Physical Therapy

There are many pieces to the physical therapy school application, including your GPA, GRE score, personal statement, list of experiences, letters of recommendation, and biographical information. Use the navigation below to explore each aspect of preparing for physical therapy programs.

What is a physical therapist?

Becoming a physical therapist

Academic Preparation

Graduate Records Examination (GRE)


Applying to Physical Therapy Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a physical therapist?

  • A physical therapist (PT) is a health professional concerned with restoration and maintenance of a patient's ability to function following disease or injury. Stroke victims, injured athletes, children with muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, amputees, paraplegics and people with minor joint or muscle aches are among the patients a physical therapist may work with. The physical therapist treats patients with physical modalities such as heat, cold, electricity, ultrasound, water exercise, and pressure. The goal of therapy is to improve circulation, strengthen muscles, restore gross motor skills, correct deformities, relieve pain and expedite recovery.
  • See the APTA's "About PT Careers" page to learn more about this profession. 

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Becoming a physical therapist

  1. Obtain a bachelor's degree and complete all pre-PT requirements, including prerequisites, the GRE, and experiences (4+ years)
  2. Attend an accredited DPT Program (3 years
  3. Optional: Complete residency (1 year)
    1. Optional: Complete fellowship (length varies)
  4. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) 
  5. Become licensed in the state you wish to practice

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Academic Preparation

Myth: If I'm going to get a C- in a class, I should intentionally get a D or F in that class in order to retake it for a better grade.

Fact: Do not fail a class on purpose in order to retake it for a better grade. Even though the lower grade will not be included in your UC Davis GPA, it will remain on your transcript and most centralized applications will count that first grade into your application GPA.

Additionally, the health profession schools will still see it. It is better to have a C- in the course and improve through other courses in the same discipline than to take a D or F.

Most health professional schools require all prerequisites to be completed with a C or higher. Although you cannot repeat the C- at UC Davis, you will need to repeat it somewhere else either over a summer or after graduation.

If you need to discuss this or any other academic difficulty futher, please make an appointment with a staff advisor. 


Most schools require:

General Biology (BIS 2ABC)

General Chemistry (CHE 2ABC)

Physics (PHY 7ABC) 

Human Physiology (NPB 101 or NPB 110ABC, NPB 101L)*

Human Anatomy (EXB 106 & 106L)

Psychology (PSC 1)

See the PT School Prerequisite Chart for a sample list of physical therapy schools and their requirements.

*Check your major requirements before choosing classes.

Note: The above courses are only suggested, not absolute. 

  • You can choose any major and apply to PT programs. If you choose a non-science major, you still have to take the science prerequisites required by PT programs. 
  • HPA recommends that pre-PT students maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, although many PT programs will have GPA averages above this minimum. 
  • Complete all of your prerequisite courses for a letter grade - DO NOT take any of them P/NP.
  • Each PT program has different prerequisites. Check each school's prerequisites before applying. 

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The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is...

  • required by most PT programs prior to application. 
  • available on a continuous basis throughout the year.
  • includes three sections:
    • Verbal Reasoning
    • Quantitative Reasoning
    • Analytical Writing
  • $160 each time you take it.
  • The GRE is not a course-dependent test, meaning there are no specific UCD courses you need to take to prepare. The best way is to give yourself time to study the test by buying test prep books or taking a test prep course.
  • Whatever you do, do not take the test without preparing! Click here to register for the GRE.

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Myth: I can do a lot of meaningful experiences to make up for a weaker GPA.

Fact:  Having many meaningful activities will NOT make up for a low GPA.

You must focus on your grades during your undergraduate years, earn at least a 3.0, and then begin adding experiences. You can always take a year or two off after graduation to gain more experience. It is better to graduate from UC Davis with a higher GPA and less experiences than lots of experiences but a low GPA. 

  • Most schools require experience in the physical therapy environment in at least two settings. Experience in the inpatient setting is either required or highly recommended by programs. Generally, the inpatient setting can be difficult to obtain. The hours required differ for each school's program. 
  • Experiences may typically need to supervised and verified by licensed physical therapists. 
  • Examples of physical therapy experiences include:
    • Shadowing/interviewing a physical therapist
    • Working or volunteering in a physical therapy clinic, hospital, and/or long-term care facility (i.e. senior care) 
    • Becoming a physical therapy aide or athletic trainer
  • Here are some good places to start looking for experiences at UC Davis:
  • For PT experiences, print out this verification form from PTCAS prior to the end of your PT experiences and have the PT sign the form while you are still in contact with the PT.

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Applying to Physical Therapy Programs

  • The 2017–2018 PTCAS admissions cycle begins on June 29, 2017 and closes on June 1, 2018. 
  • Not all schools and programs participate in PTCAS. If a program does not use PTCAS, you will need to apply through their specific program application found on the admissions website. 
Personal Statement
  • Your personal statement should answer the following prompt:
    • "What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?"
  • PTCAS allows 4500 characters (including spaces) for your personal essay.
  • The personal statement is your first chance to provide PT program admissions committees with subjective information about your qualifications and your reasons for choosing a particular career. In other words, the personal statement is your initial opportunity to present yourself as an interesting and unique applicant who deserves a closer look.
Letters of Recommendation
  • Many physical therapy programs require 1-4 letters of recommendation, or references. References can be from physical therapists, science faculty, major faculty, advisors, or others that can attest to your abilities. 
  • Some PT programs require interviews, and interview formats vary by school.
  • Examples of interviews include one-on-one conversation with faculty, physical therapists, or a panel of interviewers.
Supplemental Applications
  • Some schools will also require a supplemental application. A supplemental fee is usually required and the cost will vary among schools. It is the responsibility of the applicant to check the requirements for each school to ensure all have been fulfilled. Failure to submit required materials by the each school's deadline may jeopardize the applicant's eligibility for admission consideration.
Choosing PT Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I study abroad?

Studying abroad is a wonderful experience that we encourage you to pursue. It is a valuable experience that provides the opportunity for growth in both maturity and cultural awareness.

You should not study abroad because you are pre-health in an effort to make your application stand out. You should study abroad because you want to gain the experience.

If your study abroad program was through UC Davis Study Abroad or UC Education Abroad (UCEAP), then your coursework will be on your official UC Davis transcript and fullfil prerequisites. If you studied abroad directly through a foreign institution, then your coursework will be on a "foreign transcript," which most health professional schools do not accept. 

Which classes count towards the science GPA?

You can see which courses count towards the science GPA calculated by PTCAS here

To calculate your science GPA, pull up your Academic Record in OASIS. Along the left side of the course list, you will see boxes. Check off the boxes for the courses you wish to be included in the GPA calculation on the right side of the page.

What courses satisfy the English requirement for physical therapy programs?

Lower and upper division English (ENL), UWP, and Comparative Literature (COM) courses will satisfy the English requirement for occupational therapy schools unless an OT program's website says otherwise. You may also take similar classes at a community college. 

Note: Testing out of the upper division UWP course requirement via the Upper Division Composition Exam (UDCE) for graduation does not count towards the occupational therapy prorgram requirement. 

Many pre-health students take UWP 104F (see course description here). This is a great option because in this class you will produce a personal statement draft. Consider waiting to take UWP 104F until your junior or senior year, or closer to when you will submit your application.

What's the difference between a Masters of PT (MPT) and Doctorate of PT (DPT)?

Physical therapy education programs within the U.S. only offer Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees and no longer offer Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degrees. 


Would it help me in the PT admissions process to first become a licensed PTA?

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) programs are not necessarily connected to the physical therapist (PT) program, as the curriculum may not satisfy the prerequisites required for admission into a PT program. Therefore, becoming a licensed PTA is not a necessary step or bridge towards becoming a physical therapist. 

What are the differences between PTs and OTs?

Physical therapists and occupational therapists both serve important roles within the service of rehabilitating patients. Differences between the two professions include differences in education and approach to healthcare. PT education is at the doctoral level while OTs can choose to either earn a master's or doctoral degree. Physical therapists' approach to rehabilitative care includes treatment through restoration of movement and motor functioning. PTs implement therapeutic exercise, training, and other forms of therapy to aid with mobility of the patient. OTs treat patients by helping them acclimate back to normal everyday activities such as eating, bathing, driving, cooking, etc. Occupational therapists often work to develop the social, behavioral and personal aspects of a patient's life after instances of disability and/or illness. Both, however, aim to improve the health and quality of life of their patients. 


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