If you like studying science in high school and enjoy helping people, a career in physical therapy may suit you well. Physical therapists evaluate and treat mobility problems resulting from illness, injury, accidents, disease and birth defects. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a career in physical therapy involves completion of a graduate degree from an accredited program, a passing score on a national examination, and a license. Competition is keen for the limited spots in physical therapy training programs. A strong foundation in math and science in high school can make a difference in whether you are selected over other applicants.
The typical path to becoming a physical therapist is graduation from a three-year doctor of physical therapy degree program, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many physical therapy schools require completion of a bachelor’s degree for admission, although some programs entail three years of preparatory undergraduate coursework followed by three years of physical therapy classes. A few schools admit highly qualified college freshmen to a six-year program that leads to a doctorate in physical therapy. For example, Marquette University annually offers conditional physical therapy admission to a select group of freshmen who excelled in high school science and math classes.
The University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, recommends that high school students take advanced placement courses in science in preparation for college classes in biology, anatomy, chemistry and physics, which are common prerequisites for acceptance into a physical therapy program. Although high school students can take an exam and receive college credit for advanced placement classes, UWL suggests that many physical therapy schools don’t count AP courses in determining whether an applicant meets prerequisite requirements. Knowledge of science in high school will make it easier to grasp concepts in physical therapy courses such as exercise physiology, pathology, neuroscience, pharmacology and cardiovascular systems.
Students interested in a physical therapy career should take advanced algebra and trigonometry in high school to succeed in required college courses, according to the University of Indianapolis. Mathematical proficiency is needed to understand biology, chemistry and physics, particularly when conducting research or completing laboratory assignments in these subjects. Schools such as the University of Delaware require completion of a statistics class as a prerequisite for admission into the physical therapy program. UD also highly recommends taking a calculus course. Earning good grades in math can boost your performance on college entrance examinations and show you have the potential to handle college-level mathematics.
Physical Education Classes
The College Board suggests that high school classes in physical education can support a student’s goal of becoming a physical therapist. Being involved in sports and dance increases physical stamina, which is important because physical therapy is not a desk job. Physical therapists must have the strength to assist patients who may have trouble standing or walking. Physical coordination is also needed to teach rehabilitative exercises, demonstrate adaptive devices and administer therapeutic massage.
High school classes in English and communication can help you develop verbal, written and interpersonal communication skills, which are important in the practice of physical therapy. O*NET indicates that physical therapists must be able to listen with empathy, explain treatment plans, record progress, and consult with other members of the healthcare team.
- American Physical Therapy Association: Move Toward a Physical Therapist Career
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physical Therapist
- Marquette University: Physical Therapy Major: Doctoral Degree Program
- University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse: Physical Therapy Program: High School and Pre-PT Students
- University of Indianapolis: Krannert School of Physical Therapy: What High School Courses Should I Take in Preparation for Physical Therapy?
- University of Delaware: Physical Therapy Department: Entrance Requirements
- College Board: Big Future: Major: Physical Therapy
- O*NET: Summary Report for Physical Therapists
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.