So, you’ve decided you want to be a physical therapist? Congratulations! That means you’ve decided to pursue pretty much the best career the world can offer. Unfortunately, the idea of actually applying to PT school can be pretty daunting, but I’m here to help! Hopefully I can make the process a little easier by passing on a few pieces of advice I found helpful back in my application days. These are either things I wish I had known when I was applying or tips I heard firsthand from professors, PT’s, previous students, etc. I hope they’ll be useful for you as well:
1. Think about what you want out of a school
One of the most difficult parts of applying to PT school is figuring out how you’re even going to start narrowing down the 220-something schools to just a handful that you are interested in. Before you dive in, make a list of characteristics you want your school to have. Some things to consider might be:
- Cost of tuition
- Class size
- Research opportunities
- International opportunities
- Clinical schedule/requirements
- APTA Involvement
- And many more!
Do some research and don’t apply to any schools that don’t fit ALL your criteria. If you want a large class, don’t apply to a school that will only admit 20 students. If you don’t want to move to Texas, don’t even look at the schools in Texas. Also, make sure you know why you are applying to each school—If you can’t explain specifically what jumps out to you about a particular school, you probably shouldn’t be applying there. The PT school application is just as much about you figuring out which is the right school for you as it is about each school figuring out who is best for them.
2. Be honest with yourself as an applicant
Be a well-rounded applicant! Know where your weaknesses are and make up for them by being strong elsewhere. For example, if you don’t have the highest GPA, then you should take the time to study for that pesky GRE to boost your academic profile. Don’t make excuses about your weaknesses, but instead be able to articulate what you’ve done to overcome those setbacks. Find other ways to strengthen your application outside of academics: volunteer, get observation hours in a variety of PT settings, take extra time on your essays, or rack up some more extracurricular activities. Here are a few more things you can do if you feel like you might not stand out next to someone with a 4.0 who was president of 17 different clubs:
- Apply to schools that conduct interviews so you can sell yourself in person.
- Do a little extra research to find the schools that are going to look at you as more of a whole person rather than primarily emphasizing GPA and GRE scores.
- Apply to schools with less applicant volume so you have less competition.
- Look at the school’s acceptance statistics (e.g. what percent of in-state vs. out-of-state applicants they accept) to see what your chances are of getting in.
3. Don’t apply to too many schools
It might seem like applying to 20 different schools is playing it safe, but here’s the catch: not only does it take a lot of time to complete all those supplemental applications, but every school comes with a fee of its own and you have to pay to send your GRE scores to each one. Think about it: say you get into all 20 schools. You are probably seriously considering less than half of them, so you’ve already wasted time and money by just submitting an application to the schools you don’t really want to go to. My point is, only apply to schools you know you can see yourself at. You also need to take into account the cost of visiting each school, which brings me to my next piece of advice.
4. Visit a school before you make a decision
The best way to get a feel for your fit in a DPT program is to go to the school and see it for yourself. You can email current students and professors all you want, but it’s not the same as actually seeing the campus and talking to those people in person. You would hate to show up for your first day of class and realize you don’t want to be there! On the flip side, you might be on the fence about a certain program and then fall in love with it once you’re there. If a school requires an interview, obviously you have to visit. That’s how I knew I wanted to go to Regis – everything about the interview day made me feel welcome, and I felt a better connection with the program than I had with either of the other two schools I had already visited. I had also gotten accepted into a program that didn’t have interviews, but when I visited the school on my own time, I realized I did not see myself there at all. So even if you get accepted to a school that doesn’t do interviews, you should definitely take the time to visit on your own before choosing it.
5. Location matters
You may be thinking, “PT school is only 3 years, so I don’t really care where I live as long as I’ll be at a good school.” Although location might not be a top priority for everyone, it’s still something to consider. Remember that PT school is hard, so you are going to need a sanity break every once in a while. That means you want to be in a location you know you would enjoy when you need to escape all the studying. (For me, and for a lot of us at Regis, having the mountains nearby is perfect.) Moral of the story: make sure wherever you end up, you have access to something you like to do for fun.
6. Rankings DON’T matter
While it might feel pretty cool to get into the top ranked PT school in the nation, remember that every accredited program is going to teach you the skills you need to be a good physical therapist. Sure, you should look at academic statistics such as first-time pass rates, but what else about the school stands out to you? (See tip #1.) Don’t feel bad about yourself if you are not applying to super highly ranked schools—they will all ultimately get you to where you want to be!
7. Student debt is real
They say ignorance is bliss, but you wouldn’t want to ignore all your loans until graduation and then find out you’ve racked up a ton of debt. This is, by no means, a lesson in finance, but you do need be realistic with yourself. Consider the cost of attendance of the schools you are applying to and figure out this will affect your financial planning. Also, try to have a basic understanding of how financial aid works so you are prepared to manage it while you’re still in school. That being said, you should still go with your gut when choosing schools and don’t base your decision on money alone. Remember, your education is an investment for you to pursue a profession for which you are passionate.
8. Don’t procrastinate
This seems self-explanatory, but coming from personal experience, it is really easy to put things off and end up submitting your applications a little too close to the deadline for comfort. Give your references plenty of time to write their recommendations, but more importantly, give yourself more than enough time to write your essays and personal statement. Know the individual requirements for each school so you aren’t scrambling to get things together at the last minute. If you’re like me and you can never seem to kick the bad habit of procrastination, make your applications like homework or a job. Set aside a few times per week to work on them, and assign yourself deadlines (that you will actually stick to—be realistic and make manageable goals!) to hold yourself accountable.
9. Be able to explain why you want to be a physical therapist
Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your application. It is every admissions team’s snapshot into who you are as a person. Before you start, you should write a mini essay about exactly why you want to be a PT (this was a requirement for me in an undergrad class, but I would recommend doing it because it was extremely helpful). Go below the surface-level answer, of “I want to help people” and instead make it personal: add your own anecdotes, style, and voice. Also make sure your reasoning isn’t too general; describe specifically why you were drawn to PT, and don’t allow the same reasons to be applicable to other careers. Make it clear that you understand what a PT does! It’ll be challenging, but once you are able to put all that into words, you will be able to transfer a lot of it to your real personal statement, no matter the prompt. Then you should get it proofread as much as possible. Ask a PT, your favorite professor, your high school English teacher, your neighbor’s son’s girlfriend’s uncle—whomever you think would provide good feedback and help you make your statement as strong as possible.
10. Take a risk and be adventurous!
Finally, this is my own personal piece of advice. The closest PT school to my home in Portland is only 19 miles away. The closest school I actually applied to is a whopping 996 miles away. Why? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Pacific Northwest and I by no means wanted to “get out.” It’s just that I stayed in Oregon for undergrad (go Beavs) and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try somewhere entirely new for a change. Maybe that mindset isn’t for everyone, but whether you’re coming straight from undergrad or starting a whole new career, taking on PT school is life-changing no matter how close you are to home. It was definitely scary moving away from all my friends and family, but I love having this new home with new friends and new hobbies all separate from that other part of my life. So just consider stepping a little further outside of what you’re comfortable with; it might be fun to take on a little extra risk and you will be all the more stronger for it.
I hope these tips ease some application anxiety and help you feel a little more prepared for the fun that is PTCAS. If you stay organized and keep this advice in mind as you tackle your applications, the whole process will be a lot less stressful. Good luck!
Kelsie Jordan graduated from Oregon State University and is currently finishing her first year at Regis. Kelsie loves to line dance, the outdoors, and is the admissions representative for the Class of 2019.