BlogUniversityWhat It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at USYD

What It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at USYD

Occupational Therapy USYD - Fact Sheet

Wondering how the Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at USYD works? 

Here’s an overview that covers all you need to know about this degree, including its classes, placements, career prospects and more!

So, let’s get to work!

What is a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at USYD?
Core Units for this Degree
How to Get into Occupational Therapy at USYD
What’s the Teaching Format?
What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

What is a Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) at USYD?

Occupational Therapy (OT) is all about working with clients who are struggling with an illness, injury or disability to help them manage obstacles that may hinder them from living a more meaningful life — whether it be driving a car, going to the bath or buying groceries. 

Because of the flexible nature of occupational therapy, the four year Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) degree at USYD imparts a broad set of theoretical and practical skills to produce well-rounded candidates who can become officially accredited under the Occupational Therapy Board of Graduates. They are also able to become a member of Occupational Therapy Australia and the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. 

To prepare you for the ever-changing landscape of occupational therapy, USYD’s extensive placements will give you a full hands-on experience with all sorts of situations and environments, ranging from hospitals to aged care, schools and even in industry. You will find yourself meeting individuals and/or groups from different ages, cultural backgrounds and personalities to help them achieve their own unique needs and goals!

Occupational Therapy USYD - Student Quote

What an Honours Program like? 

If you’re looking to do more theoretical research, USYD’s OT degree provides an option to have your honours integrated within your four year degree. This means that some of your core subjects in the last three semesters will be swapped out for Honours units, and you don’t need to do an extra year of study!

An Honours allows you to specialise in an area of OT that you’re interested in! It’s a great way to form a deeper understanding of why you do what you do, while contributing to the growing field of OT research.

However, a spot in the Honours program is based on your academic merit and it can get quite competitive. You will need to be invited by your unit coordinate to apply for this honours pathway based on your assessment marks. 

Even so, it’s definitely rewarding for those you want to gain more skills and experience in the research field!

Who should study this degree? 

This degree is highly rewarding for anyone who has a heart for people as you will be making a direct impact on others’ lives. If you enjoyed high school subjects like nursing, hospitality and PDHPE, this degree will resonate with you! 

OT is also perfect for versatile people who prefer an ever-changing work environment over the 9-5 routine. If you are the creative and critical type of thinker, OT will be a fun challenge for you as you will work with all sorts of patients, conditions and situations!

Career Pathways

As OT is a highly adaptable profession, it opens up an endless array of career pathways that you can dive into! Some of these pathways include: 

    • Hospitals 
    • Disability services
    • Community health 
    • Mental health services 
    • Early Childhood 
    • Rehabilitation 
    • Health promotion 
    • Policy development 
    • Aged care 
    • Vocational services 
    • Schools 
    • Private Practice 
    • Accessibility services 
    • Industry workplace 

Core Units for this Degree

Previously, USYD’s OT degree predetermined all your OT and non-OT units for you, so there were no majors/minors to choose from. Luckily for you, you have the chance to do a major or minor in Disability, Participation and Health starting from 2021. This major/minor will enrich your understanding of disability from social, political, economic and political perspectives! 

For more information about the Disability, Participation and Health major/minor, click here!

Overall, the core units can be very broad to prepare you for different situations. As you progress into your degree, you will find yourself doing more OT units than non-OT units.

OT units mainly focus on OT theories and skills such as home modification, patient handling and wheelchair manoeuvring. Meanwhile, the non-OT units provide the breadth of knowledge you need to tackle any situation — such as anatomy, psychology, sociology and more! 

First Year

In first year, you will be introduced to the basic frameworks of OT, including it’s client-centred perspective and the cultural, contextual and personal factors that affect your client’s occupations. You will also cover the wide variety of roles and tasks an OT plays in multiple settings. You will also do non-OT units such as anatomy, health science and research. 

Second Year

In the second year, you will be doing more OT units that primarily focus on team-based learning with one partner or in groups to carry out evidence-based practice. You will also be working on refining your professional practice by training your communication, creativity and strategic thinking. 

You can pick your electives as well from a restricted pool of anatomy, neuroscience or Health Sciences units. 

Third Year

Your third year will get even more hands-on with more placements, where you have to integrate theory into your practice within different settings. It becomes highly focused on OT units that explore OT in diverse environments such as education, workplaces and retirement villages.  

Fourth Year

Your fourth and final year will be highly OT based as you will hone in on health promotion in a community setting using OT strategies. You will also polish your research evaluation skill to build the integrity behind your evidence-based practice in the long-term.

Ultimately, this is the year where USYD prepares you to become a professional with a passion for life-long learning and improvement. 

For more information about core units, head here!

How can I specialise in OT? 

Unfortunately, you cannot officially specialise in any OT area during your undergraduate degree. However, you can choose to focus on a particular OT field that will benefit your later employment by picking your electives in the second year such as paediatrics, hand therapy, cancer and more!

Are there any exchange opportunities?

While USYD does provide basic exchange programs for every student, OT students who have shown great academic merit are picked to participate in the Sydney Health Science Abroad program (also known as Faculty of Health (FHS) abroad).

Here, students travel to other countries such as South and Southeast Asia to do a four to six week placement under non-government organisations. Ultimately, it’s a great hands-on opportunity to experience healthcare and its challenges in a totally new context!

Check out USYD’s basic exchange programs here and the Sydney Health Science Abroad program here!

What are the placements like? 

USYD’s OT degree provides placements almost every year for its students! 

The good thing is, USYD provides its students with the option of choosing their own location preferences. On top of that, these placements take place during the period in your semester where you do not have any classes on campus — so you won’t become overworked with uni and placement work at the same time! 

As you advance along this degree, you will do more placements with more tasks, roles and responsibilities handed to you. Don’t worry, the university provides a debriefing before and after placements and requires you to write a reflection to help you transition. This is to ease you into real-life practice, ultimately building your confidence to become a fully independent professional!

These placements are on a full-time basis — meaning you will need to work from 9am to 5pm. It is also on a pass or fail criteria!

First Year

In the first year, you will be introduced to what OT is really like through experience one week of placement only at a hospital or clinic, where you will be shadowing a supervisor who will let you do simple tasks such as writing patient notes and doing assessments if they think you’re proficient enough. 

Second Year

In your second year, there is no real placement but you will perform a simulation called SIM, where you will work in groups to practice OT skills on your friends in a pretend clinic within the university. 

The pretend clinic is really cool, as it basically looks like a hospital with a fake bathroom, bedroom etc. At times, USYD can hire actors coming in as clients and your team will need to treat them just like how you would in a real hospital! It gets fun when you bounce ideas off each other in your group but it can get quite stressful when your supervisors are assessing you. 

Third Year

Third year gets more hectic with the placements as you will be doing two 7 week placement blocks. This will be the first year where your placements will be outside the university, where you will also need to take on more responsibilities such as reading client notes, interviewing them, planning goals and providing an intervention plan.

You will experience most of the OT process but these tasks do vary depending on where you get placed at — for example, a school environment is very different to a hospital’s. 

Fourth Year

Things start to cool down in your fourth year where you have only one 8 week placement block where you will be expected to be mostly independent with your tasks while incorporating your supervisor’s feedback for improvement. A lot of people actually find jobs through the final placement, so it is a valuable experience and opportunity to fully take charge as a blooming OT professional. 


How to Get into Occupational Therapy at USYD

The ATAR cut off for USYD’s OT degree is 92. Don’t stress though if you don’t achieve this ATAR — you’ve got another option!

Alternative Pathway

If you didn’t get the ATAR you need for this Bachelor’s degree, you can always complete the two year Masters of Occupational Therapy at USYD after completing another undergraduate degree instead. It is an accredited course under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) that allows you to work in Australia in public or private spaces. 

Check it out here!

What assumed knowledge is recommended? 

As OT heavily revolves around people and health, USYD recommends that you have studied HSC Biology to help you understand the compulsory non-OT subjects such as neuroscience and anatomy. 

What scholarships are available? 

For OT students, there is a special scholarship USYD provides called the Douglas and Lola Douglas Scholarship in Health Sciences (Occupational Therapy) that supports students doing their Honours in OT. 

For more information about the Douglas and Lola Douglas Scholarship, check it out here!

USYD also provides other scholarships that support you in your unique circumstances — check them out here! 

What’s the Teaching Format?

USYD’s OT degree is carried out in 2 semesters per year, consisting of classes such as lectures, tutorials, workshops and if needed, practical labs. 

Class Structure

Occupational Therapy USYD - Class Structure

A lot of the OT units focus on hands-on and face to face learning so most of the classes have compulsory attendance!

Lectures: Classes attended by 95% of your cohort, where lecturers give a presentation on the theoretical content of the unit. There tend to be 80 students in attendance and the duration of these lectures can extend to 2 hours. 

Tutorials: are one hour long and consist of 20 to 25 students per session.It often involves a lot of team-based learning where you will be put into groups to discuss lecture content, brainstorm and case studies. These activities may differ depending on the unit. 

Workshops: Oftentimes, the OT course likes to switch up their teaching style by amalgamating both lecture and tutorial into a three hour workshop. Up to 40 people may attend each workshop lesson. Here, you can work through more in-depth case studies and present your findings to the class if you have extra time. 

Practical labs: Only available for non-OT units such as anatomy, where you will need to investigate cadavers to familiarise yourself with common muscles and joints. These 2 hour practical labs can consist of 40 students per session. 

How many contact hours does this degree have? 

The mandatory work component of this degree is 25 hours per week, adding up to 1,000 hours for the total of 40 weeks. This may sound daunting but if you schedule your time table wisely, you only need to be on campus for 3 or even 2 days a week! 

As you don’t need to do your placements on top of your classes, it’s actually a pretty chill degree! 

What are the assessments like? 

As OT is a pretty hands-on job, USYD’s OT assessments such as essays and VIVA as final exams are highly practical and scenario based to prepare you for real-life work! 


Essays in OT usually require you to investigate a case study. For example, they may give you a case scenario involving a patient and what he/she is struggling with.

You will be asked to study his condition and needs, then perform literature research to design an intervention program you would recommend. USYD really emphasises on evidence based practice, so be sure to do thorough research to back up your recommendations to get good marks!

Final Exams (VIVA) 

Final Exams in OT can take form as VIVA exams, a face to face examination that assesses your oral efficiency in practical skills such as interviewing or justifying your judgement on a case study. It is similar to a HSC level language exam that tests your ability to speak and communicate well under pressure.

It can get quite stressful especially when you have to think on your feet, but it ultimately prepares you to become a proficient OT professional in the field.

Skills That You Learn 

Occupational Therapy USYD - Skills

USYD’s OT degree builds graduates into a highly proficient Occupational therapist who are ready to take on anything with their diverse set of both soft and hard skills! 

With USYD’s broad core units, OT graduates adopt high adaptability to the ever-changing demand, tasks and roles in different environments. Placement opportunities enrich graduates with critical and creative thinking to handle situations practically, while integrating theory to maintain an evidence based practice. 

OT graduates learn to ultimately empower others by recognising their unique needs, desires and goals through their developed empathy, listening and communication skills with others. USYD’s vocational units also instil a professional code of conduct within their OT graduates, producing humble OT professionals with a keen passion for self-reflection and improvement. 

Occupational Therapy USYD - Student Quote 2

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

As all OT students share the same units throughout the degree, it’s very easy to find and make life-long friendships!

With only 100 people in USYD’s Occupational Therapy cohort in almost every year, it’s a very tight-knitted community that supports one another with no hesitation. Like the students, the staff is always kind and ready to help, so you won’t feel alone in the process of learning!

The Faculty

It’s no secret that USYD’s teaching is world class, and its OT staff certainly lives up to its expectations. USYD’s OT lecturers have 15-20 years of rich practical experience in the field, bringing a wealth of knowledge and practical insight.

They are also highly regarded in their field as they paved the foundations of OT. You will find yourself being lectured by the very same person who wrote your textbook, like Judy Ranka who published a book on OT frameworks that pioneered OT practice in Australia. Isn’t that fascinating?

Moreover, these lecturers love to help their students strive for the best as they are very nice and open to help answer questions!

The Culture 

As a small cohort in the old Cumberland campus, OT students keep it tight as they share a lot of core units together. With every class being compulsory, OT classes resemble high school where you see your friends very often so it’s easy to maintain friendships!

Moreover, there are plenty of group work and team building activities so you get to know each member of your cohort quite well, unlike most degrees.

However, this might change as the OT faculty and classes are moving to the main Camperdown campus into a bigger building called the Susan Wakil Health Building. Even so, you will most likely see people doing the same OT degree as you very often as the core units remain the same for everyone. 


There used to be a society that is specifically for OT students but since the OT community at the Cumberland campus are already a tight-knitted family, the students saw no use in creating a society. 

This might change when the cohort moves to the Camperdown campus though! In the Camperdown campus, you can also sign up to other societies. USYD has over 200 clubs and societies for you to join, so you’re basically spoiled with options! 

Check out USYD’s societies here!

Mentorship programs 

For OT students, USYD provides the Faculty of Health program where third year students mentor first year students in their first semester to help them transition into university life. Two mentors are allocated to a group of 5 first year students. These groups often meet once a week to chat and help the first years with anything they are struggling with. 

Through this program, you won’t feel alone facing university! 

Kate Lynn Law graduated in 2017 with an all rounders HSC award and an ATAR of 97.65. Passionate about mentoring, she enjoys working with high school students to improve their academic, work and life skills in preparation for the HSC and what comes next. An avid blogger, Kate had administered a creative writing page for over 2000 people since 2013, writing to an international audience since her early teenage years.


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