Physical Therapy PT

| 31 August 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

How To Get Into Physical Therapy School: 10 Key Steps

a pediatric physical therapist working with a adolescent patient

Becoming a physical therapist (PT) is a long but rewarding process. You’ll need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), the highest degree available in the field, to practice as a physical therapist. However, physical therapy schools are competitive, with more people applying than spots available in programs. 

Learn how to get into physical therapy school and give yourself the greatest chance of success.

10 Steps for Applying to Physical Therapy School

Follow these ten steps as you apply to physical therapy school for the best shot at acceptance.

Step 1: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field 

Start the process toward your physical therapy degree by earning an undergraduate degree. While you can get a degree in any field, the best undergraduate majors for physical therapy students include:

  • Biology
  • Business
  • Kinesiology
  • Exercise science
  • Psychology

If you earn an undergraduate degree in another field, you can still apply for physical therapy school if you completed coursework in the following areas:

  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Statistics

Note that the prerequisites and requirements for each program may differ, so check what your dream physical therapy school requires.

Step 2: Research Physical Therapy School

As soon as you decide to attend physical therapy school, start researching the 280+ accredited physical therapy schools in the United States.1 Choosing a grad school can be stressful, but remember to focus on finding schools that meet your needs. 

As you research, aim to find several options. Getting into physical therapy school is competitive, so you’ll want several backup options.

Step 3: Earn Physical Therapy Observation Hours

Before applying, you’ll need to earn physical therapy observation hours. Many schools require applicants to have a certain number of hours volunteering, observing or working in a physical therapy setting to ensure they have experience and are familiar with the discipline. Generally, this ranges from 40–80 hours. The licensed physical therapist you work with must document your hours.

Some schools will allow you to apply as you work toward your observation hours. For example, at USAHS, you need at least 80 physical therapy observation hours, but 40 completed hours are required to apply. If accepted, you must prove you completed the remaining hours before you begin the program.

Contact local physical therapy settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes or rehabilitation centers, to ask if you can volunteer to earn your hours. They may require you to meet specific requirements, such as passing a background check. 

Step 4: Study for and Take the GRE

A chart summarizes GRE study strategies to help you get into physical therapy school

Most physical therapy schools require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).2 This test evaluates your verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing skills—all skills you will need for success in grad school. 

The average GRE score for a DPT program varies by school. For example, the average GRE score for DPT students accepted at USAHS is 294-305 (combined verbal and quantitative reasoning) and a 4.0 on the exam’s written portion.

If your school requires you to take the GRE, start studying about three months in advance.3 The Princeton Review recommends taking it while you are still in college since you’re already used to studying and taking tests.4 Your score is valid for up to five years.

Schedule your test about four months before you want to submit your application.5 This will give you plenty of time to get your score and retake the test to earn a higher score if necessary.

Step 5: Ask for References

Many schools require you to submit letters of reference with your application. Ask people who:

  • Know you well
  • Meet the requirements set by the school you’re applying to
  • Are knowledgeable in physical therapy (professors, physical therapists, etc.)
  • Can speak to your skills that matter for physical therapy, such as compassion, communication and dependability

To get the best letters of reference, establish relationships with your undergraduate professors, mentors, supervisors for observation hours and other licensed physical therapists. Be engaged, ask questions and follow through whenever you interact with them. 

Once you’ve established a relationship, explain that you need a letter of reference to apply to physical therapy school and ask if they would be willing to write one. It’s best to ask in person, but you can also email them if you don’t see them regularly. Ask as soon as possible to give them plenty of time to produce a well-written and thoughtful letter—2–4 weeks is usually sufficient.

If they agree, give them a copy of your resume so they can easily reference your experience and accomplishments. Ask when they might expect to complete the letter and follow up closer to that date. 

Step 6: Write Your Personal Statement

A chart shares sample physical therapy school personal statements

Most physical therapy schools require you to submit a personal statement, sometimes called a statement of purpose. This brief essay allows you to show who you are beyond your GPA and test scores—it’s your chance to set yourself apart from other applicants.

The school may ask specific questions they want you to answer, or they may ask for a general statement. Regardless, write about something that:

  • Demonstrates your understanding of physical therapy
  • Identifies your career goals
  • Explains what you offer the school
  • Is uniquely you

Many people choose to write about their first experience with physical therapy, such as a time when they or a family member were injured and needed to receive physical therapy. You can write about something other than physical therapy (unless they ask for it specifically) if you respond to the prompt and showcase essential skills for physical therapists, such as compassion.

Give yourself plenty of time to write your personal statement. It’s best to wait a few days after you write your first draft before you edit it, and you’ll want to ask at least one other person to read it before you submit it.

Step 7: Gather Necessary Documentation

Start gathering the necessary documentation to submit with your application. Requirements will vary depending on the school, but expect to submit the following:

  • Transcripts for your undergraduate degree and any additional coursework
  • GRE scores
  • Resume
  • Verified volunteer/paid physical therapy observation hours
  • Personal statement

If you apply through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) or a school’s online portal, you may only need to submit digital copies of the documents.6 You can also have your GRE scores sent directly to the school you’re applying to. 

Step 8: Complete and Submit Your Application

Once you have the required information, fill out and submit your application for physical therapy schools. Most schools use the PTCAS, so you’ll only need to complete one application to submit to multiple schools.

While waiting for your acceptance letter, keep working or volunteering in a physical therapy setting to gain experience and make additional connections in the field. 

If your application gets denied initially, don’t lose hope. Continue to apply to other places or address weaknesses in your application (such as a low GRE score) and reapply. 

Step 9: Schedule Your Physical Therapy School Interview

If a physical therapy school is interested, they may contact you for an interview. Some schools require an interview to better understand your personality and evaluate skills, such as compassion, communication and collaboration, that aren’t always recognizable on an application.

Ask what to expect when the school reaches out to schedule the interview. Some schools may require you to interview with one faculty member, while others may have you interview with a panel that includes faculty and students. 

Ask the following questions:

  • Who will I be interviewing with?
  • How long will the interview last?
  • What should I expect during the interview process?

Step 10: Practice for Your Physical Therapy School Interview

A chart outlines tips for how to ace your PT school interview

Once you know what the interview will be like, take time to practice. Look up common physical therapy school interview questions and jot down key talking points. Then enlist friends and relatives to help you practice. 

When you feel more comfortable, ask classmates, professors or any licensed physical therapists you know to help, treating these mock interviews like the real thing—dress professionally and practice everything from the opening handshake to walking out the door. You may even want to record yourself in a practice interview so you can see your body language.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be in the interview, allowing you to make the best impression. 

Five Tips To Get Accepted Into Physical Therapy School

Getting into physical therapy school isn’t easy, so here are a few additional tips to help you navigate the process.

1. Keep Your Undergrad GPA High 

One of the biggest things you can do to get into physical therapy school is to keep your GPA high while earning your undergraduate degree. A low GPA is hard to overcome on your application, and a higher GPA can help you qualify for scholarships for your DPT program. Aim for at least a 3.0.

2. Build Relationships With Physical Therapists

Before you start applying, take some time to build relationships with physical therapists. They can serve as references on your application, help you reach your observation hour requirements and possibly help you get a job as a PT after graduation. Start working in a physical therapist’s office or volunteering in a physical therapy setting as soon as you know you’ll apply to physical therapy school. 

3. Ask Someone To Review Your Application

Before you hit the submit button, ask someone to review your application. Admission is competitive, so you want to ensure your application is flawless, and having another set of eyes to review it can catch errors you miss. Ask a professor, colleagues or other mentors you trust.

4. Take the GRE More Than Once

If you don’t get the GRE score you want the first time, you can retake it and submit your best score. You can take the exam as many as five times in 12 months if you wait at least 21 days before retaking it.7 If you decide to retake it, focus on improving your weakest areas. The GRE is expensive, so only take it more than once if you devote time to improving your score

5. Start Your Application Early

Applying to physical therapy school takes time—you’ll need to track down paperwork like transcripts, wait for people to write your letters of reference, potentially take the GRE more than once, and write and revise the perfect personal statement. Allow yourself at least six months to complete the entire process from start to finish.

How To Get Into Physical Therapy School FAQ

Below, we’ve answered a few more questions about how to get into physical therapy school.

How Hard Is It To Get into Physical Therapy School?

Getting into physical therapy school is competitive, mainly due to the limited number of physical therapy programs. You also need a GPA of at least 3.0, completion of specific courses, a personal statement essay and an interview for admission.

What Are Common Requirements for Physical Therapy School?

The most common requirements for physical therapy school are8:

  • A bachelor’s degree in a related field
  • Coursework completed within the previous 7–10 years in the following areas:
    • Anatomy
    • Physiology
    • Biology 
    • Chemistry 
    • Physics 
    • Psychology
    • Statistics
  • A minimum GPA (usually 3.0)
  • GRE scores
  • Volunteer/paid experience working in a physical therapy setting
  • 1–4 letters of reference
  • An interview
  • Passing a criminal background check

How Many Years Does It Take To Become a Physical Therapist?

It typically takes seven–eight years to become a physical therapist. This includes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and three years to earn a DPT. However, there are accelerated programs available to shorten this time.

How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?

Physical therapists make an average of $97,960 annually, with the top 10% earning $128,830 annually.9

Do You Have To Go To Med School To Be a Physical Therapist?

You do not need to attend med school to be a physical therapist. However, you must earn a bachelor’s degree and then your DPT to practice.

Apply to USAHS’ DPT Program Today 

Applying to physical therapy school may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning how to get into physical therapy school before you start the application process can help you know what to expect so you can submit the best possible application.

Apply now for USAHS’ Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Available in Residential and Flex formats, you’ll experience hands-on physical therapy training, clinical experiences and research from a leader in physical therapy education since 1979.


  1. APTA, “List of PTCAS Programs,” PTCAS,
  2. APTA, “PT Admissions Process,” APTA,
  3. The Princeton Review, “Graduate School Application Timeline,” The Princeton Review,
  4. The Princeton Review, “Why Rising College Seniors (and Recent Grads) Should Take the GRE,” The Princeton Review,
  5. The Princeton Review, “Graduate School Application Timeline,” The Princeton Review,
  6. PTCAS, “Welcome to PTCAS,” PTCAS,
  7. Stoltenburg, Riley, “How Many Times Can You Take the GRE?,” Test Prep Insight, last modified February 6, 2023,
  8. APTA, “PT Admissions Process,” APTA,
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “29-1123 Physical Therapists,” Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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