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?
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
- Becoming a physical therapist
Obtain a bachelor's degree and complete all pre-PT requirements, including prerequisites, the GRE, and experiences (4+ years)
Attend an accredited DPT Program (3 years)
Optional: Complete residency (1 year)
Optional: Complete fellowship (length varies)
Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
Become licensed in the state you wish to practice
- Physical Therapy Prerequisites
Physical Therapy Prerequisites Courses to Take at UC Davis Most schools require: General Biology BIS 2ABC General Chemistry CHE 2ABC Physics PHY 7ABC Human Physiology NPB 101/101L OR NPB 110C/101L Human Anatomy EXB 106/106L OR CHA 101/101L Psychology PSC 1
* Check your major requirements before choosing classes.
See the PT School Prerequisite Chart for a sample list of physical therapy schools and their requirements.
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.
- Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required by most PT programs prior to application.
The exam is available on a continuous basis throughout the year.
The GRE includes three sections:
The exam cost $205 each time you take it. You are only allowed to take the GRE every 21 days after your previous exam.
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.
- PT Experiences
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:
Health Related Internships through the Internship and Career Center (ICC)
Global Health Internships through Study Abroad
Health Related Internships through the Washington Program
Completing community service using the ICC Community Service Database
Join or create a student organization
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.
- Applying to Physical Therapy Programs
The PTCAS admissions cycle begins late June/early July and closes early June the following year.
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.
The personal statement prompt for the 2020-2021 application cycle:
"Every person has a story that has led them to a career. Since there are a variety of health professions that "help" others, please go beyond your initial interaction or experiences with physical therapy, and share the deeper story that has confirmed your decision to specifically pursue physical therapy as your career."
In addition to updating the personal essay prompt, clarifying instructional text will be added to the top of the essay page within the application, reading:
"DPT program faculty and admissions committees are looking for you to use this essay to persuade the reader that the physical therapy professions is the right fit for you. Please keep this in mind as you complete your personal essay."
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.
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
There are over 200 accredited PT programs in the U.S., with 14 programs in California. See the APTA's list of programs.
There are a variety of factors that go into choosing which PT programs to apply to, including location, environment (i.e. urban), tuition, class size, focus or mission statement, etc. Spend some time researching schools online and create a spreadsheet that tracks the factors most important to you. HPA also recommends meeting with an advisor to discuss your school list.
California PT Programs:
Azusa Pacific University
California State University, Fresno
California State University, Long Beach
California State University, Northridge
California State University, Sacramento
Loma Linda University
Mount Saint Mary's University
Samuel Merritt University
San Diego State University
University of California, San Francisco - San Francisco State University
University of Southern California
University of St Augustine for Health Sciences
University of the Pacific
Western University of Health Sciences
- Frequently Asked Questions
- More questions? Check out our FAQ page or schedule an appointment with an adviser!