According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the projected growth in employment for physical therapy over the next 10 years is approximately 34%. This is much higher than the national average of 7%. With the excellent job outlook and high rate of employee satisfaction, physical therapy is a great career option for those interested in the medical field.
So what does it take to become a physical therapist? As a recent graduate, I know first hand all the current hurdles one has to complete in order to become a licensed doctor of physical therapy.
3 Steps to Get Accepted into Physical Therapy (PT) School
The journey to physical therapy begins in undergraduate school. All PT schools require the completion of basic prerequisites before you may apply for school. Some of the basic prerequisites nearly every doctor of physical therapy school requires is: general and advanced biology, general and organic chemistry, physics, behavioral sciences, and statistics. It is important to keep in mind that simply passing these required courses will not be sufficient enough to get you into a PT school. The majority of schools require a minimum of 3.0 GPA, but the acceptance rate of many schools can have GPA scores as high as 3.75 average. Good grades matter!
Once prerequisites have been met, most schools require applicants to complete observation hours in a variety of physical therapy settings. I personally completed 120+ hours of clinical observation in 3 different settings (outpatient, pediatric, and acute care). The more hours you are able to achieve and the more diverse settings you observe in, the better your application will stand out from the crowd. In addition, observation hours are a great way to find out if physical therapy is a career that you are actually committed to.
The final step for applying to physical therapy school is to take the GRE. Many PT schools require a minimum of 500 on the general test, but competitive applicants typically have combined average GRE scores of 1160 or higher. Similar to GPA, the higher the GRE scores, the better chance one has of getting into the school of their choice.
Applying for PT School and Getting Licensed
Once these three steps have been accomplished it is time to apply for PT schools. I applied for a total of 6 schools. I chose to apply for numerous schools so as to increase my chance for acceptance as well as have a choice in which school I would like to attend. Some of the programs that I applied for had 600+ applicants for only 32 spots. Given the competitive selection process, I wanted to give myself the best chance to get chosen my first time applying. After waiting for a few months, I was accepted for interviews at two schools and in the end I chose to attend the doctor of physical therapy program at Eastern Washington University.
Physical therapy school in total takes three years to complete. Two years are dedicated to didactic work while a third year will be completely devoted to clinical training. Once school has been completed, the final step to becoming a PT is to pass the NPTE board exam. I dedicated about 4 months to studying for the NPTE and was fortunate enough to pass on my first attempt.
The journey to becoming a physical therapist is not an easy path, but it certainly is a rewarding career. I do not regret any of the hours I spent studying.
In summary: step by step process to become a physical therapist
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree with all required prerequisites (>3.5 GPA preferred)
- Complete required observation hours in various therapy settings
- Pass the GRE
- Apply for multiple physical therapy schools
- Complete Doctor of Physical Therapy program
- Obtain licensure through passing NPTE