OT departments of each location you are interested in, explain your process of applying to grad schools, and tell them what days/times you are available to observe. Ask about dress code expectations, where to park and enter the building, and who you will be shadowing. (I will create a separate blog post in the future with my personal observation experiences)
Step 3: Understanding OTCAS
OTCAS is the common app specifically for OT schools. Make sure you check application release dates as you won’t be able to start this application until OTCAS opens their applications. Once the application opens, start working on it. There are multiple sections to fill out with educational & work history and other personal experiences. You will need to have all of your undergraduate transcripts sent to OTCAS. You will need letters of recommendation from multiple professionals involved in your educational, athletic, or professional background.
The OTCAS process is lengthy and can be very time-consuming. It’s best to start the OTCAS process early so that you don’t feel panicked about deadlines. You will discover that some parts of the OTCAS application are completely out of your control. Be patient, remain persistent and attentive, and stay alert to things that are time-sensitive. Before submitting your OTCAS application, make sure to review all of the information you’ve provided to make sure you aren’t missing any information that could strengthen your application.
Step 4: Check for supplemental applications
Some MSOT programs have their own supplemental application. Be diligent when researching schools so that you know which schools have a supplemental application and which ones do not. Programs typically don’t release their individualized application until many weeks/months after the OTCAS application has been released so, once again, be attentive to when applications become available.
Make sure you follow all instructions and requirements needed in the supplemental application. As always, proofread EVERYTHING before you submit your application.
Step 5: Organize follow-up dates
Most schools provide the estimated time of application response on their websites and/or applications. Some schools admit students on a rolling basis (first come, first served so get those applications submitted ASAP!) while other schools do not start considering applications until after the posted deadline. To minimize admittance/declination anxiety, write down expected response dates. This will help maintain relative sanity while you wait. During this time, the applications are completely out of your control. Have faith in the applications you have submitted. After all, all you can truly do is wait.
Step 6: Admittance/Waitlisted/Declination
Depending on the response from each school, you may or may not have follow-up steps to complete. If you are declined from a school (and I assure you that it will happen), try not to panic. MSOT programs are extremely competitive. Accept that you tried your best and evaluate what may have been any weaknesses in your application (for me, it was my GRE scores). If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Don’t give up on a goal; just work harder to achieve it – even if that means completing the application process again.
If you are waitlisted, all you can do is wait to hear back from them. They should explain in the waitlist letter/email when to expect further communication; however, each school has a slightly different process. Make sure to read all correspondence thoroughly!
If you are accepted to a school, they will provide follow-up steps moving forward. This most likely includes either A) sending a deposit to guarantee your spot in the program or B) scheduling an interview for the continuation of the application process.
Step 7 (varies by school/individual): Deposit and/or taking the next step
Personally, I was declined by the first school I heard from. I panicked. I doubted my worth. I was fearful. All I could do was wait to hear from the other two schools. I was also waitlisted by the fourth school I heard from. All I can say is trust that God has a plan for you.
I was accepted by the second school I heard from; however, it was my last choice on my list of school preferences. This particular school needed a deposit within a month’s time of acceptance (basically by mid-January). Unfortunately, I would not hear from the other two schools until AT LEAST early/mid February. I weighed my options, wasn’t willing to take a risk, and decided to pay the deposit even before hearing from the final two schools. So, I bit the bullet and sent in a very pricey deposit.
Deposits might be one of many challenges you’ll face during the application process. All schools have different timelines. Make sure you have money saved away to pay these deposits. I erred on the side of caution by putting a deposit down on a school I wasn’t fully interested in attending. I wanted a Plan B in place in case Plan A didn’t work.
Step 8 (varies by school/individual): Interview
A few weeks after sending in a deposit, I heard from my top choice school who offered an interview – the final step in their application process. My interview was scheduled for mid/late February. They sent a webinar we were required to watch leading up to the interview day. This explained everything we needed to know for the interview itself.
I spent the week leading up to the interview preparing. This entailed reviewing notes on the observation hours I had completed and being mindful of my decision to apply to grad school in the first place.
Leading up to my interview I spent a lot of time writing. I wrote about why I wanted to become an OT, what I learned about the OT profession through research and observation, what I admired about the OTs I observed, what I learned from the OTs I observed, and what drove me to seek this particular profession. It was a mental refresher for me to visualize myself learning more and more about this career path.
Pick out a professional outfit, know where to meet for the interview process, what time to arrive, and what to expect during the final stage of the application process. Take notes, plan ahead, arrive early, and remember to breathe.
For my personal interview experience, we had a group meeting with faculty who presented an overview of the program, completed a timed essay section that tested our ability to think on the spot, and had an individual interview with two faculty members.
Be human during the interview. Talk with understanding, speak with confidence, listen attentively, and answer every question with your heart. Don’t go into the interview with memorized answers that make you sound like a robot. The interviewers are humans that want to speak with a human. Always arrive to the interview with questions for the faculty and before departing thank them for their time. Remember….be human.
Step 8: the end of the application process
There isn’t usually anything to do after the interview. The interview is the pinnacle. Waiting to hear back from schools can be painstakingly slow. I assure you that they will contact you when everything has been reviewed. When you hear back from a school after an interview, follow step 6 or 7.
Be excited for the schools that have offered you a spot in their competitive program. Don’t be afraid to brag about it and be excited about it! Call friends and family about it! Celebrate it.
The application process is just the beginning. It is lengthy. It will test your patience and determination. It will force you to face your weakness. However, it will also force you to display your strengths.
Work hard for what you want in life. Be passionate about things that give you hope for your future. Work persistently and with determination towards the things that give you purpose. Be mindful and grateful always for the opportunity for learning.
If you can get through the application process, you’re on a path to better things.