Many of the students in my Exercise Science major will be pursuing graduate or professional school after graduation. Physical therapy is one the programs that seems to catch the interest of many students as they look forward to improving the lives of others through movement. As a very fortunate student accepted to a physical therapy program starting next fall, I want to share my tips of how to successfully manage the ordeal of the application process that will hopefully lead to acceptance!
In order to gain insight into the workings of a physical therapy clinic and to fulfill an important requirement you will need to shadow working physical therapists before you apply. These hours can be spent in many different settings: pediatric care, outpatient, inpatient, geriatric care, sports medicine, and more. Hour requirements are different for each program so make sure to do your research and do your best to experience many different areas. These hours might reveal an interest that you hadn’t thought of before!
Besides hours spent in a physical therapy setting, other experiences in healthcare and otherwise can really help you set yourself apart from other applicants. Experiences where you are dealing with many diverse people show that you are a strong communicator and would be able to work with patients from all walks of life. Experiences where you have had to teach others such as: coaching, training, or leading, show that you are able to pass on knowledge from the level of beginner. Finding these opportunities can take a bit of searching but it’s important to show your passion and commitment for improving the lives of others.
Prerequisite classes may vary slightly from program to program but they usually involve the basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, physics, human anatomy, human physiology, calculus, and psychology. Having good grades in these foundation classes can’t hurt you either!
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test that is required for many graduate programs. For physical therapy programs you will need to take the general GRE test. You can sign up and learn more about test format and study tips at www.ets.org. There are many study resources out there that will prepare you for this test but I would recommend using the free ones offered on the ETS website first. There are some that are free and come from the same company that is producing the exam so it’s a good place to start. Beyond the website, you can purchase online or paper resources but I would recommend spending some time studying on the computer since the actual test is in electronic format.
Physical therapy programs will likely require you to have two or three references that can speak for your abilities and strengths. One of your references will be from a licensed physical therapist so it’s important to build bonds during your observation hours so that you can feel comfortable asking for their help. Other references can include supervisors, academic advisors, professors, or others that can speak in benefit of you. For tips on how to ask for references read How to Find Your References.
The required application essays and personal statement were the toughest portion of the process for me personally. If you are like me, make sure to start these essays early and have many people read over them for feedback. Overall, make sure to answer the guiding essay question/topic and that you are writing with a purpose. These essays are a sample of your writing and also offer an opportunity for you to show your passion to pursuing the career of physical therapy. Career Counselors from our office are experts in helping you create your best writing possible and you can access their help by just making an appointment in our office.
The Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (www.ptcas.org) is used by most programs to make the application process much more manageable; but, it is wise to get familiarized with the program early. By starting with your application early and being aware of deadlines, you will be setting yourself up for success. After following these tips for the application process, you will be one step closer to being a physical therapist!
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