A career that will heal, educate, and affect the lives of many—a description that perfectly fits the definition of what it means to be a health care professional. However, finding the right path is never as simple as one thinks. Somehow you have found yourself interested in the world of rehabilitation, specifically physical therapy. Only after carefully considering all of your possible options have you finally directed yourself toward this profession, ready to devote yourself to an education that will take seven years of your life.
Now it is time to undergo the arduous journey to enter the field of physical therapy, but you are still a little confused on what to do during your undergraduate career up until application time, which is in November for most schools! Questions from what classes to take during the undergraduate career to which physical therapy program one should apply abound in the SDN Pre-Physical Therapy Forum. So what do you, as a pre-physical therapy student, need to know about the physical therapy admissions process to help you succeed? This article should provide some basic but integral information about the PT admissions process.
A Brief Overview of PT Education
Currently, there are two degrees that are awarded depending on the school and physical therapy program you attend: the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree and the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)/Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT) Degree. The newer Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is the degree that the vast majority of PT programs award to students upon successful completion of the program. A few schools (maybe a handful) still offer the MPT/MSPT degree. This degree is being phased out for the DPT degree as part of the American Physical Therapy Association’s (ATPA) Vision 2020. All programs will be required to offer the DPT degree by December 31, 2015.
The DPT degree program has an average length of three years. On average, 80% of the curriculum is devoted to didactic and lab study and the remaining 20% is devoted to clinical education, where a student can spend up to 30 weeks in their final clinical internship.
Typically, physical therapy programs require the applicant to have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree before acceptance into the program; however, there are a few universities that offer a 3+3 curricular format, in which the student completes three years of specific pre-PT courses before advancing into the three year DPT curriculum. The student, upon successful completion of the pre-PT track, will usually be awarded a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Sciences. Again, this is school-specific.
Finding the right school and program for you depends on a number of factors. Just as you had to decide which undergraduate program and university to attend, the process of selecting physical therapy programs can be a bit complicated. A few factors to keep in mind when choosing a program include: curriculum, clinical education structure, faculty, campus setting, site of PT classes, degree that is awarded, geographic location, costs and financial aid, and length of program. There are a few other considerations, but these are the factors that students look for the most. Keep in mind that APTA’s accrediting body Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy (CAPTE) does not rank programs. So, for those of you looking for a ranking will not find one from APTA.
Tuition and fees vary considerably among PT programs. There are public universities that cost around $4,000 per semester, while private universities can run you more than a $120,000 for all three years. Financial aid in the form of scholarships is limited. You will most likely have to rely, for the most part, on loans, especially if you are an international student. Save up, choose a reasonable school, and practice sensible financial habits, and you should be just fine.
For a directory of accredited PT programs in the United States visit: Directory of Accredited Physical Therapy Programs (USA)
The Admissions Process
Just as medical students have the dreaded AMCAS, physical therapy students have PTCAS, or the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service, to use for applying to multiple PT programs. However, it should be noted that not every PT program uses the PTCAS. If you will be applying to a non-participating program, you must apply directly through the program/school’s application service. An example would be the Texas physical therapy programs, which use their own respective application services. Check each school’s prerequisites, volunteer or paid physical therapy experience, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) requirements, required letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and state residency requirements, as these will vary from school to school. All of these can be entered into PTCAS and viewed by multiple schools.
You should apply as early as possible, usually starting the process during your junior year. Most applications have a deadline sometime in November of your senior year in college. Always apply early! Early applications are usually due around the end of August or the beginning of September. So do not procrastinate. Get all the application materials in early. Applying early may increase your chances of getting accepted into a program.
Accepted, Waitlisted, or Rejected – What to Do?
You should receive word of your status by the end of the year or the beginning of the next year. You will either receive a letter, an email, a phone call, or all three. If you are accepted rejoice and sing praises to whatever and whomever you want. You’re on your way to becoming a physical therapist!
Waitlisted? Don’t fear, you’re still a prospective candidate to the school, so keep them updated with any other extra volunteer work you do. There is still a chance for your acceptance in to the program, especially if somebody decides to give up their place in the program.
Rejected? Wait for responses from the other schools, if they have not come in yet. If you do not receive an acceptance, plan to try again the next year. In the meantime, beef up your application by getting more involved in volunteer experiences and getting to know some practicing physical therapists. Retake classes that you didn’t do so well in, if possible and if it will help your GPA. If your GRE was subpar, take it again after careful preparation. There is a lot to do to increase the odds of your being accepted the next application year!
If you are accepted, the school will send additional forms and recommended actions for you to take before the registration and enrollment period comes around. Make sure these are in order and completed and submitted on time. Get your finances settled, especially your financial aid from FAFSA which opens up end of January and closes end of June of the same year. Missing a deadline can ruin things for you, especially at more expensive schools. You do not want to become careless at this point. It’s not over until the first day of class.
When you finally choose which school to go to, after reviewing your acceptances, consider all the factors mentioned earlier, e.g. location, curriculum, university setting. It won’t be easy to narrow things down, but after interviews and campus tours, the decision should be much easier for you!
Physical therapy school will not be easy. There will be a lot to read, study, learn, and stress about. Come prepared and maintain a positive attitude throughout and the title of Physical Therapist, along with the ability to treat patients, will be your reward (after the licensure exam of course).
This was meant to be a somewhat brief overview of the admissions process for a physical therapy program. Check back next week for Part 2 of this series, which will focus on some of the specifics of the application and admissions process.
Good luck to all applicants!
Photo Credit: Ignacio Rubalcava, USAG Baumholder
Calvin Gomes receives physical therapy from Roland Kaidl at a Baumholder medical facility in Germany as Michelle Merson and Janine Berry, patient liaisons from the Baumholder Health Clinic, and Gomes’ mother, Yaelmie, look on.