If you enjoy biology and fitness and want a helping profession, consider physical therapy. Physical therapists help patients achieve improved function and mobility and a reduction in the pain caused by illness or injury. Qualifications normally include completion of a three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and a state license. Most PT schools require you to complete a bachelor's degree before admission, including specific coursework, although some programs admit students sooner.
Although physical therapy programs typically require a Bachelor of Science degree, you don't have to declare any specific major. The American Physical Therapy Association, APTA, recommends choosing a major that will help you complete the prerequisites for the PT program of your choice. Most prospective physical therapists choose biology, exercise science, psychology or kinesiology as an undergraduate major, according to APTA.
The prerequisite classes for physical therapy programs span several majors, so you'll need to take some prerequisites as electives to qualify for graduate school. The exact requirements vary depending on the particular PT program. However, they usually include two semesters each of biology, chemistry, physics and anatomy and physiology, according to APTA. Other standard requirements include English composition, statistics and two semesters of psychology. The admissions office for each school can give you its specific course requirements.
Other Academic Requirements
Most physical therapy programs require applicants to achieve a particular grade point average both in the overall undergraduate program and in science classes. For example, a typical requirement is a minimum 3.0 GPA overall and 3.0 in science classes, with an A equal to 4. Most successful applicants have higher GPAs, however. According to APTA, the average GPA of those accepted for the 2011 to 2012 school year was 3.52. Most programs also require applicants to take the Graduate Record Exam and submit scores a minimum of six weeks before the application deadline.
Most PT schools require applicants to complete a certain number of hours of volunteer or work experience in a physical therapy setting during their undergraduate years. The number of hours you'll need depends on the particular program, but most schools require between 20 and 100 hours, according to the online prerequisite grid from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. You can get qualifying experience working with PT professionals in nursing homes, physical therapy clinics and hospitals. Some physical therapy programs require you to supply documentation of your work.
Some physical therapy degree programs accept students after three years of undergraduate college. This format, called "three plus three," enables you to go directly to graduate work after completing the prerequisite classes, but without completing a bachelor's degree. In addition, a small number of physical therapy programs accept high school graduates into their program as college freshmen. These students begin taking the prerequisite classes in their first year of college and progress in sequence to PT classes without needing to apply directly for the program. To remain in the program, however, they typically must meet certain requirements, such as a minimum grade point average.
The online Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service enables you to apply to several PT programs at once. Not all schools belong to the system, but the PTCAS website provides a list of those that do. Most PT programs also require references from professors, physical therapy professionals or other personal and professional contacts. The PTCAS website provides a checklist to help you keep track of the physical therapy application requirements.