Best Accredited Online Programs for Occupational Therapy Assistants

A complete guide to online occupational therapy assistant programs, how they work, and what you need to know to start making a difference in health care.

Future occupational therapy assistants need to enroll in a program that is going to prepare them for the job, as well as give them the knowledge and skills they need to earn a certification in their state. Not every occupational therapy assistant program is created equally, so we created the Best in Class initiative in order to help prospective students find the school that’s right for their needs and a program that best fits their lifestyle. We evaluated schools on several markers, including affordability and curriculum to find the best occupational therapy assistant programs from around the country. The following are some of the standout schools on our list. (Read how we chose our schools >>)

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To be considered for our college spotlight list, schools were required to have:

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education
  • Programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
  • Occupational therapy assistant program(s) offered at least partially online

School Metrics Explained

  • Cost: Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Financial Aid: Percentage of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant or scholarship aid.

About Our Data

EduMed’s best-in-class lists use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: May 2019

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School Name Location School Type Cost Online Programs Financial Aid School Information
St. Catherine University Saint Paul, MN Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 82%

As the first school in the country to offer an occupational therapy assistant degree program, St. Catherine University has been a leader in the health care field for many years. In order to provide a quality education that students expect, the school offers small classes that allow future OTAs to build strong relationships with their peers and professors, role-playing exercises that help people demonstrate their understanding of the coursework, and engaging classroom discussions designed to deepen students’ understanding of the material. In addition, students complete extensive fieldwork—over 400 hours of training—at a health care facility in the community.

In order to be admitted into the program, applicants must earn at least a 2.5 GPA in prerequisite courses like anatomy, medical terminology, psychology, and lifespan development. Once they have entered the program, students take a variety of classes including pediatric practice, rehabilitation care, and aging -- and to successfully complete the program, students are expected to earn at least a C in these required courses. Then students move on to the fieldwork part of the program, where they learn how to behave in a professional setting and work as part of a health care team.

In April 2019, the cost to attend St. Catherine University was $712 per credit. Students may qualify for scholarships offered by the school in order to help pay their education expenses.

Linn-Benton Community College Albany, OR Public $$$$ 1 40%

The associate degree program at Linn-Benton Community College is a hybrid program that combines online classes with laboratory work in order to provide hands-on experience that students will take with them when they begin the fieldwork component of the curriculum. In order for prospective students to decide if this program is the right choice for them, LBCC provides a self-assessment and orientation on its website, which takes about 30 minutes to complete, so they become familiar with the program and make an informed choice.

Those who decide that LBCC is the place for them to receive training will become part of a cohort, which allows 24 students to work through the program together from start to finish while building relationships with each other as they complete the same coursework. As part of this model, those who take classes online are required to attend courses at the same time as their on-campus counterparts, and then come to campus in order to participate in labs that complement textbook learning.

After completing their classroom and laboratory work, students then move on to their field experience, which allows them to be placed in a health care facility to get the hands-on training they need to earn their license and begin a successful career. As of spring 2019, LBCC charged $128.92 per credit for in-state tuition and $283.52 for out-of-state students.

Casper College Casper, WY Public $$$$ 1 51%

The Occupational Therapy Assistant program at Casper College offers students the opportunity for one-on-one attention, given the impressive faculty/studio ratio of 1:12. The degree, culminating in an associate of science, prepares graduates to work as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).

Students undergo six semesters of study, including five semesters of academic coursework and one semester of fieldwork placement. While prerequisite courses and some major courses are available online, this is not a fully online program; students will be required to complete some study on campus. Students will take all courses through the Moodle learning system and must maintain a 2.5 GPA in English composition, behavioral and biological sciences, and occupational therapy coursework to remain in the program. This occupational therapy assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). As of 2019, 85% of graduates from the Casper College program in occupational therapy assisting were working as COTAs.

Students must follow basic general admission requirements, and are provisionally accepted to the OTA program in their first semester. Interviews are conducted at the beginning of the second semester to fill 24 available spots, with the remainder placed on a waiting list. In the 2019-2020 school year, residents paid $4,050 for tuition and non-residents paid $9,990.

Central Methodist University Fayette, MO Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 99%

The OTA Associate of Applied Science degree program is offered over a two-year period at Central Methodist University. The associate degree program takes 20 months of full-time study to complete. In addition to the expected coursework, lab work and field practicum, students will also engage in collaborations with peers and participate in community activities that help them get to know the people they will serve when working at an OTA.

In addition to the expected prerequisite classes in areas like mathematics, English and chemistry, students will take a deep dive into a strong curriculum focus on occupational therapy with courses like Neuroscience Principles, Physical Dysfunction and Rehab, and Settings: Inpatient, Outpatient, and Community. In-depth credentialing and licensure preparation are also included in the typical curriculum.

Applicants must meet all Central Methodist admission requirements first including submitting high school and college transcripts, and also provide ACT or TEAS scores, have a minimum 2.75 GPA, current CPR certification, complete general education courses, and have a minimum B-average in science courses. In 2019, tuition cost for students was $24,300 plus additional fees.

Eastern Virginia Career College Fredericksburg, VA Private, For-Profit N/A 1 52%

Once a student has satisfied all general education requirements, they become eligible to enter the 12-month OTA Associate of Applied Science degree program at Eastern Virginia Career College. Rolling admissions allow students to get started right away; this occupation-based curriculum aims to get graduates into the workforce as soon as possible. Graduation rates from the program have hovered around 90% for the last several years, and in 2017 the graduate employment rate was 100%.

The core program requires 76 credits of study, which breaks down into 375 hours of lectures, 450 hours of labs and 753 hours of fieldwork. In addition to the fieldwork (which is broken down into two modules), students will also complete a seminar that provides a glimpse of what to expect from working in the field. For the 2019-2020 year, tuition costs for the total program ran $30,800, not including any prerequisite courses that might be required for admission. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

Green River College Auburn, WA Public $$$$ 1 25%

Green River College offers the Occupational Therapy Assistant AAS, a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), in both full-time and part-time tracks. The full-time track is a day program that must be completed on campus; the part-time program is a hybrid offered to those who reside in Washington State. The traditional, full-time track requires seven quarters of study, while the hybrid tracks requires nine quarters. For both, the final two quarters are reserved for supervised fieldwork.

This program is known for one-on-one advising, expert faculty who continue to practice, strong curriculum design, and a high rate of employment among graduates. Applicants who have related work experience are preferred; those who do not are required to complete job shadowing to prepare them for the rigors of the profession. Those who graduated in 2016 and 2017 enjoyed a 100% pass rate on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification examination.

In 2019, the cost of the OTA program was $3,101 in addition to Green River tuition, which is $10,350 per academic year.

Harcum College Bryn Mawr, PA Private, Not-for-Profit $$$$ 1 84%

Students in the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at Harcum College can choose between full-time and part-time tracks. The full-time track consists of classes one day per week, followed by online assignments and core educational courses on weekdays, evenings, or online. The part-time track is available if core requirements have been met elsewhere, and consists of the same type of schedule as the full-time option. Even those who choose to take all courses on campus find that they must participate in four mandatory online Professional Seminar classes. Each semester requires four days of observation at clinical sites, with the last semester dedicated to two eight-week, full-time clinical placements.

Admission requirements include a 2.5 GPA in all previous coursework, scoring at least 900 on the SAT and completing high school biology courses with a “C” or better. Students must take placement exams in English, math and reading and complete any required developmental coursework before enrollment in the OTA program. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). In 2019, tuition was $995 per credit for the OTA program, plus the cost of books and fees.

Ozarks Technical Community College Springfield, MO Public $$$$ 1 64%

The OTA associate degree program at Ozarks Technical Community College is offered in a full-time, hybrid format. Students take the majority of lecture coursework online, but face-to-face requirements comprise more than half of the total credit hours. On-campus requirements include lab sessions, tests, community service projects and more. The school states that students should expect to be on campus a minimum of 3 to 5 days, every other week. Students who reside outside of the Springfield area or in other states are still able to complete clinical requirements by talking to the school’s Academic Fieldwork Coordinator.

Admissions requirements include completion of seven perquisite courses with a 2.5 or higher GPA. These course requirements can be waived through previously-completed coursework, though exceptions apply. Students must also provide references, write an admissions essay, and attend an interview. As of June 2019, OTCC estimates the cost for the entire degree program, including fees, to be $18,002 for in-district students while out-of-district students can expect to pay a grand total of $22,214. A full breakdown of tuition costs by course and fee is provided on OTCC’s website.

Roane State Community College Harriman, TN Public $$$$ 1 80%

The Occupational Therapy Assistant Associate of Applied Science program at Roane State Community College requires three semesters of academic study followed by one semester of hands-on fieldwork. Students can expect to take online and hybrid courses as well as complete face-to-face labs; these labs happen one day each week at the Oak Ridge campus location. When fieldwork begins, the school works with the student to find a suitable location close to them geographically, thus helping ensure a more satisfactory experience; however, the practice setting must have a Clinical Affiliation Agreement in place with the school in order to accept fieldwork students. All students must complete their fieldwork within 18 months of completing the academic requirements in order to graduate.

Each cohort begins in the fall semester; therefore, applications are due by March 31 of each year prior to the fall semester in which a student wants to enter. Admission requirements include meeting a minimum GPA, and completing certain math and science courses prior to acceptance. Tuition and fees for one credit hour for in-state residents were $207 in 2019, while out-of-state residents paid $719 per credit hour. In addition, eCampus courses had a fee of $66 per credit hour in 2019.

South Texas College McAllen, TX Public $$$$ 1 41%

The two-year Occupational Therapy Assistant program at South Texas College prepares students to obtain their licensure in the state, which will then allow them work under the supervision of occupational therapists. The program has seen a good measure of success in preparing graduates; from 2015 to 2017, 100% of first-time test-takers passed the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and earned their state licensure.

Before students can enter the program, they must complete prerequisites in subjects such as humanities and anatomy and physiology, as well as complete the online course for Principles of Occupational Therapy. Once a student is admitted, the program offers only the full-time option with daytime classes. Admission is based on several factors but includes the completion of at least 25 volunteer hours each in pediatric and adult client settings and earning a minimum 3.0 on a 4.0 scale in all prerequisite classwork.

Tuition and fees at South Texas College depend on the amount of credit hours taken, as well as a student’s residency. Students in the OTA program pay an additional $55 per credit hour on top of regular tuition rates.

Springfield Technical Community College Springfield, MA Public $$$$ 1 61%

Aspiring OTAs can devote two years to their education and receive the Associate in Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree, which prepares them to sit for the National Certification Examination. Graduates are well-prepared for the rigors of working in occupational therapy after completing a strong curriculum that includes a summer session, numerous lab requirements, and a final semester of two practicums and a seminar.

For admission, students must have taken certain prerequisite courses, such as those in math, biology and English. They are also be required to submit transcripts, write an essay, score around 450 minimum on each section of the SAT and complete all steps in the admissions checklist. This highly competitive program begins only in the fall. All OTA courses are web-assisted or hybrid, which means students must be prepared to come to a physical classroom if necessary, but much work can be completed elsewhere if they so choose. Tuition and fees and Springfield depend on the amount of credits taken per semester, as well as student residency.

Know Your Options: OTA Educational Paths

In order to begin their occupational therapy assistant career, people need to complete an associate degree. However, that doesn’t mean every program out there is going to meet their needs. In order to prepare prospective OTAs to make the right choice, this section discusses the qualities that students should consider when looking for a school to attend.

What to Look for in an Online OTA Program

Every student searches for an 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.

  • Accreditation
    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 a 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 Occupational Therapy Assistant Online 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 degree levels of OTA 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 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 programs may be reluctant to enroll in an online school 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

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

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

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

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

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

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 occupational therapy assistant program online. 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.

  • Tuition
    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
    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.
  • Scholarships
    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.
  • 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.