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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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Name: Kassidy Stecklein, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Kansas State University, KS
Hometown: Hays, KS
Fun Fact: I really, really enjoy tornado weather.
Mission trips, senior trips, and retreats, oh my! (I’m from Kansas, I just had to 🙂 ) As roughly a quarter of our class journeyed through Utah, people constantly asked us why we were all together. When we explained to them that we were simply classmates on our week off from PT school, they were thoroughly impressed that such a large group of grad students would all like each other enough to travel together. However, anyone who currently goes or went to Regis would tell you this doesn’t shock them one bit: PT school at Regis isn’t just an education—it’s also a family.
When deciding on where I wanted to go for PT school, I knew I wanted somewhere where I would not only get an incredible education, but also get a place that I could make new memories at and feel like I was at home for the next 3 years. Regis has not only provided that, but so much more. Thinking back on the first 2 semesters of school, my initial thoughts don’t go to the countless hours spent in Claver Hall drawing the different pathways of the brain or that familiar smell of the cadaver lab; they go to the numerous adventures spent with my classmates.
During the transition from the spring to summer semesters of our first year, we were given a wonderful a weeklong break. Now, the initial thought might be to spend that week prepping for the upcoming semester or catching up on the sleep missed during those last few weeks of finals…but this was not the case with our class. Our class is always up for new adventures and spending our time to the fullest.
We all love living in this beautiful state of Colorado, but since we were given a week off, why not adventure out a little farther? About 25 of my classmates and I traveled to Zion National Park in southern Utah to make some irreplaceable memories. We packed our cars to the max (and I mean every last inch) with our sleeping bags, tents, and backpacks, and we were ready to embark on our 10-hour road trip. Lucky for us, PT school teaches you how to spend 40+ hours a week with the same group of people, so 10 hours went by like a breeze!
The first stop on our adventure was Cedar City, Utah. We used this as our last little pit stop before heading all the way to Zion the next day. Despite the forecast for storms and rain, we lucked out and were able to find an awesome campsite where we all relaxed together by the fire and began to take in the beauty we would be blessed with over the next few days.
Starting off on our 2nd day, we only had about an hour or so drive to our final destination outside of Zion, but our first hike of the trip happened to be on the way. Our 1st hike was Kanarra Falls, which was a perfect hike for us to start off the week. Not too long of a hike, Kanarra Falls was great for getting us back into the hiking routine. It also provided a bit of an introduction to getting comfortable with hiking through water. Traveling through slot canyons, this hike consisted of many waterfalls; it even ended with a waterfall that we could go down like a slide! After the hike, we finished our road trip outside of Zion National Park.
When they say teamwork makes the dream work, they weren’t kidding! This was our motto for day 3, as the trek to get to Zion was an adventure in itself. We knew the roads were expected to be a little “rough,” but that was a complete understatement. Regis is great at developing leaders and team players in the PT field, and I’d say these traits were tapped into as we worked together to get Wyatt’s Subaru down the mountain in one piece. We had people picking up and moving rocks, walking beside the car to make sure it didn’t go over the edge, and I’m pretty sure at one point we were all about to pick the car up and just try to carry it down the mountain. In the end, though, we all successfully got down; this forever remains one of the best memories. We also hiked Hidden Canyon Trail that day and saw the incredibleness that is Zion for the first time.
Day 4 brought about one of the hikes we had all been waiting for: The Subway. Being one of Zion’s more popular hikes, there was plenty of information to tell us to start early in the morning (typically an 8-hour hike) and avoid it when the weather is rough. We like a challenge, so (of course) we slept in and waited until afternoon to start—all while having the prediction of inclement weather and possibly flash floods. Despite the circumstances, we successfully completed this 10-mile hike through the water in a little over 4 hours, and even made it back in time to return our gear that day (the workers at the store didn’t believe that we could successfully finish it that quickly, but obviously they don’t know the determination of Regis PT students). If you ever go to Zion, this hike is a MUST: you end at a series of pools that you can swim through to make it to the final waterfall destination.
Day 5 was sort of our recovery day. We had our biggest hike of the trip planned for Friday, so in preparation we did a nice short hike at the Emerald Pools. We finished the day by finding our own waterfall pool to go swim at Toquerville Falls. The road to Toquerville Falls was another adventure in itself; but once again, we like a challenge, so despite advice to turn around and people telling us our cars wouldn’t make it, we defied the odds and were able to enjoy the day!
Day 6 was our big finale: the 18-mile hike up the West Rim to Angel’s Landing. At this point, everyone was a little beaten up, whether it was blisters, muscle soreness, or just mentally fatigued. Either way, we were determined to complete this last hike together. There is a much shorter hike up the Angel’s Landing (5 miles roundtrip), but if PT school taught us anything, it’s that the reward is so much better when you’ve worked your tail off for it. This was by far the hardest and longest hike, but if you ask any of my classmates, it was 110% worth it.
If coming to Regis for PT school has taught me anything, it’s that experiences, relationships, and memories are just as important as the education you receive throughout these 3 years. As much fun as the late night study sessions and practical preparations are, it is the memories made between the class times that I will cherish forever.