Occupational therapy is a noble profession that aids thousands of people of any age in achieving the lifestyle they need and desire. Becoming an occupational therapist (OT) requires a significant amount of education, as OT’s require a Bachelor, but many have Masters Degrees. The expenses incurred by such education can be mitigated through grant and scholarship programs, which generally do not require repayment.
As OT’s assist people at any stage of their lifespan and with any disease or disability, there are many directions for finding and getting federal grants. It is possible for OT students to get grants based on income, field of study, or specialization in study. Federal grants are constantly changing based on changing trends and funding, some are more stable than others, but it is important to keep checking on these grants to find new opportunities.
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), at fafsa.ed.gov, is the first step in getting federal grants. This application not only determines a student’s eligibility for federal loan assistance, it also automatically enrolls the student for consideration for several government grants.
The grants available to OT’s through the FAFSA include the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and Academic Competitiveness Grant. Additionally, filling out the FAFSA may also make the student available for specialized government grants the college has received.
- The Pell grant is awarded to students with low incomes. The criteria used to determine award allowances are expected family contributions, full/part-time status, tuition costs, and length of study.
- The FSEOG is a campus-based program that provides Pell grant beneficiaries with the lowest expected family contributions additional funds. Criteria used in determining award allowances are amount of Pell grant, other scholarship and grant awards, tuition, and campus financial aid policies. Check to see if this grant is available at your school and apply early. Awards range from $100 to $4000.
- In 2006, the Academic Competitiveness Grant was established to reward hard working first and second year students. This grant provides additional funds to students that both need and earn it. To qualify for this grant a student must receive a Pell grant, is enrolled full time in a two or four year program, and maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. First year students can receive a maximum of $750 and second year students a maximum of $1300.
The Department of Education, at www2.ed.gov, may also have federal grants available to OT students. Many of these grants are for states or institutions, but it is a good place to find information on available grants in a particular area. In particular, the Offices of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), at www2.ed.gov, apply to OT students.
- The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is an OSERS program that focuses on research in improving the lives of disabled individuals throughout their lifespan.
- The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is a program that focuses on improving the lives of younger disabled individuals. This program provides funding to states and colleges that will aid in improving the lives of disabled individuals from birth to age 21.
- The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) is a program that helps disabled individuals find employment and live more independently. They achieve this by overseeing grants that support medical and physiological services and individualized services, such as an OT would provide.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), at www.dhhs.gov, has grant programs that would apply to OT students. HHS has many agencies that can offer grant money for different aspects of occupational therapy, including the elder, children and young adults, diseases, and substance abuse and mental health.
- The Administration for Children and Families oversees programs that support the well being of children and families and helping them become independent and productive. They have a focus on susceptible groups, such as those with disabilities.
- The Administration on Aging is focused on helping the older population. They aim to create systems that will allow the elderly to remain healthy and independent.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, well known for its disease response programs, also focuses on promotion of health, injuries, and disabilities. Offices and centers, including the Office of Noncommunicable Diseases, Injury and Environmental Health, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Diseases, and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, would support occupational therapy practitioners.
- The Health Resources and Services Administration focuses on getting quality health services, workforce, and programs to those who are uninsured or medically defenseless.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration aims to reduce the effects of substance abuse and mental health on the community through its eight strategic initiatives. More than half of these initiatives, including trauma and justice, military families, recovery support, and health reform, applies to occupational therapy practitioners.
- The HHS and its various agencies have more than 300 grants available to students. The HHS uses the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), which is maintained by the General Services Administration, to manage the publication of their grant programs. The CFDA provides a profile of all federal grant programs, contact information for obtaining further information and applications, and a section on how to write a grant application. An online version of the CFDA is available at cfda.gov. A published version can be found at many libraries or order one from (202) 512-1800. A CD-Rom or diskette version can be ordered from (202) 708-5126.
The Department of Labor (DOL), at dol.gov, also has available grants for OTs. Although the DOLs major focus is on improving the welfare of workers, they also focus on improving work conditions and ensuring benefits and rights. Several of their offices offer grants that do apply to OTs.
- The Office of Disability Employment Policy offers several grants for the OT profession. These grants include the Customized Employment Grant, Work Program Grants, and Innovative Demonstration grants for Youth with Disabilities.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offer the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program.
Each of these Federal agencies can be visited individually or you can visit grants.gov to look at all the available federal grants. More information can be found on the individual websites, which may make it easier to determine the best grants. In addition, many of these grants are awarded to states, organizations, and educational institutes. However, researching the awards trail for these grants can help in identifying where and which colleges or private organizations grant money can be found.
Colleges and Universities
In 2008, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the top occupational therapy schools in America. The list of these schools can be found at grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com. The top five schools listed for the U.S. are Boston University (Sargent), Washington University in St. Louis, University of Southern California, University of Illinois in Chicago, and Tufts University-Boston School of Occupational Therapy. These schools, as well as many others, have grant, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities for OT students.
Boston University (Sargent) received nearly nine million dollars in grant awards for research funding in 2009-2010. Naturally, not all of this funding is to support the OT program, but there are many grant awards that would apply to OTs, such as the project A Combinatorial Strategy to Treat Congenital Muscular Dystrophy or University Students and Their Notebook Computer Use-Phase II and III. The Center for Enhancing Activity & Participation among Persons with Arthritis (ENACT) is a fellowship offered through BU Sargent. This fellowship offers tuition and a stipend for four years of study.
It is necessary for a student to complete the application for the Boston University’s Doctor of Science in Rehabilitation Science program, an essay on short and long term goals, a statement on mentor choice, and three letters of reference and email this information to Dr. Julie J. Keysor, Ph.D., PT at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on this program and particular fellowship can be found at www.bu.edu.
Washington University in St. Louis, tied for first place with BU Sargent, is the only college in the U.S. to offer a Master’s and Doctoral in occupational therapy and a Ph.D. in rehabilitation and participation science.
The school has many different focused areas of research. Their main areas of focus are productive aging, work and industry, social participation and the environment, children and youth, neurorehabilitation, and rehabilitation science.
The school has more than fifty different current research projects that are categorized under their six focus areas and funded by many different federal, state, and independent organizations. Involvement in these projects could potentially lead to grants or fellowships.
The University of Southern California (USC) is the oldest private research university in the west, and has one of the best OT programs in the country. In 2008, the Office of Special Education Programs awarded USC with $800,000 early intervention grant. The grant is being used as the Training Occupational Therapy Specialists (TOTS) project. This program is designed for an entry level OT that is in the Master’s program.
To qualify for this grant opportunity a student must be accepted into the Master’s program, complete all of their level I and II fieldwork, complete an application, provide a resume, answer three essay questions, and submitted to Dr. Kingsley. Recipients of this program collect a $10,000 stipend, but must agree to spend two years working with young children with disabilities after graduation. The government tracks this obligation after graduation. To get more information and apply for this opportunity visit ot.usc.edu.
The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has an excellent occupational therapy program. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) named their occupational therapy department the National Center for Outcomes Research and Education. It is one of two research centers funded by AOTA and AOTF in the U.S. Some of the scholarships available to OT students at UIC include the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs, Third District, Scholarship; Lillian B. Torrance Scholarship; and Beatrice D. Wade Scholarship. www.ahs.uic.edu.
Tufts University-Boston School of Occupational Therapy (BSOT) was created at the request of the surgeon general in 1918 and has access to a consortium of schools. The BSOT consortium of schools includes Boston College, Boston University, and Brandeis University, which provide it with rich and extensive resources. BSOT offers a limited number of partial tuition scholarships for full-time students.
There are many colleges and universities that offer OT programs. Most, if not all, will have grants, scholarships, and fellowships specifically for occupational therapy students. Some of these will be merit based, others financially need based, and some will be a combination of both. It is not possible to list all of the possible opportunities here. To find out about the opportunities at any school, either visit their website or contact their financial aid department.
As an OT student, it is beneficial to become a member of one or more professional organizations that specialize in occupational therapy. There are many OT organizations out there that support the profession, provide information and resources, and create a community of industry professionals. These professional organizations also have significant educational funding to help build their community of professionals.
- The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is one of the most well know occupational therapy organizations. AOTA was founded in 1917 to help improve OT services and represent the interests of students and professionals in the field. The AOTA website, aota.org, has a plethora of information on grants and scholarships that they and other organizations offer to OT students. One of the scholarships offered by AOTA is the E. K. Wise Scholarship. This scholarship was designed to create a more diverse workforce. To qualify for this loan the student must be enrolled or accepted to a post baccalaureate OT program full time, have an outstanding academic record, demonstrate leadership, be able to contribute to a diverse workforce, be an AOTA member, and be a citizen of the U.S. The scholarship provides a five thousand dollar award to three applicants annually. New applications will be accepted after February of 2012.
- The American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) is another well known occupational therapy organization. This organization is focused on advancing the industry through improved research, education, and leadership. The AOTF has dozens of scholarships on its website, aotf.org. The organization also funds a Dissertation Research Grant program. This program is available to PhD candidates with a focus on becoming a scientist or research to advance occupational therapy at accredited schools. The research dissertation must relate to the research agenda of the AOTF, which includes assessment/measurement, intervention research, basic research, translation research, health services, and research training. It is possible to download the five sections of the application for this grant at www.aotf.org. Applications are accepted through November 1 of each year.
There are many state based occupational therapy organizations that may have opportunities for OT students. The following is a list of some of the state based occupational therapy organizations:
- Alabama Occupational Therapy Association (ALOTA)
- Alaska Occupational Therapy Association (AKOTA)
- Arizona Occupational Therapy Association (ArizOTA)
- Arkansas Occupational Therapy Association (AROTA)
- Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC)
- Occupational Therapy Association of Colorado (OTAC)
- Connecticut Occupational Therapy Association (ConnOTA)
- Delaware Occupational Therapy Association (DOTA)
- Florida Occupational Therapy Association (FOTA)
- Georgia Occupational Therapy Association (GOTA)
- Occupational Therapy Association of Hawaii (OTAH)
- Idaho Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)
- Illinois Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)
- Indiana Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)
- Iowa Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)
- Kansas Occupational Therapy Association (KOTA)
- Kentucky Occupational Therapy Association (KOTA)
- Maine Occupational Therapy Association (MEOTA)
- Maryland Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA)
- Massachusetts Association for Occupational Therapy (MAOT)
- Michigan Occupational Therapy Association (MiOTA)
- Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA)
- Mississippi Occupational Therapy Association (MSOTA)
- Missouri Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA)
- Montana Occupational Therapy Association (MOTA)
- Nebraska Occupational Therapy Association (NOTA)
- Nevada Occupational Therapy Association (NOTA)
- New Hampshire Occupational Therapy Association (NHOTA)
- New Jersey Occupational Therapy Association (NJOTA)
- New Mexico Occupational Therapy Association (NMOTA)
- New York State Occupational Therapy Association (NYSOTA)
- North Carolina Board of Occupational Therapy (NCBOT)
- North Dakota Occupational Therapy Association (NDOTA)
- Ohio Occupational Therapy Association (OOTA)
- Oklahoma Occupational Therapy Association (OOTA)
- Occupational Therapy Association of Oregon (OTAO)
- Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association (POTA)
- Rhode Island Occupational Therapy Association (RIOTA)
- South Carolina Occupational Therapy Association (SCOTA)
- South Dakota Occupational Therapy Association (SDOTA)
- Tennessee Occupational Therapy Association (TOTA)
- Texas Occupational Therapy Association (TOTA)
- Utah Occupational Therapy Association (UOTA)
- Vermont Occupational Therapy Association (VOTA)
- Virginia Occupational Therapy Association (VOTA)
- Washington Occupational Therapy Association (WOTA)
- West Virginia Occupational Therapy Association (WVOTA)
- Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (WOTA)
- Wyoming Occupational Therapy Association (WYOTA)
- AMBUCS, which originated as the American Business Clubs in Birmingham, AL, offers a scholarship program for health therapy professionals. AMBUCS is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to helping those with disabilities regain their independence and mobility. This scholarship is available to students in their junior and/or senior year of their bachelor’s degree program. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited therapy program, in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, or hearing audiology, and assistant programs are not eligible for this scholarship. This is both a need and merit based scholarship. The organization awards over $180,000 annually, with most awards ranging from $500 to $1500 and a single $6000 two year award. The application for this scholarship is available annually from the middle of January to the middle of April at www.ambucs.com. Additional information about the organization and scholarship can be found at this site.
- The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution has many available scholarships for those in the medical field. Their Occupational/Physical Therapy Scholarship is a one-time $1000 award. It is awarded to an applicant that is a U.S. citizen, with financial need, and enrolled or accepted to an accredited program. It is important to fill out this application appropriately, as incomplete applications will not be considered. To apply, a student must fill out the application, complete a brief statement of objectives, provide their high school transcripts, submit two to four letters of recommendation, provide a list of extra-curricular activities, provide proof of citizenship, complete the financial need form, provide proof of acceptance to an accredited program, and provide a self addressed and stamped post card. The deadline on this scholarship is February 15. All forms and instructions can be found at www.dar.org.
- The U.S. Schweitzer Fellows Program is a fellowship program that is aimed at serving the underprivileged. This fellowship program has four overall goals, develop educated, experienced, and committed leaders; improve community health; expand educational opportunities; and maintain a growing community of alumni. This program is only available in thirteen different sites, Baltimore, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Greater Philadelphia, Houston, Indiana, Los Angeles, New Hampshire/Vermont, New Orleans, North Carolina, and Pittsburg. Each of these different sites has slightly different application processes and contacts. To find out further information on the application process and requirements, visit www.schweitzerfellowship.org. Deadline for this fellowship application is February 1.
The above grants, scholarships, and fellowships have all dealt directly with the occupational therapy profession. Just because a student is studying occupational therapy does not mean that is the only potential source of income. There are many other funding options that deal with other aspects of an individual’s life, such as gender, heritage, and disabilities.
- The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers several grant and fellowship opportunities. The AAUW Career Development Grants are exclusively for women who already hold a bachelors degree. Eligible women can be pursuing an advanced degree, second bachelor’s, or specialized training. The award on this grant ranges from $2,000 to $12,000. The deadline on this application is December 15. To apply or request more information visit www.aauw.org. The AAUW also has other grants, scholarships, and fellowships available on this site.
- The Jeanette Rankin Foundation (JRF) offers funding to women over the age of 35. To be eligible for the JRF scholarship, the student must be a woman 35 years or older, a U.S. citizen, enrolled or accepted to an accredited institution, pursuing a vocation, associates, or first bachelors degree, and meet the low income guidelines. The deadline for submitting this application is March 1, and winners will be announced by July 1. To apply or request more information visit www.rankinfoundation.org.
- The American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) offers a variety of fellowships and grants for people of American or Alaskan Indian descent. To be qualified for one of the AIGC opportunities, the student must be pursuing an advanced degree, full-time at an accredited institution, have a financial need, and an enrolled member of an American or Alaskan Indian tribe. The Grace Wall Barreda Memorial Fellowship and John Rainer Memorial Fellowship are two such scholarships, which would apply to OT students. The awards on these fellowships range from $500 to $5000. The application period on these fellowships have expired for the year, but new applications will be accepted at the beginning of the year through June 1. Applications can be found at www.aigcs.org.
- The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This program awards funding to minorities in any field of study. To be eligible for this program the student must be of African American, American/Alaskan Indian, Asian Pacific Islander, or Hispanic descent. Other criteria for eligibility include being a U.S. citizen, a 3.3 high school GPA or GED, be enrolling in college for the first time, demonstrated leadership and community service abilities, meet Pell grant criteria, and completed the three required forms. The deadline for this application is January 11. Forms for application can be found at nominations.gmsp.org.
- The Korean American Scholarship Foundation (KASF) offers a number of different scholarships, including Chair Scholarships, Designated Scholarships, and General Scholarships. These funds are restricted to U.S. citizens of Korean descent. The amount awarded for these scholarships varies. To be eligible, the student must be enrolled full-time in a graduate or undergraduate program. Other restrictions may apply depending on the type of scholarship. The awards for these scholarships are determined based on financial need, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and community service. The deadlines on these scholarships also vary based on location. Visit www.kasf.org to retrieve more information, apply, and determine deadlines.
- The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) offers a scholarship program. The NFB awards thirty scholarships that range from $3,000 to $12,000. To be eligible for this scholarship, a student must be legally blind, reside in the U.S. or its territories, either enrolled or planning to be enrolled full-time, and must participate in the NFB national convention and scholarship activities. The deadline for this application is March 31. To retrieve further information and applications visit www.nfb.org.
Occupational therapy students have a number of grants, scholarships, and fellowships available to them. Some of these are federally funded, while others are funded by the state or private organizations. To take advantage of such opportunities, the student must continually research and create a network of professionals to keep up to date.
Joining state and private organizations can assist in this endeavor and also build a sense of belonging in a community. Students must not forget to consider their other attributes, which may be beneficial in finding alternative grants. Despite the origination of the money, these grant opportunities are continually changing and students must make it a priority to research opportunities. The grant opportunities listed here are only the tip of the ice berg, with many good starting points. Good research can uncover many more funding opportunities for the up and coming occupational therapy professional.
College Grant Information By State