While every accredited occupational therapy program meets the same accreditation standards, each program is unique in its mission, vision and curriculum design. The UNC program emphasizes occupational science as the underlying academic discipline supporting occupational therapy practice. From that base, we educate students to ground their practice in a solid understanding of occupation, humans as occupational beings and the use of occupation as a medium of change. We strive to prepare occupational therapists who will approach their clinical practice from a scholarly perspective and deal with change and innovation from an evidence base.
The unique emphasis of our program means that we are looking for students who will thrive in a rigorous academic environment, carry that scholarly approach into their clinical practice and take on the challenge of helping to shape occupation-centered practice in traditional and emerging practice areas. We are looking for applicants who already demonstrate commitment to learning, scholarship, and human service and who are open to change within occupational therapy.
It may be helpful for you to know something about former students who were admitted to our program. Generally, we look for applicants with a blend of academic ability, experience working with people, and an understanding of occupational therapy. As with any health care field, multi-cultural experience is a prerequisite to being an effective practitioner. The admissions committee reviews all of the completed applications and attempts to ensure class diversity when possible.
Undergraduate Degrees & Academic Preparedness
Our successful applicants have undergraduate degrees in many different fields including psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, exercise science and education. Academically, the average GPA is typically about 3.6, and GRE scores are typically around the 60th percentile for the quantitative section and the 77th percentile for the verbal section. GRE writing scores are generally 4 or higher. Some of our admitted applicants are still completing their undergraduate degrees during the application process and start their Graduate Studies shortly after their graduation. Other applicants have worked for two or more years and complete any prerequisites that were not part of their undergraduate degree before entering Graduate School in the fall. In each class, there usually are one or more students with partners and children who successfully balance academics with family obligations.
Experiences in Occupational Therapy
We do not require a specific quantity of volunteer experience in occupational therapy but do value applicants who have thoroughly investigated the profession and the variety of ways occupational therapists work with people.
In developing a solid understanding of practice, witnessing a variety of settings is perhaps more important than the number of hours. Most of our accepted applicants demonstrate this by observing occupational therapy as it is provided for people of a variety of ages and with a range of problems (developmental, psychosocial, and physical disabilities) and in a variety of practice settings including medical models of practice, educational models and community-based programs.
Our most successful applicants move beyond traditional hospital based settings to visit therapists who provide services in the schools, communities or the person's home. The typical accepted applicant over the years 2004-2014 had visited an average of 4-6 different types of sites, spending significant amounts of time (40+ hours) in 1 or 2 and observing for multiple hours in the others.
Experiences with Diversity
The ability to enthusiastically work with people from a variety of different walks of life is essential for effective occupational therapy. Our admitted applicants' backgrounds have differed from the people they've worked with in a variety of ways. These differences included working with people who had disabilities, individuals of different ages or people of varied cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds.
Among our admitted applicants, all have spent a significant amount of time working with people who were different from themselves. The time spent working with people outside of an occupational therapy setting varies from a couple of weeks up to years of experience.
There are a number of ways admitted applicants acquired experiences with diversity. For example:
- Some were employed as life skills trainers, mental health aids or teacher's aids.
- Successful applicants who did not have experience with diversity in the workplace typically had volunteer experience such as working as camp counselors, attendants in shelters for the homeless, or assistants for special activities in nursing homes.
- Other applicants had first-hand experience from living in a culture that was different from their own or are members of a minority group themselves.
- Some successful applicants also found these experiences closer to home as the primary caregiver for a family member with a disability.
In addition to their experiences, all of our admitted students are able to communicate their knowledge of occupational therapy in a scholarly manner and demonstrate an appreciation for the philosophy behind the profession in their application essays. Successful applicants are also able to write reflectively and analytically about their experiences in learning an occupation and about their experiences with diversity.
As you can see, the admissions committee considers a wide variety of factors in making its final recommendations to the Graduate School. Most of our successful applicants take months to prepare their application.
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