Pre-Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a health profession widely applicable to many areas of health but focuses on the restoration, maintenance and promotion of physical function. Physical therapists work with all ages from infants to elderly in many kinds of clinical settings from homes, hospitals, schools, fitness facilities and more. Students interested in PT as a career typically major in exercise science, biology, kinesiology, or psychology but as long as the prerequisites are completed most majors would be acceptable. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is required to practice as a PT across most of the United States. For more information see the American Physical Therapy Association website.

Applying to Physical Therapy School

The application timelines for Physical Therapy schools vary greatly, but application is typically made in May through July of the junior year and decisions are made in the late fall or early spring semesters of the senior year. Many schools use the centralized application service, Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) and others do not. For schools that do not use PTCAS, you should check individual school websites for information on the application process. Additionally, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is usually required, but one should check specific schools for requirements. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) provides additional information on the application process.

The prerequisites for admissions into a PT program vary fairly widely from school to school so it is best to check with an program you are interested in applying to, but they usually include a year of biology, chemistry and physics, as well as psychology and statistics. Additionally, some PT programs require observation hours with a licensed PT.  As you can tell from this brief description the requirements for PT programs vary considerably, so it is best to check each program you are interested in well in advance of applying. The PTCAS application service maintains a single spreadsheet that lists all prerequisite courses for all schools that use PTCAS. For a first-year student starting down the pre-physical therapy path, we suggest the following courses:

  • Psychology (SW250-PS, PS320)
  • Introductory Biology with lab (BI210 and BI220)
  • General Chemistry with lab (CH105 and CH106)
  • Physics with lab (PH201 and PH 208 for physics majors; PH107 and PH108 for non-majors)
  • Statistics (MA162)
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology with lab (PX 326/336 and PX327/337)

Other courses, depending on the specific target school:

  • Additional courses in the behavioral sciences (Psychology and Sociology)
  • Calculus (MA106)
  • Medical Terminology (BSHS215)

Pre-Physical Therapy programs generally require an applicant to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)  general test. GRE preparation is typically started at the beginning of the junior year using study materials and guides available for purchase online. This exam is usually taken during the spring semester of the junior year, though students have successfully completed this requirement earlier in their college career. The GRE is similar in format to the SAT and includes verbal and quantitative sections. GRE scores are sent directly to the school.

Many PT programs require a significant number of observation hours with a licensed PT, and this is probably the most important extracurricular component to a typical PT school application. While it is a good idea to shadow more than one professional during your undergraduate years, keep in mind that most PT schools will want a letter of recommendation from a licensed physical therapist that knows you professionally; therefore, you should shadow at least one physical therapist over enough time for them to be able to sufficiently describe you as a good candidate.

Additionally, a person desiring a healthcare professions career you should be aware of current issues in healthcare news, take opportunities to volunteer, shadow and learn more about the area you are interested in, you should reflect on why you want to enter a career in healthcare, and you should explore a variety of healthcare fields. Health care programs like well-rounded professionals. Seek opportunities that can demonstrate you have broad experiences such as study abroad, research experience, leadership experience in a club, etc. That said, students are advised not to become over-involved in too many activities. Instead, they should select a few to which they are particularly committed during their four years at Butler University.  Also, remember that break times, particularly summers, are great times to engage in these kinds of activities without risking your classroom performance, and thus your GPA.

The process for requesting individual letters is outlined below. However, check with the specific school’s website to determine if letters need to be sent directly to that school (becoming relatively rare), as opposed to merely submitted through the PTCAS service (more common). You should request the letters in February or March of your application year (usually your junior year).

In general:

  • Identify at least one science professors and at least one non-science professor that might be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.  PTCAS will often have you submit only one faculty letter of recommendation, but it is best to be prepared.   These professors should know you well (had for more than just one course, you stood out among your peers, they had extensive contact with you outside of the classroom, etc.) and should have observed your academic skills in the classroom as well as a laboratory, recitation, or co-curricular activity.
  • Identify a practicing professional physical therapist that knows you well professionally. Most PT programs will require a letter of recommendation from a professional.
  • Schedule a meeting with the potential recommender to directly ask them to write the letters. Don’t just drop in as the request might get shuffled off and forgotten. Be intentional about asking.
  • Bring a list or short narrative of the work you completed in the classes/clinic taken under the recommender’s supervision. Professors see many students over the years and don’t always remember specific course assignments or course experiences like you will.  Remind them of these experiences.
  • Provide an estimated date for submission of their letters. Recommenders should be prepared to upload letters in July or August, which are common vacation times. Give your recommender enough time to write a thoughtful letter.
  • Understand that no recommender is required to write a letter of recommendation for you. If they do not feel that they know you well enough (or in some cases maybe know you too well?) or do not feel that they can provide you with a strong endorsement relative to your peers, then it is best for all parties involved if they decline. Refusing to write a letter of recommendation because you refuse to waive your right to see the letter, thus making the letter non-confidential, is within the recommender’s rights.
  • When you submit your application materials to the online application service, you will need to fill in the recommender’s information and email. Be sure you get the correct email address! The application service will send the recommender instructions on how to upload the letter. We suggest you waive your right to see the letter of recommendation. Check with the recommender by email or by appointment to ensure that they received the request from the application service. Don’t be pushy, but be firm…this is important!
  • You can check on the status of your application and the submission status of the letters at any time (though you cannot read the letters – they are supposed to be entirely confidential) by following the instructions on the application service website.

Physical Therapy Schools Attended by Butler Graduates

Recent Butler graduates have attended the following Physical Therapy Schools: