Physical Therapy School Requirements

A person reading an acceptance letter to PT school

Are you considering a career in physical therapy?

Worried about physical therapy school requirements? This article will demystify the process and give you a solid starting point to begin your admissions journey.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Physical therapists are healthcare providers who work with people at all stages of life. They work with people with injuries, health conditions, and disabilities over varying lengths of time. PTs develop treatment plans and do hands-on patient care to prevent and heal from injury, minimize pain, help with movement, and improve the quality of life for their patients. Physical Therapists work almost everywhere – practicing in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, sporting facilities, and private homes.

How Do You Become a Physical Therapist?

PTs must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited institution and pass their state licensure exams in order to practice. DPT programs generally last three years and cover a wide range of biological, physiological, and anatomical material through a mix of classroom and lab based curriculum. Physical therapy students acknowledge that their education is rigorous and, at times, tough, but also rewarding. A typical day includes classroom time, lab work, and practice. Graduates must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), a five hour exam to show their knowledge and abilities in the field. In order to take for the NPTE you must fulfill national requirements along with the eligibility requirements for the state you want to practice in.

What Are the Requirements for Physical Therapy Programs?

Nearly all programs will require a bachelor’s degree before matriculation. There are some combined preprofessional/undergraduate + DPT programs for those still in, or about to start, their undergraduate careers. Bachelor’s degrees can come from any field, but there are certain degrees that will better prepare you for PT school – including making it easier to knock out your prerequisite courses. Biology, exercise science, and kinesiology will help to prepare you in the science of living organisms and human movement and activity.

Prerequisites

While you can apply with any bachelor’s degree, you will need to have certain prerequisite courses checked off in order to gain admittance. Prereqs will vary across programs, but most will include: anatomy and physiology with labs; two biology courses; two general chemistry courses with labs; two physics courses with labs; statistics; and psychology. As part of your application research you will need to carefully consult each program you are applying to for their list of prerequisites and any conditions attached to them.

GPA and GRE

DPT programs also have minimum GPA requirements. These minimums are often lower than the average admitted student’s GPA, so you will want to be sure to check both to judge your eligibility and competitiveness. Most applicants will take the GRE even if applying to some schools where it’s not required. A strong GRE score can be another way to stand out in a crowded and competitive admissions field. Again, a program may have a minimum required GRE score, a “preferred” GRE score, and the average admitted student’s score. While having a score below the average won’t automatically disqualify you from admission, knowing you are scoring below can help you focus on other areas where you can exceed.

Experience

Hands-on experience requirements vary widely between DPT programs. Some require no patient care experience while others require a certain number of hours of experience working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. For some programs, the variety of patients and settings you have experience with will be important. Some may have specific requirements for breadth and depth of these experiences. Regardless of their hours requirements, all programs will need you to demonstrate knowledge and passion for the field of physical therapy. Clinical and patient care experience can also help your application to stand out from the crowd, even when not required.

Letters of Recommendation

Programs place great weight on letters of recommendation and often have specific guidance about who they want to see letters from. For applicants with physical therapy experience, a strong letter from the PT they did their work with will be an invaluable resource speaking to the applicant’s qualifications and ability to succeed in a DPT program. Academic instructors, particularly in the sciences, are also viewed as strong recommenders as they can speak to academic performance and promise.

Written Materials

Your written application materials including statements of purpose and/or personal statements are hugely important to the application process. They convey your story, sharing with the admissions committee why you want to be a PT, why their school is the right fit for you, and why you are the right fit for them. This is your first opportunity to transcend the numbers that make up your transcripts and test scores and flesh out who you are as a person. Having a well written and compelling narrative takes an application a long way.

Interviews

Many programs will have an interview as the final piece of the admissions process. This is a chance for applicants to retell their story, answer questions that prove their readiness for graduate work, and demonstrate their communication and interpersonal skills. Interviews may include group portions and problem solving challenges. Remember that each aspect of the interview is helping the committee to weigh a different component of your aptitude and readiness for the program.

Where To Begin

Research is always the first step of applying to graduate schools. A good place to begin for DPT programs is the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). PTCAS is both the tool you will use to submit your application(s) and a wealth of information about programs. You can visit their program directory, see a list of programs, or use their program requirements comparison tool as a starting point for making your long list of target schools. You should also talk to trusted advisors in both the PT and academic field. If you are still in an undergraduate program, you can meet with you academic advisor and/or advisors from your school’s DPT program or other healthcare advising field. If you are already working or volunteering with a PT, ask them if you can talk to them about PT training. If you aren’t, respectfully reach out to PTs in your area to see if they would be willing to have a short informational interview with you. Getting the ball rolling on research early will help you to manage your time effectively and with the least amount of stress possible.

Author

More from Magoosh