Physical therapists (PTs) provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy. Therapists examine patients’ medical histories and test and measure the patients’ strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. Prescribed treatment often includes exercise, especially for patients who have been immobilized or who lack flexibility, strength, or endurance. (bls.gov 2008-05-08)
Students interested in pursuing a degree in physical therapy should:
- Gain experience working or volunteering alongside a licensed physical therapist. Many schools require that students have an understanding of what is involved in physical therapy and have shown the motivation to obtain experience in the field. Experience (paid or unpaid) in a physical therapy office will expose you to the field.
- Consider who you will ask for letters of reference for your application. Most schools want representation from a professional physical therapist as well as from professors, instructors or advisors who can speak to your potential in academics and your experience with hands-on practice.
- Admission to a physical therapy program is competitive, so take advantage of any coursework or experience that may give you an added advantage. Admission is based upon several factors including overall academic achievement (most requiring a 3.0 gpa minimum), achievement in sciences and work experience in health-care situations. Requirements vary by school, so check with the admissions office for each school you are interested in applying to.
- More and more physical therapy programs are at the doctoral level, though there are still some master's level programs. Admission to either type of program requires similar prerequisites. As with most health care professions, the first half of the training consists of classroom instruction, with the second emphasizing clinical practice. After completion of programs accredited by the American Physical Therapy Program, students are eligible to test for licensure in all 50 states.
- Pursue an undergraduate curriculum that includes many of the courses in the chart below. Most PT schools do not require students to have a specific major. Preference is given to students who will have completed a Bachelor's degree by the start of classes.
Courses required for admission by most schools**:
|General chemistry with lab|
|Chem 105X, 106X|
|General biology with lab|
|Biol 115X, 116X|
|Human anatomy and physiology||8||BIOL 111X, 112X|
|Phys 103X & 104X or Phys 211X & 212X|
|Introduction to psychology||3||Psy 101|
Courses RECOMMENDED by many schools (varies by school):
Upper division courses in human, mammalian or comparitive anatomy; human or mammalian physiology
Biol 310, 317, 418, 425, 444
Comm 131X or 141X
One or two additional psychology courses, preferably in lifespan development or abnormal psych.
Psy 240, Psy 345; also consider: Psy 335, 337, 455, 460, 469
Engl 111X, Engl 213X
Stat 200 or 300
Mathematics, one course in addition to statistics
Math 107X, 108, 200X
UAF core courses
**Admission requirements vary by school. This chart was compiled by researching a majority of physical therapy schools. However, it is important to check for the admission requirements of the specific school that you are interested in to be sure that you will meet all of the prerequisites required by that school. A course listed as recommended here may be required by your school of choice.
For students attending UAF, a bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences will require many of the same courses. Students considering a career in physical therapy should contact the Academic Advising Center or the Biological Sciences department.
- American Physical Therapy Association
- General Health Professions Admission Requirements
- Occupational Outlook Handbook
- What schools have physical therapy programs? Use Peterson's guide to help find the one that is right for you.