NHS Careers > Explore by career > Allied health professions > Careers in the allied health professions > Occupational therapist > Entry and training

Entry requirements and training for occupational therapy

The minimum academic entry requirement for full-time undergraduate occupational therapy courses is usually five GCSE passes or equivalent and two A levels/three at Higher Grade if you studied in Scotland.

At least one science subject must usually be passed at A level. A level biology is particularly useful and is required by some universities. However, entry requirements are set by each university so you must check with each one individually.

If you hold a relevant first degree, there are accelerated/shortened courses in occupational therapy.

Universities running all occupational therapy programmes can be found on our course finder.

Alternative acceptable qualifications

A number of alternatives to GCSEs and A levels may be accepted by universities, including:

  • Acess to Higher Education courses
  • BTEC National Diploma/Certificates
  • NVQs 
  • GNVQs
  • OCR Cambridge Technicals - level 3 Health and Social Care.

Note that some universities may require an A' level as well as one of the above qualifications, so it's essential to check directly with each university about their specific entry requirements.

Applications are welcomed from those who left full time study awhile ago, but they will usually need to provide evidence of recent academic study and/or relevant experience at an appropriate level.

Along with the academic qualifications, you will need to be empathetic and able to build a rapport with a range of people. The role is demanding so you will need to be resilient. Your place on the course may be dependent on a personal interview which assesses these qualities.

Training for a career in occupational therapy

To practice as an occupational therapist, you must be registered with the Health Professions Council (HCPC). To register, you must first have successfully completed a pre-registration programme leading to HCPC registration.

Most courses last for three years (full time) and lead to the award of a degree, but there are also part-time and in-service programmes and an accelerated/shortened routes for graduates.

Students who successfully complete programmes which are approved by the HCPC, are then eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC. Once registered, practitioners are required to retain their names on the register, by paying an annual retention fee.

Full-time undergraduate degree

Occupational therapy training is composed of study and clinical placement, two-thirds will focus on the theory of occupational therapy and the other third will be spent in fieldwork practice.

You will study a range of subjects such as biological and behavioural sciences. Projects and self-directed work also form a major part of the course.

During your fieldwork placements in occupational therapy services, you will gain experience in some of the main branches such as physical rehabilitation and learning disability or mental health services. Under the guidance of a registered occupational therapist you will learn to assess and treat patients.

Towards the end of your placement, you will be treating your own small case-load under supervision.

The final award is achieved on the basis of continuous assessment of course-based work and fieldwork practice assessments and examinations.

In-service and part-time programmes

Some courses in occupational therapy are designed to provide access to professional qualifications for support workers or technical instructors and these are called in-service. Applicants are usually sponsored by their employers, but potential students should be certain about their funding arrangements before accepting a place on a course. They should check that the support and flexible working patterns necessary to facilitate their education are available.

Other courses allow students to study part-time, irrespective of their employment status. In other words, students undertaking these courses may currently be working in a job that is completely unrelated to occupational therapy. Students undertaking these courses would usually fund themselves. As with students undertaking in-service courses, they should also check out that the support and flexible working patterns necessary to facilitate their education are available from their employer.

Both programmes of study include day or weekly attendance, and all include full-time periods of fieldwork education.

Successful completion of the course leads to the award of either the bachelor of science with honours in occupational therapy or a bachelor of health sciences in occupational therapy and eligibility for  registration.

Two-year (full time) accelerated courses

Accelerated courses enable graduates of other disciplines to obtain a qualification in occupational therapy with a licence to practice in two years. Entry requirements are a first degree or equivalent, together with previous involvement in health care and the capacity to undertake an intensive schedule.

You can get a list of the institutions running all approved programmes in occupational therapy, by using our coursefinder. Alternatively, you can visit the HCPC website

Financial support for students on occupational therapy courses

Information on financial support available while studying occupational therapy.

Applying for a degree in occupational therapy

Applications for degree programmes are administered by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).