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 - Degree 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 see what OT at USYD offers! 

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 about working with clients who are experiencing illness, injury or disability to help them manage obstacles that may hinder them from living a meaningful life — whether it be driving a car, going to work or buying groceries. 

The four year Bachelor of Applied Science (Occupational Therapy) degree at USYD provides 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 and healthcare in Australia, and meet the requirements of accreditation, USYD provides OT placements that give you hands-on experience with many different types of healthcare settings, ranging from hospitals to aged care, schools and even rural locations.

You will be able to learn from many different healthcare professionals, clients, and other students from different health faculties. You will develop your skills in supporting people to achieve their own unique needs and goals!

Occupational Therapy USYD - Student Quote

What is the Honours Program like? 

If you’re someone who is interested in learning further research skills, the Honours Program might be a great option. USYD’s OT degree provides the option for you to complete an embedded Honours Program, in the last three semesters of your 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!

The Honours Program allows you to develop key research skills that can assist with postgraduate study, as well as in many OT fields! It’s a great way to form a deeper understanding of OT theory, while contributing to the growing field of OT research.

Entry into the Honours Program is based on your academic merit and it can be competitive. Once you have indicated your interest, you will be reviewed based on your performance in the OT degree up until your point of application. 

Who should study this degree? 

This degree is highly rewarding for anyone who loves working with people, problem solving and finding out what matters to people. If you enjoyed high school subjects like English and PDHPE, this degree may resonate with you! 

OT would fit well with people who enjoy an ever-changing work environment and enjoy the challenge of working with a diverse range of people. If you are the creative and critical type of thinker, OT will be a rewarding area for you as you will work with all sorts of patients, conditions and situations!

The degree is often described by lecturers as a blend of art and science, and is made up of a diverse student cohort. Creative problem solving and communication are important for OT, and are skills you will develop in the course.

The field of OT is growing rapidly, and is a degree that can be utilised throughout Australia, and overseas. The sky really is the limit with an OT degree from USYD!

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 
  • Criminal and Forensic justice
  • Occupational Justice
  • Schools 
  • Private Practice 
  • Accessibility services 
  • Consultation
  • University teaching and research

Core Units for this Degree

Previously, USYD’s OT degree predetermined all the OT specific and non-OT specific units for you, so you did not choose a major or minor, which is common for structured health degrees. However, from 2021, USYD has introduced the option of either a major or minor in Disability, Participation and Health (DPH).

These DPH units are taken alongside your OT-specific units, and gives you a chance to take classes alongside people from different disciplines. This major/minor will help develop your generalist and specialist healthcare knowledge and skills and is super transferable!

Overall, the core units are very broad to prepare you for different settings where you may work as an OT. As you progress in your degree, you will begin to spend more time on placements, as opposed to being in the classroom. 

OT core units mainly focus on OT theories and skills including home modifications, teaching and analysing tasks and using mobility aids such as wheelchairs. Meanwhile, the non-OT units provide the breadth of knowledge you need to tackle any situation — such as anatomy, neuroscience and more! 

First Year

In the first year, you will be introduced to the basic frameworks of OT, including client-centred practice and the contextual factors that affect your client’s occupations.

You will commence the Disability, Participation and Health major, and will begin to consider the role that disability may play in your client’s life, and learn about how assistive products can help your clients. You will also complete an anatomy unit with other health science students, to understand the mechanics behind how your client moves and how they might be impacted by injury or disability. 

Second Year

In the second year, you will begin to focus on what OT looks like in practice, including learning about OT practice in the school, hospital and home contexts. You will also commence Simulated Placement, which is a unit that allows you to practise your skills on clients, who are medical actors that USYD hire!

You will begin to focus more on evidence-based practice and refining your skills for professional practice, such as communication and creative problem solving.

Third Year

In your third year, you will complete two separate blocks of placement, where you will have to integrate theory into your practice within different settings. This year is highly focused on OT units that explore what practice may look like in diverse environments such as education, workplaces and retirement villages.  

Fourth Year

In your fourth year, you will focus more on OT specific units, and have the option of choosing specific electives, if not completing the Honours Program. You will learn more about OT in specific settings, including mental health and workplace rehabilitation. Ultimately, this year will support you to bring together four years of learning to prepare to become a fully qualified OT!

How can I specialise in OT? 

Unfortunately, you cannot officially specialise in any OT area during your undergraduate degree. However, if you are not completing the Honours Program, you can choose to focus on a particular OT field that will benefit your later employment by picking an elective in the fourth year such as paediatrics, hand therapy, cancer and more!

In OT, you can specialise in a certain area by choosing a job that provides you with specific experience after graduating. You can also complete a Masters in Occupational Therapy at USYD, and complete research through this option.

The USYD OT degree equips you to go into many different OT fields after graduation, and extra studies are often not a requirement. 

Are there any exchange opportunities?

While USYD does provide exchange programs, OT students who have shown academic merit and are interested, can participate in the Sydney Health Science Abroad program (also known as Faculty of Health (FHS) abroad).

In this program, students travel to other countries such as South and Southeast Asia to do a four to six week placement under non-government organisations. This is a great hands-on opportunity to experience healthcare in a new setting.

What are the placements like? 

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

USYD supports students by providing placements based as close as possible to their location preferences. While on placement, you do not have any classes, so you are able to focus completely on your placement learning! These placements are on a full-time basis — meaning you will work a 36-40 hour week. It is also on a pass or fail criteria.

As you develop more experience at placement, you will complete more tasks, and have greater responsibility, so you continue to be challenged to learn. While it may sound scary, USYD provides a debriefing before and after placements and supports you to write a reflection to help you reflect on placement and your experiences. Ultimately, this eases you into real-life practice, building your confidence and skills to become a fully independent OT!

In your first year, you will be introduced to OT practice, through one week of placement where you shadow a supervisor. They will allow you to complete simple tasks such as writing patient notes and completing assessments. In recent years, due to COVID-19 precautions, this placement has not been undertaken, and in its place students complete other learning activities to practice their skills. 

In your second year, you will complete Simulated Placement, which is a unit that allows you to practice your skills on clients, which are medical actors that USYD hire, in a clinic in the Susan Wakil Health Building. It feels very real, and allows you to develop your skills in a safe, supported space. 

In your third year, you will get busier with placements, completing both a 5 week placement and an 8 week placement. This placement can be in a variety of settings, and can also be a rural placement, in places such as Orange! 

In your fourth year, you have one 8 week placement where you work more independently and utilise your supervisor’s feedback to prepare for work as a fully qualified Occupational Therapist! Some people even find jobs through the final placement, so it is a valuable experience and opportunity.

How to Get into Occupational Therapy at USYD

The indicative ATAR for USYD’s OT degree is 93, but make sure to do your research and set a clear ATAR goal to identify the HSC marks you need to get!

But don’t worry! You shouldn’t feel concerned if you don’t achieve this ATAR — there are other options!

Alternate Admission and Adjustments

USYD is focused on ensuring that the OT cohort is diverse, and values students who come from different educational backgrounds.

Due to this, USYD has put in place different schemes, scholarships and entry pathways to ensure students can have increased access to this degree. Everyone benefits when the cohort has different life experiences. 

The following are schemes that can be utilised to gain entry to the OT degree:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students 

Educational Disadvantage and Disruption 

Elite Athletes and Performers 

  • Elite Athletes and Performers Scheme

Financial Hardship and Regional Students

School Captains and Dux Students

Learn more about admission pathways — just be aware some do not apply to OT!

Alternative Pathway  

If you didn’t get the ATAR you need for the undergraduate OT degree at USYD, another option is to undertake the 2-year Masters of Occupational Therapy at USYD after completing another undergraduate degree.

It is an accredited course under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) that allows you to work in Australia as an OT!

Alternatively, you can also commence a degree at USYD and apply to the faculty to transfer to study OT. Attend an event at USYD, such as the Info Day, to discuss your options. 

Stay up to date with USYD prospective student events!

What assumed knowledge is recommended? 

There are no prerequisites for OT at USYD. However, USYD recommends that you have studied Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology in high school to succeed in this course.

This is due to the fact that OT focuses on people, health and function and you will study neuroscience and anatomy. However, as mentioned before, many OT students may be more interested in arts based subjects and did not complete science and/or maths subjects.

This is still okay — many are able to pass the science heavy units! However, if you find yourself struggling, there are various options for assistance, including tutoring and USYD student support services. 

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 completing the Honours Program within the OT degree.

USYD also provides other scholarships that support students in specific circumstances.

What’s the Teaching Format?

USYD’s OT degree is delivered over 2 semesters a year, consisting of classes such as lectures, tutorials, workshops and 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 many of the classes have compulsory attendance!


These presentations are attended by most of the cohort, where lecturers provide a talk on the theoretical content of the unit.

There tend to be approximately 80 students in attendance and the duration of these lectures can extend from 1 hour to 3 hours. These may or may not be recorded.


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


Due to the mix of theoretical and practical content in OT,  lecturers may switch up their teaching style by amalgamating both lecture and tutorial into a three hour workshop.

Your whole cohort may attend each workshop lesson, or you may be split into two 40 person groups. These classes will allow you to work through more in-depth case studies, ask questions of different teaching staff and work with a diverse range of people from your cohort.

Practical Labs

These classes are applicable to your Anatomy and Neuroscience subjects, where you will spend time with cadavers to learn about the human body, specifically the upper body and the brain.

These 2 hour practical labs can consist of 40 students per session. You will often work with a tutor, who can be very helpful in answering questions!

How many contact hours does this degree have? 

When you are completing placement, you will work full time hours (36-40 hours per week), but will not have any classes on top of this. You will need to complete 1,000 hours of placement in order to fulfil the requirements to graduate as an Occupational Therapist.

This may sound daunting — but it adds up very quickly!

When not on a placement block, the contact time is often less, usually 3-4 hours for each unit per week. For four units, this means that you can expect to be on campus 3-4 days a week.

Due to OT at USYD being a structured degree, they have the opportunity to place tutorials on the same day as lectures, meaning you rarely need to come just for one class — the faculty considers this when timetabling!

What are the assessments like? 

As you progress in your degree, the assessments become more practical and less theoretical. In the first year of your degree you will complete a number of essays and written case studies.

In your second year you will complete group presentations and practical assessments such as manual handling skills and administering OT assessments.

In the final two years, you begin to focus more on reflecting on your placement experiences, preparing for workplace written tasks such as report writing and refining your interviewing and intervention skills. The assessments are diverse, but reflect the core competencies that you are required to demonstrate. 

OT Core Units

For these units, the assessment form is chosen based on the most suitable way students can demonstrate what they have learnt. For example, in a unit that is focused on therapeutic relationships and interviewing, you may complete an assessment where you prepare a case study, and verbally present your reasoning and how you would work with a client, to the marker.

For units that are based on physical skills, you may be required to show how you would help move a client in and out of a hospital bed. For units that explore how OTs use assessment tools to assess the health and functioning of a client, you may be required to practise the assessment on a fellow student, or record yourself conducting it with another person.  

Non-OT Specific Units

For these units, specifically Anatomy and Neuroscience, the assessments often come in the form of multiple choice and short answer exams. 

Disability, Participation and Health Major

For these units, you may complete more theoretical written tasks, such as critiquing key disability documents, and using literature to guide a critical essay.

You also may complete more reflective tasks, where you explore your own views, ideas and perspectives, and demonstrate your own learning journey through the form of a self-critical and reflective written task.

Skills That You Learn 

Occupational Therapy USYD - Skills

USYD’s OT degree develops graduates into highly proficient Occupational Therapists who are ready to work across vast areas, with skills that are transferable as the future of work continues to grow and change.

Due to the diverse range of units studied in this degree, OT graduates are highly adaptable and able to work to perform different roles based on the work environment. Placement opportunities provide graduates with opportunities to develop their critical and creative thinking to work alongside clients, using OT theory to maintain an evidence based practice. 

OT graduates learn to respect and listen to the clients they work with, as well as other health professionals, by developing precise listening skills, empathy, and communication skills. USYD’s Disability, Participation and Health Major also instills in students an understanding of disability theory and culturally safe practice, producing OTs who are able to reflect on and critique discrimination in the world, throughout their career.

Occupational Therapy USYD - Student Quote 2

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

As OT is a structured degree, each cohort often completes the same units throughout the degree. Due to this, we are able to really get to know one another, and form a tight knit community that supports each other.

There are often between 80 to 100 people in each cohort, creating the opportunity to know everyone that you study with, and reach out to people who have specific skills or experiences that you want to know more about.

As many classes are mandatory, OT classes can resemble some aspects of high school, where you are able to see your friends often. On top of this, due to the frequency of group work and team building activities, you get to know many different people in your cohort.

The Faculty

Similar to the student cohort, the staff are often kind, approachable and incredibly experienced. OT students get the opportunity to get to know their lecturers and tutors, especially when a teacher takes more than one OT unit. 

USYD’s OT lecturers have many years of rich practical experience in the field, bringing a wealth of knowledge and practical insight. You may find yourself being lectured by the very same person who wrote the textbook that you are learning from. Isn’t that great?

As of 2021, the School of Nursing and School of Health Sciences moved into the brand new Susan Wakil Health Building!

For the first time, all Health Science students can study on the main USYD Camperdown campus, with purpose built and state of the art facilities, sitting within the health precinct — next to RPA and Charles Perkins Centre! Due to this, there is a real sense of pride in being able to study alongside student Physiotherapists, Speech Pathologists and more.


Students at USYD who are studying OT have our very own Society! OT Society is focused on creating a way for OT students across the yearly cohorts to connect and feel supported. OT Society creates events including professional development, social events, disability awareness days and more! 

On top of this, there is also the Health Society, that aims to connect students studying health sciences, allied health and other health-related degrees. Health Society provides social, educational and networking events to increase connection between all students who study anything health related!

There are many other options as well, as USYD has over 200 clubs and societies for you to join, so you can really join anything that you’re interested in! 

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.

Annelise Ryan hopes to raise awareness of Occupational Therapy amongst high school students, enabling them to consider the impact they can make through choosing this career path. Annelise is passionate about supporting previously under-represented student groups to consider a career in Occupational Therapy, reflecting the diversity and needs of all communities. Annelise works as a Student Ambassador for the University of Sydney and commenced her Occupational Therapy degree in 2021.

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