How to become a physical therapist

Physical therapists (PTs) work with patients to restore function, improve mobility, reduce pain, and limit physical disabilities that result from injury, surgery, or other types of trauma. Generally, physical therapists take patient histories, test and measure a patient's range of motion, strength, coordination, posture and muscle performance. They then develop a plan of exercise and therapy that will help restore function that was lost or impaired. Physical therapists work independently, in group practices, and often in association with orthopedic surgery practices. Most PT programs are now doctoral degrees that require a Bachelor's degree prior to entry.

Pre-requisite observation hours

  • Inpatient: minimum of 15 hours required (hospital, rehabilitation facility or skilled-nursing facility)
  • Outpatient: minimum of 15 hours required (PT clinic or outpatient hospital clinic)
  • Additional setting: minimum of 15 hours required (nursing facility, school, home health or specialty care PT clinic)

Prerequisites coursework for most PT programs include

  • One year of biology for majors (Bio 106 and lab, Bio 113 and lab)
  • One year of chemistry (Chem 150 and lab, Chem 151 and lab)
  • One year of physics (Phys 201 and lab, Phys 202 and lab OR Phys 217 and 218)
  • Human Anatomy (Bio 233)
  • Human Physiology (Bio 234) or Advanced Human Physiology (Bio 326)
  • Statistics (Math 132)
  • Humanities (Psychology - at least 6 hrs; Sociology - 3 hours)
  • English Composition (Comp 150, Comp 250, or their equivalents)

Prerequisites required by individual schools.

Most schools also require:

  • A bachelor's degree in any subject
  • The Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
  • Hours in training with a certified physical therapist (hours range from 50 to 1000)

Application Procedure & Timeline

PT programs have a rolling-admission process. This means that they evaluate applicants as soon as they get their application materials, and admit or reject that student at the time of application. This makes it especially important to apply to each program as soon as you are able to do so. Do not wait until the deadline. Each PT program has its own application deadlines and many have their own on-line applications available for downloading. Please check each program you plan to apply to for their deadlines and plan to have all of your materials (GRE scores, letters of recommendation, college transcripts) submitted well in advance of the application deadline.

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