This can be a “controversial” topic but I want to discuss the facts about masters or doctorate programs so future OT students can make an informed decision for themselves. No program is better than another. Also I want to clarify that I have not researched EVERY single program, but these are my findings in the programs I have researched!
“The Association require entry level education at the master’s or doctoral level for occupational therapists. ” -AOTA
The American Occupational Therapy Association currently allows professionals with either a master’s or a doctorate degree in occupational therapy to be entry level occupational therapists.
Master’s of Occupational Therapy (MSOT or MOT): Typically a two year long program. (However it can vary from 24-36 months.*) Master’s programs usually have didactic courses for instruction, then students finish level two fieldwork before graduation.
Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD): Typically a three year program, can vary from 33 to 36+ months.* Usually there are didactic courses, fieldwork, then the final year with a capstone, research project, or residency (depending on the program) before graduation.
*This is typically full time. Some programs may have options for part-time instruction.*
$$$: Money is a HUGE deciding factor. When it comes to tuition, Master’s programs are cheaper than doctoral programs due to having an extra year. If a doctorate is an end goal for you, an OTD may be a preferable option because it will be cheaper than returning to school later on. (However you may be more financially stable when you are a practicing OT.) If getting your clinical OT experience is your end-goal then a Master’s would be the most economic option.
If we are talking about pay, many people report the pay is similar. However, some OTs report pay can be higher for those with an OTD degree in organizations where the pay scale is based on education, i.e: school system.
Course Curriculum: Most (if not all) programs have a set curriculum all OT students will follow. However, due to the extra year, many OTD programs offer optional courses you can take to increase your studies in certain specialities such as upper extremities, neuroscience, etc.
Research: Most, if not all, programs have professors who are involved in research and publications. In fact, many programs involve students in research and may have a research project to work on. However, doctorate programs put more of an emphasis on research in the third year for your capstone/research project.
End-Goal: Again, either program prepares you to be an entry-level occupational therapist. If this is your only priority then a Master’s degree is most likely the way to go. If being involved in education or research is equally or more important to you, then the OTD is probably the choice for you.
I personally know the decision to choose between a Master’s or a Doctorate is a difficult one. I was confident I was attending a MSOT program until April! I applied to three Master’s programs and only one doctorate. Last minute I changed my mind and decided to take the leap and attend the doctorate program.
This is a personal decision. If you’re a future student do your research and see which one is better for you! Seeing what each individual school is focused on can help you make this important decision.
Thanks for reading!