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Occupational Therapy Assistant

ota students

It’s never been a better time to enter the growing health care field. And there are few health care careers as in-demand right now as occupational therapy assistants. Now you can become one in as little as two years through Mercyhurst North East’s occupational therapy assistant associate degree program.

Occupational therapy assistants help people of all ages regain, develop, or master everyday skills in order to live independent, productive, and satisfying lives. Whether it’s an infant with developmental problems, and elderly person facing health challenges, or a person who is living with disabilities, OTAs help patients with rehabilitative activities and exercises and monitor their progress.

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At Mercyhurst North East, you’ll get both classroom instruction and fieldwork in actual OT settings, providing you with the knowledge and hands-on skills to succeed in this growing field. The integrated two-year curriculum consists of a balance of liberal studies, science and technical courses. Course topics include abnormal psychology, psychosocial disabilities, physical disabilities, pediatrics and aging populations.

Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapy assistant administered by the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of the NBCOT examination, the individual will be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).

The Occupational Therapy Assistant program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) located at 4720 Montgomery Lane, P.O. Box 31220, Bethesda MD 20824-1220. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-2682.


What is an OTA?

What can I do with this degree?

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) work under the direction of occupational therapists to provide rehabilitative services to persons with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities. OTAs help clients with rehabilitative activities and exercises outlined in a treatment plan developed in collaboration with an occupational therapist. Activities can range from teaching the proper method of moving from a bed into a wheelchair to the best way to stretch muscles. Assistants monitor an individual’s activities to make sure that they are performed correctly, provide encouragement and record their client’s progress. OTAs also work with the therapists to assess progress and make appropriate treatment changes.

OTAs work in a variety of job settings, including:

  • Nursing homes
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health centers
  • Schools

MNE alum may also go on to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy to practice as an occupational therapist.

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of occupational therapy assistants is expected to grow an astounding 41 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than average for all occupations.

The Occupational Therapy Assistant Program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD, 20814-3449. AOTA’s phone number is 301-652-2682. Visit them online at Graduates are eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapy assistant administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). In addition, individual states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. 

Note that a felony conviction will prevent a student from completing fieldwork placement and may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.


View OTA Degree Requirements.


Check out the OTA Program on Facebook


Admissions Requirements

In addition to Mercyhurst North East's standard requirements for admission, which include a high school diploma, a minimum GPA of 2.0, and either an ACT, SAT or MNE Placement Test score, individuals applying for admission to the Occupational Therapy Assistant program are subject the following standards:

  • Applicant must be a high school graduate or GED recipient with minimum overall 2.5 GPA average.
  • Official, final transcripts are required before the start of classes.
  • Appliant must have completed high school courses in algebra, biology AND chemistry, with a minimum grade of C in each course.
  • Preference will be given to applicants with SAT scores at or above 900 (two-section total) or a 20 composite score on the ACT test.
  • Applicant may be required to take the MNE Placement Test (COMPASS) to determine placement in appropriate English and math courses. The placement test is required for students who scored below 900 on the SAT (two-section total), students who scored below a 20 on sections of the ACT, or students who have never taken the SAT or ACT, as well as those who have been out of school for several years.
  • If an applicant does not meet the required scores to enter into English Composition and/or Elementary Algebra, he or she must take preparatory classes. If preparatory English or math are required, a three-year track will be recommended.

Confirmed OTA Students
Once an accepted student confirms enrollment with the university, some post-admission requirements need to be met for clinical fieldwork purposes. These include the following:

  • Accepted students must complete a total of 16 hours of documented work or volunteer experience in two different occupational therapy settings under the supervision of a licensed OT or OTA prior to the start of classes.
  • Accepted students must have current CPR certification before the start of classes.
  • Accepted students must have a recent physical examination and records of the following immunizations before classes begin:
    • Hepatitis B
    • One-time dose of DTAP
    • History of chicken pox or varicella immunization
    • Polio
    • Rubella, rubeola and mumps titers.
  • Students will have a PA criminal record check, PA child abuse record check and FBI criminal record check in the Spring semster of their freshman year. 

NOTE on OTA Outcomes

OTA Program Graduation rates

Graduation Year

Number of Students

Number Graduating Graduation Rate
2014 16 13 87%
2015 20 9 40%
2016 22 12 54%
Total 56 34 60%








Please use this link to the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) web site for official certification examination pass rates:
Link to NBCOT Pass Rate Information

Transferring in from another college? Transfers are welcome in this program, assuming we get a final, official college transcript from each college you have attended. If you still owe another college money, and cannot get a transcript, you will not be permitted to start classes. Check out our credit transfer policies to get an idea of what credits may transfer in.

If you have any questions regarding your admission into the program, please contact the Office of Admissions at 814-725-6144 or email


Essential Skills

In order to successfully complete the OTA Program, a student must participate in and satisfy requirements of a clinical education component. Certain skills are essential to being successful in the clinical courses, as well as the lab component of various OTA courses within the curriculum.

The clinical education component consists of Level I and Level II Fieldwork, and several observation requirements within OTA courses.

The student may be expected to perform satisfactorily in the following domains:


  • Assess patient/client status by visual, tactile and auditory methods.
  • Operate and monitor various types of electrical and mechanical therapeutic equipment and apply these safely and effectively to the patient/client.
  • Regularly lift and move moderate weight, frequently lift and move heavier weights (in excess of fifty (50) pounds) as may be required for safe transfers of the patient/client.
  • Regularly spend prolonged periods of time walking, standing, sitting, bending as well as frequently crawling, reaching, pushing and pulling.
  • Regularly communicate in both written and verbal formats essential information about patients, treatments, and status to physicians, co-workers, patients and families. This includes the ability to hear patient/client speech, ability to read written orders with comprehension, the ability to effectively vocalize assessments of patient status and other information and the ability to utilize an electronic medical record.


  • Demonstrate the interpersonal skills necessary to regularly interact effectively with the client, their families, physicians, co-workers and other facility personnel.
  • Regularly demonstrate the organizational and time management skills necessary to carry out multiple treatment plans on a daily basis.
  • Regularly make decisions and then act on the decisions based on assessment of a particular patient or situation, including emergency situations.
  • Regularly take initiative and work independently yet recognize self-limitations. Regularly accept guidance and supervision from superiors.
  • Regularly read and make adjustments as necessary of various meters, scales and measuring devices.
  • Regularly follow job related logical thought processes.


  • Regularly cope in an appropriate manner to common patient/clinically related stressful situations.
  • Regularly exhibit flexibility in schedule in response to typical clinical/patient changes.

Each student’s right to participate in the fieldwork portion of the curriculum is also contingent upon compliance with the rules of the clinical facility. The clinical facility has the sole discretion to determine policy regarding performance in each setting.

The mission of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at Mercyhurst North East is to provide a comprehensive liberal arts and technical level education for Occupational Therapy Assistant students who will possess a sound scientific basis to practice OT, demonstrate clinical competence, exhibit critical thinking skills, display good communication skills, be capable of self-directed and life-long learning and who are compassionate and ethical.

  • Be able to practice as an entry level generalist in a safe and effective manner within the various settings where OT services are provided
  • Be able to provide intervention related to the occupational performance of an individual or group that is based upon current OT theory, is culturally relevant, and evidence based
  • Be able to use relevant occupations to facilitate participation in life roles
  • Display ethical behavior with clients, coworkers and all stake holders within their practice
  • Be an advocate for the OT profession and for the clients they serve
  • Understand the need to maintain competence through lifelong learning
Dawn Earp, COTA/L
Academic fieldwork Coordinator/ Instruction
Mary Gavacs, M.Ed, OTR/L
Dirrector of Occupational Therapy Assistant Program