A physical therapist (P.T.) plans, administers, and conducts physical therapy treatment for referred patients in order to restore functioning, relieve pain, and prevent disability following disease, injury, or loss of a body part. A PT also evaluates muscular and related functions and uses heat, ultrasound, cold, water, light, electricity, massage, and therapeutic exercise for treatment.
A P.T.’s level of responsibility depends on his/her experience, specialization, work setting, and advanced education. He/she usually works under the supervision of a physician, but can be an independent practitioner. Some of the common work settings for a P.T. include:
- Private or public hospitals
- Rehabilitation centers
- Physicians’ offices
- Schools for the handicapped
- Colleges or universities
- Research laboratories
- Private offices
In addition to the wide variety of work environments available to the P.T., there are several certified clinical specialties for the profession. These include sports medicine, orthopedics, pediatrics, clinical electrophysiological testing, geriatrics, neurology, and cardiopulmonary.
The factors that will most affect your chances of being admitted to physical therapy programs are your state of residency (for state-supported schools), your undergraduate GPA (particularly in prerequisite courses), extensive work or volunteer experience in a physical therapy setting (both inpatient and outpatient experience), your personal interview, and your letters of recommendation. Strong GRE (Graduate Record Exam) scores are also important. Finally, although many programs have a minimum 3.0 GPA, it is important to note that most competitive applicants have GPAs that are well above that standard.
The courses listed below are those that undergraduates generally are required to complete prior to entering a physical therapy program.
As you plan your course of study, please note these important considerations:
- All of your required courses must be taken for a letter grade, not on a Pass/No Pass (P/NP) basis.
- Some schools do not accept A.P. credit.
One year of general chemistry with lab
-Chem 1A/1AL, Chem 1B/1BL, Chem 1C/1CL (or Chem 2 equivalent)
One year of biology with lab
-MCDB 1A/1AL, 1B, MCDB 1BL/EEMB 2L, EEMB 2, 3, 3L
*New Biology Labs: Beginning in Fall 2019, the Biology Program will restructure its introductory labs, changing from three, 1 unit labs--MCDB 1AL, MCDB 1BL/EEMB 2L, and EEMB 3L--to two, 1.5 unit labs--MCDB 1LL and EEMB 2LL. Most students will do MCDB 1LL in winter quarter and EEMB 2LL in spring quarter. Although taken over two quarters rather than three, these will count as a full year of introductory biology labs.
One year of physics with lab
-Physics 6A/6AL, 6B/6BL, 6C/6CL
Three quarters titled "Writing" or "English"
-Writing 1 or AP credit will not count for this requirement.
-Writing 109HP is a useful course for writing personal statements and should be taken closer to when you apply.
-One quarter should be a literature course taught in the English department.
-PSTAT 5A or 5LS or PSY 10B
-Sociology 1 and/or Anthropology 2 and/or Psychology 1
Additional biology courses required:
-Physiology with a laboratory - BMS 108 at SBCC
-Anatomy with a laboratory - BMS 107 at SBCC
If enrolling in SBCC courses while also enrolled in courses at UCSB during fall, winter, or spring quarter, meet with a Letters and Science advsor to discuss petitioning for concurrent enrollment prior to the start of the SBCC courses.
Possible additional coursework
-Some schools require additional coursework. The following are some courses that may be required:
-Kinesiology - ESS 149
-Exercise Physiology - ESS 101
-Please check with individual schools for specific requirements. The Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service "Program Directory" link is a good way to compare program requirements.
Typically, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for admission into a physical therapy program..
Schools require substantial physical therapy experience. This experience should include both outpatient and inpatient care, and should be under the direct supervision of a physical therapist. Most schools require a minimum of 100 hours of experience, but competitive applicants will have significantly more.
For more information about internships and volunteer opportunities, please visit the Clinical Experience page.
If you intend to apply to a physical therapy program, you likely will use the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)—a service that allows you to apply to multiple programs using one centralized application. In general, you should submit your application as early as possible. Because application deadlines vary (with some as early as October 1 of the year prior to matriculation), it is important you research your schools of interest and know the deadlines for each.
To find a physical therapy program, please use the American Physical Therapy Association website.