Gotta Get Into Grad School Part V: OTCAS & Academics

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


OTCAS Questions

If this is what your brain looks like on OTCAS, read on!

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

  1. 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!
  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.
    2. “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

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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15 thoughts on “Gotta Get Into Grad School Part V: OTCAS & Academics

  1. […] There’s a lot to do before the interview! Check out the other posts in my Gotta Get Into Grad School Series to learn about the rest of the occupational therapy graduate program application process! Part I: Basic Essay Writing Tips || Part II: Recommendations || Part III: Essays in Depth || Part IV: OTCAS Overview // Part V: OTCAS & Academics […]

  2. Ricardo Lyons June 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Hey, I’m a recent graduate and I’m in an unfortunate position. I have less than competitive gpa, 2.7 to be exact. Many of the schools that I looked into have requirements that are 3.0 minimum. OT is really the career for me and its a field that I can undoubtably thrive in. I know you can’t give any definitive suggestions, but I am hoping that you can leave me with a sense of direction or prospects. Maybe you can share any of the tips or suggestions that you have learned from viewing applicants in my similar situtation. Also I am based in the New York area, if that helps. Thank you so much, absolute love this blog.

  3. Juls August 21, 2016 at 8:14 am Reply

    “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.”

    This is great advice. What happens if an applicant enters college with AP credits satisfying a basic psych or stats class? Is this a problem because the course work was satisfied in high school?

    • lej1123 August 21, 2016 at 8:33 am Reply

      Thanks for commenting! I can’t give advice about specific situations with AP courses satisfying prereqs. However, my best advice would be for applicants to email or check in with specific programs about whether AP or other courses meet program requirements long BEFORE applications are due to avoid errors. Hope this helps!

  4. Anika January 2, 2017 at 8:43 pm Reply

    If you take a course with more credits than required will it satisfy that prerequisite? I took a 3 credit medical terminology course but I noticed it’s 1 credit for most schools.

    • lej1123 January 3, 2017 at 10:42 pm Reply

      Hi Anika! Typically if a course has more credits, it can satisfy a requirement. But the best way to be sure is to contact admissions faculty or the university in question to confirm. Hope this helps!

  5. Raquel January 17, 2017 at 10:26 am Reply

    My undergraduate institution used the semester system but a different scale for credits. They applied 1 credit to all “regular” class and .5 credits to a “half” class, based on hours in class I believe, and those were the only options. I’m assuming OTCAS will take this into account and adjust for that, but I’m not really sure what I’m basing that assumption on. Since all the school I’m applying to have prerequisites that are “3 credits” or more, should I contact them directly and ask about this discrepancy, or should I reach out to OTCAS? Or do they have this handled?

    Thank you, this website has been really helpful in getting me through this process!

  6. Alie March 7, 2017 at 9:12 am Reply

    Hi. I love this blog! Thank you so muchfor taking time posting this valuable information! I am in a similar situation as Ricardo up top. I graduated with a Bachelors degree in biology in 2015, and am currently in massage therapy school. I really am passionate about going into an OT program, but my GPA was between a 2.9 and 3.0. Science was tough for me buti loved it! Will a strong essay, recommendations, and GRE score make up for this? I am very stressed about this, as OT programs, especially in the Northeast, are very competitive .

    • lej1123 April 11, 2017 at 7:52 am Reply

      Hi Alie, thanks for commenting! Applying to OT school can definitely be a daunting experience, and admissions personnel look at applicants holistically. Having a low GPA can cast doubt on your ability to be successful in a rigorous master’s or doctoral level program, but it is not an impossible hurdle to overcome. Having a strong essay, recommendations, and GRE score can help make up for lower academics, but not at every school or in all cases. Spend your time (and money, and resources!) looking at specific OT program websites for academic cutoffs for GPA, certain class grades, etc. Find programs that will accept students with a similar academic profile to yours, and go from there. For schools that do not fit your profile, make connections with admissions team members or faculty to learn more about how to strengthen your application. Best of luck!

  7. Annie May 31, 2017 at 7:49 pm Reply

    Hi this blog is incredibly helpful! I just graduated from college a month ago and got a degree in Health Sciences. I decided to take a gap year when I returned back from study abroad last summer. So during my gap year, I am working as a nurse assistant at an inpatient rehab. I have 3.4 gpa and my prereq gpa for the OT schools I am applying to range from a 3.5-3.9. I am taking the GRE this month. I also have experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities and Parkinson’s. I also have research experience with a pediatric OT. I also have lots of observation, however my first semester I failed my math course then I retook it and got an A. I also did not pass a class when I studied abroad due to the fact my group project for the class I failed had a bad mark (really sucks). However neither of those classes are prerequisites for any OT schools – where the prerequisites courses I achieved a B- and above. So my question is 1) Will OT schools throw away my application due to those failed courses 2) how can I explain myself in essays and interviews? Since my bad semesters I have achieved awesome grades since then – hoping schools will noticed how I have matured in that sense.

    • Annie May 31, 2017 at 7:51 pm Reply

      My undergrad university is also starting up an OT program and I would be apart of their first graduating class if I was accepted in- do you think that I may have a better chance with a program like this with my circumstances as compared to a well established program.

      • lej1123 June 12, 2017 at 3:30 pm

        That’s a difficult question! I can’t really give specific advice about which program you should attend, since there are so many factors that go into an individual’s decision to choose a school/program. I would encourage you to do your research about each program’s pros and cons and talk with a career counselor at your alma mater about what decision may make the most sense for you given your specific circumstances. You might also find the post I wrote about Choosing an OT Graduate Program helpful (https://goo.gl/ruPvPS). Good luck, and please feel free to email me at gottabeot1@gmail.com with any other questions!

    • lej1123 June 12, 2017 at 3:22 pm Reply

      Hello Annie, and thanks for commenting. I can’t speak specifically to what any OT program admissions committee will do regarding the application of an individual student who has some less than desirable grades on their transcript. However, I think in this scenario you have two options. You can BRIEFLY mention in an application essay how you have matured since receiving the bad grades or what you learned/how you improved as a result of those experiences. Or, if those classes aren’t prerequisites for the OT programs, you can simply ignore it and let your good grades (that are prerequisites) speak for themselves. Whatever you do, keep the focus on your positive qualities and academics. I hope this helps!

  8. Sara July 17, 2017 at 6:16 pm Reply

    Hi!! Thanks for your post! I look at it daily as the OTCAS opening tomorrow makes this process a reality 🙂 I am curious how much schools weigh GRE scores? I struggle with standardized tests but excel in my schoolwork.. that’s just always how I’ve been. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get my GRE score up. Wondering if you have any insight to the weight GRE scores play in the application process?

    • lej1123 July 25, 2017 at 3:53 pm Reply

      Thanks for commenting! Unfortunately, I do not have any special insight into the OT school selection process beyond what each program posts on their admissions page. If you are concerned about the impact your GRE score might have on your application, I encourage you to check with the program’s admissions coordinators (and program websites) to learn more about any GRE score cutoffs and the general student profile. They might also be able to give you information about the percentage your GRE scores will matter along with the rest of your application. You can also try searching the OTD forums on the Student Doctor Network website for stories and information from people who also struggled with the GRE how they overcame this weakness in their application. Best of luck applying!

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