8 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Getting Into PT School

So you want to be a physical therapist. You want a satisfying career where you can help people move better and feel better. You want to work with people to improve functional mobility or prevent injury. Sounds great, but first things first: you need to get into physical therapy school.

What is the best way to get into PT school? Are there things you can do to increase your chances of getting into the physical therapy program of your choice?

The Physical Therapy Degree

Currently, in the United States, physical therapy programs offer a degree called a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This clinical doctorate degree is considered the entry-level degree for a physical therapist and obtaining it allows you to sit for the PT licensure examination. This allows you to practice physical therapy.

Becoming a physical therapist is a process; it takes time, hard work, and a plan to manage all the things that need to be done to get into school. Sure, you need to have excellent grades in your undergraduate studies, but you also need to demonstrate a willingness to engage in lifelong learning and in helping other people. Navigating all the steps necessary to get into school can be tough, and there are some things you can do to increase your chance of getting into a DPT program.

1
Contact the APTA

Photo of a physical therapy classroom.

Hero Images / Getty Images

If you want to be a physical therapist, you should start by contacting the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). The APTA is an organization that represents over 100,000 physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and PT students.

The APTA website is a useful tool to understand what a PT does each day, and you can find basic information about what the road to becoming a physical therapist is like. You can see which schools offer PT degrees, and you can learn how to go about applying to these schools.

2
Take Necessary Prerequisites

When applying to physical therapy school, you will notice that various schools have different prerequisite classes that you must have successfully passed to apply. 

One school, like Ohio State University, requires you to have passed basic anatomy, while other schools, such as Simmons College in Boston, may require you to have passed biology and chemistry classes.

Taking time to understand what classes you need to have successfully passed prior to applying to PT school can save you time (and money).

3
Choose a Related Degree

It may seem obvious, but if you want to be a physical therapist, you should choose an undergraduate course of study that is related to movement sciences.

Some popular undergraduate degree choices of pre-PT students include:

  • Exercise physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Biology

If you already have an undergraduate degree in a non-healthcare relate field, do not fear. Many programs accept a number of students who are looking to become a PT as a second career and who have unrelated undergraduate degrees.

Keep in mind that you may have to take some extra prerequisite classes prior to applying to PT school.

4
Strengthen Your Transcript

We have all taken a class or two where we may have gotten a questionable grade. But having low grades on your undergraduate transcript can hurt your chances of getting into PT school.

The application process can be very competitive, with some schools accepting only 10 to 12 percent of applicants. You need your transcript to be perfect. The average overall grade point average of students entering PT school in 2012 was 3.52 according to the APTA.

If you have any low grades on your academic record, consider retaking that particular class. Tidying up your low grades with As can help your overall grade point average and can help move your application to the top of the acceptance pile for PT school.

5
Take the GRE

Most physical therapy programs require you to take the graduate record examination (GRE) to gain acceptance. This exam is a standardized test that measures the critical thinking necessary to perform well in graduate school. A great way to have your PT school application shine is to do well on the GRE.

Consider taking a GRE prep class to help get ready for the exam. Make sure you are prepared, and if your overall grade on the test is less than adequate, consider retaking the examination.

6
Volunteer or Shadow a PT

While getting good grades during your undergraduate career is important to gain acceptance into PT school, you must also demonstrate to potential schools your willingness and desire to work in various clinical settings related to PT. You can do this by spending a lot of time with physical therapists in the PT clinic.

Various ways the pre-PT students gain clinical hours with physical therapists include:

  • Volunteering in a local hospital's PT clinic
  • Shadowing a PT in a local school
  • Shadowing a PT in an outpatient clinic
  • Working for a physical therapist in a private PT clinic

Being engaged in a PT clinic can help you learn about the profession, and it can help you start to get a feel if being a PT is right for you.

The best way to get into the PT clinic is to call your local PT and ask about doing some shadowing or volunteering hours. If the PT you reach out to can't accommodate you, he or she may know someone who can.

Keep in mind that different schools require different amounts of hours spent shadowing a PT, and some require that you spend time in different PT-related settings like a hospital or outpatient clinic.

So how much time is needed in the PT clinic prior to applying? It depends on the program; Columbia University requires 75 hours of observation while New York Medical College requires 50 hours. (Volunteering or working many more hours in the PT clinic can only help your chances of gaining acceptance into a DPT program.)

When you are shadowing a PT, be observant, but remain out of the way unless the therapist specifically engages you. You simply want to allow the therapist to do his or her work. Being overbearing during a patient's treatment program may come off as rude or uncaring.

Many PT schools require that you submit a professional letter of recommendation, so be on your best behavior to ensure that you get a positive letter from the PT you are working with.

7
Use PTCAS

The  Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) is a service offered by the APTA that allows applicants to use one centralized application to apply to many different PT programs. The PTCAS allows you to gather all of your application materials under one roof then transmit materials to multiple PT programs.

There is a fee to use PTCAS. Currently, it is $150 (US) to apply to your first school, and then $50 for every school after that. Fee waivers are available for those who can show financial need.

The PTCAS can make applying to DPT programs easy, and it can make gathering materials and letters of recommendation simple. Keep in mind that not every US-based PT program participates with PTCAS. You can check to see if your school participates; if not you simply have to apply to the school directly.

8
Apply to Different Schools

It may seem obvious, but applying to many different DPT programs increases your chances of getting into one of them. Sure, we all want to go to the top-rated school in the country, or you may want to get into the school that is right around the corner from your house. But applying to only one school severely limits your chances of getting in.

Prior to applying to a DPT program, visit many different schools to see what you like about each one. Then, make sure you have at least five or six schools to apply to.

A Word From Verywell

With acceptance rates at many physical therapy schools hovering between 10 and 15 percent, it's clear that gaining acceptance to PT school can be tough. But understanding the steps to take to get into school and by maximizing those things you can, you may be able to gain acceptance to the school of your choice to begin your career as a physical therapist.