Want To Grow Your Career from OTA to OT? Here’s How!

April 3, 2023


Megan Bebout


Are you a certified occupational therapy assistant, also known as a COTA or OTA, looking to take your career to the next level? Consider becoming an occupational therapist (OT)! Becoming an OT will allow you to advance your profession and have greater autonomy in providing patient care.


How To Grow Your Career from Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant to Occupational Therapist


While “assistant” may be in the title, certified occupational therapy assistants are much more than that to occupational therapists. If you’re into helping, connecting with others, and implementing personalized treatment plans, a career as an occupational therapy assistant may be the perfect fit. On the other hand, if you want more hands-on action and face time with patients, a career as an OT may be what you’re looking for. To figure out which occupational therapy profession floats your boat, consider the differences between an OTA vs OT.

OTA vs OT round one: educational requirements

The biggest thing that sets an OTA apart from an OT is the level of education. While an occupational therapy assistant program consists of only a two-year associate degree in occupational therapy, OTs need a master of occupational therapy degree at the minimum. Interested in going from an OTA to OT? Here’s what you’ve got to do.

Complete an advanced degree

First things first, you’ll need to advance your occupational therapy education to become an OT. That means that you’ll have to go back to school to earn your bachelor’s degree if you don't already have one, and then work your way up to at least a master of occupational therapy degree. If you’re feeling super spicy, you can go on to get your doctorate.

Depending on what level of education you land on, you’ll be back in school for at least another six to eight years. On the bright side, some of your completed occupational therapy assistant courses and prerequisites credit hours may be carried over to your occupational therapy program. Check with your alma mater to get a better idea which credits apply to your advanced degree.

Research OTA to OT bridge programs

To help ease the transition from OTA to OT, you can enroll in an occupational therapy bridge program, also known as an OTA to OT bridge program. A bridge program helps streamline the education process so you can earn your master of occupational therapy degree even faster. Most OTA to OT bridge programs can be completed in two to three years and consist of a healthy combination of in-classroom, online, and fieldwork learning. Currently, you can find an OTA to OT bridge program accredited by the national board in these states:

🌍 Florida

🌍 Georgia

🌍 Louisiana

🌍 Massachusetts

🌍 New York

🌍 North Carolina

🌍 Ohio

🌍 Rhode Island

🌍 Tennessee

🌍 Texas

🌍 Wisconsin

Get your OT license

Before you can officially work your magic as an almighty and powerful occupational therapist, you have to attain state licensure. The way to do that is by taking the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Exam after completing your occupational therapy program. Check out these study tips to pass the test with flying colors.

After you’ve taken the NBCOT examination and received a passing grade, submit your results to your state licensure board, along with official transcripts from your university, an application fee, and the results of a background check. Now that you’re licensed, you can start living your best life as an occupational therapist. Pro tip: get your occupational therapy compact license so you can practice your OT skills in multiple states under one license.

Like what you’re reading? You may also like: 10 Most Asked Questions About Travel Therapy with Alyssa Peters, OT

OTA vs OT round two: job responsibilities

Just like different kinds of nurses have different responsibilities, so do OTAs vs OTs. When it comes to being a certified occupational therapy assistant, you’ll largely work under the supervision of an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy assistants follow an occupational therapist administered patient treatment plan, execute treatments, and keep daily logs of patient sessions.

You take on more responsibility when you grow your career from OTA to OT. Registered occupational therapists complete patient assessments, develop an individualized treatment plan based on a patient’s needs, track patient progress, finalize discharge evaluations, and offer treatment to patients as part of the occupational therapy process.

“I would recommend OT because the possibilities are endless,” said Fusion OT traveler Alyssa. “You can work in any state in more settings than you can think of! Every day is truly its own adventure. There is no better feeling than watching someone progress toward functional outcomes using everyday occupations as therapeutic interventions. And it can be fun! I try to balance work and play; there are sessions where we strictly work on morning routines and some days where we dance, cook, and decorate the gym for the holidays.”


OTA vs OT round three: benefits of being an occupational therapy professional


You already know the major perk of being an occupational therapy professional: making a positive impact in the lives of others, obviously. When comparing the two paths, there are several overlapping benefits, like:

✨ A range of job opportunities for both certified occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapists (spoiler alert: employment for OTAs is expected to grow 25% between 2021 and 2031 and employment for OTs is projected to grow 14% between the same time according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

✨ Starting a journey as a traveling occupational therapy professional

✨ The undeniable satisfaction of helping others

More exclusive benefits to being an OTA are:

✨ A variety of opportunities to advance your career

✨ Less time in school (aka less student loans to manage)

Occupational therapists have their own perks, including:

✨ More money

✨ The chance to work your way up the professional food chain to management positions and leadership roles

✨ The ability to inspire and lead OTAs, as well as other staff

Remember that both types of occupational therapy professionals play a large role in the grand scheme of things. When it comes down to it, there’s no ~right~ path to take — it all depends on what’s right for you and your professional career.

Explore a travel occupational therapy career

So, what’s it going to be: OTA or OT? No matter what, you’re signing up for a meaningful career path that gives you a front-row seat to changing the lives of others. And that’s pretty cool, if you ask us.

But what if we told you that you could take your occupational therapy career further by traveling? You can make even more money — and an even bigger impact — by becoming a traveling OT. The best part? There’s no waiting period after graduation to start your travel journey; you can start traveling right away!

And even better, when you travel with Fusion Medical Staffing, you get all kinds of perks, like access to travel therapy mentors. Through Fusion Medical Staffing’s mentorship program, you can learn the ropes from an experienced therapy traveler and receive extra support during the transition.

Frequently asked questions 

What are the specific educational requirements for obtaining a master of occupational therapy degree? Are there any alternative paths for those with a two-year associate degree in occupational therapy to become occupational therapists?

The specific educational requirements for obtaining a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree may vary depending on the program and country. However, there are some common prerequisites and steps involved in pursuing a master's degree in occupational therapy.

Most MOT programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. While some programs may have specific undergraduate majors they prefer, many accept applicants from various backgrounds. Certain prerequisite courses in areas such as biology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, and sociology are often required. These courses ensure that students have a foundational understanding of the relevant sciences and social sciences. Many programs also require applicants to have a certain number of hours of observation or volunteer experience in occupational therapy settings. This allows applicants to gain insight into the profession and demonstrate their commitment.

Some programs may require the GRE as part of the application process. Scores from this standardized test may be considered in the admissions decision. Applicants typically need to submit letters of recommendation from academic and/or professional sources to vouch for their qualifications and potential as occupational therapy students. A personal statement or essay is often required, providing applicants with an opportunity to articulate their reasons for pursuing a career in occupational therapy and their goals.

How does the process of transitioning from a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) to an occupational therapist (OT) vary in different states? Are there additional state-specific requirements or considerations?

Transitioning from a COTA to an OT involves a process that varies across states in the United States. While the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) provides general steps, individual states may impose additional requirements. Generally, transitioning requires obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy from an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)-accredited program, fulfilling state-specific prerequisite courses, completing supervised fieldwork, passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam, and submitting a comprehensive application to the state licensing board.

In addition to the national guidelines, each state may have its own nuances, such as specific exams or documentation, and it is crucial to be aware of these state-specific requirements. Furthermore, maintaining and renewing an OT license often involves engaging in continuing education, aligning with state-specific mandates. For the most accurate and current information, individuals are advised to directly contact the state occupational therapy licensing board in the state where they intend to practice.


As a traveling OT, you can offer personalized care to patients across the country. And as a Fusion Medical Staffing traveler, you can do so knowing you’re taken care of, too. So, what are you waiting for? Start your traveling OT career today!

Search for travel OT jobs

OTAs and OTs are the backbone to an occupational therapy division. While these professions may have different education requirements, licensing and certifications, and job responsibilities, both are instrumental to patient healthcare. Whether you’re an OTA or an OT, you can advance your career to the next level by traveling with Fusion Medical Staffing — give us a shout.