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How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

OTA guiding patient with leg exercise

Occupational therapy assistants enjoy a greatly satisfying career working directly with patients of all ages to help them grow and develop positive skills, rehabilitate after injury, manage a multitude of chronic illnesses and conditions, and improve their quality of life dramatically in many other ways. An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) works under the direction of an occupational therapist to guide patients in prescribed therapeutic activities and exercises.

Often using specialized equipment, OTAs help patients achieve or recover their full, independent and healthy lifestyles in spite of injury or disability. While an occupational therapist may diagnose and prescribe certain treatments, occupational therapy assistants are mostly responsible for directly working with the patient to achieve the treatment goals. It’s important to note, OT assistants (or OTAs) are different than OT aides – aides generally do not assist with exercises or treatment.

Workplace Details

Since occupational therapy assistants work under the direction of the therapists, they work wherever the OTs work. And since there are many different specialties in occupational therapy, the assistants enjoy a variety of potential workplace environments. Traditionally OTAs worked in hospitals but increasingly they are employed in private practice offices (approximately one third of all assistants). Other venues include schools and nursing care facilities. Ten percent of OTAs provide direct in-home care to patients.

The assistants work a 40-hour workweek or more, which may involve weekends, early morning and/or early evening schedules.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
Texas
$74070
Ohio
$59070
Illinois
$61590
Pennsylvania
$48940
New York
$58030

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$57,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 57%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$37,600$57,120$75,750
Huntsville$41,930$58,920$76,650

ALASKA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$60,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,400

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$39,090$62,530$76,920
Tuscon$41,510$54,700$70,810

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$66,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 54%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$43,610$69,620$97,820

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$68,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$34,430$67,080$79,020
San Francisco Bay$32,050$66,120$77,820
San Diego$52,460$70,390$80,240
Sacramento$51,660$74,460$99,330

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$49,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 38%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Colorado Springs$41,350$51,900$61,820

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$60,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $46,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$44,130$59,110$74,850
Bridgeport$45,910$59,340$76,090
New Haven$53,300$61,130$75,870

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$63,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $88,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$38,330$68,190$93,130

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$59,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$32,330$60,930$88,050

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$62,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$49,590$63,760$77,920
Orlando$44,820$57,170$76,260
Tampa$43,930$63,160$76,310
Jacksonville$45,190$59,130$76,650

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$58,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 50%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$46,970$57,680$73,330

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$52,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$42,520$51,930$61,490

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$55,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$42,460$57,510$84,490

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$59,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$40,020$61,020$79,610
Rockford$36,440$62,820$81,630

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$55,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$45,790$58,560$78,040

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$53,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 44%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$41,960$55,490$71,510

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$58,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$40,760$56,650$77,200
Kansas City$43,360$57,120$73,790

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$58,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 63%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$41,050$58,690$75,740
Lexington$40,060$61,980$75,500

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$56,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$23,420$37,530$68,490

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$48,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$63,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $87,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 47%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$46,080$62,540$85,850
Frederick$27,070$66,070$92,440

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$55,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$38,500$55,570$76,120
Worcester$29,650$46,950$64,330
Springfield$36,350$54,290$70,210

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$47,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$30,420$50,610$73,160
Grand Rapids$32,010$45,100$59,430

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$45,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$33,380$44,030$59,740

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$55,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 45%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$56,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 41%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$35,490$53,960$73,370
Kansas City$43,360$57,120$73,790

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$51,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$54,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 45%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$29,110$52,910$63,710

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$72,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$52,900$72,590Over $187,200

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$50,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$68,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$50,290$64,510$78,810

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$60,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$33,600$65,530$78,920

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$56,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$47,880$63,720$77,450
Buffalo$32,560$42,920$57,700
Rochester$36,780$50,820$61,990
Albany$32,720$44,800$63,660

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$59,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 38%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$35,160$59,930$74,870
Raleigh$43,810$56,800$77,430
Greensboro$55,010$70,440$88,140
Winston - Salem$26,920$51,790$70,940

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$44,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$56,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 48%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$50,320$58,600$77,670
Columbus$41,080$57,300$76,700
Cincinnati$41,300$56,440$75,880
Dayton$45,300$59,980$90,860

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$59,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$46,700$58,850$74,940
Tulsa$44,620$62,920$79,100

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$55,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$44,780$56,510$70,030

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$46,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$28,820$47,450$74,430
Pittsburgh$33,210$45,390$61,310
Harrisburg$26,430$47,360$64,380
Allentown$37,850$50,970$63,800

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$58,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,400

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$41,010$58,730$76,150

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$58,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $88,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$40,530$50,860$60,190
Columbia$26,130$80,940$94,210
Charleston$26,840$49,090$71,160

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$36,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,000

Job Growth Data Not Available

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$59,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 44%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$45,370$58,610$74,270
Memphis$47,040$59,600$74,890
Knoxville$39,980$54,090$71,270
Chattanooga$37,350$58,030$79,260

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$69,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 49%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$50,940$67,460$96,120
Houston$47,870$68,120$79,870
San Antonio$51,100$71,560$106,030
Austin$41,080$63,660$78,230

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$59,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$45,130$59,860$73,980

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$53,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$61,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 53%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$34,980$56,800$81,700
Richmond$36,820$63,660$77,920

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$61,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$35,560$61,630$79,970

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$55,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$39,450$50,060$70,160
Charleston$44,490$56,440$71,020

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$46,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$31,380$45,480$59,280
Madison$35,060$45,500$61,540

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$50,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Casper$40,640$49,630$73,130

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median income for occupational therapy assistants is $57,870. Those who work in nursing facilities, private practitioners’ offices and home health agencies earn more than those who work in hospitals or schools.

Job growth is projected to increase at a much higher rate than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a whopping 43% increase in jobs from 2014 to 2024. Also worth noting: this rate of growth is unchanged from the previous BLS projection a couple years earlier, another indication of the strength of the employment outlook for occupational therapy assistants.

Compare Salaries by City

Chicago IL Median Pay

$61020 Per Year

$29.33 Per Hour

New York City NY Median Pay

$63720 Per Year

$30.63 Per Hour

Steps to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

1

Earn an associate's degree.

The minimum education requirement for an occupational therapy assistant is a two-year associate’s degree. The degree should be from a program accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Courses vary by school, but will generally include coursework in biology, psychology, kinesiology (the science of movement) and a variety of occupational therapy courses.

Show Me Schools »

2

Undergo supervised training.

Most often, a school that grants associate degrees will provide a formal practicum in which students work under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. When it is not part of the formal curriculum, students must arrange to obtain this supervised training separately. The required length of this fieldwork varies by state, but is at least eight weeks in duration. The practicum offered in most schools may last longer than minimum requirements.

3

Become licensed in your state.

Graduates must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification examination. OTAs take the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA) exam. Once candidates have their associate degree, documented fieldwork experience, and passing COTA exam grade in hand, they may apply to their state for licensure, which is essentially a verification process for the above qualifications.

4

Look into opportunities for advancement.

Because licensure allows occupational therapy assistants to work for OTs only, career advancement depends greatly on solid job performance in support of the therapist. Assistants who demonstrate that they can be trusted, follow treatment instructions and provide excellent care are rewarded with job security, promotions and higher pay. Though not prevalent, there are “bridge” programs that provide a good pathway for OTAs to gain additional education in order to advance their career by becoming occupational therapists.

Exploring Degree Paths

ASSOCIATE DEGREE

2 years

To become an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), you’ll need to earn an associate degree (typically an A.S. or A.A.S.) from an accredited training program. OTA associate degrees take about two years of full-time study to complete and are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools.

To ensure you’ll be eligible for licensure, choose a program accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association. The good news: there are currently over 250 AOTA-accredited programs across the United States.

Show Me Schools »

As part of your program, you’ll study the movement and function of the human body. You’ll also delve into the role the mind plays in the tasks of work and daily living. Expect coursework in the following subjects, among others:

Psychology

These courses look at how a person’s mind, psychological state, and behavior affect their physical functioning.

Anatomy and physiology

Study the structure of the human body and how its systems work together.

Kinesiology

The science of body movement.

Pediatric health

Covers the health and therapeutic care of infants, children, and teens.

In addition to coursework, most OTA associate degree programs require at least 16 weeks of hands-on clinical training with a licensed occupational therapist. Your school may arrange this for you, or you may need to reach out to therapists on your own. The amount of fieldwork needed for licensure can vary by state, so check the requirements for your location.

Taking high school classes in biology and the physical sciences can improve your chances of getting into an OTA program.

Keys to Success as an OTA

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Physically strong

Occupational therapy assistants need good physical fitness because they will be physically active for an entire work shift. OTAs help patients perform exercises throughout the day. This may involve supporting patient weight, bending, stooping and lifting.

Patient support

Progress for patients can be slow and challenging, and the OTA must be able to express not only patience but also encouragement for the patient. This helps patients maintain a positive outlook.

Strong communicator

OTAs are in almost constant patient contact; they must love working with people and be able to communicate clearly and with appropriate tact and sensitivity.

Additional Credentials

After completing an associate degree program, OTA candidates pursue national certification. This requires passage of the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam, which is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

AOTA offers OTAs voluntary certification in five specialties. These credentials are most appropriate for experienced OTAs who have clinical and research interests in a specific condition or patient population. Options include:

  • Driving and community mobility
  • Environmental modification
  • Feeding, eating and swallowing
  • Low vision
  • School systems

To obtain specialty certification, applicants must submit a portfolio, self-assessment, and professional development plan to AOTA’s peer review committee. The application should demonstrate high standards of ethics, critical reasoning, clinical knowledge, and interpersonal skills.

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