Online occupational therapy assistant programs allow you to earn an accredited degree with the flexibility of distance learning. In online OTA programs, you can use email, chat, and learning management systems such as Blackboard to collaborate with professors and peers. You can also submit assignments, ask questions, share notes, and take exams all from the comfort of home or a coffee shop.
Because occupational therapy involves patients, earning your OTA degree online also means hands-on training. OTA students need to learn how to use specific tools and apply therapy techniques while at a campus or an approved healthcare facility. But how does that all work? What do you, as a student, need to keep in mind when searching for OTA programs with key online elements and the best hands-on training support? Read on to see inside online occupational therapy assistant programs and learn what it takes to get started.
Programs that might interest you…
Penn Foster College
PROGRAM: Occupational Therapy Aide
Develop the skills and knowledge to become an occupational therapist aide with Penn Foster Career School’s Occupational Therapy Aide program. Take classes in medical terminology, therapeutic treatment, and customer service at home and at a pace that’s right for you.
PROGRAM: Occupational Therapy Aide
Are you trustworthy and compassionate with a love of helping others? As an occupational therapy aide, you could spend your days assisting therapists in teaching patients the skills that will improve their quality of life as they recover from injuries or illnesses. You will learn everything from the history of the field and medical terminology to the duties of a rehabilitation team and safety in a healthcare setting. And, as one of the most affordable and flexible online programs of its kind, you can study within your budget and graduate in as few as four months.
What to Look for in an Online OTA Program
Every student searches for an online OTA program with a different idea of what path they want to follow. However, there are some characteristics that all students should be concerned about as they look for schools. The following are some of the most important things students should look for in an online occupational therapy assistant program.
In order for students to be eligible to sit for the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination, which is required to get a state license, they must enroll in an online OTA program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). This is important because to receive this accreditation, schools must demonstrate that they provide quality training and instill the skills students should know to work in the field—which ultimately helps the profession as a whole.
- Class schedule
All students have different lifestyles, so scheduling is a big consideration that people can’t ignore when choosing a degree program. Whether they are raising a family, working a full-time job, or have other obligations, people must find a school that best meets their needs. For example, some schools offer online OTA programs that are conducted in an asynchronous manner, which gives students the maximum amount of flexibility because it allows them to complete work at their own pace.
- Program length
In most cases, students can complete an occupational therapy assistant associate degree within two years. However, those who may want to move up in their careers should keep in mind that they will have to invest more time in their education.
- Tuition cost
All students are concerned about how much they will pay for their education. The cost of attending an occupational therapy assistant school depends on the specific program and students may be charged by the credit or the semester. Students may be able to receive some scholarships directly from their school in order to help lower the cost of their education.
- Instruction format
Choosing the right instruction format is important for students to get the most out of their program and successfully complete their coursework. For students who enjoy more flexibility in their studies, an asynchronous program may be the right choice. However, those who like to work in a more structured environment may perform better in a synchronous program. In addition, some schools offer a combination of both options, where some courses are offered synchronously and others asynchronously — allowing students to benefit from both instructional approaches.
Levels of Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Programs
Generally, prospective occupational therapy assistants can begin their career after two years of training in an associate degree program. However, those who want to advance in their careers can get additional training to land higher-level positions. The following are the different types of online occupational therapy assistant programs that schools offer.
- Associate degree
Occupational therapy assistant associate’s degree programs are designed to give students a look at what it’s like to provide care in a variety of settings, from hospitals to nursing homes to behavioral health clinics. During these programs, students gain skills like assisting young patients with play activities that improve their coordination, teaching patients how to use equipment and medical devices, and accurately documenting patient progress. In addition, students are taught the medical laws and ethics people in the field are expected to adhere to, which allows them to get a full understanding of what is expected of them on the job and why.
- OTA to OT bridge programs
Occupational therapy assistants who want to advance in their careers may decide to become occupational therapists, and OTA to OT bridge programs give them the additional training they need to make this move. Students in these programs learn advanced concepts related to topics like neuroscience, physical and mental disabilities, therapeutic modalities, and medical interventions. In addition, students may take coursework about occupational therapy research in order to help them gain expertise in the underlying principles that guide their work protocols.
Understanding the “Online” in Online OTA Programs
Occupational therapy assistant students generally are concerned about the format of the program they choose, particularly if they are holding down a full-time job as they work on their degree. Online occupational therapy assistant programs can help to alleviate some of students’ concerns about how they are going to fit their education into their lifestyle, however, they should keep in mind that these programs do require that they go on campus for instruction periodically. The following outlines how mostly online programs and programs with an online component work.
- Mostly online
In mostly online programs, students can attend classes, receive and submit assignments, and obtain resources through the school’s online course management system. In addition, these programs make it easy for students to communicate with their professors and peers via the Internet. However, hands-on training is also required in these programs, so students are expected to go to campus for lab work or clinical activities.
- Programs with an online component
In these occupational therapy assistant programs, students complete the majority of their work on campus, so they do not have as much flexibility as they would in mostly online programs. There are, however, some opportunities for flexibility, as these programs may offer a certain number of classes that can be completed online.
Critical Knowledge & Skills
Those who are interested in pursuing OTA degrees may be reluctant to enroll in an online OTA program because they may be concerned they won’t get all of the training they need to obtain their license and land a job after graduation. However, some critical knowledge and skills can actually be learned online, while other areas require that students participate in campus work. The following are examples of the skills that students can actually obtain by doing online work.
Recordkeeping: Keeping patient records complete and accurate is imperative for providing the best care, as well as ensuring that health care facilities get payments from insurance companies. As a result, students may take classes that teach recordkeeping so they learn how to update patient records in a legal and ethical manner.
Assessment: In order to determine what kind of treatment patients need, OTAs have to first figure out exactly what the problem is. The theories of assessment skills can be taught online, so students understand what they should be looking for when working with patients and how they should respond to what they find.
Communication: Strong communication skills are needed in order to successfully work with colleagues, patients, and family members. The principles of how to communicate effectively can be taught in textbooks and during online class sessions.
While students can get many important skills through their online coursework, some skills occupational therapy assistants need can only come through hands-on training. The following are examples of some of those skills.
Instruction: Occupational therapy assistants often are tasked with explaining medical information to their patients and teaching them how to care for themselves between appointments. Although students can learn the basic principles of how this is done effectively online, it is no substitution for learning how to do this with actual patients and watching the techniques professionals use at work.
Technology: Professionals are expected to know how to navigate their way around medical software, as well as equipment that is used to treat patients. In order to gain proficiency in these areas, OTAs need hands-on training.
Empathy: Throughout their careers, medical professionals encounter people who are handling serious challenges and extreme pain. When encountering patients during their clinical work, students get the opportunity to hone their ability to show compassion, which goes a long way toward building trust and helping patients have positive outcomes.
What Does Online Occupational Therapy Assistant School Cost?
Depending on the school, students may be able to save money by enrolling in an online occupational therapy assistant program. However, even with these savings, they still will be concerned about how to pay for their education, and whether or not there is financial aid available to them. This section provides a breakdown of how much students can expect to pay for their degrees, as well as what types of financial aid they can receive.
OTA Cost and Fee Breakdown
The cost for education can add up when fees are added to tuition charges. The following is a breakdown of the expenses students should keep their eye on.
Pricing structures for tuition can vary from one school to the next and students may be charged for the entire program or by the semester or credit hour. Regardless of which pricing structure schools have, generally the total tuition for an occupational therapy assistant degree can range from $5,000 to $24,000.
- Application fees
Prospective students may not think about application fees when they are calculating how much their education will cost, but it’s important to keep track of them—especially if they are applying to multiple schools. These fees can run between $35 and $50 per application.
Textbooks are an expense that students need to budget for every semester, so it should always be something they keep in mind throughout their degree program. This expense can cost $200 to $1,200 per semester.
- Exam fees
When students complete their studies, they are required to pass the licensing examination before they can obtain employment in the field. The fee to take this test is $500.
How to Pay for Your OTA Program
There are several resources that students can use to help them pay for their education, and this funding can come from a variety of sources. The following is an overview of some of the ways people can pay for their OTA degree program.
- Financial aid
Sources of financial aid can be provided directly from a school, as well as through the federal government and professional associations. The types of funding that students may receive can be based on need or merit, and can include grants, loans, and scholarships. In order to find out what’s available to them, students should consult their financial aid office.
In some cases, students may be able to receive scholarships directly from their school. In addition, some professional organizations in the health care industry, like the American Occupational Therapy Association, offer scholarships in order to encourage people to enter the field. Other sources of scholarships may include private companies and government agencies. Start your search by reviewing EduMed’s list of scholarships for OTA students.
- Student loans
Students can receive low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Education. These loans may be subsidized, meaning they are granted based on financial need, or unsubsidized, which means students can receive the loan without proving need.
Learn more about financial aid options, how to apply for the FAFSA, and more ways to make college more affordable by reading EduMed’s guide to financial aid.
From OTA to COTA: Certification & Licensing
All states require that occupational therapy assistants receive a license in order to legally work in their state. However, state requirements can vary, so it’s important for students to find out what is expected of them. In some cases, graduates can receive a temporary license, which allows them to work on a limited basis, until they have received the results of the licensing test. To find out how to contact their state board, students can visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.
- Certifying Exam
The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam, or NBCOT, is the test that OTAs are required to take in order to receive their state license. This test, which takes four hours to complete, is made up of 170 multiple choice questions and three clinical simulations. The test covers skills such as clinical decision making, patient monitoring, treatment plan creation, and first aid. In order to qualify to take the NBCOT, people must complete a degree program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.
- Specializing as an OTA
Professionals who want to concentrate their work on a certain area may choose to earn a special certification. This allows them to pursue a subsection of the field that interests them, as well as demonstrate their expertise to employers so they can stand out when looking for a job or seeking advancement at their current workplace. The following are the special certifications OTAs can receive.
- Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
- Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS)
- Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)
- Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP)
- Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
Career Growth & Salary Potential for OTAs
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapy assistants make a median salary of $60,220 per year. The top earners in the field make $80,980 annually, while the lowest 10 percent of earners are earning $39,620.
In addition, OTAs can expect to see a healthy amount of job growth in the coming years. The agency reports that between 2016 and 2026, there will be a 29 percent increase in jobs—more than the national average for all professions—which amounts to 11,400 positions that will be created during this ten-year period. The primary factor driving this growth is the boom of the elderly population, and the increased likelihood that they will develop health problems like arthritis as they age.
Advancing Your OTA Career
After working as an occupational therapy assistant for a while and mastering the job, professionals may decide they want to move into more challenging positions in the health care field. One step these professionals may make is to complete a bridge program to train to become an occupational therapist. In addition, these workers may decide to pursue careers as consultants, physical therapists, health care educators, or exercise physiologists in order to gain new skills, expand their knowledge, and command higher salaries.