What major is most effective if I want to go to grad school for physical therapy?
Hi I’m Steve. I’m a physical therapist in San Antonio Texas. I’m also a clinical instructor for student physical therapists. I may be able to answer your question.
There are many avenues to get to PT school. Most require an undergraduate degree, but some do not. Almost any degree will be ok as long as you’ve covered the basic requirements that are usually outlined in the application for each program. That being said, life sciences are very important. Anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology and physics are super important when considering any medical graduate school.
For the programs that require an undergraduate degree, biology and biochemistry degrees rule the day. Degrees like kinesiology oddly enough don’t typically require the upper level life science requirements needed for PT school qualification. Just as important is your science GPA. So when you apply to PT school, you’re competitive with anything more than a 3.5 GPA. Lower than that and you risk no being competitive for a PT school slot.
Some programs are in the 3 plus 3 format. Meaning that you don’t need an undergraduate degree to get in, but as a college freshman you’re already in a PRE PT Program. You get all the pre reqs in your first 3 years then transition right into a doctoral PT program.
Hope that helps April
Great question, and the fact that you are asking it already puts you ahead of most the competition - continue to be proactive and educate yourself before making the leap!
Before you even consider a school specifically for PT, I would just be sure that you have obtained a decent amount of PT observation/volunteer hours (15 or 20+) of different settings and have a firm idea that it is what you can see yourself doing as a career. I advocate for this because with the average student loan debt for a DPT graduate following school being around $100k (APTA 2019 survey), it can be tempting to graduate only to find the highest paying job and potentially experience a high degree of burn out, for the sake of paying back the loans. Thus, I’d also highly advise that you perform some financial literacy courses before undertaking this huge investment.
With that being said, I went to the University of Mary in Bismarck ND and graduated with a bachelor of science: athletic training degree. I thought the skillsets of patient interaction (developing personal and professional relationships), anatomy, taping/splinting, acute care, special testing and examination, as well as the therapeutic exercise education proved to be invaluable when beginning the PT classwork - especially as we were sent on our first clinical experiences. It was clear that we ATCs (certified athletic trainers) had a superior skillset of patient interaction compared to our colleagues who graduated with degrees requiring less or no patient interaction. Therefore, I felt as though we had more “mental” space within those first clinicals to learn the more intricate roles of a PT (rather than learning how to develop appropriate patient-clinician relationships).
Another route I would suggest would be the bachelor of science: exercise science degree. This one seemed to have slightly less patient interaction, but it was heavily focused on cardiovascular and respiratory rehabilitation (2 areas that play a HUGE part of physical therapy education and practice). These classmates had superior knowledge on the vascular and respiratory conditions of the body and could more easily design exercise programs for people with chronic or underlying conditions.
Lastly, when choosing the school specifically, be sure to research schools that offer “Early assurance” or “pre-acceptance.” There are a few, the University of Mary being one of them, and they will drastically decrease the stress and financial costs of application to physical therapy programs once you’re ready to enter grad school. Here is a link the UMary early assurance requirements if you were interested: https://www.umary.edu/admissions/early-assurance.php
1. Volunteer hours are gravely important prior to beginning the PT journey
2. Financial Literacy highly recommended (learn how to budget, loan refinancing, etc)
3. Athletic Training (many schools are moving to a masters degree) provides a great route if interested in sports setting or developing patient interaction skillset in general
4. Exercise Science provides a great insight into the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems of care (highly important for PT)
5. Be on the look out for programs that offer pre-acceptance (do not need to apply or take the GRE)
Feel free to shoot me any additional questions - I’d love to help.
The American Physical Therapy Association reports the most common undergraduate majors for physical therapists are exercise science, biology, psychology and kinesiology.
I studied Biology with a minor in Chemistry. I was advised to go this route because it vigorous program would better prepare me for the workload I would be faced with in a doctor of physical therapy program. I would agree that the work load and labs helped me develop strong study habits, learn how to read and write research papers, and provided a strong transcript for graduate programs to look at. In addition, I did require an extra psychology class and biomechanics which were not required for my major but were required for applying to graduate programs. Other friends studied kinesiology, however, some schools do not offer 4 credit anatomy and 4 credit physiology for this majors (theirs was 3 credits each and required them to take an extra class to meet the application criteria). Many of my friends in graduate school studied Athletic training which I believe prepared them very well for some of the skills we learned in school; for example, taping, splinting, and emergency sideline medical care. An athletic training undergraduate degree can also be helpful if you want to work with athletes on the field in conjunction with your physical therapy training. You can do this part time or as a way to promote yourself for your own business one day. Most important, which ever major you decided, look at the classes you will be taking for your undergraduate degree and compare them to a few DPT programs’ entry criteria to make sure you will have met all of those criteria by the time you graduate. This will save you a lot of extra work! Also, it is a good idea to establish yourself with a physical therapy clinic, hospital, or rehab center. Many schools require hours but most require a letter of recommendation from at least 1 physical therapist so it’s good to make those connections early. Good luck!
Jenna recommends the following next steps:
Additionally, some Physical Therapy programs have specific course pre-requisite lists that may be unique to that particular program. However, the basic educational requirements, especially the life sciences are important.
Learning outside of the classroom is equally, if not more important. Get out there and get some "hands-on" experience in a PT clinic, a hospital with PTs, or at a school system with PTs.
Heidi recommends the following next steps:
I agree with Steve's answer above. I received my BS in biology prior to PT school. Degrees in life sciences are beneficial, as is a degree as an Athletic Trainer. In my experience, ATC applicants do well for PT school as well as for employment as a PT. I would avoid degrees that would not allow you to pursue other employment options should you decided PT isn't right for you.
I hope you find that helpful!
Alyssa recommends the following next steps:
I am a PT in MA and went to a competitive PT school in the Boston area. Although a major in Kinesiology or Exercise Science (essentially the same major, just depends on what the college names the major) will set you up for most of the prerequisites you will need for PT school - I agree with many of the answers on choosing what you will enjoy! Even though I had a conventional background in Kinesiology, I know that my school admissions also liked an unconventional background for many incoming post-bacholorettes. For example, I had friends who came from a musical theater background in undergrad! I think what will really make you stand out when applying for graduate programs is your dedication to the profession and that you have taken time to observe and understand the profession. Whether its working as an aide to see how a clinic/ hospital is run, volunteering your services, or even observing PTs in multiple environments.
No single factor or major puts you "ahead" in an applicant pool outside of objective measures (overall GPA, sciences/pre-req GPA, GRE). Many of my classmates were non-traditional students transferring into sciences (education majors, performing arts, even music). Personally my background was in Exercise Science, and I found this to be in my advantage regarding some of the heavy anatomy and physiology based coursework.
The best means to maximize your chances of getting into a program is to get into a pre-PT program that matriculates students into their graduate program (most schools have this). These programs are listed as 4+3 or 3+3 curriculum and allow for preferential selection into the graduate program if your grades and scores meet their requirements. It also allows you to make a personal connection with faculty and professors within the department which always helps.
Robert E. recommends the following next steps:
Having said that, if science isn't exactly your jam, don't be deterred. You can still get through it. What's important is that you get good grades, so I would just select something you are happiest to study. Also, you should totally get a tutor- best thing I ever did during my prerequisites for PT school.
I would say that a good degree to work towards in college, so that you can prepare for PT school, would be a biology degree.
My classmates who had a background in Exercise Physiology seemed to have the easiest time in PT school.
I had a Masters in English Literature. While PT school was a struggle, I've gotten lots of great feedback as a Clinician because I "get" people. It helps to know about the Human Condition, Psychology, and having an interest in who your patient is. What is their story?
To get into PT school:
A background in science, Sports, Research, or Psychology is super helpful.
Right now in the Covid-19 crisis:
Learn what you can about Respiratory Therapy, Cardiopulmonary Rehab Crisis Management, Counselling.
Good luck and best of success to you!
You can get your major in anything you want as long as you complete the pre-requisites required to get into physical therapy school. Most pre-requisites are in the science and kinesiology programs so most people get a major in biology, kinesiology, exercise science or other related majors. However, there are a lot of people who get their major in English, Business, or other interests and still get into physical therapy school.
I would say that a good degree to work towards in college, so that you can prepare for PT school, would be a biology degree.
If you're approaching the time in college where you pick your major or maybe you're a freshman. Start watching YouTube videos of other people doing preparation, read articles, ask more questions so that you can be ready. Next year I will start preparing for the GRE and begin my volunteer hours so that I can meet my application deadlines. This year, since I can't volunteer has been about networking with other PT's, seeing if I can secure Volunteer opportunities for next year and seeing just how I can prep for the GRE. There's free and there's paid tutoring.
Find what schools you want to attend, see what their requirements are and make sure you have them before you graduate. It will save you a ton of money.
Applying to a school that has a combined undergrad and grad program is what I did and that allows you to not have to take the GREs or go through the whole application process in order to get into grad school. As long as you keep your grades up, you will already be in their grad program.
Otherwise I would say athletic training if you are interested in sports physical therapy, as many sports physical therapists will also be certified athletic trainers.
Kinesiology and exercise science are also undergrad majors I have also seen people have prior 5o physical therapy grad school
I am a Physical Therapist that have been practicing in the Profession for 25 years. I read Steve's comments to your question and I can not add anything more. He answered the question with the specific details I w as going to include in my response. I do not want to repeat the same thing. I agree 100% with Steve's answer. I wish you much success in your future endeavor on your career pathway to Physical Therapy.
Most would say kinesiology. Biology is also popular. I was actually a psychology major and started a career in something entirely different before going back to school to get my pre requisites. As long as you you get the appropriate pre requisite courses and have a diverse resume and outstanding personal statement then your major should not be the deciding influential factor. Setting yourself apart from all the other individuals that go the “typical” exercise science route may actually highlight you as different and unique when applying.
I would also agree with the advice given above. I graduated with a BA in Psychology. A person in my class in PT school majored in French, another in communications, another in engineering. Schools actually like people who might have what one may think is an odd degree tract for physical therapy. As mentioned in the previous answers, science GPA and overall GPA are paramount to successfully entering physical therapy school. Programs also look at service, activities (I played varsity sports, another person in my class led various student groups on their campus), and proactivity (shadowing hours or working as an aide in different settings).
DaRonne recommends the following next steps:
Pick a major that you like and can do very well in. I was a double major in kinesiology & psychology. I also did graduate studies in kinesiology & was a teaching assistant for undergrads for one year. I was grateful for my strong background in life sciences, especially neuroscience. As a private practice owner, I wished for more business expertise. I agree with the PTs above who have noted that it is vital that you explore the world of PT by volunteering or getting a paid position as a PT aide. Along with a fine GPA, compelling life story, & persistence, your direct work in the PT world or with the differently able world will push you to the top of the applicant pool.
Lynne recommends the following next steps:
Great question-many universities offer a "Pre-PT" track or major. If the universities you are looking at do not, options that could benefit you are biology, exercise science, kinesiology or life science.
Another option is to look at universities that offer a combined undergrad/grad degree-usually 6 years in length, you complete your undergrad degree in 3 years and your graduate degree in 3 years-several schools on the east coast have programs like this.
(all of this assuming that you know what prerequisites you need to get into school)
Now from personal experience my classmates first year of PT school studied a whole lot more than I did. So if you do go the athletic training route, make sure you make friends outside of PT school your first year. You also absolutely have a leg up on evaluation and treating skills.
The drawback (that no one spelled out for me) is you will be a slave to the athletic department for at least three years of your undergrad. You will have classes Friday 8:00 a.m. that you will not be able to get out of, You will have early practices. You will spend 30+ hours / week for 1 pass/fail credit, every semester.
You can do any major so long as you complete the prerequisite classes for PT school. You can see a list of the exact courses required on each PT program's website. In general, you will be required to take biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, etc. I personally was an exercise science/kinesiology major. While this is very common for pre-PT students, I think it's a great choice! This major allowed me to easily get all my prerequisite classes in while also gaining a basic understanding of biomechanics and strength and conditioning, which have helped me as a PT. It also allowed me to meet professors who were super familiar with the PT school admissions process. Some of my classmates even started a pre-PT club where one of our professors did GRE prep (for FREE!). I also was able to get hours helping out in the kinesiology labs under a PhD student. Of course these opportunities could be available for people in other majors, but it was easier for me to get them when I already knew the professors in the department. Furthermore, I got to take a wide range of "science electives" in addition to my kinesiology course requirements. Other science courses that I took included biochem, sports nutrition, basic immunology, human genetics, and physiological psychology. While I can't say I remember a ton of details from all of these courses, I have found it helpful to have a greater understanding of different body systems such as the immune system, as it plays an integral role in injury recovery.
So while it truly doesn't matter which major you choose on paper, I did find doing something related to PT to be beneficial for networking with professors, having classmates who were taking a similar career path, and learning content that really prepared me for PT school.
It’s great to hear that you want to pursue a career as a physical therapist.
While I am a physical therapist in Austin Texas this was not my first career. I have several other degrees including a Bachelors and Masters degree in entirely different fields so I am quite familiar with the difficult decision on what is the most direct pathway to your goal.
In my experience the absolute best thing to do is do some research on which graduate school you want to go to for your DPT. Set up an advisory appointment with the Director of the program and some of the faculty and ask them “flat out” exactly what you need to do to get into their program.
(Get it in writing).... Continue to stay in touch with that school and take advantage of all the resources they have available to counsel students “pre-application”.
I did this when I decided to move from New York to attend Texas Sate University for my DPT. I met with a pre-application advisor/faculty member and got a list as well as insider information about how they pick their students. I did everything on the list and got into the program the first time I applied.
I had previously done this with the colleges and other graduate schools I applied to with the same results.
The feedback I got was that it showed initiative, dedication, and made me stand out amongst the applicants.
I also recommend that you speak with graduates from the school that you want to go to for their specific advice.
The reality is that each school has this “unwritten” list of criteria that they are looking for in their candidates. We all look the same on paper so find out what they want and what makes you, as your unique amazing self, stand out as the best candidate for their program.
All the best with your amazing journey.
And remember ..... be bold and courageous even in the face of adversity for if you remain true to yourself and never give up you will find that mighty forces will come to your aid and carry you through to the light on the other side of your journey.
I want to offer a little bit more of an unconventional answer than most people. Although any science degree will definitely prepare you for physical therapy schools, you will be required to take a handful of courses that may not be necessary for Physical Therapy school. Many times these science programs can be very rigorous majors and challenge you to keep a high GPA in order to get accepted into graduate school. You want to make sure you take all your prerequisites but this does not need to be done with a science degree, these typically consist of: 1 year of biology, 1 year of general chemistry (NOT organic-this is usually a GPA killer for most people), 1 year of anatomy and physiology 1 year of physics and some schools even require psychology (I would take a look at a few school websites and see what preqs they require). I have known a handful of classmates who had degrees outside of science such as business or communications and had science minors in order to reach prerequisite requirements. They were not less prepared than any other students in our class but had other skills they could carry with them into their professional roles beyond Physical Therapy. I hope this helps in offering some different advice, best of luck with your future!!