This post is Part I of a four-part series to help occupational therapy students and practitioners find ways to fund their OT education.
Welcome to Part I of the Gotta Be OT “Funding Your OT Education” series! The goal of this post is to introduce you to my tried-and-true method of identifying, organizing, and pursuing funding opportunities for your OT education. Whether you are a prospective student, a current student, a new graduate, or even a veteran therapist with student debt to repay, this series will help you understand how you can get off on the right foot or get on track with your educational expenses.
The diagrams below represent the way I recommend conceptualizing and organizing your funding search process. The pyramid structure represents the relationship between the level of funding and the number of competitors you’ll likely have for that funding. (The smaller the segment, the smaller the number of competitors, and vice versa.)
When you begin your funding search, start at the top of the pyramid and work your way down. Begin by identifying scholarships, fellowships, or other funding opportunities at your individual OT program or university. Then, branch out and begin looking for regional opportunities. End your search with national or federal programs for students pursuing health professions. By starting “local” and working your way down, you can dedicate more of your time and energy to opportunities that are more likely to have a successful outcome with an immediate impact.
After you’ve identified the opportunities available and made a list, the next step is getting organized and ready to apply!
- Make a chart or Word document with all pertinent information, including:
- The name of each award/program
- Award amount
- Submission deadline
- Eligibility guidelines
- Additional requirements (letters of recommendations, paperwork, etc.)
[See example table at the end of this post.]
- Read the description for each award carefully. Will you be required to complete a project or provide a service in order to receive the award? Be sure you can meet the terms before completing the application.
- Make sure you’re eligible for each award. You don’t want to spend hours on an application just to find out it’s only open to graduating students if you’re a first year!
Once you’ve created your table and double checked eligibility requirements, it’s time to get to work!
- If the scholarship requires an essay, leave yourself plenty of time to write and edit. Adhere to all character and content guidelines, and ask friends or a career counselor to review your work.
- If you must submit letters of recommendation, ask recommenders well in advance of the deadline and provide them with a copy of the scholarship information and a brief summary of your qualifications (especially as they relate to the scholarship).
- If the application is online, be sure to complete all forms thoroughly and accurately.
- Make your best effort to submit your application at least one day in advance. Computer errors happen, but it’s not the fault of the awarding organization if it happens to you when you’re submitting your essay at 11:59 PM the day of the deadline!
Finally, if the information is not included on the application and you feel comfortable doing so, you can call or email the awarding organization to find out when to expect a response. Be sure to check spam folders and voicemail frequently around decision time so you won’t miss any important news!
The following is an example of potential funding resources for an occupational therapy student in North Carolina identified using the strategy outlined above. You can create a similar chart to identify funding opportunities at your current program or programs of interest and follow the steps above to make your application more competitive.
|Funding Level||Example||Sample Funding Sources|
|OT Program||UNC Chapel Hill Division of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy||Increasing Diversity in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Scholarship
Pediatric Training Grant for OT Students
|University Department or Division||UNC Chapel Hill Department of Allied Health Sciences||June C. Alcott Fellowship in Allied Health|
|University||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Albert Schweitzer Fellowship
|Local & Regional||UNC Hospitals
Local service/philanthropy organizations
|State||North Carolina||NC Forgivable Education Loans for Service (FELS) Program|
|National or Federal||Sallie Mae
U.S. Office of Special Education ProgramsNational Institutes for Health
|Veterans Affairs (VA) Programs
Loans (Forgivable or Other)
Other sources of funding to explore include:
- Culture-specific scholarships (Ex. Indian Health Service (IHS) Scholarship Program)
- International organizations
- Religion-affiliated scholarships
- Research grants earned by faculty who may have funds for student assistants
- U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs scholarship, loan, and debt reduction programs for students, current employees, and others
- U. S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps employment opportunities
- Specialized loan programs for healthcare professionals
I hope this post has helped you begin thinking about how to begin the search for funding sources for your OT education or provided you with helpful information if you’re already in (or out of) school. Keep following this series to get more information about what to do before, during, and after OT school to become an OT for almost free!
How are you paying for your OT education? Let me know in the comments!
- This post from fellow blogger Sarah Lyon at OT Potential has a great interview about the work that Nicole Lamoureux, MOT, OTR, did on Capitol Hill to lobby for expanded education funding and loan repayment opportunities for OT students. Nicole is the former OT Vice Chairperson to the AOTA Assembly of Student Delegates Steering Committee.
- Tips for writing successful scholarship essays from U. S. News & World Report and UC Irvine
- AOTA information about loan forgiveness programs and scholarships