• Find Occupational Therapy Schools

How to Become an Occupational Therapist in California

California has the largest population of any state in the union and has a tremendous demand for Occupational Therapists. The 2010 census revealed that California employed 9,250+ Occupational Therapists. In addition to the large amount of Occupational Therapists already employed, the BLS projects the sector to grow about 33% faster than the average for the US economy during the current 10 year period. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics also has data showing that Occupational Therapists in California had a 2010 median yearly salary of $86,380.

The Board of Occupational Therapy is California’s licensing body for OT professionals. While you are waiting to sit for your examination you can apply for a temporary license to practice at either level.
There is also an additional Advanced Practice level of licensure which gives you access to greater modalities you can use. There is no additional cost or competencies required. You can learn more about Advanced Practice Occupational Therapist status here.

If you want to become an Occupational Therapist in California, or an Occupational Therapy Assistant you will need to fulfill the following steps:

California Physical Therapy Certification

Occupational Therapy Assistant:

  • You must earn an Associate’s degree or higher in Occupational Therapy from an American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (AOTE) certified school.
  • Submit proof of at least 16 weeks of occupational therapy supervised field experience as part of a practicum developed by your school or as paid work experience.
  • Pass a criminal background check.
  • Pass the National Board of Occupational Therapists (NBCOT) COTA examination.
  • To renew your license, you must complete 12 Professional Development Units per 12 month period for a total of 24
  • Professional development units during every two year licensure period.
  • You can find the application form for the Occupational Therapy Assistant here.

Registered Occupational Therapist

  • You must earn a Bachelor or Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from an American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (AOTE) certified school.
  • Performed at least 24 weeks of occupational therapy work experience.
  • Pass a criminal background check.
  • Pass the NBCOT OTR examination.
  • To renew your license, you must complete 12 Professional Development Units per 12 month period for a total of 24
  • Professional Development Units during every two year licensure period.
  • You can find the application form for the Occupational Therapist here.

For a more detailed description of how to become an Occupational Therapist or Occupational Therapy Assistant, please read the following.

Step 1: Complete Your Degree in Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy Assistants:

Occupational Therapy Assistants must complete at least an Associate’s degree program at an NBCOT accredited college. California has four schools with NBCOT two year programs:

  • Grossmont College
  • Santa Ana College
  • Sacramento Ana College
  • Stanbridge College

Registered Occupational Therapist:

You must graduate from a NBCOT accredited university with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a occupational therapy related field in order to obtain a license as a Registered Occupational Therapist in California. There are seven universities in California who offer NBCOT approved OT programs:

  • Loma Linda University
  • California State University-Dominquez Hills
  • Samuel Merritt University
  • San Jose State University
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences-San Diego
  • Dominican University of California

Step 2: Complete an Internship

All OT professionals must intern in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed Occupational Therapist in order to obtain a license. Most NBCOT approved degree programs offer internships through the school.

Occupational Therapy Assistant:

You must complete 16 weeks of supervised occupational therapy work prior to licensure as an Occupational Therapy Assistant.

Registered Occupational Therapist:

You must complete 24 weeks of occupational therapy work under to supervision of a licensed Occupational Therapist in order to obtain licensure.

Step 3: Pass the National Certification Exam

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy offers exams which test the knowledge of prospective Occupational Therapy Assistants and Registered Occupational Therapists. This exam may be taken as many times as necessary to pass, but you must wait 45 days between tests.

Occupational Therapy Assistant:

You must pass the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam in order to become nationally certified.

Registered Occupational Therapist:

You must pass the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam in order to obtain a license.

Step 4: Applying for California State License

Whether you are seeking license as an Occupational Therapy Assistant or as a Registered Occupational Therapist, the procedure is the same.

  • Submit a signed and completed application to the Board of Occupational Therapy
  • Submit a Verification of Certification from the NBCOT
  • Submit all transcripts of qualifying education
  • Request letters of good standing from prior states in which you have practiced be sent to the Board of Occupational Therapy
  • Submit your photograph and fingerprints for a background check
  • You will be notified about the initial license fee, as fee amounts are subject to change on a monthly basis.

Allow three weeks for the board to review your application.

Step 5: Earn Continuing Education Credits

California requires that OT professionals supplement and maintain skills by participating in ongoing education. This is a requirement of maintaining your license, along with payment of license renewal fees.

Occupational Therapy Assistant:

You must complete 24 professional development units during each two year licensure period in order to maintain your Occupational Therapy Assistant license.

Registered Occupational Therapist:

You must complete 24 professional developments units within your two year licensure period to retain your Registered Occupational Therapist license.

If you are new to the profession or the state of California, you may wish to contact the following associations for more information: