Occupational therapists help patients of all ages learn new skills, adapt to new challenges caused by an accident or illness and manage daily life. Becoming an occupational therapist can take many years of education, including a master’s degree, as well as fulfilling licensing requirements. For those interested in pursuing a career in occupational therapy, planning ahead by choosing a relevant bachelor’s degree major can be helpful. In this article, we explain what majors are most helpful for those planning to become occupational therapists, including kinesiology, biology, psychology and health science.
What is a major in occupational therapy?
A major in occupational therapy is an undergraduate major that will allow you to continue on to get your master’s in occupational therapy. In order to be an occupational therapist, you need both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. The master’s degree must be in occupational therapy, but there are many options for what type of bachelor’s degree you can earn. Occupational therapists also need a license from their state in order to practice once they have completed their master’s degree and other requirements such as an exam.
You may choose completely unrelated majors and then decide to become an occupational therapist later or you may know when you start your undergraduate program that you intend to become an occupational therapist so you choose a major that is more relevant. In this way, almost any major can be an occupational therapy major, but there are some that are more helpful than others.
8 Best Majors For Occupational Therapists
Here are some of the majors that would be most helpful if you plan to become an occupational therapist, although you may want to review the requirements of your desired occupational therapy university if you can so that you know what they expect:
Biology is an excellent major option for those interested in occupational therapy. Biology is a major that teaches you all about different aspects of science as they relate to living organisms. Since the human body is included in the study of biology and occupational therapists work with the human body, this major can help you prepare for the coursework in your occupational therapy master’s program. While biology degrees don’t necessarily teach you hands-on skills you can use in occupational therapy, they can teach you the science behind those methods.
Occupational science is one of the majors offered by some universities as preparation for pursuing a master’s in occupational therapy. It is a degree that can teach you many relevant concepts and skills for becoming an occupational therapist. At some schools, occupational science is offered as part of a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program that takes approximately five years, while other schools offer it on its own. There are also associate’s degrees in occupational science for those interested in starting with a two-year degree as they consider entering the field.
Kinesiology is sometimes referred to as exercise science, and it is the study of how human bodies move. Some schools consider exercise science and kinesiology to be separate degrees, while others group them together as they cover many similar concepts. Kinesiology degrees can be used in a variety of ways, including to become a personal trainer, an athletic coach, a physical therapist or an occupational therapist. Since kinesiology majors teach students about anatomy and movement and those are key parts of being an occupational therapist, it can be a good start on learning the skills you’ll need.
While it may seem that occupational therapy primarily deals with physical problems and limitations, occupational therapists also deal with patients’ psychological struggles as well. For some patients, their inability to perform certain tasks may be psychological rather than physical, and occupational therapists need to understand how to help them. For that reason, a bachelor’s degree in psychology can teach future occupational therapists helpful skills. Psychology majors include courses about developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and psychology of aging, all of which can be helpful for occupational therapists.
Sociology is the study of human social behavior and society, and it can be helpful for occupational therapists to understand a number of sociological concepts for their work. This includes how society impacts our feelings on aging, sociological issues marginalized people face and modern sociological issues. Because these things can impact how a person responds to trauma or other issues, occupational therapists may need to manage them and help patients overcome them in order to meet their therapeutic goals.
Bachelor’s degrees in health science teach students many important skills for working in the healthcare field, which may include working in public health or working as a health care provider. For that reason, a health science degree can be quite helpful for occupational therapists. Courses in a health science degree cover a wide spectrum of healthcare issues, including legal concerns, ethical considerations and science courses such as anatomy or chemistry.
While a degree in education may seem like an odd choice for someone entering a healthcare occupation, it teaches many applicable skills. Since occupational therapists need to teach their patients new skills, exercises to restore mobility and how to manage daily challenges, understanding the theory and methods behind education can be useful. This is an especially helpful degree for those who plan to work with children in their occupational therapy practice, as many education degree programs focus on teaching children.
Occupational therapy is an obvious major for becoming an occupational therapist, however, it is not a degree that is offered by all universities at the bachelor’s level. There are combination programs that combine the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years and the bachelor’s degree you earn is often in either occupational therapy or occupational science. There are universities that offer a bachelor’s in occupational therapy outside of a combined program and these can be an excellent choice for those interested in becoming an occupational therapist, especially as they teach many relevant skills.
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