Physical therapy helps to restore function, improve movement, manage pain, and prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs. Physical therapists spend time learning the functional limitations of their patients in order to make individualized treatment plans and to monitor improvement. Some physical therapists specialize in a particular type of care (by patient age or type of therapy). Physical therapists often actively work with patients and spend a large portion of their days on their feet. Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists.
Physical Therapists typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers
- Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
- Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patients’ goals and the expected outcomes of the plans
- Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness
- Evaluate and record a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
- Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how best to cope with challenges throughout the process
- Compassion: Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.
- Detail oriented: Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient’s problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.
- Dexterity: Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.
- Interpersonal skills: Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must be able to clearly explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients’ concerns to provide effective therapy.
- Physical stamina: Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they demonstrate proper techniques and help patients perform exercises. They should enjoy physical activity.
- Resourcefulness: Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and able to adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.
Learn more about Physical Therapy:
This is a list of common Doctor of Physical Therapy program prerequisites and the Kalamazoo College course equivalents. The course prerequisites vary across programs. This list does not include all courses that may be required by DPT programs. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites. Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and policies of the schools to which they plan to apply.
* BIOL 123 while this course is not a physical therapy school requirement, we strongly recommend BIOL 123 to first-year students, as it includes physiology and is required for the Biology major.
** BIOL 222 and *** BIOL 376 may not meet the admissions criteria of your intended program. If the program you are preparing for has prerequisites that K College doesn’t offer, most commonly human anatomy and physiology, you may take them at Western Michigan University under our inter-institutional enrollment arrangement. Please contact the Registrar’s office a K College for the policy, procedure, and forms. This is done on a space-available basis so plan ahead and make your arrangements early. The cost is included in your K tuition and the grades will appear on your K transcript and be calculated into your K GPA.
GPA and Extracurricular Experience
According to data published by PTCAS (PDF), the average overall GPA for students accepted into physical therapy programs was 3.57 in 2018-2019.
In addition, many programs require applicants to have a certain number of hours of volunteer or paid PT experience working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The program may specify the settings and types of experiences required. Applicants may also be required to have a licensed physical therapist verify the hours. This experience may be an important factor in the admissions process. For more information, please see the APTA’s Physical Therapist (PT) Admissions Process.
Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
Length: 3 hours and 45 minutes
Sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing
Scores: Scores range from 260-340 Verbal and Quantitative Composite, and 0-6 Analytical Writing.
Cost: The registration fee is $205 which includes the exam and scores sent to four schools. Sending scores to additional schools costs $27 each. Applicants with financial need may request a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate to cover 50% of the GRE fee.
Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 5-8 Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.
Factors to consider:
- Admission requirements: The prerequisite coursework and clinical experience requirements vary widely between each DPT program. Determine where you’re eligible to apply based on the coursework you’ve completed or will complete before matriculation.
- Location: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc. Additionally, think about where you will be doing your clinical work – types of hospitals/clinics, patient population, etc.
- Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.
- Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.
- Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available
Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. PTCAS typically opens in late June/early July. Application deadlines vary, and it is your responsibility to know the deadlines for each school to which you apply. Some schools have a rolling admissions process, so apply well in advance to have the best chance of admission.
Applications for PTCAS are reviewed on a rolling basis. The Careers in Health and Medicine office recommends applying as early in the cycle as possible.
- Centralized Application Service: PTCAS – Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service
- Number of Participating Schools: Over 200
- *There are currently 21 programs that do not participate in PTCAS. Check the individual websites of the non-particiapting schools for their application procedures.
- Cost: $145 which includes one DPT program designation. Each additional school is $45.
- Fee Assistance? Yes, through the PTCAS Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all PTCAS fees for the first DPT program designation on your application. Applicants will pay the $45 fee for all additional program designations.
- Application Requirements:
- Biographical information
- Colleges/coursework information
- GRE scores
- Personal statements
- Personal Statement Prompt: “What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?” 4,500 character limit
- Recommendation letters
Doctor of Physical Therapy programs typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. At least one of your letters be from a science faculty member. Almost all DPT programs require an evaluation letter from a physical therapist. The other letters should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career in physical therapy.
PTCAS allows you to submit up to four evaluators. Individual DPT programs sometimes ask for additional letters of evaluation separate from the PTCAS application.
After submitting the primary application, and secondary applications where required, students may receive interview offers any time between August-April in the year preceding matriculation. Not all DPT programs require an interview as part of the application process, but for the ones that do, the interview is a very important element in the application process. When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.
Schools use personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in physical therapy and the experiences that have motivated you.