Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy


Our staff is available Monday through Friday to answer your questions by email or phone. In the meantime, you may have a question that has been asked of us in the past. The following answers these frequently asked questions about our application process.

The Application Process

How do I apply?

As of July 2023, we are participating in the Occupational Therapy Common Application System (OTCAS)

When is the application due?

Please see our Process and Timeline page for information about our current application cycle deadlines.

If my address changes after I submit my application, what do I do?

If any of your contact information has changed (email address, postal address, telephone number), please contact our office with the new information.

Do you have a rolling admission process?

Not really. We seek to bring in a class whose membership spans different backgrounds and experiences. To do this, we need to wait until all applications are submitted. However, it is best not to wait until the last minute to apply. Our admissions committee starts their review early in the fall, even though final decisions are not made at that time.

When will I be notified of a decision?

Once our program has received all components of an application, the application packet is forwarded to the Admissions Committee for review. As we do not use a “rolling admission” procedure, we want to be sure that every applicant is given equal consideration before a class is admitted. This process takes time. We generally send decisions in February or March. Please do not contact our office for a decision, or for an update on our timetable.  

Do you offer application fee waivers?

OTCAS offers a fee waiver program, although it is limited.  At this time, we are not offering additional fee waivers.  If this changes, we will make sure to update this space.

What’s Required

Where should my undergraduate degree be from?

All applicants must demonstrate that they have a baccalaureate degree, or expect to have a baccalaureate degree, prior to matriculation. This degree, and any other coursework taken previously, or as part of the prerequisite coursework, must be from a college or university that is accredited by a United States Department of Education (USDE) Regional Accreditation Agency. These agencies are:

  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

If you have a degree from an institution outside of the United States, you are required to have it reviewed as part of the admissions process.  Please see below for information about degree review and other requirements for international students.

Are GREs required?

No. Our program does not require, nor do we use, GREs in our admissions process. 

Is physics required?

No. While a physics course will help prepare you for several of our courses, we teach what you need to know.

What GPA does the admissions committee expect?

The admissions committee considers many factors when reviewing an application. Overall GPA and prerequisite GPA are just two of a series of variables that are reviewed. Generally, the committee expects a minimum of a 3.0 GPA in order for the application to be considered, however this is not a cutoff.  We do our best to review GPAs and academic performance holistically. 

What else does the committee consider?

The admissions committee very carefully reviews all aspects of your application packet. This includes your written responses, CV, and letters of reference. Your experiences are as important to your success as your grades.

How many hours of volunteer experience should I have?

We do not require any set number of hours. We do expect that you have sufficiently explored the field to be reasonably assured that this is an appropriate career path for you. Knowledge about occupational therapy, through shadowing or work experience, and experience with any population that may be served by an occupational therapist, is expected.   We look for this experience to be documented on your CV and discussed in your application materials.

When is proof of CPR certification due?

It is expected that the requirement for certification in adult and child CPR is met by the time one enrolls in our program. We do not use this as part of the application process. 


Who should my letters of reference be from?

All applicants are required to have at least one academic reference.

Other references should be from an employer, a college advisor, or a health professional (letters from relatives and family friends are not accepted).  

References should be able to speak to your ability to succeed academically in graduate study and your readiness and fit to become an occupational therapist.  

Per Columbia University policy, the email address for each recommender should be a professional email address (e.g., with a “.edu” extension or company-related domain). If such an email address is not possible, you must provide an explanation and seek permission from otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu to utilize a non-professional email address for the reference.  

Can I submit more than three letters of reference?

Submitting more than three letters of reference will not give you any advantage in the process. We suggest that you choose your referees carefully, limit your referees to three, and choose those writing the reference who can speak to your strengths.  

However, we do understand that the requirements of other programs on OTCAS may require you to have more than 3 letters and we will not penalize applicants in that scenario.

I have references that were collected when I was in college. Can these be sent in by mail?

No. All references must be current and submitted electronically as indicated in the application.

Does at least one reference need to be written by an occupational therapist?

While this is a good idea, it is not required. The committee uses the references to evaluate your strengths as related to graduate study and your future as an occupational therapist. Any professional who knows you can address these areas.

Can I choose a referee who is a friend of the family, or a family member, who knows me well?

No. We will not accept references from family members or from friends

Can I choose a patient, or parent of a child I worked with as a referee? If they do not have a computer, can they send the reference in by mail?

As long as they can evaluate your strengths as related to graduate study and your future as an occupational therapist. All references must be submitted electronically.

What if my referee or I need technical support?

If at any time you run into technical difficulties, or your recommender does, please reach out to OTCAS.


Do I need to have all prerequisites completed by the time I apply?

In order to make an informed decision, the admissions office needs to consider a range of completed prerequisites. A minimum of four prerequisites must be completed in order for your application to be reviewed. Of the four, at least one anatomy, physiology, or A&P combination course must be completed (or another science course we can use as a placeholder), one psychology course must be completed, and two distribution courses must be completed.

Applicants are expected to indicate when they will be fulfilling the remaining prerequisites.  All prerequisites must be complete before program orientation.

What happens if I am accepted to your program, and still have prerequisites to complete?

Applicants may receive a pending acceptance prior to the completion of all prerequisites. In this case, it is expected that the outstanding courses will be completed prior to matriculation, each with an earned grade of “B”.

I took some prerequisites on a pass / fail basis. Is that OK?

No. Letter grades are required for all prerequisites. You can have your registrar or course instructor provide a grade equivalency. If a grade equivalency is not submitted, the lowest passing grade, typically a D, will be used. In this case, it is in the applicant’s best interest to repeat the course.

The exception to this is for Spring 2020 grades.  We understand that many schools switched to pass/fail grading due to the impact of the coronavirus.  We will accept pass/fail grades taken in that semester, but may request further information about your academic performance as part of the admissions process.  

Where can I take prerequisites?

You have the freedom to choose any regionally accredited college or university, including community colleges and online programs, that offers the course needed.  

Can I take prerequisites through an online course?

Yes, as long as the college or university that is offering the course is accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the USDE.  Science labs may also be taken online.

I took an English composition course, but it was called something else. Is that OK?

Probably. The admissions office will want to see the catalogue’s course description, or the course syllabus in order to make a determination.  We are looking for courses that teach the process of writing and revision. You are welcome to send the syllabus to otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu for review at any time.

I never took an English composition course, but my college required all students to take a writing intensive course. Can I use this instead of English composition?

Yes, writing intensive courses can substitute for English composition. A writing intensive course is determined, and stated as such, by your college. An applicant cannot pick a course that isn’t officially designated and deem it writing intensive. Most colleges designate a writing intensive course on the transcript. If your college does not do this, you will need to forward to us a course catalogue description of the course, or the syllabus from the course.  We are looking for courses that explicitly teach the academic writing and revision process.

Some of my courses are more than 10 years old. Can I still use these to satisfy my prerequisites?

It depends. Courses in the distribution section can be over ten years old.

However, the psychology and science courses must be taken less than ten years from the time you apply. Please contact our office if you have questions.  

If my anatomy course included a lab, is that enough to satisfy the lab requirement?

Yes. However, if neither anatomy nor physiology had a lab component, please identify another science course that did.

How will I know if a particular course will satisfy a prerequisite requirement?

Follow the instructions related to what is acceptable as a prerequisite. If a course has the same title as the pre-requisite, assume that it is acceptable. Do not try to use a course that does not meet the requirement. If we have questions about a course, you will receive a notice and you may be asked to submit a copy of that course’s syllabus for our review. However, because we receive many hundreds of applications, this notice can arrive quite some time after you submit your application. If you wish to have us review a course syllabus prior to your application, we are happy to do that.  Please send us the syllabus at otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu.

I never took a life span developmental psychology or human development course, but I took several developmental courses, each one focusing on a different part of the life cycle. Will the combination of these courses work for the requirement?

Yes. However, if a course is used in fulfillment of the lifespan requirement, it cannot be used to fulfill other psychology prerequisite courses.

I received AP (advanced placement) credit for courses taken in high school. Will you accept those?

Maybe. Every college makes its own decision on what AP score is accepted towards a degree. Even if your college accepted an AP score, we might not. Our policy is to use the scores deemed appropriate by Columbia College and Barnard College, which are the undergraduate schools of Columbia University. In addition, if your AP test was taken more than ten years ago, we may not accept it regardless of the score. Generally, AP credit is considered if the score is at least a 4 or 5. Please refer to this table for the courses and the scores we will accept in fulfillment of a prerequisite. Please note: there are no exceptions.   

If you are using an AP course to fulfill a pre-requisite and your AP score does not appear on your transcript, please have your scores reported to our office.  Our school code is 7707.  

What about other types of advanced placement credit, such as International Baccalaureate Credit or British Advanced Level Exams?

We will accept a score if it meets the standard set by Columbia College and Barnard College. Review the acceptable scores for International Baccalaureate Credit here.  British Advanced Level Exams taken in disciplines that match our prerequisite courses must have an earned grade of A or B.

I received CLEP credit towards my undergraduate degree. Will you accept this as fulfillment of prerequisites?

We do not accept CLEP (College Level Exam Program) credit in fulfillment of any prerequisite course requirement. We do, however, consider the baccalaureate degree requirement as satisfied if CLEP was used for that purpose.

Other Degree Programs

The application asks about a dual degree program with the Mailman School of Public Health. What is that?

The dual degree program allows accepted students to receive an MS and an MPH during a three year time period. These two degrees taken separately takes four years. Any student interested in this option needs to apply to both schools separately, meeting each school’s independent admissions criteria. Generally, students apply to the OT program first and then apply to Public Health during their last year in the OT program. 

Acceptance to one school does not imply acceptance to both. Once accepted, however, the education for both degrees is streamlined. Please see the Dual Degree - MS/MPH page for more information about the dual degree program.

The application asks about a 3-2 program. What is that?

Columbia University has agreements with several colleges that allow applicants to apply to our program during their junior year of college. These agreements do not guarantee acceptance to our program, as any 3-2 applicant is considered in the regular application pool.

The application asks about an application to the Accelerated MS/OTD program. What is that?

Columbia offers an entry level Masters degree and several online options to pursue a post-professional OTD degree.  The accelerated MS/OTD degree is offered only for Columbia MS students.  Students can apply at several points: during their initial OTCAS application, in the fourth semester of the MS program, or up to three years post-graduation.  Applicants to this program complete a supplemental response (if applying on OTCAS), or an essay response if applying later.  If you have additional questions about this program, please reach out to otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu

Financial Aid Application

What type of financial aid is available, and when do I apply for this?

We use a “need blind” admission process. This means that an applicant’s ability to cover tuition costs is not considered in the admission’s process. After one is admitted to the program, financial aid applications are distributed, and every student who meets the eligibility criteria receives scholarship assistance in the form of grants and loans. Please contact the Office of Student Financial Planning if you have questions about this process or about eligibility.  Our financial aid officer is Angelica Fisichella

International Students

I am an international student. Do I have any additional requirements?

Yes. If you attended college outside of the United States (other than Canada), you will need to have an evaluation of your transcript completed. Please see the next question for specifics. If you attended a Canadian school, you do not have to have your transcript externally evaluated.

If you are an international student whose native language is not English and your undergraduate degree was not completed in an English speaking country, you will need to take and submit your results from either the TOEFL or the ITELTS. For the TOEFL, we require a minimum iBT score of 100. For the IELTS, we require a minimum score of 8.

How do I get my transcript evaluated?

If you were educated outside of the United States, you will be required to submit a course by course evaluation of your transcript to our office. Submission should be done electronically. Please go to the World Education Services: International Credential Evaluation website to make the arrangements.  

Applicants who attended a university in China must request their transcript evaluation through CSSD (formerly CHESSIC), the credentials verification service affiliated with the PRC’s Ministry of Education, to arrange for submission of a “Verification Report of China Higher Education Student’s Academic Transcripts” AND a “Verification Report of China Higher Education Qualification Certificate”. These should be delivered electronically to otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu.

Do I need to take the TOEFL exam or the IELTS?

If you are an international student whose native language is not English and your undergraduate degree was not completed in an English speaking country, you will need to take and submit your results from either the TOEFL or the ITELTS. For the TOEFL, we require a minimum iBT score of 100. For the IELTS, we require a minimum score of 8.

Do international students pay extra fees?

The application fees are identical for all students. Enrolled international students have an International Student Fee which is $150/term in 2023 - 2024. This fee supports the University’s services to international students.

Other Questions

You offer an entry level MS but I've heard everyone has to transition to an OTD. Is that true?

No, its not true! The entry level degrees that allow you to sit for the NBCOT exam and get state licensure are either a Masters (MS) or a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD).  

In 2017, ACOTE mandated that all programs transition to an OTD by 2027, however in 2019, the profession voted to maintain two points of entry.  Graduates of both MS and OTD entry level programs are eligible to become practicing occupational therapists.

If this does ever change (as when the profession transitioned from the Bachelors to Masters), therapists who are already licensed would not be required to go back to school, and there would be a long ramp up period for programs to make a change (as was proposed in 2017). 

There is a lot of misinformation out there about degree levels.  Please feel free to reach out to us if you want to discuss this further at otadmissions@cumc.columbia.edu