Career Education - Learn about all careers, career pay salary, job outlook

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide

An associate’s degree is required to become an occupational therapy assistant. They must also be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.


People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health. They can also increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist's office, or a physical therapist's office.

Occupational therapy assistants generally have an associate’s degree. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. These programs generally require two years of full-time study. They include classroom instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. Occupational therapy assistants also complete clinical fieldwork as part of their education to gain hands-on work experience.   

To be licensed, occupational therapy assistants must graduate from an accredited program. In 2010, there were about 300 programs for occupational therapy assistants that the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) had accredited.

Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job. This training can last from several weeks to a few months and includes classroom and practical training where the aide works under the direct supervision of more experienced assistants or aides.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and caring and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must be able to quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. 

Interpersonal skills. Assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients. They should be friendly and courteous, and they should be able to communicate with patients to the extent of their ability and training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.


Most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed. Licensure usually requires completing an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program and passing an exam. Some states have additional requirements, such as continuing education.

Occupational therapy aides are not required to be licensed.


Occupational therapy assistants who have completed an accredited program can become certified by passing an exam offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Certification is voluntary and allows assistants to use the title "Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant" (COTA).


Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by taking additional education to become occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist "bridge" education programs are designed for qualifying occupational therapy assistants to advance to therapists. 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition