How to get onto an OT course: an interview with an admissions tutor

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It’s day two of being in third year and I’m out and about the campus spying freshers sporting the ‘rabbit in headlights’ look .It took me back. I  remember all too vividly wearing the  ‘lost around campus’ air, the ‘perplexing library ‘ wince and the ‘information overload’ stare for  the first few weeks at university . After the initial elation of getting on the course, I remember realising that the hard work was just getting started.

Indeed, it is an achievement getting on to an OT course. According to Angela Hook, admissions tutor for OT at the University of Salford, 350-400 applicants vie for only 56 places on each intake.  With the academic achievements high (a quick look at 6 random UK universities’ entry requirements revealed between 320 and 260 UCAS points needed to get on OT undergraduate courses) and the competition fierce, the OT process is here to help you get your bum on a seat in an OT lecture theatre.

The UCAS form

When Angela is sifting through  UCAS application forms she’s looking for;

 “An up-to-date and relevant academic profile that demonstrates that the person would be ready to study at degree level…[and]… a strong personal statement that demonstrates a basic understanding of occupational therapy and profiles your own interest and experience. We advise at least 2 visits to OT services to observe or chat with OTs so that you have a clear idea of how an OT may work in different areas”.

Insider hint from the OT process: Some careers centres and libraries have a book called ‘Degree Course Offers’ by Brian Heap. This university bible gives you all the insider info on what admissions tutors are looking for on each course. This information includes UCAS points needed, reasons for rejection, common mistakes applicants make, and tips for the personal statement. You can check Google books for libraries near you that have this mighty tome or you may have one in your careers library in school or college. If you’re willing to pay, you can use it online for a one-off payment to view for a limited time here. Alternatively, you can speak directly to admissions tutors, like Angela, at universities. You can ‘phone them or speak to them in person as they are usually the tutors at the open days. No it isn’t weird and no, they don’t mind.

Shadowing

As Angela said, universities like you to have shadowed two OT’s in different setting (preferably one physical and one mental health). Don’t feel shy arranging this, it’s a common requirement for entry onto health courses such as OT, physiotherapy and nursing. So common is it that some hospitals have shadowing days where a number of prospective students get to talk to different OT departments. Where do you start? When I was deciding on my career change I telephoned the HR/personnel department of my local hospital to ask  if I could shadow and observed 2 OT departments, audiology, speech and language therapy and orthoptics and no one batted an eyelid. I would certainly recommend doing it as it was one of the most useful things that I did to help me make a career change.

Go to open days.

Apart from shadowing/chatting to OT’s in different settings. Angela’s best piece of advice is to attend open days at universities;

Try to attend an open day to look at the programme and whether it fits with your own style of learning. You can meet staff and students on these days and take a look at the university”.

I certainly agree. Do you remember looking around local colleges and deciding which one to go to? Did one feel ‘right’? I know I felt this way looking around universities.  Pick up on the atmosphere, the facilities, course content, and the types of support on offer (if needed). Most importantly, where do you think that you will be happy? Going to open days also means that you’ll gather hints and tips for the inevitable question at the interview where they ask you why do you want to come to that particular establishment.

Are you OT material?

No, that doesn’t mean whether you look sensational in bottle green pants. Admissions tutors will be thinking about whether you would make a good OT. So as well as having the academic capability they want to know whether you have the right personal skills, values and qualities. Angela adds;

Make sure you highlight any transferable skills – so any volunteering you may have done in relevant areas that can showcase ability and understanding (working in  a team, communicating, self-management etc)”.

My advice would be to brainstorm what skills you think that an OT needs to do their job and try and showcase that you’ve got them. Are you are good with people? Can you communicate effectively? Can you speak up in front of people? OT’s run groups so you need to get used to an audience. Do you actively listen to people? Are you a problem solver? There may be activities in the selection process where you need to demonstrate these qualities such as a group task.

Being in the know= no surprises

As with a lot of things in life, preparation is key.  As mentioned earlier, NHS courses are massively oversubscribed and so universities want to know that you are there for the right reasons and you’re not going to drop out as you thought it would just be like physiotherapy/social work/nursing etc. Do some research about the role, sites such as NHS careers, COT, and the National Careers Service job profiles are good sources of information. Links at the bottom of the page.

I firmly believe that you get out what you put in, if you follow these steps you will be able to answer questions on:

  • What does an OT do?
  • Why do you want to be an OT?
  • Why do you want to come to this university?
  • What do you know about the course?
  • What skills and experience  do you have that are relevant to occupational therapy?

I’m not saying that these are the actual questions on an interview but they are the type of things that an admissions tutor would want to know about you.

Finally, if you are applying for an OT course then I wish you every success. I remember when the course of my life depended on one little ‘accepted’. Scary but exciting.

EDIT 17/01/16: I notice that this post is getting a lot of views recently, check out this recent post that will also help you: Free online seminar:

The OT journey: from university application to new practitioner, hints and tips from a newly qualified OT.

Read the full interview with Angela Hook here:

OT process: Angela, describe your selection process.
Angela: Once UCAS opens in September, central admissions start receiving applications. All those that do not meet our criteria are rejected and all others are held until the closing date in the following January. At that point I start selecting for interview. Interviews usually take place during March/April and final decisions of offers are sent out about May. We then await all conditions of offers to be met.

How competitive is the course to get on?
We usually have approximately 350-400 applicants for 56 places

What are admissions tutors looking for in applicants?

a) up-to- date and relevant academic profile that demonstrates that the person would be ready to study at degree level. UCAS holds the details of what we accept from an academic profile.
b) a strong Personal statement that demonstrates a basic understanding of occupational therapy and profiles your own interest and experience. We advise at least 2 visits to OT services to observe or  chat with OTs so that you have a clear idea of how an OT may work in different areas. Make sure you highlight any transferable skills – so any volunteering you may have done in relevant areas etc that can showcase ability and understanding (working in  a team, communicating, self-management etc)

What common mistakes do people make?
Writing a generic personal statement as they couldn’t make up their mind at application which profession they want to enter.
Not putting all their academic achievements on the application form
Copying and pasting and not always proof reading their application form for errors

What common misconceptions occur?
That health programmes are the same level of attendance as other degree programmes. Whilst many of our students continue to work part time this has to be flexible around both the academic timetable and the placements. Ultimately you are studying both for a degree and eligibility for license to practice. This means that expected attendance levels are high.

What are the common reasons for rejection of applicants?
-They have not met the academic profile, or their academic profile is weak in comparison to other applicants
-Their Personal statement is weak, or limited or does not indicate (or even mention) a basic understanding of OT.
-Missing information

The best piece(s) of advice on applying for an OT course would be…
-Go talk to others OTs and get a real flavour for the profession in more that one service area
-Try to attend an open day to look at the programme and whether it fits with your own style of learning. You can meet staff and students on these days and take a look at the university also.

Links:

Degree Course Offers:http://www.heaponline.co.uk/heap.aspx

NHS Careers: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/

College of Occupational Therapists:http://www.cot.co.uk/

National Careers Service Job Profiles:https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/advice/planning/jobprofiles/Pages/occupationaltherapist.aspx

The University of Salford:http://www.salford.ac.uk/

UCAS:http://www.ucas.com/

Angela’s blog:http://www.frederickroad.blogspot.co.uk/

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5 thoughts on “How to get onto an OT course: an interview with an admissions tutor

    • Sorry that may have been my fault. There is a face book group called “Occupational Therapy Students: Get Connected” and there are always people asking for tips about applying. I put your link on there, hope you don’t mind. Realise I probably should have asked permission first.

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