Master of Science Degree Program

The Entry Level Master of Science Degree Program

The occupational therapy programs mission is:

To educate and prepare occupational therapists to promote health and well-being through occupation as practitioners, consultants, educators, and researchers in a variety of socio-cultural, professional, and institutional contexts.

Our professional program prepares competent occupational therapists who, by virtue of their graduate professional education, can enter the health care field primarily as practitioners, with beginning skills in research, administration, indirect service, and education. The curriculum is based on the premise that students attain competence by learning in collaboration with their peers; by applying what they learn in a classroom to practice settings; and by developing skills for lifelong learning.

Students come into this program with a strong foundation in the liberal arts, including the humanities and sciences. Professional education builds on and refines this knowledge base and develops skills in concept formation, analysis, synthesis, and problem solving.

The professional occupational therapy program leads to the degree of Master of Science and is directed toward the development of master practitioners and leaders in the field by providing an opportunity for the establishment of a generic foundation followed by the acquisition of basic concepts of administration, supervision, and education; and by development of concepts and techniques in evidence based practice and in the scientific method. Graduates of our professional program can identify human and environmental problems, can independently and collaboratively search for and create resources to develop solutions, and through a process of clinical reasoning based on evidence based practice determine and implement optimal intervention strategies. Mastery of these skills is achieved through a curriculum model that simultaneously provides a variety of clinical and academic resources and teaches students to seek these out. The program provides a foundation for graduates to assume responsibility for lifelong learning and for contributing to the growth and evolution of occupational therapy.

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. Students choosing the three year option can expect to complete the program in thirty-six months of uninterrupted academic and clinical work. Since a number of courses have prerequisites, the three-year option student must follow the course of study determined by the program to assure a logical sequence of content.

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 complete coursework and clinical experiences in all the major practice areas, including mental health, physical disabilities, pediatrics, and the older adult. In addition, the student examines the principles and methods of leadership roles in health policy, supervision, education, and research. 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. Students also have opportunity to select occupational therapy elective courses which provide more specialized knowledge in a variety of areas. Selected students can also participate in international service learning opportunities.


Fieldwork is a critical component of our program, and is threaded throughout the two year experience. There are two levels of field experiences, with level one beginning in the first semester.

  • Level I, part-time fieldwork, is scheduled each term as concurrent experiences with the academic learning of a particular course. Two different patterns are followed, depending on the objectives and/or content of a course: (1) students are assigned individually or in pairs to a facility throughout the term; or (2) students are assigned to a setting where they assume greater responsibility in determining the need for occupational therapy services. Each Level I fieldwork pattern is designed to demand sequentially higher skills of application.
  • Level II fieldwork is generally scheduled as a full-time experience following completion of all academic work for each school year. The first level II experience is typically completed between years one and two. Level II fieldwork must include a minimum of three months in a mental health setting, and three months in a physical rehabilitation setting. An optional level II fieldwork experience can be pursued in an additional area of interest. After faculty review, students are eligible to take their first Level II fieldwork either in the summer following the completion of all the first-year requirements or at the end of the second year. The remaining level II experiences are completed after the completion of all academic coursework.
  • Graduating from our program requires successful completion of all academic and fieldwork requirements.


Evidence based research is part of our curriculum, and a unique approach to completing this requirement has been developed by the occupational therapy faculty. Students may follow two paths. In one path, students work collaboratively in a small team of students on a faculty driven research study. In the second path, students participate in a sequence of research c ourses, within which a research study is embedded. In addition, students interested in our research doctoral program may begin a research inquiry that can be further developed in the doctoral program. For all students, the research sequence begins during the first semester, as students are prepared in foundation of research methods and scientific inquiry, as well as reading and evaluating research reports. During the second semester students begin one of the two paths. Students of both paths participate in an Interdisciplinary Research Symposium sponsored by the Programs in Occupational Therapy, where they are expected to present their research.


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 O.T.R. 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 of 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.

Program Accreditation

The Occupational Therapy Program at Columbia University is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of The American Occupational Therapy Association ( Inquiries about accreditation can be directed to: ACOTE of The American Occupational Therapy Association, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Bethesda, MD 20824, (301) 652-2682.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) ( is the national professional organization of occupational therapists that represents the interests and concerns of both practitioners and students. Inquiries may be directed to: The American Occupational Therapy Association, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Bethesda, MD 20824, (301) 652-2682.

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