Gotta Get Into Grad School Part IV: OTCAS – A General Overview

This post is the introduction to several others in the Gotta Get Into Grad School Series that will provide a very thorough, in-depth guide to future occupational therapy students who are using the Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service (OTCAS) system. My goal is to help people who have never used the system or those who are currently using it avoid common mistakes, organize their application in a way that will be most helpful to reviewers, and feel confident about the quality of the application they submit!

OTCAS Photo 


First things first: Why should you trust my advice on the OTCAS application process?

Here is a list of credentials that I feel makes me a reliable source of information about the OTCAS and other health professions’ centralized application (PTCAS, CSDCAS, etc.) processes application process:

  1. I am a VERY RECENT user of the OTCAS system. I applied to OT programs using OTCAS less than one year ago, and I have a wealth of up-to-date personal experience that I can offer to those who have never used it before or those who are confused or overwhelmed by it like I was!
  2. I have experience reviewing applications in the very similar PTCAS system. In a previous position I held, I was responsible for matching applicant submitted prerequisites to the school’s list of prerequisite sources in the PTCAS system for 70+ applications. I could also view the previous institutions attended and grades for each applicant. Therefore, I was able to see the common mistakes applicants made and other issues that often arose during the online application process.
  3. I currently work in an office that serves the needs of students who are in health professions programs alongside coworkers who are experienced in the application process and who handle applications for each of the professional programs. My coworkers have given me a great deal of “insider” information about the behaviors of applicants they speak to, the online application systems and the general application process. Most of them have been working here for several years, and I trust their expert advice on all of the aforementioned topics!

***DISCLAIMER: With all of that said, my writings are not intended to be any kind of “official” or “infallible” guide to using these kinds of online graduate application systems (OTCAS, PTCAS, etc.). I am simply a graduate student looking to help smooth the road ahead of those who are applying after me! Please read the websites for each program you apply to carefully as well as the instructions for each online application system to ensure that your application is completed correctly.***


Planning to Complete the OTCAS Application

  • Start by reading the OTCAS application instructions. Begin with the overview and read through all other relevant sections.

    • Then continue reading the instructions.
    • Take a break.
    • Print out the instructions and keep a copy with you as you apply to refer back to.
    • Make sure you’ve read the website’s instructions! It doesn’t matter what you’re about to read here if you haven’t read what they have to say over there.

While I do have a lot of advice about how to work with OTCAS, they have the BEST advice about how NOT to get your application rejected by making simple mistakes! Read up and be informed.

  • Take your time and do small chunks at a time. Set aside a few weeks and work on different parts of the application on different days so that you can focus clearly on each section.
    • For example, start by spending an hour on one day entering your basic demographic information and “Institutions Attended.”
    • The next time you visit the application, work on entering your coursework for one academic year. Doing the application in short bursts will help you focus and probably help you avoid errors that could result from hasty attempts to complete long sections over short periods of time!
  • Keep a resume or Word document with your relevant accomplishments, involvement and achievements handy.
    • There are almost always “Achievements” or “Past Experience” sections that require you to input information about your extracurricular engagement. Use a resume or make a list of these sorts of things to make sure you include them all in your application.
  • Consult online forums for more information about frequently asked questions other applicants have. Often people are all wondering the same thing and reliable answers can be found online! I frequently checked out posts about OTCAS on the “OTD” discussion forum at the Student Doctor website. Despite the misleading label, the conversations there are virtually all about applying to master’s level programs.
  • Applying to programs via OTCAS can get very costly. Be sure that you plan ahead for the financial burden of applying via the OTCAS system and to individual graduate programs.This information is straight from the OTCAS Website: “The OTCAS fee is $125 to apply to one program and $45 for each additional program. Your designated OT program may also require you to send a supplemental fee directly to the institution.”
    • Supplemental Fees: Some graduate programs require you to pay to submit your application to their program SEPARATE from OTCAS. This means that in addition to paying AT LEAST the $125 flat rate sending fee to one program, you may have to pay $50 or more in order to submit your full application.
    • Many graduate programs have application fee waivers available if you meet certain criteria. If you are having difficulty applying due to financial barriers, considering contacting programs and asking about how they can help.

OTCAS Pros and Cons Summary Table

This table provides a quick, basic rundown of the pros and cons of using OTCAS.

Note: The “Pros” column looks longer, but it’s just because there’s more text for several points! As the numbers show, OTCAS is a system with about an equal number of Pros and Cons.

1) One place to submit transcripts and recommendation info and enter coursework information

2) Doesn’t require a separate resume to be submitted

3) Lots of space for uploading relevant accomplishments and achievements (not limited to a 2-page resume)

4) Ability to submit applications to multiple programs all at once and other colleges if you decide to

5) Convenient listing of application deadlines and requirements for each program*

6) Easily accessible information about acceptance rates, average GPA, etc. that is easily comparable across schools on OTCAS site*

7) OTCAS saves information from previous application cycles if application was “verified” previously (no need to re-enter information for multiple years)

1) Can be expensive ($125 for one program and $45 for each other program)

2) Tedious data entry of coursework, achievements and other information

3) Can be time-consuming

4) Many sections to complete and manage

5) Verification process can affect application timeline

6) Can be required in addition to individual programs’ graduate school/supplemental applications (again, expensive!!!)

7) Requires writing of one essay to be viewed by many schools – must make yourself look like a great fit for many different schools with one common essay!


While this post was just a taste of what the OTCAS process involves, the upcoming posts I have planned will go into a lot more depth on the following topics and answer these questions and more!

  • OTCAS & Academics: What is the difference between OTCAS grades and transcript grades? Does it matter where I went to school? How do I know which prerequisites meet program requirements?
  • Timelines and Deadlines: Do schools look at applications submitted at different times differently? What are the benefits of applying early or late? How much time should I plan to complete my OTCAS application?
  • Navigating the System and Entering Information: How should I enter the titles of my coursework? Can I enter “Activities and Accomplishments” with bullet points, like on a resume? If I make a mistake, how can I fix it?
  • Miscellaneous Tips from an OTCAS Survivor

If any of these topics or questions have piqued your interest, keep following the blog and find out about how you can make your OTCAS application the best it can be!

What was your experience with OTCAS like? Is there anything you wish somebody told you before you applied?

9 thoughts on “Gotta Get Into Grad School Part IV: OTCAS – A General Overview

  1. Brittany April 30, 2017 / 9:37 am

    I noticed that each school has their own worksheet to record observation hours. If I plan to apply to five schools, would I take five worksheets with me for the OT to sign off on? Also, how are observation hours uploaded into OTCAS?

    • lej1123 April 30, 2017 / 10:30 am

      Hi Brittany! As a volunteer, you want to make it as easy as possible on the person you’re shadowing. I think the best (and most efficient) way to get signatures might be to complete each school’s worksheet yourself weekly and have the OT you’re observing sign off on each one weekly or just one time when you stop volunteering. As for the OTCAS part of your question, I’m not familiar with how the system operates, since I haven’t used it in several years. But there should be a FAQ or Help page on the OTCAS website that can tell you how to upload or enter your hours. I hope this helps!

  2. Terra December 27, 2017 / 10:09 pm

    Hi Lauren! Thanks for all of this amazing information! I was wondering, would you recommend the OTCAS method if you were planning to apply to fewer than 4 schools – possibly only 1 or 2? I like the format a lot but I’m wondering if it’s worth the cost for potentially only a few applications. Thanks!

    • lej1123 January 20, 2018 / 9:46 pm

      Hi Terra, happy my blog could help with the not-always-easy application process! The answer to your question depends on whether or not the schools you are applying to REQUIRE you to submit an application via OTCAS. If they do…you won’t have a choice about how to submit. But if you’re applying to schools that don’t require it, they usually have their own version and requirements you should be paying close attention to.

  3. mariahmademe May 8, 2019 / 10:21 pm

    I’ve been looking and haven’t been able to find this anywhere, but how often do schools do applications? Is it yearly or like each semester? I saw this coming one was for summer 2020. Do they all start in the summer?

    • lej1123 May 15, 2019 / 11:09 am

      Hello! Your best bet is to review each program’s website to learn more about their admissions cycles. Many programs are traditional, with applications opening in the summer and classes starting the next fall, but more and more programs have rolling admissions, summer admissions, etc.

      The most reliable resource is each program’s website or admissions coordinator. Good luck!

      • mariahmademe May 15, 2019 / 11:16 am

        Thank you!!

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