Are you ready to apply to a doctor of physical therapy program to become a physical therapist?
The Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service allows DPT program applicants to use a single online application and one set of materials to apply to multiple education programs.
Most, but not all professional DPT programs, participate in PTCAS. Applicants who wish to apply to a nonparticipating PTCAS program must apply directly to the institution using the DPT program's local application.
Preparing for the Admissions Process
You should research DPT programs to determine the ones that best meet your needs.
APTA does not rank DPT education programs. Programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, which assures quality in physical therapist education.
You are not required to select a particular undergraduate major in order to be eligible for admission to a DPT 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 any prerequisite courses for your designated DPT programs in addition to the college/university's degree and major requirements. Work with your academic and/or pre-PT advisor to plan your course schedule.
Visit the PTCAS directory or the institutional website to determine what courses are required by each institution. DPT programs may require preprofessional (pre-PT/undergraduate) science courses to be completed in a four-year university/college within the seven to 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:
- Anatomy / A&P 1 with lab
- Physiology / A&P 2 with lab
- Biology 1 (not botany or zoology)
- Biology 2 (not botany or zoology)
- General Chemistry 1 with lab
- General Chemistry 2 with lab
- General Physics 1 with lab
- General Physics 2 with lab
Note: Some DPT programs only accept anatomy and/or physiology courses completed in a biology, neuroscience, anatomy, or integrated physiology department. DPT programs may not accept a combined anatomy and physiology (A&P) course or those completed in other departments, such as kinesiology. Visit PTCAS directory to determine what type of anatomy and physiology courses are required for admission.
Visit PTCAS directory for program-specific admission requirements. These might include:
- Minimum GPA. Most DPT programs have minimum grade point average requirements. These minimum scores vary by institution and may be low as compared with the average GPA of applicants offered admission.
- Most DPT programs require applicants to complete the Graduate Record Examination. 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 volunteer or paid experiences working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The program may specify the settings and types of experiences required. Applicants also may 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, e.g., nursing homes, and other health care settings in your area to find observation opportunities. (APTA cannot assist you in these efforts.)
- Many physical therapist programs require one to four 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.
- 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 also may be measured with an on-site essay.
- State residency requirements. Some DPT programs give preference to in-state (resident) students. Out-of-state (nonresident) 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. DPT 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 DPT program; however, failure to disclose any past or pending charges may be grounds for dismissal. DPT 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 DPT programs directly for specific policies.
- Technical standards and essential functions. APTA doesn’t have any policies or positions regarding the essential skills or technical standards necessary to practice or function as a physical therapist. However, individual DPT programs generally do have these types of policies. 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 DPT programs directly regarding program-specific policies.
PTA Before PT
One common question is whether to become a physical therapist assistant before becoming a physical therapist.
PTA programs are not considered to be a steppingstone to a PT education or career. The PTA curriculum differs from that of the physical therapist and does not provide the needed prerequisites required for physical therapist education. Fewer than 2% of enrolled DPT students were previously PTAs.