In case you missed it, the earlier posts in my Gotta Get Into Grad School series can be found at these links: Part I: Basic Essay Writing Tips || Part II: Recommendations || Part III: Essays in Depth || Part IV: OTCAS Overview
Hello there! In this post, I’m going to discuss questions related to academics and the OT school application process, especially as it relates to OTCAS. Here are just a few of the questions I’ll answer in this post:
- Do OT programs care where I went to school before applying?
- Which are more important for my OTCAS application – great grades or great essays and recommendations?
- What is the difference between OTCAS grades and institution grades?
- Can I substitute a higher level psychology or anthropology course for a program’s introductory course requirements?
- What is the easiest way to enter all of my course credit and transcript information into OTCAS?
Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more! Again, please consult OTCAS and specific program websites for the most accurate information about entering course information, prerequisite courses, and the application review process. And now I present to you the fifth installment in the Gotta Get Into Grad School Series: Academics and OTCAS!
Academics, Applications, and OTCAS
- It really DOESN’T matter where you went to school.
When I worked as a PTCAS reviewer, I saw applications from people who attended 3 or 4 different institutions, those who had only attended one, and those who had a patchwork of courses from community colleges, online courses, state schools, and top tier universities. Regardless of the schools they attended, all people had to submit the same prerequisites and meet the same minimum academic requirements. So NO, where you went doesn’t really determine where you will go!
- It really DOES matter about your grades.
Be mindful of program GPA cutoffs, GRE score minimum requirements and other academic minimum recommendations. If you are just below the bar, you could still have a chance to get in. For example, my GRE score was one percentile below the “minimum accepted” score that my program listed online – and I still got in! (This is also an example of how having a strong essay and recommendations can help boost your application when numbers may be working against you!) Unfortunately, if you are FAR below the bar…your time and money may be better spent applying elsewhere. Of course there’s no way to tell if you’ll still be considered or not, but usually scores that are very far removed from the “average” applicant pool will not work in your favor.
Most schools have a minimum GPA they will accept for a reason – they are investing their time, money and resources into you and they need to be as certain as possible that you can handle the workload and demands of the curriculum. If your grades don’t demonstrate this, you are a risky investment that many schools will pass on in favor of other applicants who appear to be more likely to succeed.
- Don’t worry about any differences between OTCAS Grades and your Institution Grades.
OTCAS has a grading system within the website that basically adds up all of the grades you enter, verifies them and assigns an “OTCAS grade” to each course. When I was applying, I was frustrated that my college only had “A” as the highest grade you could get, but other schools assign “A+” and OTCAS assigns more points for an A+. However, don’t get caught up in worrying about these kinds of minute differences!
Schools can see both grades (institutional and OTCAS), and this feature is here just to provide a general GPA for programs to examine – if you enter all of your grades accurately, the OTCAS GPA you will ultimately receive should be fairly close to the one you have for your institutions, plus or minus a few tenths of a point.
Again, this is the point at which having strong essays, extracurricular records and recommendations will be more important for schools to see in choosing applicants than a .2 difference in two applicants’ GPAs.
- Make the effort to read and follow the guidelines from each school about which courses are accepted and meet the program’s requirements.
I saw so many applications that looked great grade-wise…but then the applicant was missing one or more required prereq courses. You don’t get a special pass because you have a great recommendation, a great GPA and a great personal essay – and the incorrect prerequisite courses. You get your application rejected because you didn’t follow the basic instructions and take the necessary coursework!
Read CAREFULLY. The main example of issues I saw with prerequisites was with applicants taking courses that were either too high for the program’s requirements OR simply incorrect.
- For example, DO NOT try to “substitute” your Abnormal Psych or Developmental Psych course if the program asks you for a GENERAL or INTRODUCTORY Psychology course! Programs require GENERAL level introductory classes because other courses can be too specific in nature and their content may not be applicable in a curriculum that requires a broad, foundational base of knowledge.
- “Substituting” four other Psychology or Kinesiology courses that the school didn’t ask for doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t have the one course that they did ask for.
Navigating the System and Entering Information
- In online programs like OTCAS or PTCAS, make sure that you check, re-check and double check that you’ve uploaded the correct courses under the correct headings. There may be people like me who review applications and who are responsible for locating courses if they are “misplaced,” but doing it right the first time may decrease the chances that a simple error like this will get your application flagged, held up, or rejected.
Uploading something into the wrong spot probably won’t kill your chances of getting in, but it CAN increase the amount of time it takes reviewers to contact you or find the correct course and “verify” your application – if they find it at all!
If you review your application after you’ve sent it and find that you’ve made a mistake, contact OTCAS and work with them to get it corrected, if this is at all possible.
- Spelling matters. Take the time to transcribe course names accurately, as it will make review of your online application simpler and clearer for reviewers, which can help avoid errors and delays when people review your transcripts and match courses.
For example, for a General Physics I class,
— WRITE THIS: General Physics I
— NOT THIS: gen phys I
For an Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class,
— WRITE THIS: Intro[duction] to Cultural Anthropology
— NOT THIS: Intro cult anth
- Check course credit requirements carefully and enter them into the system very carefully as well!
It helps to have a paper copy of your transcript(s) on hand to handle and write on in order to minimize the chances that you input the incorrect credits into the OTCAS system. Similar to my advice about checking course names and content to be sure it matches the program’s requirements, make sure that you check your course CREDITS to make sure they match as well. This was another common error that I saw when reviewing applications. For example, if a program requires that a psychology course have 3 credits to meet their requirement, submitting a 2-credit “Concepts of Psychology” seminar course is NOT going to meet the requirement.
Regarding labs and credits: Make sure you include all labs with science courses AND select the correct course type in OTCAS (Ex. Lecture Only / Lab Only / Lecture+Lab Combined) to meet credit requirements and ensure accurate review of your submitted application.
- Be aware of how many courses you can have in progress during the application cycle. This applies in situations where a program states that you cannot have more than a certain number of prerequisites in progress at the time your application is submitted. Submitting an incomplete application and planning to take prereq courses “later” is a poor strategy and a good way to get your application rejected. Don’t assume that you can simply send another transcript or email along when you register for the necessary courses and that they will be OK with this.
Instead, make sure that you READ THE PROGRAM APPLICATION MATERIALS CAREFULLY (Are you noticing a trend here?) and understand what the limitations are regarding courses in progress. Some schools allow students to take courses in the semester before the program starts, and others require that students have all but 2 prerequisites completed at the time they submit their applications.
It is also important to note that even at schools where there is no official “limit,” having many prerequisite courses in progress can be detrimental to your application because it makes it difficult or impossible for reviewers to compare your grades and academic progress with other applicants.
- If you are taking the GRE in the near future or before you submit applications, have several schools (and their school codes) in mind to submit your scores to IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TEST.
Right after you finish taking the GRE, you can choose to submit your scores to several schools FOR FREE. When you leave the testing room, you will have to pay to have your scores sent to each school. Even if you don’t end up applying to all the schools you send your scores to, save money by selecting a few strong candidates and making sure to send your scores there while it’s free.
If you have questions about OTCAS that I didn’t answer in this post, please feel free to comment and I will do my best to answer! Good luck to those of you who are still applying, and trust me when I tell you there is light at the end of the tunnel – it’ll all turn out OK!