What Is the Difference Between OT and OTA? Everything You Need to Know

Published - March 16, 2020

Are you looking to pursue a career in occupational therapy? Not sure whether you should you become an Occupational Therapist (OT) or Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)?  Do you want to know the difference between OT and OTA? No need to worry—we’re here to help!

In this article, we’re covering the basics of OT vs OTA, and the ways in which they differ. So you can decide which path you should pursue!

What is OT?

OT stands for occupational therapy. Occupational therapists treat people who have injuries, disabilities, or illnesses that impact their daily living. Through their care, patients can recover and improve the skills they need to become more independent in their daily activities.

What Does an OT Do?

An occupational therapist works independently with their patient or client in helping them to improve their daily living.  The OT is responsible for assessing their patient/client and creating a treatment plan for their patient/client that will help them overcome their existing medical conditions and challenges. 

Occupational therapists work in a range of settings with a variety of populations.  Some occupational therapists work in educational settings with children, helping schools better accommodate children with disabilities. They can even do early intervention care for infants and toddlers who have developmental delays.

How Do You Become an OT?

To become an occupational therapist, you’ll need to get a Master’s degree in occupational therapy. Some people choose to get a doctorate degree in OT if they desire to teach at colleges and universities or do research.  However, a doctorate degree is not required to practice.   In either scenario, you’ll need a license in order to practice. 

The master’s program typically takes 2 to 3 years to complete while the doctoral program takes around 3 and a half years. Every academic program requires supervised fieldwork or clinical experience for at least 24 weeks or 6 months. 

After you finish your program, you’ll need to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) to practice.  After passing the Board exam you will need to be licensed in the state where you plan to practice.   

How Much Does an OT Make?

How much an occupational therapist makes depends on the industry in which they work. The average annual wage for an occupational therapist, however, is around $84,720.  Occupational therapists tend to make more in skilled nursing care facilities, and less in the state, local, and private schools. These rates will differ depending on the state you live. 

What is OTA?

An OTA is an occupational therapy assistant.  Their work is similar to that of an occupational therapist in many ways but the OTA works under the supervision of the occupational therapist.  In general, the occupational therapy assistant carries out the treatment plan created by the occupational therapist.  

What Does an OTA Do?

The duties of an OTA differ depending on the population you work with and the treatment setting.   An occupational therapy assistant works under the supervision of an occupational therapist to carry out the treatment plan.  The OTA monitors their patients/clients closely during treatment and adjusts the treatment plan according to patient progress. The OTA also documents treatment in the patient chart and collaborates with the OT regarding patient progress.  The OTA also helps determine when the patient is ready for discharge. 

How Do You Become an OTA?

Occupational therapy assistants need an Associate’s Degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program, which is available at many colleges throughout the country. If you are interested in this career path, be sure to look for a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.  A list of accredited schools can be found in the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) website.   

OTA programs take approximately 2 years to complete. Similar to an occupational therapy program, fieldwork is a requirement.  This requirement is a minimum of 16 weeks compared to the 24-week minimum of an occupational therapist program. 

For those who aren’t ready for a degree in OT or OTA, an occupational therapy aide is also a great career path to transition into! To be an aide, you typically only need a high school diploma or GED.  An aide does not perform hands on treatment with the patient or client.   They are primarily responsible for setting up equipment and materials; escorting patient to/from their hospital room to rehabilitation setting and assisting with clerical duties for the OT or OTA.  

How Much Does an OTA Make?

The median salary for an occupational therapy assistant is in the $60,000 range. The typical salary for an aide, however, is between $22,000 and $36,000. And like occupational therapists, the salary will vary depending on population or treatment setting.

Major Difference Between OT and OTA?

As you’ve seen above, there are major differences between OT and OTA. Here is a breakdown of the most important factors to consider as you evaluate which of these two paths to pursue.


The biggest difference between becoming an OT and OTA is the level of education needed. An OT requires a master’s degree, which is more time consuming and expensive to obtain. An occupational therapy assistant requires only an associate’s degree.

Keep in mind the licensing requirements vary depending on the state where you will be practicing.  Before you choose between OT and OTA consider the cost and commitment level for each path. This will help you decide which is the smartest option for you.

Job Responsibilities

 An OT works independently and is responsible for developing and carrying out treatment plans to help a person increase their independence in daily activities. Their work is higher level and more strategic in nature. It can be done in a variety of settings.

An OTA does similar work to an OT, but they work under the supervision of an occupatonal therapist in carrying out the treatment plan.   An OTA can decide when treatment needs to be modified according to patient/client progress.  There is ongoing collaboration with the OT and OTA from the time the person is assessed through discharge.  .


Salary is another major differentiator for these professions. An OT makes significantly more than an OTA, in part because of the difference in job expectations and education levels. Both are respectable and rewarding careers.  The pay can vary from state to state. 

Ready to Pursue an OT Path?

Occupational therapy is an industry ripe with career opportunities. All you need to do is choose which path is right for you.  By learning and exploring the difference between OT and OTA, you can do just that!

Are you interested in pursuing a career in occupational therapy? We can help you achieve your healthcare career dreams! Contact us to see how you can get started on your path today!

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