Physical Therapists (PTs) work with patients to minimize pain, restore mobility, and maintain long-term physical health. They also equip patients with knowledge regarding how to prevent injuries through a healthier and more active lifestyle. This care is provided in a variety of environments, including hospitals, outpatient facilities including private practices, schools, home health, skilled nursing facilities, and nursing homes. The preparation for becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is specialized and takes place in one of over 200 accredited professional physical therapist education programs nationwide. PTs have a positive employment outlook that is continuing to grow with the aging of the US population. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Physical Therapist was $82,390. After graduating from a PT school, candidates must pass a national licensure exam to begin practicing in any state. More information about the PT profession can be found at www.apta.org.
As summarized in Appendix A: Recommendation Prerequisites for Healthcare Careers, physical therapists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for professional programs. Appendix A lists the general requirements for entrance into PT programs, but students interested in individual schools should check these programs’ websites for specific entrance requirements. In general, two courses in chemistry, physics, biology, and psychology are prerequisites for PT programs. In addition, most schools also require at least one course in human anatomy and human physiology and courses in kinesiology, biomechanics, and/or exercise physiology are recommended by some programs. More advanced science courses are often recommended, including cell biology, cell histology, biochemistry, and abnormal psychology. Math course requirements vary depending on each school, but a statistics course and an additional course of pre-calculus or higher are usually required. On average, schools require an overall GPA of 3.0 and place the most importance when reviewing applications on students’ grades in prerequisite courses. Although the minimum GPA for acceptance is around 3.0, the GPA of accepted students is much higher, ranging from 3.4 to 3.7 depending on the particular school.
In addition to these prerequisite class requirements, most professional schools request that applicants complete anywhere from a minimum of 40 to 100 hours of practical experience under the direct supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist. Applicants with greater amounts and types of experience will be more competitive during the application process than those who just meet the minimum number of required hours.
There are many elements to physical therapy graduate school applications (refer to Appendix C for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to most PT programs, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS; www.ptcas.org). Applicants must also take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit these scores as a part of their application. Some schools also require a general application to their graduate program.
The GRE is composed of questions assessing verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. Verbal Reasoning is assessed in two, 30-minute sections consisting of approximately 20 questions. There are also two sections of Quantitative Reasoning with 20 questions with each section lasting approximately 35 minutes. The Analytical Writing component consists of two 30-minute essays. Typical GRE scores of accepted PT students are at the 50th percentile or above in both the verbal and quantitative sections. On the analytical writing section, the average score is around 3.5 to 4. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the GRE. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities.
On the PTCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming a Physical therapist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivation for becoming a PT. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it as this is a very important component of your application. The PTCAS essay question for the current cycle is, “What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?” Some programs also may ask additional questions to students they are reviewing to determine how they align with the mission of their program and college. For example, programs in rural areas may ask prospective students about their experience and interest in serving rural areas.
Most graduate schools expect to receive three letters of recommendation. Often, one or two must be from a Licensed Physical Therapist who has directly supervised the applicant and can attest to his/her abilities and investment in becoming a Physical therapist. Be sure to obtain the contact information from the physical therapist you have worked with at the time of your observations in order to be able to contact them for a letter of recommendation when you are applying to PT school. The third letter of recommendation may be from a professor who is familiar with the applicant’s work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendation letters well in advance of the time they are due for submission.