With more than 46,000 occupational therapy students applying to master’s and doctoral programs each year, and only 8,000 students receiving admissions letters, there’s no hiding that OT school is competitive. Between working toward an impressive application and cramming in as many extracurriculars as possible, preparing for your admissions interview may seem low on your list. But your admissions interview is your time to make a personal impact on the panel that decides your admissions fate. It’s your chance to shine beyond your GPA and test scores and show your future teachers, peers, and possible employers that you were meant to be an amazing OT.
Yet for most, it’s not as simple as just showing up and shaking hands. To really stand out, you need all the preparation and practice you can get. From understanding the set up and making a good first impression, to nailing every question they ask and leaving a lasting impression, learn how you can ace your OT school admissions interview.
Your OT School Interview 101: Essentials for Success
Getting to grips with the nuts and bolts of the interview process can set you up for success and help you feel more comfortable. Interviews look different at each school, but these tips can ensure you thrive in any environment.
Know the Interview Format
It’s important to remember that not all interviews are created equally. Depending on the specific school, the people who interview you, and how many sit in on the interview, your experience can be vastly different from one interview to the next.
Oftentimes schools rely on faculty members, current students, program alumni, and admissions counselors to conduct these interviews. Some may take place in a one-to-one format while others may include a panel. Some interviewers may have previously read your application while others may be coming to you with no background information. If the school doesn’t volunteer details on the format beforehand, it’s best that you prepare for every eventuality.
Showcase Your Personality
Throughout this process, interviewers speak to a lot of prospective students. At some point, it’s natural that candidates start to blend together – especially those who do nothing to set themselves apart from the competition. When crafting your interview game plan, remember that your personal experiences and attributes are unique to you. Ensuring the panel has a real sense of who you are, why you want to attend, and how you plan to use your degree in specific ways can go a long way.
Showcasing your personality also means being aware of how you present yourself. Professional yet open body language, appropriate gestures, and thoughtful responses all help give interviewers a more thorough understanding of who you are as a candidate.
Study Your School
Just like in a job interview, it’s important that you do your research. Interviewers like to hear that you’ve taken the time to get to know the unique qualities of an individual program – just as they are getting to know the unique qualities of you.
Spend time on both the university and program website. Develop a firm understanding within yourself of why you like that particular program, what specific aspects appeal to you, and why you want to attend. If you see something that interests you but needs further clarification, use the Q&A portion at the end of the interview to learn more.
Getting Familiar with the Question Categories
Interviewers usually ask a series of questions designed to help them better understand who you are, what drives you, and what you can bring to the program – both during your time of enrollment and as an alumnus. Below are a few of the most common questions categories for you to become familiar with.
5 Ways to Impress the Panel
Admissions panels can interact with hundreds of candidates during a traditional intake cycle, making it important that you find ways to stand out in their memories. Here we look at a few ways you can put your best foot forward during your OT school interview.
Ask unique, insightful questions
There are some questions that admissions panels have likely answered thousands of times. What do you think I should know? Is there anything else I can do to show my interest? And so on. While these questions are well and good, they do not take any effort. Asking truly insightful questions requires you to conduct deep research into the school, its occupational therapy program, the faculty members, and the type of students it attracts. Spend your time doing this and jot down points of interest as you go along. From there, craft two or three unique questions.
Highlight significant turning points
These don’t have to be life-altering international trips or near-death experiences, but rather moments in your life that helped you better understand the person you want to be. Think about times that shaped your life and how you see the world: was it a volunteer job collecting non-perishable food for the homeless? An after-school job in a multicultural neighborhood? Even these simple, humble moments can change your perspectives and the admissions panel wants to hear about them.
Don’t do things for appearance
While it may be tempting to join six student clubs and spend all your free time volunteering so you can put it on your college application, don’t do these things if they don’t represent your true interests and passions. If you would rather spend a few years working with one or two clubs/organizations in a deeper way, do that. If you thrive on being busy and like to work on a lot of different topics, do that. Whatever you decide, remember that admissions panels can see straight through appearances and attempts to impress.
Be nice to everyone
Did you know that all your communications with the entire admissions department is tracked from start to finish? How you treat the student who gives you a tour or the admissions assistant who helps process your application matters. They may not bring it up in your interview, but your behavior will certainly influence how they see you as a candidate and whether they choose to offer you a spot. Be sure to thank everyone for their time, assume they are doing their best, and don’t get flustered if something goes wrong.
Rather than focusing all your efforts on learning everything you can about a school/program or impressing the admissions panel with your knowledge, take time to think about what you bring to the table. How will you contribute to the departmental ethos and mission as both a student and alumnus? What would you like your lasting contribution to be to the school or the occupational therapy profession? Where would you like to see yourself five years after graduation? Admissions panels are impressed by students who think into the future rather than focus only on getting into a program.
Insight from the Expert
Keena Hoyle has been a licensed Occupational Therapist for 20 years. She is a graduate of Chicago State University’s Occupational Therapy program and also holds a B.S in Allied Health. She has worked in hospitals, skilled nursing, home health, and school settings but her specialty is in pediatric therapy. She has held a contract with the School City of East Chicago for the past 11 years. She recently began working to create a new subfield within occupational therapy focused on professional sports. She established her company, Off Season, in 2019 to provide therapies, mental health, financial, educational, and personal care services to professional athletes and their family.
1. Why are occupational therapy programs notoriously competitive and what can applicants do to stand out?
OT programs are notoriously competitive due to the size of the programs and the two-year time span one has to not only learn but master a tremendous number of skills. Most programs usually admit 40-50 students a semester, so they want to ensure that as many will not only complete the program but also be able to pass the national board examination.
Occupational therapy uses a holistic approach which means we don’t break up a person or specialize in one area as most think; we only work on fine motor skills.
Occupational Therapy programs are looking for people that can learn critical thinking as this is one of the main skills taught and it drives the profession. The occupational therapy national board examination that one must pass in order to become a licensed occupational therapist is extremely difficult. Examinees must choose the best answer as two answers are correct, but one answer is better than the other. This is where the critical thinking comes into play.
2. What are some of the biggest mistakes potential students can make during this process?
One of the biggest mistakes some individuals may make is not taking every step of the application process extremely seriously. Everything you submit, every observable thing is being observed from the moment you begin applying. Admission coordinators will look at where you chose to do your volunteer services and the evaluation from that entity. They will observe how you performed while participating during group sessions with others applying for the program. Everything you do is being observed including when you turn in your application; did you turn your application packet in well ahead of the deadline date or close to deadline, was it neat, free of spelling errors etc.
Another mistake commonly made is not being prepared to fully articulate during the personal interview what the profession of occupational therapy truly is or why you even want to be an occupational therapist.
3. What are some things these learners may not know about how the admissions panel decides who gets a letter of acceptance and who doesn’t?
When it comes to the admission process, the occupational therapy program will give you a rubric for how the scoring goes. Most of the criteria is objective such as minimum GPA and the minimum number of volunteer hours. The subjective part is where the applicant should pay close attention. Examples include the personal interview and the group activity that one usually has to participate in with all the other applicants.
All volunteer work is not looked at equally. One applicant may have volunteered at two or more places that use different models such as medical, school, and community and another applicant may have volunteered at a skilled workshop. Applicants’ letters of recommendation should come from those that can create a very vivid narrative of who they are as a person, their communication skills, and interpersonal skills.
4. What advice do you have for these students?
Some advice I would give anyone applying to an occupational therapy program is to contact a current student in that particular program and ask them about the process. You should also always be an active listener and active participant when in the presence of members of the occupational therapy program that you are applying to.
- Best Answers to the 11 Most Difficult Interview Questions
The American Occupational Therapy Association shares advice on how to give the types of answers interview panels look for when deciding which candidates to admit.
- Graduate Program Interview Questions
Designed to support undergraduates preparing for grad school interviews, Wittenberg Interview offers up some common questions you may encounter.
- Graduate School Pre-Interview Guide and Worksheet
Rochester University put together this comprehensive list of questions along with advice on how to feel prepared.
- Having a Great OT Interview
Gotta Be OT provides tips for before, during, and after your admissions interview for an OT program.
- How to Prepare for OT Grad School Interview
This nearly 30-minute YouTube video goes over the ins and outs of the interview process for OT school.
- How to Stand Out in Your OT School Interview
Check out these actionable tips and ideas provided by HolisticStudent.com of what to do on the big interview day.
- OT Podcasts
Plenty of podcasts exist that talk about OT topics, including the admissions interview process.
- OT School Interview Questions & Prep Tips
MyOTSpot offers these helpful questions and tips to help you ace the interview process and feel confident along the way.
- /r/occupational therapy
The Reddit OT community is a great place for asking questions to others who have gone through the interview process and getting advice.