Saturday, February 28, 2009

Applying to MOT (Masters of Occupational Therapy) in Ontario

Convenience or Cash-grab... it depends on your point of view, but here in Ontario when you want to apply to an english-language Professional Masters program in Rehabilitation Sciences (aka physical therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology) you don't apply to the school. Instead, all students apply through a central application service called ORPAS.

Yes, you end up paying extra money for this application service in addition to the fees paid to each school you apply to, but there are some advantages too.
  • You fill out ONE application.
  • Pay ONE fee for all applications and transcript requests.
  • Send in ONE set of transcripts (saves a little money compared to ordering multiples to be sent with each separate application).
  • Send in ONE set of reference letters.
  • Send in ONE Personal Statement/Letter of Intent.
  • They confirm all the information you included in your application, and send you a verification report that lets you know whether all your transcripts/letters of reference made it in time. Individual programs won't do that for you.
  • They forward all your info/documents to each program you apply to.

Now before you start to feel all warm and fuzzy about this one-ness you should know that beyond ORPAS the MOT programs get very... hmm... something that means the opposite of my made up word one-ness. What I mean is:

  • Every program has its own entry requirements.
  • Every program has a different way of evaluating applicants.
  • Every program, though they share many of the same goals for program outcomes, has a different approach to pedagogy (aka how they will teach you the stuff you need to know).

So before you pick where you're going to apply, do some homework. You want to make sure that you're a competitive applicant for the program based on the evaluation criteria they use, and you want to make sure that the way they teach the program jives with how you learn.

A couple of "for instances":

  • Most programs assess your GPA based on your last 2 years of study (or equivalent in course credits). However, Queen's assesses you based on the GPA of your entire undergraduate career! If you had a stellar 1st year, or a prior degree where you did well, then this is a real boon to your application. However, if you're like most people and your first year was a rough transition that is reflected in your grades then guess what? You may have a reduced chance of getting in at Queen's.
  • McMaster's program uses a very different approach to teaching than the other universities. They use something called "Problem Based Learning", with very small work groups and more independent study rather than lecture or workshop based instruction. This approach might be your dream scenario or your worst nightmare. The point is to know what you're getting yourself into before you apply.

And now the two big mysteries in any application process...

  1. What do they want you to say in your Personal Statements/Letter of Intent? (Everybody but McMaster)
  2. What are they going to ask me in the interview?? (McMaster only)

The answer to both is, I have no idea!! I looked and looked and looked for information posted by other previous applicants giving hints or tips or don't-do-this stories. I found nothing :(

So... if there's anyone out there who has gone to the McMaster interview and wants to give people an idea of what to expect, send me an email!! I'll post your hints anonymously :)

As for the statements... I can tell you what they asked this year (see below). And if there's anyone out there who would like to comment on what sorts of things the admissions people look for in these statements, it would be most appreciated.

Best of luck to all who applied this year!!!


Clearly describe your reasons for pursuing a career in OT and how your personal experiences and background have contributed to your preparation for this career choice (maximum 5000 characters). <-- note, that's characters NOT words. It's about a page in 10pt. Arial font.

Demonstrate your understanding of the profession of OT by identifying 2 current or emerging trends in Canada's healthcare system and discussing how occupational therapists are well positioned to play a leadership role on healthcare teams (maximum 5000 characters).

How'd I end up here?

It's true. I've started my OT blog before I even know if I'm accepted into an OT program. And, yes... I acknowledge that it may be a little premature. But I'm so freakin' excited I can't help myself!!

I chose Psychology as my undergrad because I knew that I wanted to get into therapy of some kind, but I wasn't sure what. Within this discipline, for those who actually want to work with people rather than just doing research on people, Clinical Psychology is the Holy Grail of Graduate Programs. So all through my Bachelors degree I imagined that Clinical was my goal (it being the hardest program to get into), I'd work my butt off, and then make an actual decision about what I wanted to do once I was a little more knowledgeable about the field and the possibilities.

When the time came, in September of my final year, to start picking grad programs/applying for scholarships/contacting researchers to work with etc... a curious sequence of events led me to the exact place I feel I am meant to be. Maybe that sounds a little kooky and dramatic, but whatev's... I do feel that OT is my true vocation. Anyway... here's how it went down:
  • I wrote my GREs in August and got acceptable, but not out of this world, scores.
  • I was advised by one of my Prof's and mentors that with my okay GREs and 87% average that I would not get into a Clinical program.
  • My heart broke.
  • I railed at the universe.
  • On what planet is an 87% not good enough?!?!
  • I moped.
  • Then I said to myself "Self... what is it about Clinical that appealed to you? Maybe there's another way to achieve that goal."
  • And I replied, "I want to work with people in a therapeutic capacity. I want to work in a health care setting. I am interested in research that addresses the mind-body connection and factors influencing health and happiness."
So, I went looking for researchers who were investigating the things of interest to me.

When I found a few, I read their papers and then sent them emails to ask if they were accepting students in September of 2009 and would they be willing to meet with me.

Now, as I'm doing this it is with a heavy heart. While I enjoy research and have an aptitude for it (I think I was the only person in my 3rd year stats class that liked it), what I wanted to do was help people. And my researcher friends would try and cheer me up with the argument that research does help people... and I know it does... but it always felt to me that it was sterile and removed from the actual helping bit. I wanted to get my hands dirty!

So one of the researchers I contacted did a lovely thing. She replied to my inquiry that she was not accepting new students, but that based on what I had written to her about the aspects of her research that interested me, I should contact her colleague Dr. XX.

When I looked Dr. XX up it turned out that she was at the same university, but in a different department... the School of Rehabilitation Sciences!! It was like a partition was taken away and suddenly there was this whole new world available to me!

As soon as I read the program description/mission statement/values it felt like I'd found my home. I was like the ugly duckling trying to find a Masters of Duckiness program who suddenly realized she was a swan! OT is a helping profession, it's in healthcare, they do research and practice, there's an incredible diversity in what an OT can do over the course of her/his professional life... and best of all, the profession's approach to wellbeing is that people find happiness through engaging in meaningful activities, which marries beautifully with the theories of Positive Psychology I personally subscribe to.

Since I discovered the program I've done a LOT of research, through websites and journals, on occupational therapy and everything I've read has only affirmed my initial reaction. It's even caused me to look back over the course of my life and realize all the many ways that OTs been there all along, without my properly labelling it as such. From the time I had a compound fracture of my leg and had help learning to do all my ADLs with a full leg cast, to the training I got on how to do ergonomic adjustments on the workstations at the call centre where I once worked.

I've applied to three Masters of Occupational Therapy programs to begin in September 2009, and not applied to any Psychology programs. I know this is what I was meant to be doing all along... I simply didn't know it, until I did. :)

Now, I post this entry just so that readers will know a little about me and my background. This was my journey. Yours may be different. One person's process is no better than an other's, so please don't judge. And maybe if you're in a good mood, while you're not judging me you'll also send some good ju-ju out into the universe for me that helps me get into one of the programs!!

Many thanks in advance for the success ju-ju!

Sweet Pea