occupational therapy, OT Student Success, Uncategorized

Incoming First Year OT Student Tips


Tis the season for


and for most of you reading this right now, you are either in the midst of applying to OTCAS for next year’s admission entrance or

are hopefully making the most out of your last few weeks of freedom before starting your first year as OT / OTA students or

perhaps you are in your upper years of OT school and are looking at this list to weigh out which tips could have been applicable to your first year or

you are already an OT and you are an awesome person who poured into your rising colleagues by contributing to this tips list:)

If any of those describe you or not, I am glad you are here.

***The motive of this specific blog post is to maximize the excitement for newbie students while also providing a little dose of reality medicine in what is about to be the most exciting, stressful, difficult, worth-it, transforming  experience in your scholastic career so far.***

My hope is to help provide you with useful tips to store in your growing OT toolkit in effort to maximize your ability to step with your best foot forward to make this OT/OTA school terrain a little easier to navigate.

In addition to a few personal tips, I will also be sharing quoted tips from a few of my Instagram followers and friends (check out my INSTA here at IG: @SHANNENMARIE_OT who are either still in OT school or are current practicing clinicians. I appreciate every single one of you who commented or direct messaged me to provide your unique insight.

If I can do it, if they can do it, YOU CAN DO IT.

And if all else fails just remember that  Bs make OTs !!!


5 Quick Quirks

for Newbie OT Student Success

1) Make FRIENDS 

Take the initiative to find a few key friends within your cohort. Honesty confession: I went into OT school thinking that since all of my classmates have the same interests (not true) to do the same career (also not true because OT is so broad) then I will surely have 29 new best friends right??? Ehh no, but odds are your classmates, regardless if you have 1-2 great buddies or 10 -they are your cohort and y’all should feel some type of camaraderie to support one another. When you go to dinner or catch a movie with your new friends, make a valiant effort to limit talking about school or anything OT related to a minimum!!

2) Do the FINANCE dance

Get your finances together before you get sucked into only thinking about the brachial plexus, reflexes, and 22 group projects that you have not yet learned. If you are one of the fortunate individuals with a scholarship, go ahead and confirm your OT school start date for that specific calendar year. If you are taking out loans which will be the very vast majority of you, bite the bullet an write out the number as well as verbalize the number you owe back per semester to help hold yourself accountable. Loans are very funny in that it feels like make believe money that you may from time to time attempt to pretend do not exist (I am here to remind you that they are REAL #moodkiller). Make a very basic budget that will help you keep a handle on whether or not you actually need that venti iced mocha every morning or that ridiculously cute and organized planner that you’ll never use.

3) SELFCARE before healthcare

It is really cool nowadays to talk about “wellness”, “self-care days”, “mindfulness”, “intentional living” and “burnout prevention”, but it is also really NOT cool to not implement any of these into your life. You are about to be in a huge transition period. Some of you may have traditional stories where you completed 4 years of undergrad and immediately were accepted to the school of your choice where you did not have move across the country. Some of you completely uprooted your familiar surroundings to move 10 hours away to a city that you did not ever knew existed until you interviewed for that program! Perhaps, a few of you will be in long distance relationships for the duration of your programs. Some of you may be in your second career with a mortgage and child care needs.

Regardless if any of those above situations describe you, everyone can benefit from learning to choose self care first – especially when embarking on a season of transitions / change. You know those flight attendants who get on the mic and remind you to put on your oxygen mask prior to helping put on someone else’s. You must take that philosophy and live it as a student clinician and future clinician. Without doing things that fill up your cup, you will simply not be able to serve others. Summary: Find ways to love yourself always and keep your tribe close that loves you the most! Schedule something to look forward to with your tribe; this will work wonders on your spirit.

4) Embrace the LEARN BURN

For many of you, this will be the first time you will be in a classroom setting where you are surrounded by the same group of individuals for hours at a time for a few yearssss! There is no running away from your peers and minimal to no more 50 minute classes like there was in undergrad. (That thought alone is enough to bring out a glass of wine to enjoy at the end of a week). You will agree and disagree with others, but the one constant needs to be the focus is YOU. Your focus needs to be on your learning. You only get one shot to be an OT student in an entry level program. Make the most of it.

This is your season to ask questions, to dive deep into the material, to decide not to just memorize answers, to apply theories you learn to your life outside of OT school, and to truly be the sponge that absorbs experiences to make you not only a better future therapist, but be a better version of yourself.

5) IT DEPENDS mantra on repeat

I don’t know what it is exactly about OT school, but across the nation I have talked with students and the biggest phrase engrained into students’ brains is definitely “it depends” so do yourself a solid and be prepared to hear that phrase 2392x during your first year.

What should we expect from this first musculoskeletal practical?” “Who is teaching ____ lecture today?” “How should we prepare for our first Level 1 fieldwork clinical?” “How do we set up this group research project?”… and so on… just remember “IT DEPENDS…”.

Also, this is an unpopular opinion but I believe if you can embrace this phrase you will less likely get your feelings hurt if and when something changes drastically such as a Level II fieldwork location. If you learn to embrace the phrase IT DEPENDS then you will spend less time worrying about “what might happen…. where may I go… what may be on this exam exactly….” and instead learn that OT school prepares you to be a change-embracing, fluid, go with the flow, adaptable practitioner.


Building classmate connections; they’ll ‘get you’ like no one else & and you’ll learn fast that you will be each other’s best support. Also, start drafting out your purposeful rest times between projects, classes, eating, sleeping, socializing with your fam/friends. Build the time in to self regenerate.Last, be mindful of the moment; being present each moment brought to you” | IG: @8alexisjoelle

“Do whatever it takes to get where you want to be.This may mean moving away from family or even starting a long distance relationship, but you are worth it! Your family, friends, and significant others want to see you succeed, so take the chance.” | IG: @faith_and_function

Set aside time each week to engage in leisure and self-care. When it gets tough remember how much you wanted it during the application process” | IG: @heidisundquist

“Failing a test doesn’t mean you fail OT” | IG: @otandemily

Tip: don’t stress about being perfect. Do the best you can- develop study habits that feel good to you instead of forcing something that doesn’t help you (i.e. studying in groups versus studying alone), carve out time for your personal growth and well-being, and make friendships in your cohort! If you feel overwhelmed, see a therapist- check out the mental health resources your school provides to see if there’s any special discounts for programs for students. Having a professional you can talk to helped me during grad school with my anxiety and I didn’t feel so alone. Embrace the journey 100%”  | IG: @joy.energy.time

“Laminate anatomy notes that way you can write on them and practice labeling muscles, bones” or use pocket sleeves!” | IG: @heath.malos

Learn enjoy and have fun with it. You got in OT school, you are going to be an OT. You no longer have to make straight As” | IG: @samanthavarljen

“Keep an open mind about what setting you want to work in especially throughout fieldwork experience. But only the absolutely necessary textbooks. Renting can be a good option. Take time for yourself when you feel like you need to be studying 24/7” | IG: @jmorlock94

Remember your why. Wrote it out and keep it with you.why did you start this OT journey. Start developing your routine to give yourself structure during the day. Remember to give yourself grace. Grace to learn to fail to grow. It is apart of the process” | IG: @taylor.blainee

“Don’t let the syllabus scare you because somehow you will get through everything”  | IG: @jackieyagual

Do not procrastinate. Always try your best to go outside every evening. Apply theory of enriching your environment” | IG: @danialyasin

“Develop self care habits and start a group me with your cohort to track assignments, etc” | IG: @dianatheotstudent

Stay organized and stay positive. Aim for progress not perfection” | IG: @keyonahh_

“Download Netters anatomy study guide app for phone and study on your commute. Also, I always tell students who come to shadow me, to pay attention when they go to the gym and use an weight machines. They all have diagrams and instructions on how to use them and more importantly, which muscles it’s targeting, so it’s a good way to start learning the actual names of the muscles!” | IG: @luxuryxspin

Don’t procrastinate. Make time for you or s hook will take over your life” | IG: @_samanthaalh_

“Plan something fun to do each weekend. I went too many weeks without fun and that sucks”  | IG: @juliaeloria

Like any new thing in life the transition into graduate school can be an overwhelming experience. From personal experience the content of semester 1 is not overwhelming, but the AMOUNT of work/ readings/assignments/ group projects/exams was a whole new level than what I was used to. For a solid two months I felt like a hamster spinning on a wheel and no matter what I finished, I felt like there were never enough minutes in the day to get everything done. Learn the importance of establishing a routine; when you will do homework, when you will not; when you will read, when you will relax, when you will eat (yes you can forget to eat when you’re trying to understand what the heck is this OTPF) and when you just will shut your brain off from the mental demands of school. Life is all about balance and the best way to prevent from burning yourself out is learning to be an OT to yourself. Make time for the occupationsThat are important to you and remember to incorporate self-care. While it may seem like the biggest part of your life at the moment, school is only a fraction of this larger piece of life. It is okay if you don’t read every single one of the seven chapters assigned for one nights reading, it’s okay to get the 8 hours of sleep your brain desperately needs to recover, and it is OKAY to spend time doing things that are important to YOU and making time for those who’ve supported you throughout this magnificent journey. To be a great OT means understanding the balance in all the roles we play in a given day and not letting one particular role dominate the others. In the end you will get through it, but in the meantime learn to enjoy the ride. things I wish I could’ve told my first year self – 💕” | a second year OT student / IG: @carly__burnup

“My advice is to get into ‘good habits’ early. It sets the tone for our OT school career. Try to find a buddy, no-one has the answers to everything and oftentimes someone may see things a little clearer than you may. Try to have some ‘me’ time. I know it’s not always easy, but the little things that help you to stay sane throughout this process.” | IG: @eniolaf

You’ve made it into your program, you DESERVE TO BE THERE! Don’t think you need to pull 100/4.0 GPA on every single exam, project, paper you will write. Allow yourself some flexibility, some leeway because it’s a tough program, but you will make it though and noooo one will ask you for your GPA when you apply for a job” | IG: @jordanot_

“I just finished my first year a few weeks ago and learned a whole lot. I think the biggest thing for me was to remember that this is a learning process!! It’s okay to make mistakes. They will happen. Learn from them and move on! Negatively dwelling on them will only lead to doubting yourself. You were chosen to be in the program for a reason. Mindset is huge. Trust your gut (especially when test taking). Know yourself and what is best for you. Studying in groups may be helpful for certain topics but for others it may be best to study alone. Participate and ask questions! It’s a great way to learn. Listen to your body and take breaks when needed. It will be challenging, yet rewarding. You will be surprised with how much you learn and be so proud of yourself! Stay positive!”  | IG: @ashleyyjustinee

Utilize your resources. Students have so many of them at their fingertips from connections because of the university/faculty to access online journals. Oh yeah, and GO TO CONFERENCES” | IG: @ot.4.lyfe

“Tip: keep an open mind about your fieldwork settings. Sometimes you don’t always get the place you had desired. Keeping an open mind and positive attitude can make all the difference in the world!! Speaking of world, I also had NO IDEA international fieldwork could be an option!! Info on AOTA website!” | IG: @kyleezeck

They’re lying when your professors say you should tell friends/family that you may not be able to spend time with them. Actually, this is the time you’ll need them the most. Make sure you have a balance between school and social life, leisure, self care. You absolutely can and should do it all. It will be an adjustment but remember everyone has the same 24 hours in a day and it’s your choice how you spend each moment.” | IG: @emilyroberts.ot

“Give yourself breaks! Taking time to take care of yourself is essential! Making a good grade is important but so is self care! | IG: @rahnburgundy_

Please keep your mind open as possible. If you end up with an FE that isn’t really a great match for you, remind yourself that is only temporary and then make the most of it! | IG: @otreference

“Figure out which way of studying works for you!! I like to study individually at first to get a grasp on the material. Then I like to study in a group in order to talk through things, as well as teach others. Also, reward yourself for hard work every once in a while. Study hard all day…enjoy a night off with family, friends, or your pets!!”  | IG: @ashlynrobinson22

“Be yourself! You were accepted into OT school because of who you are and what you have done. That means they already think you are enough and have a bright future.

With that in mind, you will be around others a lot and taking a majority of your classes together. It can be difficult, but try not to make comparisons. You are unique and everyone has their own strengths and areas for growth! This is especially true with grades. This cannot be stressed enough!!

 IG: @taelormadeot

To read Taelor’s Top 10 Tips click here on her blog!

“Protect. Your. Sleep. Make your bedroom a cool, dark, comforting place of respite. Adjusting to first semester can be tough but no matter how pressed you feel to burn the midnight oil – don’t compromise you rest; it only impairs your ability to integrate all that information you just worked so hard to learn and comprehend. Practice good sleep hygiene! (And buy a planner you love!)” | IG: @alrichmo

I just started my fieldwork, and my biggest tip for incoming students is to take every opportunity for hands on learning, services, and involvement in the community!” | IG: @taylorjean11

“You’re new classmates are your team! Make study groups / Facebook pages / group chats and share notes! You’ll learn so much from each other. But also make plans to go out together! Go get a beer after your first class to celebrate your new collective adventure!!” | IG: @ot.reads

Starting grad school can be a little overwhelming- I recommend trying to develop a schedule that works for you (including time for leisure!); try looking through the books ahead of time so you can see the different resources they include (case studies, additional recources, etc) that can be helpful for putting all of the info together; become one with the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework -our program pulls everything back to this because it’s the backbone of our profession (& knowing it super well is helpful for explaining what OT is), figure out what your primary learning styles are and then study from that (for instance, I’m primarily an auditory learner and so talking though information/ intervention ideas is super helpful for me). Also, I highly recommend getting involved with SOTA (great to be refueled whenever school is stressful) and look for advocacy events to get involved with (another ways to feel re-energized). “| IG: @juliaa_k

“Schedule fun / leisure elements just as you schedule school related tasks! Grad school can be difficult and transitioning from an undergrad/applicant mindset of always having to be your best and do the most possible is exhausting. It’s important to complete assignments and study for tests and get involved, but it’s also vital for you to engage in meaningful activities and social situations that light up your soul! Plan a weekly hangout with some of your cohort members! My group sometimes had Thursday night wine nights or Friday night BBQs. Scheduling times to laugh and socialize with your support group is so important!! Make memories in these few years!” | IG: @kbowen_

1)  Your best friend does NOT have to be your study partner!! (And don’t be upset about it!!) Everyone studies differently so find someone that works well with you! 2) Use your resources! Your classmates, your professors, books, and the OT community!  3) Don’t just do the bare minimum — challenge yourself to do and be better. This will make you a better therapist!” |  IG: @carolineb_ot

“Be gentle with yourself and take time to do something for YOU each day. The first few weeks of OT school will be the toughest because it is easy to compare yourself with your classmates and the overwhelming feeling of all the assignments or lectures. Understand your limitations and find ways to make them stronger — one person’s way may not work for you.” | IG: @ot_herperspective

Tips for new OT students: look at the big picture! It’s easy to get bogged down in details but keep thinking about the entire picture of OT – what does the person want and need to do? And how do we help them to do that? Also, use a planner and write out assignments in the monthly view, and make friends to study with! These things have helped me on my path so far!!” | IG: @mermaidsandot

“Be there for your classmates. And let them be there for you! Appreciate each others’ unique strengths. Make time for yourself to stay healthy of body, mind, and spirit! You can do it!!” | IG: @ashmarieot

Enjoy every moment! Work hard but also be sure to have fun and make time for yourself. It’s all about balance. Exercise, eat well, get some sleep, don’t study in excess, and have fun with your classmates! They will become like family. Also, don’t stress with all the information you will be given — you will eventually learn it all and you will know more than you feel like you know when you go out into the real world. You’ve got this!” | IG: @kendra_isbell

“1) Be a sponge and be open to learning everything you can looking at situations from others’ perspectives! 2) Be kind to everyone (just a general life rule). 3) Make sure to set aside time for self-care and leisure activities. Grad school is tough and you need to love and take care of yourself. 4) Stay organized and use a planner to mark down when assignments are due and exam dates. 5) Be kind to yourself. You don’t NEED an A and it won’t matter in the future. Do your best and study hard, but also have fun and enjoy the ride.” | IG: @therainbowot

Take it one day at a time! One semester at a time! And get organized at the beginning of the semester. Write down all of your due dates and exam dates. This way you leave yourself time to get your work done and study so you feel prepared. And know that LIFE will happen, but you can do it!! Have a good support system at home too!!” | IG: @burns_lauren17

“You know more than you think you know” was the advice that kept me going through my second year of OT school and fieldwork. Now it’s keeping me going through my first year as a practitioner!! It’s always true.” | IG: @michaela_l

Make time to have fun!! Yes, you have to study, and, yes that’s what you are there for. BUT burnout is real – even in school -, and who really wants to be burned out on a career they have yet to even begin?! Get outside of the classroom and get to know your classmates! Some of mine turned out to be some of the best friends I could have ever dreamed to have (@Shannen). Oh, and, don’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack. If you don’t understand something completely the first time it’s presented to you, it will be okay and so will you. You were accepted for a reason…own it! “| IG: @ashtonlingo

“I think a problem I had going into OT school was that I felt the need to know everything and that simply is not the case. You are a student whether you are in undergrad or grad school. It is so so so important to be sure to take time for yourself whiter that is going to the gym, spending time with fiends, or treating yourself to a movie night – do it – your body and brain will thank you for it. ALSO grad school = $$$. I wish that I realized this sooner and spent more time saving money from my part time jobs in undergrad. Spend time with your classmates, they will most likely end up being some of your best friends for the rest of your life and they’re on this journey with you every step of the way – even after school. |  IG: @ae_the_ot

You will hit the ground running – sometimes scrambling…trying to make sense of it all. This is when you should always refer back to your purpose and personal mission. Always remember why you wanted to start OT school. Hold that passion so close to your heart and never let it go” | IG:  @ot.enlightenment

“You are your own worst enemy! The first couple of weeks are TOUGH. You compare yourself to others, you sometimes think you’re not smart enough to be there when you hear that the girl next to you managed to read ALL 100 pages of assigned reading and the assignment…someone sent you a study guide, but you made your own and then fear that you are not studying the same thing as others. Stop right there!!! Don’t compare yourself to others or doubt your abilities. You’re there for a reason and you deserve it. And as for having different study tactics or time management skills than your classmates (me=procrastinator!!!), it doesn’t matter how you get there…as long as you get there! Trust me, you WILL get there!”  | IG:  @taragrandolfo

Find a stress management technique that works for you and make it part of your daily routine now. That way you know you’ll have some self-care time built into your day during the semester”  | IG:  @emilymarie_ot

“Self care is so important. Look at your schedule each week and fit in 30 minutes a day doing something active you enjoy. Like yoga, biking, walking, Zumba, etc…” | IG:  @r_mbaker

Stay organized and plan things well ahead!! Like writing all due dates and appointments / meetings / class schedule changes in a calendar (such as google calendar” IG: @ ari_futureot

I hope y’all can take at least one of these tips with you on your journey toward becoming your best self and the best OT practitioner YOU CAN BE. I would like to mention and point out an example that as in the case of the wonderful people who mentioned “buy and use a planner” will work for some of you, but not all of you (I am one of those people) — so take what you need from this article as it individually pertains to you.

Best of luck, and as always, I love to hear from my readers and/or followers so feel free to comment below your thoughts on this blog or on my Insta:)!!


With love,



Are you interested working with older adults? Are you hopeful to have a community that helps you thrive in your learning? Consider joining The Learning Lab by Seniors Flourish. Click HERE!


8 thoughts on “Incoming First Year OT Student Tips”

  1. This post was very helpful, thank you so much! I start my OTA program in less than two weeks and I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be good enough. With the info I’ve read though I now feel more confident in myself.


    1. Hi Sarah, to be honest something that helped me a lot was to go to the back of each chapter and look up the answers to the quizzes that most OT books have. That helped me browse through the chapter without spending my time reading each and every word and never retaining the info. With that being said, my best friend used the strategy of writing down all of the headers of the paragraphs which helped her understand what each chapter was even talking about!


  2. Thank you so much for the post! I start my OT program 2 weeks from today and am looking forward to what’s to come!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s