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Downloadable PDF: FAQs about the MSOT Program

The division is committed to ensuring a high quality professional education with small classes, group work, and close faculty supervision for special projects. The resources for teaching and classroom space provided by the University determine the size of our program. Each year we process many more applications than we are able to accept; over the last four years we reviewed an average of 225 applications per year. Typically the Division admits a cohort of 22-24 students in each class, and unfortunately, we are not able to admit all qualified applicants due to lack of space. You should review the description of the accepted UNC student to better understand the characteristics of the successful applicant. Applying to more than one entry-level program is recommended to improve your chances of reaching your career goals.

Yes, the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy reviews all completed applications. We recognize individual differences and consider a range of factors including grades, work or volunteer and personal experiences, recommendations from supervisors, and knowledge about occupational therapy. However, competitive applicants must demonstrate academic potential to integrate the curriculum information at a graduate level as well as the potential to successfully practice as an OT. Therefore, those who have undergraduate GPAs of less than 3.0 will need to submit a very strong application in all other areas in order to be considered competitive.

We encourage applications from all qualified individuals. Review the characteristics of students who were admitted last year and reflect on your experience and academic history. Strong out-of-state students, especially those who can contribute to class diversity, will be considered equally for admission.

Occupation has been defined in a number of different ways. At UNC we discuss and study the activities of everyday life that are valued by and given meaning by sociocultural groups of people. These activities can include what people do to look after themselves and others, pursue because doing the activity is interesting or enjoyable, or find meaningful as the activity contributes to their families and communities. Our students learn to focus on the “occupation within occupational therapy,” that is, the therapeutic use of everyday activities, habits, and routines for the purpose of enhancing people’s functional capacities, health, development, and felt experiences of well being and participation in life.

One thing to do is read about both Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy and the Journal of Occupational Science should be available to you through direct access or inter-library loan at most academic libraries. We also recommend reading articles written by our faculty (see Faculty pages for names) We think that finding a graduate program that suits your needs is a very important decision and welcome visits from interested applicants at our periodic information sessions. You can also arrange to visit a class (during the academic year).

UNC’s program in occupational therapy is designed to prepare graduates for Occupational Therapy practice as a “generalist.” That is, our graduates are prepared to work in a variety of settings such as day care centers, schools, hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, home health agencies, mental health practice, community settings, and nursing homes, to name a few. We expect our graduates will be called on to work with people of different ages and with varied social and cultural backgrounds. It is also important that graduates leave with clinical and analytical reasoning skills that an OT generalist can use to address new conditions and develop original programs for people who can benefit from occupational therapy. Part of this preparation for both current and future practice can include some greater depth of knowledge one can acquire through focused study and practice. Therefore, opportunities are present for students to develop some additional knowledge and skills in area of interest while in the program, but these are not considered “specializations.” Curriculum opportunities to create a special focus include:

  • Class projects and papers
  • Final research paper
  • The second Level II (12 week) Fieldwork
  • Training grants when available

We believe that graduates who possess the attitudes and abilities for inquiry will adopt clinical methods that are based on evidence (i.e., engage in evidence-based practices) and be positioned to develop innovations in practice.  Activities that support learning to read and synthesize the occupational therapy literature are embedded in all courses. In addition to a course on research methods, all students complete a research project under the guidance of a faculty member, in a group-based mentoring context. A master thesis is not required but remains an option for strong students who wish to further their skills in research.

Fieldwork (FW) experiences are developmentally sequenced and integrated throughout the program. There are two levels of experience. FW I is for direct observation and participation in occupational therapy services as well as in community service projects where there is not always an on-site. These range from half day to weeklong experiences. FW II offers an in-depth experience over eight-12 consecutive weeks. FW II experiences are designed to promote competence and independence in clinical reasoning, therapeutic practices and professionalism at the level of a therapist entering the profession. Students complete all FWI and FWII requirements within the timeframe established by the program. For more information, see “MS Curriculum” under the “MS Program” links on the Division website.

The FW coordinator screens and selects fieldwork sites to ensure students have opportunities for experiences that develop clinical skills consistent with the philosophy of the program. Currently, the Occupational Therapy program has affiliations with over 150 sites across the country. The FW coordinator is responsible for securing reservations at these sites and for assigning students to the sites. When possible, the FW coordinator considers the student’s input on assignments, but the primary consideration is given to the quality of the educational experience during FW. The FW coordinator has the final authority to assign a student to a FW placement.

There is no guarantee that any student will be assigned to a local site for FW. Students may have to relocate for some FW I and FW II experiences. Priority for local sites is given to students who are primary caregivers for people.

There are opportunities to do all or a part of Level II Fieldwork in international settings, but these are limited, and change somewhat from year to year, depending on a variety of factors. Once in the OT program, students can explore the possibility of international fieldwork with the Fieldwork Coordinator, but students should not assume such opportunities will be available every year.

Students should budget for the extra cost of travel and living arrangements for fieldwork. Historically, Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) have provided some housing and transportation financial assistance for FW students at North Carolina clinical sites. The support includes partial reimbursement for mileage and a housing stipend for students who relocate within the state for their FW experiences.

All professional programs that offer entry into the practice of occupational therapy are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Our current program emphasizes a 2-year preparation to practice innovative occupational therapy in both traditional and emerging settings. A professional doctorate is a relatively new degree in occupational therapy and, like a doctorate in clinical psychology, dentistry, physical therapy, or pharmacy, should take 3 to 4 years after the bachelor’s degree to complete. Entry-level OTD programs are designed to include additional (beyond 2 years) academic preparation for practice, including an extended clinical internship and focused individual capstone project. There currently is no outcome data that indicates that those with an entry-level OTD have greater job or salary opportunities than do those with an entry-level master’s degree. Also see our question and answer regarding the difference between an OTD and a Ph.D.

*The UNC-CH Occupational Therapy Program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD, 20852-4929; phone (301) 652-6611; email

A professional master’s program like the one at UNC-CH is an entry-level degree program. A post-professional masters program is designed to enable an OT to acquire an advanced degree in the field – often in a specialty or sub-specialty area.

As the title suggests, an OTD offers preparation for clinical practice with additional emphasis on becoming a consumer of research evidence and program development. Like becoming a DrPH (Doctor of Pharmacy) or DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy), an OTD is a clinical degree. A person who wishes to have an academic or research career in occupational therapy or occupational science should pursue a PhD research degrees that prepare an individual for academic and research leadership positions take five to six years to complete after a baccalaureate degree (approximately four years post master’s degree).

We anticipate that students are making a full-time commitment to their graduate work. At the same time, many of our students have been able to find the right job and balance their studies with part-time employment. During the academic year, you will take up to 15 credits a semester and will meet at various times during the day, five days a week. Some of the courses will require extra hours for lab work, group meetings, and community activities. In addition, some courses have full day clinical and community assignments (See our question and answer about fieldwork experiences). Thus, if you have to work a few hours a week, you will want to look for a job with flexible hours. During your level II Fieldwork, you will be “on the job” 40 hours a week. In addition, because everything is so new, many people find that they have to prepare the night before for the next day of FW II, or work some on weekends to keep their progress notes and clinical reports up to date. As a result, we advise you not to plan to work while on Level II FW.

The Professional School Tuition is a supplemental tuition that has been instituted for the graduate professional degree programs in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, including the MS program in Occupational Therapy. The supplemental tuition is in addition to the UNC-CH tuition and fees. Over the past several years, our costs for delivering the occupational therapy program have increased significantly, as a factor of both general cost-of-living increases and specific costs associated with new requirements for graduate-level professional education. Twenty-five percent of these tuition revenues will be used to fund Division administered financial aid for North Carolina residents and students from under-represented minority groups, who are qualified for admission, but who are unable to afford the costs of the program. In addition, the revenues will allow us to enhance instructional resources including state of the art equipment in our teaching labs and funding teaching assistants. The supplemental tuition will be included as part of the cost of attendance for calculating financial aid packages by the Office of Student Aid.

The student is eligible to apply to take the National Certification Examination once all program requirements have been met. Students will have to prove eligibility for graduation (all curriculum requirements including FW are completed with passing grades) before sitting for the certification exam. When you apply to take the certification examination with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), you will be asked to answer questions related to the topic of felony convictions. . Applicants should be aware that a felony conviction may affect a graduate’s eligibility to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or to attain state licensure. We suggest that applicants contact the NBCOT with any questions about their background that could impact eligibility for professional credentialing. For a fee the Qualification Review Committee can be asked to review the background of a potential program applicant or student prior to their eligibility to apply for the certification examination. For further information on potential limitations, or early determination, you can contact the NBCOT at:
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy
800 S. Frederick Avenue, Suite 200
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877-4150
Telephone: (301) 990-7979