Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are evidence-based, healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. They offer treatment that improves mobility and relieves pain, reduces the need for surgery and prescription drugs, and allows patients to participate in a recovery plan designed for their specific needs. In addition, physical therapist work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

Typical Responsibilities

  • Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand, walk or perform activities/tasks, perform various tests and measures, and by listening to their concerns.
  • Design individualized plans of care based on their medical expertise, best available research, the patients’ unique situations and goals, and the expected outcomes of the plans.
  • Use techniques such as exercises, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness.
  • Evaluate a patients’ progress, modify their plans of care, when necessary, to try new treatments.

Preparing for Admission

Physical therapist education programs in the United States only offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree to all new students who enroll. Most DPT education programs require applicants to earn a bachelor's degree prior to admission into the professional phase of the program.

  • Resources for researching schools: A complete list of all Physical Therapy programs can be found on the PTCAS website
  • Prerequisite coursework: varies by school. A complete list of prerequisite courses is available for each institution.
  • Standardized Tests: Most programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission.  Detailed information about the GRE process is available on the PTCAS website.
  • Experience/Exposure: Many programs require applicants to have a certain number of volunteer or paid experiences working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. These requirements vary by program and more information can be found on the PTCAS website.
  • Letters of Reference: Many programs require 1-4 letters of letters of reference as part of the admissions process. See also Reference Requirements by Program Summary and the reference instructions.

The Admissions Cycle

  • There is a Centralized Application Process (PTCAS) that most physical therapy schools (212) participate in.
  • Application opens: early July
  • Application can be submitted: July – May but deadlines may vary from year to year
  • Fees: $145 to apply to one program, $45 for each additional
  • Fee waivers: There is a fee assistance program to help cover application deadlines available to eligible students to apply.
  • ATPA has created a thorough instruction manual and FAQ which is helpful for students in the application process.