Applying to physical therapy school

Applying to physical therapy school is complicated. Many factors are considered in admission and these differ in importance by school. Know that we are here to help! Advisors at Health Professions & Prelaw Advising can help you develop your best strategy and troubleshoot problems you encounter in your application. Make sure to attend a Personal Statement Writing Workshop and PTCAS Application Workshop so you can get started early on your application and find out the steps involved.

The PTCAS application #

To apply to most physical therapy schools, you will need to submit an application through the centralized application service called PTCAS administered by the American Physical Therapy Association and Liaison. The PTCAS application has multiple sections that you will complete providing biographical information, academic history (coursework and test scores), and your supporting information (observation hours, letters of recommendation, personal essay, experiences and achievements, and school-specific “Program Materials”).

Once you complete your PTCAS application, it will be processed and sent to the physical therapy programs that you select to receive it. You can find a list of programs that use PTCAS (“Participating Programs”) and begin researching admission requirements for participating PTCAS programs in the Program Directory.

Academic history #

On the PTCAS application, you will fill out information for every college course you have taken, so you will need to refer to transcripts from every college or university you have attended. You will also need to order official transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended to be sent to the application service. At IU Bloomington, you can order your transcript from Student Central Website.

Within this section, you will also include your GRE tests scores.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) #

The GRE is a standardized exam required by many physical therapy programs. This exam is designed to measure general academic ability and is a computerized exam offered year-round by Educational Testing Service (ETS). The GRE is typically taken in the spring or summer prior to application and you should plan on spending at least 2-3 months preparing for the exam. For more information on the GRE, visit the ETS website.

Observation hours #

Most programs require that your observation hours are verified by the physical therapist that you shadowed. You will provide each therapist’s contact information in your PTCAS application. It is important to log your shadowing hours, confirm those hours with each physical therapist you shadow, and maintain their current contact information so you can reach them at the time you are applying.

Letters of recommendation #

Many PT programs require two or three letters of recommendation (PTCAS calls these “References”). Requirements for letters vary by program, but typically include a letter from a practicing physical therapist and a professor. It is important to get to know physical therapists and your professors well so that you have letter writers who can provide a strong letter with enthusiastic support for your application.

Personal essay #

A personal essay is required for the PTCAS application. Each year PTCAS introduces a new essay prompt for applicants. During the 2023-2024 application cycle, the PTCAS essay prompt is "Every person has a background, an identity, interests, or talents which they feel their application would be incomplete without having mentioned. Describe the traits or experiences that make you unique and explain how they will help you be a successful physical therapist."

There are many ways to approach the PTCAS personal essay. Early in your undergraduate career, start a journal documenting your experiences during clinical observation, community service, and experiences from your personal life. This will help you to begin laying the foundation for writing your personal essay during the spring prior to application. Visit Keeping a prehealth journal for suggestions.

Personal essay help for IU Bloomington students #

Make sure to attend one of the Personal Statement Writing Workshops offered by Health Professions & Prelaw Advising. Schedule an appointment with a HPPLA advisor for feedback on a draft of your personal essay. Getting feedback early will help you submit a compelling essay!

Experiences and achievements #

The PTCAS application includes two sections where you can provide information on experiences and achievements including employment, extracurricular activities, volunteering, awards, honors, and scholarships. If you shadowed any other professionals (for example, an occupational therapist or recreational therapist), you could also include that information with your extracurricular activities.

Program materials #

In addition to the above items that are required for submitting your PTCAS application, some physical therapy programs will require additional materials. These can include information on your prerequisite courses, observation forms that individual schools may require, your resume, and additional school-specific essays. It is important to review these school-specific requirements early in the application cycle, so that you can begin preparing them. While the PTCAS personal essay is a required section of the application, schools may ask you to answer school-specific essay questions, such as, “Why do you want to be a physical therapist?” or “Why have you selected our school or program?” Schools may also ask you to write essays that address ethical or behavioral situations. It is important to work on these early and a HPPLA advisor can also provide feedback on your drafts of these essays!

Interview #

Before admitting you, many physical therapy schools will want to meet you in person.  An interview helps schools evaluate personal qualities they can’t observe directly in your written application.  Selected applicants are invited for an interview. You should prepare carefully for this crucial component of the admissions process.

Physical therapy schools use interviews to gain insight into how you would interact with patients. Schools also use the interview to assess factors such as motivation and ability to cope with conflict.  They want to know how likely it is you would take a spot if they offered one, so it is important that you express your enthusiasm and sincere interest in the school!

In a job interview, the most important question for your interviewer is probably, “What can this person do for our organization?” For your interviewer at a PT school the most important question may be, “Would I trust this person as my own physical therapist?”  One of your most important goals is to demonstrate that you are able to connect with others on a personal level.

To prepare, review your personal essay and activities listed on your application. It’s helpful to practice responding to interview questions (you can obtain a list of questions in the HPPLA office).  You may be asked situational ethics questions that require you to think through how you would respond when faced with difficult decisions as a healthcare provider.  Study the school’s curriculum via its website and prepare to ask questions about the school’s program in the interview.

Make sure to attend one of the HPPLA sponsored Interview Skills Workshops in the fall semester and schedule an appointment with a HPPLA advisor for a mock interview.