Physical Therapist (PT) Admissions Process

Getting Started

The Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) allows PT applicants to use a single web-based application and one set of materials to apply to multiple PT education programs. PTCAS is a service of APTA and administered by Liaison International (LI), an education technology company in Watertown, Massachusetts. The purpose is to facilitate the admissions process for applicants and programs, promote the physical therapist profession and educational programs to a broad spectrum of applicants, and provide rich applicant data for institutional, regional, and national analysis.

A list of participating programs and instructions are available on the PTCAS website. Not all professional PT education programs participate in PTCAS. Applicants who wish to apply to a NON-participating PTCAS program must apply directly to the institution using the PT program's local application.

Preparing for the Admissions Process

  • Research PT programs to determine the ones that may best meet your educational needs.
  • Determine if you are first required to have a bachelor's degree by filtering the CAPTE directory (use key code A4).
  • Complete course prerequisites for your designated programs.
  • Obtain physical therapy experience and have your hours verified by a PT, if required by your designated programs.
  • Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) at least 6 weeks before the application deadline. (Freshmen-entry students may be required to submit SAT or ACT scores).
  • Request references from appropriate individuals, if required by your designated programs.
  • Arrange for official transcripts from every college/university attended to be sent to PTCAS or the institution, as required by the programs.
  • Submit the completed application EARLY and before the program's deadline date. Some programs use a rolling admissions process.
  • PTCAS applicants should also review the PTCAS checklist.

College Major

You are not required to select a particular major in order to be eligible for admission to a PT program. The most common undergraduate majors among PT students include exercise science, biology, kinesiology, and psychology. In selecting a college major, consider how you will you satisfactorily complete the prerequisite courses for your designated physical therapist programs in addition to the college/university's degree and major requirements. Work with your academic and/or prePT advisor to plan your course schedule. For additional information about college majors for the most recent applicant pool, review the PTCAS Applicant Data Report.

College Course Prerequisites

The course prerequisites for admission vary significantly across PT education programs. Visit the institutional website or the PTCAS directory to determine what courses are required by each institution. PT programs may require preprofessional (pre-PT/undergraduate) science courses to be completed in a 4-year university/college within the 7-10 years prior to enrollment. Be prepared to identify what classes you have taken (or will take) to fulfill the program's course requirements. The most commonly required course prerequisites are below:

  • Anatomy and Physiology I / Anatomy *
  • Anatomy and Physiology II / Physiology *
  • Biology I and II
  • Advanced Biology (eg, cell, embryology, genetics, histology, immunology, microbiology, molecular)
  • Chemistry I and II
  • Physics I and II
  • Psychology
  • Advanced Psychology (eg, abnormal, developmental, rehabilitation, sports)
  • Statistics
  • English Composition

* Some PT programs only accept anatomy and/or physiology courses completed in a biology, neuroscience, anatomy, or integrated physiology department. PT programs may not accept a combined anatomy and physiology (A&P) course or those completed in other departments, such as kinesiology. Visit the PTCAS directory to determine what type of anatomy and physiology courses are required for admission.

Other Admission Requirements

Visit each program's site, the CAPTE database of accredited programs, and the PTCAS directory for program-specific admission requirements.

Minimum GPA - Most PT programs have minimum grade point average (GPA) requirements. These minimum scores vary by institution and may be low as compared with the average GPA of applicants offered admission. The average overall undergraduate GPA for accepted PTCAS applicants in 2011-12 was 3.52.

GRE - Most PT programs require applicants to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Programs may have minimum acceptable scores and last acceptable test dates. Policies regarding the consideration of multiple sets of GRE scores vary by institution.

Physical Therapy Volunteer Experience - Many programs require applicants to have a certain number of volunteer or paid PT experiences working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The program may specify the settings and types of experiences required. Applicants may also be required to have a licensed physical therapist verify the hours. This experience may be an important factor in the admissions process. Respectfully contact physical therapy clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities (eg, nursing homes), and other healthcare settings in your area to find observation opportunities. APTA cannot assist you in these efforts.

References - Many physical therapist programs require 1-4 letters of reference (also known as "letters of evaluation" or "recommendations") as part of the admissions process. You may need to submit references from a particular individual, such as a physical therapist, science professor, or academic advisor. If references are required, select individuals who meet the program's requirements; know you well; and can speak to your maturity, dependability, dedication, compassion, communication skills, leadership, and any hands-on experience in the field.

Interviews - PT programs may require competitive applicants to visit the campus for an interview. The interview format varies by institution. Applicants may be required to speak with a single faculty member, a student, a physical therapist, or a panel of interviewers; or participate in an orientation program. If invited, dress in professional business attire.  Applicants should be prepared to discuss why they have chosen to pursue a career in physical therapy and how they perceive the role of physical therapists in health care. Those who have researched and gained direct exposure to the profession will be better prepared to respond to the interview questions. During the interview, applicants may be rated on their oral communication skills, professional behaviors and attitudes, ability to interact in a group, knowledge of the profession, ability to solve problems, and motivation to pursue a career in physical therapy. The applicants' written communication skills may also be measured with an on-site essay.

State Residency Requirements - Some PT education programs give preference to in-state (resident) students. Out-of-state (non-resident) and foreign applicants may vie for a limited number of positions or may be ineligible for admission, depending on institutional and state policies. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions within the program than state-supported, public institutions.

Criminal Background Checks - PT programs may ask applicants to disclose any previous felony or misdemeanor convictions as part of the application process. A criminal record will not necessarily prevent an applicant from enrolling in a PT program; however, failure to disclose any past or pending charges may be grounds for dismissal. PT programs may require criminal background checks and/or drug tests in order to verify an individual's suitability to participate in experiential education rotations, to confirm a student's eligibility for licensure, and to ensure patient safety. Contact your designated PT programs directly for specific policies.

Technical Standards and Essential Functions - APTA has not adopted any policies or positions regarding the essential skills or technical standards necessary to practice or function as a physical therapist. However, individual PT programs generally do have these types of policies in place. A program's technical standards and/or essential skills document may describe the physical, behavioral, and/or cognitive abilities needed to complete the physical therapist curriculum at that particular institution and to competently perform as a physical therapist upon graduation. Contact your designated PT programs directly regarding program-specific policies.

Does it Help to Be a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) First?

The physical therapist assistant (PTA) programs are NOT considered to be a stepping-stone to a professional physical therapist (PT) program. The PTA curriculum differs from that of the physical therapist and does NOT provide the needed prerequisites required for physical therapist education. Less than two percent of enrolled students were PTAs prior to enrolling in a PT education program.

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