Occupational Therapy Program Accreditation: What Prospective Applicants Need to Know

The need for occupational therapists is on the rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the field of occupational therapy will grow 27 percent between 2014 and 2024.The promising job market combined with a median annual salary of around $80,000 make the field of occupational therapy attractive to many individuals interested in applying to graduate school.

Colleges and universities have stepped up to meet the demand for occupational therapy practitioners by developing new programs. However, before graduates can sit for the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Exam, programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

Process Leading to Accreditation

Schools seeking ACOTE accreditation must go through a lengthy process which can take upwards of four years to complete. Before admitting their first cohort of students, occupational therapy programs must obtain Candidacy Status. This status is granted by ACOTE after a thorough review of a program’s Candidacy Application, which includes a detailed description of how the program will meet ACOTE’s established educational standards. ACOTE requires programs to obtain Candidacy Status prior to the admission of their first class as a safeguard to protect students from the consequences associated with denied accreditation. Fortunately, the American Occupational Therapy Association estimates that the number of programs denied accreditation is low.

If ACOTE approves the school’s Candidacy Application, it is granted Preaccreditation Status. This status is granted after ACOTE has reviewed an Initial Report of Self-Study and determined that the school will be able to fully implement the program in accordance with the ACOTE educational standards. This status is often granted after students have been accepted to the program and completed some coursework.

After Preaccreditation Status is granted, ACOTE performs a site visit to determine whether or not the program is delivering what they outlined in their Initial Report of Self-Study. During the site visit, members of ACOTE review documents, tour facilities, and interview faculty, students, fieldwork supervisors, and administrators. It is only after a site visit that a program receives notification of accreditation. Accreditation must be granted before students from the program sit for the NBCOT exam. Often this notice comes shortly before students are scheduled to graduate.

For more information about the ACOTE Accreditation Process go to: https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/EducationCareers/Accredit/Policies/1stOverview/IIIA1%20Step%20One%20%20The%20Application%20Review.pdf

To find a list of OT Programs and where they are at in the ACOTE Accreditation Process go to: https://www.aota.org/Education-Careers/Find-School.aspx

About Dr. Susan Cahill

Dr. Susan Cahill is an Associate Professor and Director of the MSOT Program at Lewis University. She is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and a member of the AOTA Commission on Practice. Visit http://www.lewisu.edu/academics/msoccuptherapy to learn more.

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