Physical therapists help relieve pain and improve body movement through exercise. They are responsible for improving the overall fitness and mobility level of their patients. Are you interested in physical therapy but unsure of how to get into a physical therapy school? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we will explore how to get accepted into physical therapy school. We will also discuss common physical therapy school requirements and suggest tips to improve your candidacy as an applicant. If you want to become a physical therapist, read this step-by-step guide on how to get into physical therapy school.
How Difficult Is It to Get Into Physical Therapy School?
Physical therapy schools are quite difficult to get into as they are highly competitive. For example, Northwestern University has an acceptance rate of 9.31 percent. Moreover, students also need to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher to qualify for the most physical therapy schools in the US.
Students often don’t get accepted because they didn’t consider the minimum requirements while applying. As such, let’s take a look at the common physical therapy school requirements so that you can sail through the application process.
Common Physical Therapy School Requirements
- Good GPA. A good grade point average (GPA) is a common prerequisite in most physical therapy schools. While every institution has a different minimum GPA requirement, it is advisable to have a GPA of 3.5 or higher in undergraduate school.
- Letter of recommendation. Most schools usually assess the quality of the application through letters of recommendation. Some schools may ask for one to four recommendation letters from people such as your academic advisor, a science professor, or a previous employer.
- Degree requirements. Students must have an undergraduate degree in order to apply for any graduate school. While there are no mandatory prerequisite courses students need to have, a relevant degree will make your application stand out. Health sciences and other science majors are the best choices.
- Volunteer experience. Students must have prior volunteer or paid experience working with licensed physical therapists. Some schools may even specify a certain amount of hours needed. Aspiring physical therapists can contact clinics, hospitals, and other health care facilities to get hands-on experience working with patients.
- Good GRE. Taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is mandatory to get into many schools. Some schools may also list a minimum score requirement. However, this isn’t the case with all schools.
- Clean background check. Schools may instruct students to declare any criminal background when applying to physical therapy schools. Students may be denied admission if they fail to disclose a previous felony or pending charges. Before admitting a student, the college may also conduct a criminal background check and a drug test.
How to Get Accepted Into Physical Therapy School: A Step-by-Step Guide
Becoming a physical therapist is not easy. Physical therapists need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree through a program recognized by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, also known as CAPTE. In addition, they have to get a license by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam to officially enter the physical therapy profession.
However, before all of that, it is important to understand the process of getting accepted into a physical therapy school. Below, we have listed the standard procedure that many schools follow. Though, it is important to note that some requirements may vary depending on the school.
Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree
All students need a bachelor’s degree to apply to any physical therapy school. Although students can study any subject, it would be best to take health care of science courses. Some of the common undergraduate courses that students can explore cover behavioral science, kinesiology, psychology, exercise physiology, exercise science, biology, and biochemistry.
Though there may not be specific prerequisite courses, studying the subjects above during your undergraduate career will ensure that you are well prepared for the academic rigor of an advanced degree in the health sciences field.
Step 2: Maintain a High GPA
Simply completing a degree isn’t good enough to get accepted into a graduate program. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, students needed a 3.57 GPA to get accepted by a school in 2017 to 2018. Currently, many schools require a GPA of 3.5 or higher to even be eligible for the program.
Step 3: Get a Good GRE Score
Many Doctor of Physical Therapy programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the application process. Just like Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), GRE is also an aptitude test that assesses candidates through reading, writing, and math tests. It may seem easy, but it can be very challenging. Students should start preparing for GRE six months in advance.
A great way to prepare for GRE is to book the test and use official GRE materials. If you aren’t satisfied with your GRE score, you can retake the GRE every 21 days for up to five times a year. However, some schools do not require GRE for their physical therapy program. So it is best to check with the schools you want to apply to, individually.
Step 4: Volunteer Under Licensed Physical Therapists
Some schools will only admit students who have prior experience with patients. Volunteer experience under a licensed physical therapist can be deciding factor in admissions. You can contact hospitals, home health care centers, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or orthopedic clinics to get experience in clinical practice.
While most programs don’t specify the number of observation hours required, some competitive programs may require more than 100 observation hours. These schools may also specify the setting of the experience.
Step 5: Gather Letters of Recommendation and Other Documentation
Before starting your application, make sure you have gathered at least one letter of recommendation. Talk to your science professor, physical therapist, mentor, or college dean and ask them to write you an excellent recommendation. Also, prepare a checklist of all the other documents you need to complete your application, such as official transcripts, a personal essay, and your GRE score.
Step 6: Explore Scholarship and Financial Aid Opportunities
While submitting your application, explore the scholarship and financial aid opportunities that different schools offer. You can also talk to education counselors and financial advisors at the school to help you with grants and loans. Some schools may ask you to apply for a scholarship program with the application. In contrast, some programs open scholarship options to applicants only after sending an acceptance letter.
Step 7: Apply for a Physical Therapy School
It is now time to explore which school is best suited to you. Prepare a list of all schools you like and begin the application process. You can use the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) that is offered by the American Physical Therapy Association.
The service allows prospective students to apply to multiple programs through a single application. Students have to pay an application fee of $150 to submit the first application and then an additional $50 every time they apply to another program. Please also take note of application deadlines. Your chance for acceptance will be higher if you apply early.
How to Choose the Right Physical Therapy School
When selecting the right school for you, it is important to consider various factors such as placement opportunities, as well as the acceptance rate, location, and financial aid opportunities of the school. You should also check the modern facilities that schools offer to their students.
You can also check the school’s average pass rate for the National Physical Therapy Exam. If a school has a high pass rate, it indicates that the school properly prepares students to be physical therapists in the future. In addition, a good way to choose a school is to visit the campus and take a tour of the department. However, it is best to use a combination of all of these factors.
Top Tips for Getting Into Physical Therapy School
- Do well in your undergraduate studies. Showing academic success in your undergraduate career by maintaining a high GPA is a great way to ensure that you are a good candidate for graduate school.
- Get experience. Additional experience working with patients in physical therapy clinics will help boost your application. You can also work at a skilled nursing facility to get additional experience.
- Build relationships with physical therapists. When gaining clinical experiences, develop solid relationships with your mentors. This can help you during the admissions process because they can write you a recommendation letter or give you interview tips.
- Ask your professor to review your application. Professors or physical therapists can review your application and provide suggestions to help you become a competitive applicant.
- Prepare for the Interview. You might need to appear for an interview to get into a graduate program. It is helpful to conduct a mock interview with friends and prepare for possible interview questions in advance.
Will I Get Accepted Into Physical Therapy School?
Yes, you can get accepted into a physical therapy school if you have a relevant degree, a high GPA, and experience working with patients. When applying to physical therapy programs, make sure you apply to multiple schools to increase your odds.
Is Getting Into Physical Therapy School Worth It?
Yes, the field of physical therapy is full of opportunities. There’s an increasing demand for skilled physical therapists in the US. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy jobs are projected to grow 21 percent by 2030.
Further, the US will likely add 15,600 openings for physical therapists jobs each year over the next few years. Plus, physical therapists earn a high salary. The average salary for these positions is $91,010 a year, according to the US BLS.
How to Get Into Physical Therapy School FAQ
It takes seven years to become a licensed physical therapist. First, you have to complete a four-year undergraduate degree program. After that, you need to complete a doctoral physical therapist program, followed by a clinical residency. You also need to do a clinical fellowship.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most physical therapists enjoy a competitive salary at $91,010, per year. However, physical therapists in the US can make anywhere between $63,530 and $126,780.
No, you don’t have to attend medical school to become a physical therapist. However, you do have a attend a specialized doctorate program. Aspiring physical therapists can get an undergraduate degree in any healthcare-related field. Later, they can enroll in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.
Yes, physical therapists are doctors who specialize in managing pain and helping reduce symptoms of many chronic diseases. Like other doctors, they also get hands-on experience in physical therapy school. All physical therapists must earn a doctorate and pass the national board exam to get a license.
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