Monday, September 22, 2014

List Love // How to Apply to OT Schools Using OTCAS

How to Apply to OT Schools Through OTCAS:
{a decently accurate timeline of things you need to do}

1. As soon as you graduate or finish taking classes at a school, get a copy of your transcript. If possible {aka they're free (like UCLA's transcripts) or not super expensive ($3-6 at local community colleges)}, get more than one sent to you. And make sure they're the "official" kind, not the "student copy" kind. You want them signed, sealed, and delivered to your doorstep, y'all. Even if you aren't applying to any grad schools, having a copy lying around can be super helpful.

2. Check the application due date for the OT schools to which you want to apply. Every school is different for the most part, so be aware of when your app needs to arrive. Remember that apps are due the year before you would begin classes and that OTCAS will open its app to you about two and a half to three months in advance of the first due date. To make your life easier and less stressful, take advantage of that "extra" time.

3. Create an OTCAS account ASAP. Don't put it off with the excuse "but I'm not ready to apply yet" or "let me finish reading all the directions on the school website first." Just make an account as soon as you start contemplating applying that year. That way you'll have one more thing crossed off the checklist.

4. Read the individual OT school's application directions, but don't use those as your sole instructions. Those directions suck. They're old, have all the wrong deadlines, and there is way too much conflicting information to make the actual OT school's website useful {or maybe that was only the OT school I applied to; maybe other OT schools' websites are ridiculously amazing and accurate. In that case, yay for youuu, 'cause that means less confusion! Whoot}. Still, you want to read through all their documents and small print just to make sure you didn't miss anything vital, like supplemental materials they want to receive. However, use the instructions on OTCAS to create your to-do list. That information is current and correct.

5. Start volunteering if you haven't already. Every school will want you to have volunteer hours at an OT place, just to make sure you know what you're getting into and that you still want this. And the number of hours they'll want differ from school to school. For instance, the place I'm applying to wants a minimum of 40 hours, but a couple of the places Steph is applying to require 100 hours. *eeek* So. Call around to all the OT places in your area and ask if they accept volunteers. I lucked out and found a place that let's me come in whenever and for however long I need, but some places will just add you to their schedule/rotation of volunteers and you'll only be able to get, like, three hours a week from them. Remember, multiple locations and experiences are best, so if you can volunteer with two or three places, do it. Not only does that show you've learned about a bunch of different types of OT, but that broadens your options for reference letters, too.

5. Do the easy stuff first. The first, like, four sections of the OTCAS app are simply personal information. You should know that stuff without having to reference a thing. Input it all. Seeing "complete" next to almost half of the app should make you feel better. And it took, like, eight minutes, tops. Good job, you!

6. Input all the colleges you've attended. I'm talking every single place you've ever taken a class. If you took a community college class in high school, no matter what the reason or whether that class pertains to occupational therapy, you need to tell OTCAS. Take classes after college to keep yourself busy while job-hunting? Put those down, too. For each of those schools, OTCAS will give you a document to print and fill out and have attached to your transcript from those schools. Special attachments take more time so...

6. Send your transcript requests in as early as you can. These are the killers {or at least they were for me}. It takes about three weeks for OTCAS to "verify" your application using your transcripts, which means those transcripts have to arrive at least three weeks before the "due date" the OT school gives you. From the West Coast, transcripts take about a week to a week and a half to get to Massachusetts, which means your colleges need to have sent your transcript about four-ish weeks before the due date. Keep in mind some colleges take forever to get your transcript out the door, so take that extra five days into account {at some point, it's easier just to pay extra to have the college rush-ship it. It's up to you}. And for giant four-year colleges who loooove making life complicated, your mailed transcript request can take up to two weeks to even get to the right office {I'm looking at you, UCLA. *grr*}, instead of the two days it takes normal mail to reach people down there.

In other words, just send your transcript requests to all those colleges you've attended asap, so that they in turn can get the documents out asap. Remember to include those special attachments OTCAS wants and fill everything out correctly. I didn't realize how long it would take my transcripts to get to Massachusetts, so I'm actually pretty sure my app isn't going to make it to the OT school by the due date. Which kind of really sucks after stressing so much about this. So. Learn from me, kidlets. *sigh* This is why I'm writing out this timeline to follow.

Note: If your transcripts arrive before you've submitted your online OTCAS application, OTCAS will just hang onto them for you. When you do hit submit, the transcripts will appear as received {or not received, whatever the case may be}. So really, there's no way to turn in transcripts too early.

7. Ask your people. And confirm. And remind. And politely remind again. Recommendations. Get those done. You need one academic/professional one, one from an OT with whom you volunteered, and a third from basically anyone {aka academic, professional, OR OT-related}. Some of your references will be awesome possums and get them done right away. Others... not so much. Take that into consideration when you schedule everything. When they've submitted their reference, OTCAS will send you an email letting you know, so until you get that email, politely remind.

8. Input every single college class you've ever taken. One of the sillier things about this OTCAS app is that you need to manually input the info about each class you've enrolled in at every single college you've attended. It's not difficult, just super time-consuming. This is why you needed a copy of your official transcript. Too many mistakes in this portion of your app means that OTCAS doesn't send it into your school of choice. So set aside a couple hours to just sit in one place with your official transcript beside you, and fill everything out according to the instructions given. Just fyi, you WILL celebrate when you've finished inputting all your classes. So.

Note: The instructions say to input everything chronologically. You should indeed since it's easier to avoid mistakes that way, but if you mess up or you realize you forgot to put in that high school community college class, DON'T PANIC {like I did... heh}. OTCAS will keep your classes in chronological order even if you add a class out of order. Just don't do that all the time.

9. Create a list of all your extra-curriculars, internships, jobs, leadership experience, volunteering, and awards. You'll need it to fill out one of the sections of the app. Calculate how many hours {approximately} you put in for each item. Oddly enough, in this section, you do have to input everything chronologically because OTCAS doesn't fix it for you. I'm pretty sure it doesn't make a difference in terms of them accepting the info, but it does make a difference in how it looks. 

10. Write your personal statement. I'm not sure how long this will take you, so complete on your own timetable. This is one of the few parts of the app that rely solely on you, so you don't have to wait for other people or organizations to finish something before you submit. OTCAS says 7500 characters or less {they estimate about a page in Word}, but mine was about a page and three-quarters and came out to about 4500 characters, so. I'm not sure what size font they were basing their estimate on. O.o Just something to keep in mind.

11. Sometime during your volunteering, ask your OT for their business card and their OT license number. In order to fill out how many hours of volunteering you've completed, you need your supervising OT's full name, email address, phone number, and all that jazz. Keep track of how many hours you were at each place; most OT offices expect you to handle that on your own, so they don't write that kind of stuff down. If you forget, you lose the hours. So don't forget.

12. Breathe. The OTCAS app isn't that difficult. It's just a matter of balancing and using your time wisely. You'll be okay. And even if you're not {*laughs* Like me, since I've sent in and paid for everything and still more than likely won't make the deadline...}, life goes on and you learned something, right?


I do hope this list/timeline thing helped. Let me know if anything needs clarification and I'll definitely get back to you! Good luck, friend! (:

{And apologies that this is such a text-heavy, photo-light post. I didn't really know what sort of photos one would use for a to-do list like this, so... If you can think of any, let me know because right now even my eyes get a little cross-eyed looking at this much text. Heh}.

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