Tips for Physical Therapy Applicants

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If you aspire to be a Physical Therapist, this fact sheet will give you some background information about the requirements you must fulfill to apply to PT school, and how you can meet those requirements at Elmira College.

Admissions requirements

Most physical therapy programs require a variety of courses in science, social science, and the humanities for admission.  There is little uniformity among programs, so please be sure to research each program that you may be interested in attending. 

Pre-requisite courses – many schools require these courses

Freshman Composition/Communications
Biological Concepts with labs (major’s level)
General Chemistry with labs (major’s level)
Physics with labs
Anatomy and Physiology with labs
Calculus and/or Statistics
Organic Chemistry and/or Biochemistry

Other courses that are often required, or strongly recommended

Abnormal Psychology                       
Child and Adolescent Psychology


You may major in anything, as long as the pre-requisite courses are taken.  Most applicants choose a science major because there are many science pre-requisites and most students have a strong interest in science.  Other students will major in psychology, and minor in biology, for example.  Successful applicants have a wide variety of coursework and experiences, so there is no one “correct” choice for a major.

Test scores and GPA

The exam that most physical therapy programs require is the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), taken during the summer between junior and senior year.  See for details about this exam.  Most graduate programs expect a 300 combined math and verbal score on the GRE for consideration.  Most graduate programs in physical therapy expect the undergraduate GPA to be at least a 3.0, with no “C” grades in the sciences.  In a recent application cycle, there were 357 applicants on average to each school, with 43 spots open, on average.

Health care experience

Health care experience is a necessary component of your preparation before applying to a physical therapy program.  Every program has its own mission and philosophy, and usually has a recommended list of experiences they would like to see.  Programs require a variable number of hours of patient experience that may be paid or volunteer work.  To gain this experience, students have shadowed physical therapists or become athletic trainers, certified nursing assistants, paramedics, or EMTs.  You need to explore the various professions and be educated about your decision to become a Physical Therapist versus another member of the health care team.  At Elmira College these hours can be fulfilled through community service or the internship experience.  Some programs require signed verification of shadowing hours, while others do not.  Check the particular schools you are interested in.

Development of Personal Attributes

While a high degree of academic success is necessary, it is not sufficient for admission to Physical Therapy programs.  Demonstrated altruism, interpersonal skills, and integrity are all part of developing what you need for a strong provider-patient relationship.  Cultivating outside interests and activities is critical.  It is less critical what you spend your time doing, but much more critical that you show passion for something.  Length of time invested, depth of the experience, and lessons learned are three key criteria for evaluating outside activities.

Research experience

While not a requirement at every professional school, research can give you an academic edge.  Research can give you insight into how science works outside the classroom setting.  In addition, your professors can get to know you better and thus be able to write meaningful letters of recommendation.  Students can conduct research at Elmira College during the academic year or can apply for the summer undergraduate research program.  Many deadlines across the country for research internships close in early February.


The American Physical Therapy Association
This is the professional organization of Physical Therapists.  There is a page for Prospective Students that has a great deal of useful information.  Watch the video “You Can Be Me” to get an idea of the wide range of career options for Physical Therapists.

Physical Therapy Central Application Service (PTCAS)

The site that most physical therapy programs use to manage their applicants.  Start working on your application through this site in mid to late summer of your junior year if you plan to attend right after you finish your degree here.

Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Pizza Lunches and premed Speaker Series

Attend as many as you can.  Important information that can help with the application process will be shared at pizza lunches.  These sessions also educate you about various health care professionals you will be working with some day. 

Common Questions

How many Physical Therapy programs are there?  How long do they take to complete?

The DPT programs are usually three-year programs.  Of the 212 accredited programs out there, 211 are DPT programs.  The remaining Master’s level program will be phased out by 2017, as a DPT will be required for licensure at that time.

What if the program I plan to attend has a pre-requisite course that Elmira College does not offer?

Once in a while a physical therapy program will require a very specific course for admission that we may not have.  Some students have fulfilled such a course online while others have taken it at another institution during the summer.  Check to see which the program prefers.

How do I succeed on the GRE?

Take practice exams under test conditions.  Be as familiar as you can with the test format.  See for details. Most graduate schools want to see a score of 300 combined math/verbal for consideration.

I can’t decide between pursuing Athletic Training or Physical Therapy as potential career tracks.  What can I do at Elmira College to prepare for either profession?

We have had students prepare for either route by majoring in Biology, Psychology, or other similar disciplines.  For graduate work, you would then go on to pursue an Entry-level Master's program (ELM) in athletic training, or the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) for physical therapy licensure.

The main reason I would recommend a bachelor's degree in a specific discipline (like biology or psychology) rather than go to a college for a BS in athletic training is that it leaves many more options open to the student.  If a BS in athletic training is obtained, and after a few year's of practice, they decide they may want to become a Physician Assistant, or branch out into other fields, they may not have the flexibility that someone would have with a Bachelor's degree in a science or social science field.  For those in Physical Therapy, a DPT degree allows you to specialize in a variety of areas, including sports medicine, and may allow you to combine multiple interests.