Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy

Our curriculum is founded on three philosophical ideas that are consistent with the revised Philosophical Basis of Occupational Therapy (2017) and AOTA’s Vision 2025, which holds that occupational therapy maximizes health, well-being, and quality of life for individuals, families, communities, and populations through effective solutions that facilitate participation in everyday living. First, we recognize persons are active beings who develop and grow by participating in meaningful occupations, and that they are influenced by occupational contexts. Second, consistent with the roots of our profession, our curriculum emphasizes the integration of behavioral and physical health across the lifespan, the promotion of health and wellness, and the prevention of disability across occupational contexts. Third, curricular content prepares students to become practitioners who influence the health of people, populations, and communities.

The curriculum is guided by Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory (Mezirow, 2000; Kitchenham, 2008) which suggests that students’ learning is a transformational process. Students enter our program as unique occupational beings with pre-requisite knowledge. Our curriculum offers learning experiences that build on and challenge previously held knowledge and assumptions resulting in a shift in each students’ frame of reference from student to practitioner. This transformational process is facilitated through significant learning experiences that involve mastering foundational knowledge, applying and integrating knowledge, and critically reflecting on the learning process (Fink, 2013). Through this reflective process, students are focusing on human dimensions and caring and become aware of how their perspectives, feelings, and ideas affect their clients and impact service provision. Because many of our students enter the graduate program as emerging professionals, they require initial guidance towards becoming a graduate learner, and benefit from acculturation into the new role of an independent and collaborative learner. This learning how to learn continues with increasing complexity throughout the curriculum promoting lifelong learning.

The overall CUOT program educational objective is to prepare students to assume a variety of roles including provider, researcher, consultant, educator, case manager, leader, manager, and advocate.


The average student can expect to complete this program in twenty-four calendar months of full-time study in the classroom and in fieldwork experiences.

The program is planned to enable the student to gain a mastery of knowledge in occupational therapy and to practice skills and competencies required of the practicing therapist in this field.

Students come with a broad preparation in the liberal arts and clearly delineated prerequisite courses in the physical and behavioral sciences, as well as communication skills. All content in the program builds on this earlier foundation. In the first semester, the primary focus of instruction is on imparting foundational knowledge related to the occupational therapy domain and process, body structure and function, clinical conditions, as well as research and evidence-based practice. During the second semester the focus of the instruction shifts from foundational knowledge to a greater emphasis on application and beginning integration, including the first course that focuses on the application of the OT process and the first of four embedded Level I fieldwork experiences. The content provided in the first year provides the foundation for the continued application of the OT process across the lifespan and begins to prepare students for their Level II fieldwork experiences. Courses of instruction during the second year focus heavily on clinical application and integration of knowledge gained in the first year. The research component of the program extends throughout the two years starting from foundational knowledge in statistics and research methods and advances to evidence integration and critical appraisal. Embedded throughout the curricular sequence are opportunities for self-directed and collaborative learning, as well as self-reflection that foster the elements of human dimension, caring and learning how to learn.

Students complete coursework and clinical experiences in all the major practice areas:

  • Behavioral health
  • Physical disabilities
  • Pediatrics
  • The older adult

Faculty members work with the students as developers of learning environments and as resource people in collaborative problem-solving.

The program overall is focused on the development of the practitioner’s role, but also provides basic education leading to leadership skills in administration, supervision, research, and education. Selected students can also participate in international service learning opportunities.

Full listings of courses and course schedules can be found in our program bulletin.

Fieldwork & Community Based Experiences

It is our program’s belief that a variety of fieldwork and community-based experiences are critical for the education of occupational therapy generalists and those who desire to pursue future leadership roles. The program offers students four Level I fieldwork experiences that are embedded into clinical courses. These experiences focus on both behavioral and physical health conditions in varied settings across the lifespan. Objectives are geared toward the application and integration of course content and beginning skill development in preparation for Level II fieldwork. The role of OT is explored in medical, educational, and social models of care as well as community-based settings. 

Committed to Columbia’s mission of serving the underserved, our CUOT fieldwork experiences involve collaborations with community programs and organizations committed to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. These settings offer exposure to clinical care as well as the role of the occupational therapist as consultant, program developer, interprofessional team member and advocate. 
Upon completion their academic preparation, students complete two twelve-week Level II fieldwork placements, one focused on behavioral health and one focused on physical health. These experiences provide opportunities for further skill and competency development to prepare for clinical practice. 

Graduating from our program requires successful completion of all academic and fieldwork requirements.


Promoting evidence-based practice and educating students to be consumers of clinical research is a critical element that permeates all coursework. Initially, our students learn the foundations of clinical research, including quantitative and qualitative research methods and statistics, to be able to critique and analyze the quality of evidence supporting their clinical reasoning. The students then learn the process of searching for and critically reading research articles that support assessment measures and interventions in their clinical coursework. Toward the end of the program, the students work collaboratively in small groups of students and faculty to critically appraise a topic of interest related to assessment or intervention. The culmination of the students’ research work is presented at our annual Student Research Day and Reception which hosts attendees from the student body, members of the CUMC community, and guests from the community at large. At that scholarly event, students present their critically appraised topics and educate the attendees about the selected topic. 

Lastly, as our professional program can serve as a pipeline to our post-professional doctoral programs, students interested in pursuing this avenue have the opportunity to focus their research so that it can be the basis for future doctoral work.

Faculty-Student Research

Students in the master’s program engage in research design, data collection, data analysis, and research study reporting throughout the curriculum. Students have the opportunity to be mentored by faculty and participate as research assistants in faculty-driven research studies. Many faculty-student collaborations have resulted in publications and national and state conference presentations.

Occupational Therapy Lab

Our program opened a dedicated occupational therapy lab space in 2017 in the Hammer Health Science building. The lab also serves as classroom space and contains kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom modules to practice with, as well as a store and pediatric area.


Graduates of our program are eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist, administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Successful completion of the examination qualifies the graduate to be nationally certified as an Occupational Therapist, and use the designation OTR. Each state has its own regulatory mechanism, such as state license. State licenses are usually based on the results of the certification examination. This examination is held throughout the country at designated times each year.

NBCOT has additional eligibility requirements, including the requirement that applicants meet standards of professional conduct. For example, a felony conviction may impact one’s ability to be certified and subsequently licensed to practice occupational therapy. Please refer to NBCOT’s website for details, including how to request an early determination review of professional conduct.