Q: Please share a little bit about yourself! Where are you from? What’s your educational background so far? What are your interests?
A: I grew up in New Jersey about five minutes away from the beach and have lived here my whole life. In my free time, I love listening to music, podcasts, writing, and playing my electric guitar. I am really into 90s rock and alternative.. it’s my favorite thing to play! I also love spending time in nature, whether it be on trails or on the beach. Going into my undergraduate college experience, I majored in health science with a concentration in pre-occupational therapy. I really feel like I made a great choice in choosing this major, as my classes offered a broad, yet in-depth approach to learning about healthcare, health science, as well as allowed me to easily take each prerequisite for OT school as it was factored into the track of my degree. My pre-OT concentration was made specifically for students who were applying to OT programs, so this was definitely a plus in my undergraduate education.
Q: What drew you towards occupational therapy? Why did you select OT as your major over other health professional careers?
A: When I talk to others about my pre-OT journey, I usually mention that I started shadowing occupational therapists at the beginning of my junior year of college, however, my first true experience shadowing was when I was probably around eight years old. My mother would pick me up from elementary school, and bring my sister and I to my brother’s occupational therapy sessions. We would watch him receive therapy, and at the time, I remember thinking that it just looked like a lot of fun. I also realized that he was making strides in his independence and happiness. I think this really resonated with me, even at my young age. I looked up to his childhood OT as a role model.
When I started my undergraduate education, my first instinct was to pursue occupational therapy. I had this gut feeling that it was the right career for me. Everything about the profession aligns with my personality, my values, and what I would like to do with my life. My main goal is to make a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities. I would like to be their advocate and cheerleader, and watch them grow in independence and happiness, as I watched my brother do.
Q: Okay let’s spill the tea… what is it REALLY like to apply to OT grad programs? Please tell us EVERYTHING!
A: My original plan was to apply to about ten or eleven schools. I ended up applying to only two! This was because after only a month of finishing applications, I had already received an interview, and shortly after, an acceptance. Once I had that one acceptance, I realized I definitely could narrow my list down. I selected them based on location, cost, and curriculum. I did not want to move over two or three hours away from home, so I was primarily looking at schools in the Northeast. Another factor was cost. As we know, student debt is a problem, and I wanted to make sure I could keep this down as much as possible. My personal preference was to also choose MSOT programs over OTD, since they are usually a bit cheaper, but also because all of the schools in my immediate area are MSOT. Finally, curriculum was a factor. I wanted a school with classes that interested me, seemed applicable and helpful to my career, and I felt could adequately prepare myself well.
Q: What was the cost of applying to schools (approximately) were there any other fees you were not expecting beyond application fees? (maybe GRE fees or anything else?
A: Overall, I do not remember the exact cost of applying to schools, but what I do remember is that it is way more than I anticipated. This is because there are a bunch of small fees that end up adding up, so it is sneaky, in a way. I took the GRE in 2019, which was $205. On OTCAS, it is $125 to apply to one program, and every program after that is $45 each. I also paid around $69 for Professional Transcript Entry on OTCAS. To send my undergraduate school’s transcripts over to OTCAS was about $3. Some of the “hidden” fees for me also, included buying professional clothing for interviews. I bought a new blazer, blouse, and dress pants, for probably around $80 in total. Right now, the total for everything I have mentioned is $527, however, I am probably forgetting a couple other minor things. All in all, if I had to give a ballpark estimate, it would probably be about $500-$600 total.
Q: How many hours of shadowing experience did you need to apply to school?
A: The first school I applied to required 30 hours, and the second school required 50 hours. I ended up completing about 130 hours shadowing in total.
Q: What was this process like for you to get those hours? Do you have any tips for other pre-OT students on how to earn these hours (especially with things so different with the pandemic)?
A: The process of acquiring shadowing hours, for me, could be described as nerve wracking, exciting, educational, and interesting. It was intimidating at first, due to the fact that I basically had to cold-call facilities and companies to find an opportunity. I remember I did this for about two months until I got a call back that was open to taking me in. I was really nervous my first day, but luckily the OT was very sweet and personable, and I remember I was amazed at how much I learned. I was also surprised to realize how much my passion for OT intensified. I also loved speaking with patients and hearing their stories about how much OT helped them out. If I had to give any tips, it would be to put yourself out there, reach out to as many places as possible, be polite, be present, and be professional. I wore nicer outfits, such as slacks and a nice shirt, while shadowing. I would rather overdress a bit, just to show how I want to be putting forth a professional image.
I emphasize so much with pre-OT students this year trying to get hours during the pandemic. My best advice would be to remain open and flexible, and consider teletherapy. Also, look to personal connections. Does your aunt know an OT? Does your professor have a connection to an OT? Look for those unexpected connections.
Q: Did you need certain pre-req classes? Do you remember (approximately) what these classes were? Had you already taken these during your bachelor or did you need to return separately to earn these credits?
A: I did need to take specific prerequisite classes. Each school is slightly different, however, most of them require much of the same ones. The schools I applied to required: Anatomy & Physiology I & II with labs, Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Lifespan Development, Statistics, & Introduction to Sociology. Luckily, my bachelor’s degree automatically required me to take these classes due to my pre-OT concentration, so I did not have to take any extra classes other than those required by my major.
Q: How was your mental health while applying to grad programs? How did you prioritize your self-care as you navigated this big undertaking?
A: For most of the process, I had a lot on my plate. I was volunteering at a nursing home every week, helping to take care of my disabled brother, a full-time student taking 15-20 credits each semester, and trying to balance having a normal life with time for myself. My mental health luckily did not suffer too hard, which I credit to having a great support system. My family is so kind and supportive, I have great friends who positively influence me to chase my goals, and a caring boyfriend. When it got really intense, I would block out times in my planner to relax. I would write out “Me Time”. I am an introvert at heart and I need a lot of time for myself to recharge so constantly being on the go was draining at times. At times, however, being so busy motivated me. I felt my confidence in myself growing each time I would cross off something on my to-do list for applications and I could feel myself evolving in such a positive way.
Q: What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you first began exploring OT/programs?
A: This is a great question. I would tell myself “Trust the process.” I am a planner. I like to know how everything will turn out and to have everything go by the book. It almost killed me in a way knowing that there was uncertainty that I could possibly get rejected and have to reapply to schools. I would tell myself to stop worrying about the uncertainties, and enjoy the process just as much as the destination. Also, do not compare yourself! I would read message boards or Facebook groups of OT students with 3.9 GPAs that applied to five schools and somehow got rejected from all of them, and it really freaked me out. I would doubt myself because I did not have a 4.0 or was the president of any clubs. There is power in being authentically yourself, owning it, and being unapologetic about it, without making comparisons to others.
Q: What are you doing to prepare for your first semester? Do you have any tips/advice for other pre-OT students?
A: have been primarily brushing up on my anatomy, especially my muscles, which I find the hardest. Another thing I have been doing is trying to savor my free time because I know I won’t have much after school starts.
Q: Do you have a rough estimate on what books will cost your first semester?
A: My books ended up costing a couple hundred of dollars, maybe about $300. I recommend trying to get them used second hand on the Facebook group “OT Trader” or from previous OT students. Amazon also has great prices compared to other websites.
Q: Do you have any tips on advice for saving money/balancing work/school?
A: Finances are not my strongest suit, but if I had to give advice, it would be to get a flexible job if you need to work. I work as a respite care provider, and I can plan my hours around school and studying. Make sure your job is aware of your demanding school schedule and can accommodate it. I do know of others who are not working during OT school, and are primarily using loans to pay, and that is perfectly fine, too. Do what works for you, try to cut down unnecessarily spending where possible, and remember to prioritize your mental health. Balancing a job and school is tough, but can be done.
Q: What are your coping skills to help you stay happy, focused, and to destress?
A: I love this question! Surprisingly, something I have been into a lot lately is putting on a podcast and cleaning. Cleaning my space gives me a sense of control when I am overwhelmed. Talking it out with one of my friends or boyfriend always helps, as well. They give me a sense of perspective when I am too deep in an issue and they are always my biggest cheerleaders. I also love watching YouTube videos to destress! Funny enough, true crime Youtube videos are my favorite to binge, but I also like to watch lighthearted funny videos or commentary videos about the latest Youtube drama that is going on (It’s a thing!).
My name is Samantha W., and I am a first-year MSOT student from New Jersey. You can find me on Instagram at @OT_Samantha. I share tips for pre-OTs, as well as my personal journal throughout school and my professional career. My areas of interest currently include Autism Spectrum Disorder and pediatrics. When I am not studying for OT school, I can be found at the beach, with friends, listening to a podcast, or playing guitar!