Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary Guide (2019)

I created this article to provide an overview of OTA salaries in the US. Whether you’re still considering if a career as an OTA is right for you, you’re looking at options for your first job, or you’re simply curious about how your pay compares to the national average, this article aims to give you a better idea of how much money OTAs tend to make.

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) have some of the most fulfilling roles in the healthcare world. Not only do OTAs enjoy careers devoted to helping others live their best lives, they can often make a pretty nice living in the process.

I created this article to provide an overview of OTA salaries in the US. Whether you’re still considering if a career as an OTA is right for you, you’re looking at options for your first job, or you’re simply curious about how your pay compares to the national average, this article aims to give you a better idea of how much money OTAs tend to make.

I do want to add that salary is not always a black-and-white topic; after all, the traditional medical model means much of an OTA’s pay is based on reimbursement and market saturation. That said, there has been increased focus on outcomes-based (versus fee-based) reimbursements, so I realize we’re in a time of flux in the occupational therapy world. So, don’t worry—I will continually be updating this article!

Important: If you are looking for OT salary info, please visit Your Occupational Salary Guide (2019).

Average OTA Salary ($54,257)

This average was calculated by OT Potential. We took the average from the above databases to create a master OTA salary average.

We, at OT Potential, have created this calculation, and we based it on an average of numerous reputable websites’ salary data for OTAs.

However, before we dive into the nitty gritty, I want to start out with discussing what the average OTA salary really is.

I include many sources in this article, and each salary resource collects its data using unique methods and looking at different factors. Here’s what this means:

  • Some websites break down salaries between states (or even cities)

  • Some websites break them down per experience level

  • Some websites present findings as means (averages) while others use medians (which I’ll explain more in depth in a moment)

In addition to these variables, each salary resource also has its own collection bias, which is based on who chooses to submit data, who uses the resource, and how the data itself is collected.

We have chosen to base calculations on an average of all the data we found, some of which is presented as median vs. mean findings. Let’s quickly cover the difference between the two.

Median vs. mean OTA salary

“Median” means when all the salaries collected by survey respondents are listed from lowest to highest, there is usually a hump or cluster where most salaries lie. At the very center of that hump is the median. There might be some outlier OTAs who make way more or less than that amount, but that data won’t skew the median.  

On the other hand, the “mean” (average) is calculated by adding up all of the salaries of survey respondents (including the outliers), then dividing them by the total number of responses. An outlier salary that is very low, or very high, can easily skew the mean—though an outlier’s impact is decreased when more salaries are included in the calculation. The impact of outliers on a mean is a very important in this consideration, though, as quite a few OTAs work part-time or PRN, and their annual salaries are lower, which could skew the mean results toward the lower end.

In any case, I have listed our sources below in alphabetical order, and will make a point to specify whether their data is listed as median or mean.  

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) salary info

The AOTA is the professional organization for the occupational therapy field. AOTA runs its own salary survey and updates it every few years. The last year it did so was 2015.

According to the AOTA, the median annual pay for OTAs in 2014 was $48,000.

However, experience does impact an OTA’s earning potential. For example, a brand-new OTA with under a year of experience will make a median salary of $39,000. An experienced OT with between six and nine years of experience will make a median salary of $48,000. Interestingly enough, additional experience beyond nine years doesn’t seem to make much difference per the AOTA’s findings; an OTA with 25+ years of experience will earn a median salary of $48,750. (Although, it’s important to note from the graphic below that this calculation itself might be considered an outlier; the same calculations indicate an average salary of $55,000 with 21.5-25 years of experience.)

Salary By Years of Experience

Data according to the AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) salary info

The BLS is part of the US Department of Labor, which is the federal agency that monitors the labor industry. The BLS is considered an independent statistical agency, and that’s why many institutions choose to rely on BLS data for their research. Generally speaking, the BLS will list data from approximately the past two years.

According to the BLS, the median* annual pay for OTAs in 2017 was $60,220 per year.

*Please note that the BLS uses median pay, while other sites report their findings as means.

Glassdoor salary info

Glassdoor is a highly regarded and quickly growing job platform where job seekers can search for employment and learn about various companies on the same website. Glassdoor is a great spot to research interview questions for specific jobs and organizations, too.

According to Glassdoor, the mean annual pay for OTAs as of 2019 is $58,336.

OTSalary.com salary info

OTSalary was created by Kate Washa Boyd. She is an OT with a passion for helping other OTs earn what they deserve, and her website collects data from visitors in an attempt to improve visibility into OT salaries.

This website is incredibly informative, as you can sort salary data by years of experience, job type, state, education level, etc. The best way to use the site is to download the information so you can sort it yourself!

We ran some numbers based on her spreadsheet. Keep in mind that data on OTSalary is self-selecting, meaning only people who know about her site know to submit their salary info.

According to OTSalary, the mean salary of OTAs who reported working full-time (40+ hours per week) is $54,269.

When employees working fewer hours than 40 per week were factored in, the number was $45,678.

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PayScale salary info

PayScale is one of my favorite sources of info because it is one of the very first salary websites, pioneering the use of big data in its calculations—plus, salary data is pretty much all it covers. Unlike some of the other salary websites out there, PayScale’s data tends to skew on the lower side—but its data is also close to the AOTA’s findings, so we find that it reflects the reality of OTA salaries pretty well.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary of an OTA is $46,798 per year.

Salary.com salary info

Salary is another established player in the salary game, but we’ve noticed that its numbers tend to skew higher than what we typically hear on an anecdotal basis. And this applies to all salaries, not just healthcare ones, so take its results with a grain of salt. That said, this number is closer to the median BLS findings, so don’t discount it altogether.

According to Salary, the average annual salary of an OTA is $57,920 per year.

Do OTAs make a lot of money?

Frankly, this is not an easy question to answer. According to the BLS, the median salary of all workers in the US is $37,690. According to our calculations and the BLS’ calculations, OTA salaries are certainly higher than the national average. So, one might say that OTAs do make a lot of money.

At the same time, you can always find professions with astronomically high salaries, such as anesthesiologists and radiologists, and OTAs seem to make very little in comparison.

All things considered, your salary as an OTA is only part of your bigger financial picture. Much of your overall financial health depends on additional factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Loans (including student loans, home loans, car loans, etc.)

  • Dependents (including children, pets, and aging parents, etc.)

  • Lifestyle expenses

  • Health and medical expenses

  • Overall cost of living (the Bay Area is much pricier than, say, Aurora, Nebraska!)

We also think it’s worth noting that OTAs do make a pretty nice salary compared to OTs, when you take student debt load into consideration. OTs do generally have a higher earning potential, as well as more autonomy, though, so it is likely a toss-up which is better for you.

How much can a new grad OTA make straight out of school?

It’s also a bit tough to provide a set number that an OTA can expect to make right out of school. Just a few of the factors that play into this number include:

  • Where you work (location)

  • Setting

  • Patient population

  • Schedule (the hours and days you work)

  • How much you negotiate

That said, according to the AOTA, a new grad OTA will earn a median salary of $39,000 per year.

Again, you can definitely make more money straight out of school if you choose certain locations, settings, and patient populations—and you’ll almost definitely earn a significantly higher salary if you opt to travel as a new grad OTA.

Can OTAs expect to have salary growth across their careers?

The short answer is, “not exactly.”

Unfortunately, after around 20-25 years of working as an OTA, you’re usually looking at about a $15,000-$20,000 difference in your annual salary. While that might sound like a nice pay bump, it’s more likely that your raises will simply keep up with the normal inflation rates in the US.

How have OTA salaries changed over the years?

We were able to manually extract data from BLS spanning the last 20 years. According to the BLS, in 1998, the median annual salary for an OT assistants was $29,710, and today it is $60,410.

Much like home values and the stock market, the median OTA salary certainly increased during the last 20 years. And, unlike OT salaries, which have largely stagnated over the last two decades, OTA salaries have seen significant growth per the BLS.

For example, the figure below shows that the inflation-adjusted rate for the 1998 median salary is $46,501.10, which is significantly lower than the $60,000 median OTA salary quoted by the BLS. This means there actually was an increase in median pay of OTAs over 20 years, which is not the case for OTs.

According to the AOTA, overall salaries for OTAs rose 9.1% since 2010. Differences by setting are similar for OTAs, with the only notable difference being in academia—in this setting, salaries rose 18% since 2010. On the other hand, salaries rose 8.2% for full-time OTs since 2010.

So, it’s probably safe to say that OTA salaries have grown more significantly than OT salaries in the last 10-20 years, though the actual growth rates for each depends on the source cited.

Where can I find more info on OTA salaries?

First of all, I recommend that you check out the sources I listed above. Many are continually collecting data, and some update their sites as frequently as once per year (if not more often).

Also, please take the time to submit your salary information to as many of the sources listed as possible. In order for these sources to report accurate data, they need people to submit their earnings.

How can I make more money as an OTA?

There are plenty of ways to increase your earning potential as an OTA. Here are just some of those ways:

Pick a high-paying setting

As is the case with OTs, the SNF (skilled nursing facility) and HHOT (home health occupational therapy) settings typically pay higher wages than schools and hospitals. Academia pays the best of all, with median pay for OTAs sitting at $61,500.

Median OTA Annual Salaries by Work Setting

Move to Texas—I mean...work in one of the highest-paying states :-)

According to the BLS, Texas pays (by far) the highest annual mean (yes, wages are reported as means in this section of the BLS) wage to OTAs, at $74,650. This is on par with the average OT salary nationwide! New Jersey, Nevada, California, and Virginia are not far behind with OTA salaries, with all of them averaging over $65,000 annually.

Highest paying states for COTAs.

I will mention that I’m often asked why certain states pay more than others, and it’s simply not an easy question to answer. Just a few factors that influence pay rates in any state include:

  • Reimbursement contract rates

  • Cost of living

  • Market saturation

  • Demand for care

Consider becoming a travel OTA

Travel OTA positions are not nearly as plentiful as travel OT positions, but they’re out there—and they almost always pay more than permanent roles. That said, the travel industry is notoriously shady, so I recommend that you work with Nomadicare so that you don’t get taken advantage of.

As an affiliate and a friend of Laura’s, I completely support and believe in the Nomadicare mission. Check out her site here!

Work PRN

If you’re looking to maximize your hourly pay, working PRN (or per diem) might be the answer. Employers tend to issue higher hourly rates to therapists who don’t receive PTO or other benefits, so if you don’t need health insurance through your employer, this could be a good route to explore.

The flip side is that PRN gigs typically offer no guarantee of hours; this means you might be called off at the last minute without pay.

Negotiate your OTA salary

I used to lose sleep worrying about negotiating my salary—but I truly believe negotiating for what you’re worth is essential to finding satisfaction in your OTA career.

Here are just a few reasons to negotiate your OTA salary:

  • You will be happier with an employment contract where you helped set the parameters

  • Negotiating will show you how the company treats its employees

  • Your skillset is worth it

My friend Emily always says, "Don't ask, don't get." I cannot agree more!

How to negotiate your OTA salary

Negotiating a proper OTA salary is not that hard. You simply need to state the facts—and have a solid rationale for requesting more pay.

A good salary negotiation is always founded in research.

First of all, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can about comparable positions. You might be the best OTA ever created, but you cannot earn more than what the market can support.

I also recommend that you explore the resources cited in this article; you can find much more nuanced data on salaries if you do some digging. When you’re doing your research, also consider the number of years you’ve been in practice, your chosen setting and patient population, and any specializations or certifications you might hold.

Sometimes, despite your best attempts at negotiation, a job simply won’t budge on salary. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re not being offered a salary commensurate with your value. The good news is you can often negotiate your overall compensation package in non-salary areas, including:

  • Additional PTO and/or unpaid leave for pre-planned trips

  • Continuing education allowances

  • A flexible schedule

  • AOTA and/or NBCOT membership

  • Loan repayment options

  • A mentorship plan

Additional negotiating resources

I provide additional details about my own negotiating experiences in my post, Occupational Therapy Job Negotiations. Also, I found the StoryBrand Podcast episode #26 - 5 Strategies That Will Make You a Strong Negotiator very helpful, as it helps to normalize the idea of negotiation.

Conclusion

I’ve given you the lay of the land in terms of what types of OTA salaries are out there, as well as roughly what you can expect to earn based on your unique circumstances.

However, I also want to mention that salary is only one of the many factors you should consider if you’re pursuing an OTA career. After all, the most important consideration is whether you would enjoy being an OTA in the first place.