In addition to a bachelorís degree students who intend to become physical therapists must complete a graduate degree in physical therapy. The majority of physical therapy programs in the U.S. lead to doctoral degrees, requiring an average of three years of study. There are also masterís degrees requiring two years of study.
What Will I Study in a Physical Therapy Program?
During a physical therapy program, students will gain a greater understanding of how body systems work together, learn to make diagnoses, master interventions, and practice skills through clinical experiences.
Selecting an Undergraduate Major:
All students who plan to apply to physical therapy graduate program are considered pre-physical therapy students. There is no prescribed major for pre-physical therapy students. Students can select any undergraduate major; however, they need to complete the perquisite courses required for admission to a physical therapy graduate program. When selecting a major, students should consider the length of time it will take to complete the requirements, ability to do well in the course of study, and alternative career choices.
In order to prepare for a physical therapy program while earning a bachelorís degree within four years, students should select major that either requires many of the prerequisite courses for admissions to a physical therapy programs admissions prerequisites or allows for enough electives to complete the majority of the requirements.
Students should also select a major that they enjoy and one in which they can do well academically. Studentsí grades are a very important factor in physical therapy admissions decisions. Physical therapy program administrators are seeking the brightest students to ensure there students can handle the rigors of the program and succeed in the field.
When students are selecting a major, they should consider career options if they either decide that they no longer wish to apply to a physical therapy program or are not accepted for admission.
Physical therapy programs are very competitive. For acceptance into a physical therapy program, students must complete a bachelorís degree and several other admissions requirements. Typical admissions requirements are to pass all prerequisite courses, provide favorable letters of recommendation, take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and complete the required number of observational hours.
Courses required for acceptance into a physical therapy program vary among programs. Students should research the requirements of all programs they might attend early in their college experience to select appropriate courses during each semesterís registration.
Common Physical Therapy Admission Prerequisites:
- General Biology
- General Chemistry
Most physical therapy programs require applicants to take the GRE to be considered for admission. The GRE is a standardized admissions test designed to objectively measure studentsí ability to succeed in graduate study.
Letters of Recommendation
Most physical therapy programs require applicants to submit three letters of recommendation as part of their application. Many programs require that one of the recommendation letters should be from a physical therapist. The other two letters may be from college professors.
Pre-physical therapy students should begin preparing early in order to get favorable letters of recommendation. Students should spend time with their professors and become acquainted with at least one physical therapist. While spending time with prospective references, students must demonstrate their desire and ability to succeed in physical therapy.
Physical therapy programs require applicants to submit documentation of the hours they spent observing physical therapists. Required number of hours varies greatly among physical therapy programs. Observation is required because program administrators want to ensure applicants are familiar with the physical therapy field.
Is Physical Therapy The Right Career Choice For Me?
Becoming a physical therapist requires a strong commitment and intense study. Before embarking on a physical therapy career, students should ask themselves the following questions:
- Do I care about patientsí mobility and pain?
- Do I enjoy studying health and natural sciences?
- Am I willing to provide hands-on patient care?
- Will I be able to achieve the academic credentials to be a competitive applicant?
Where Can I get More Information?
The American Academy of Physical Therapists (www.apta.org)
The Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/ooh)