Pre-Physical Therapy at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website, the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE) website, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) website, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, and the UHM 2013-2014 Catalog.

Physical Therapy Programs in Hawai`i: None

Physical Therapy Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Researching Schools
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Financial Aid
Additional Information

Physical therapists evaluate physical disabilities and injuries and help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent disabilities. A physical therapist’s responsibilities include the planning, evaluation, administration, and modification of treatment.  Physical therapists advise and educate their patients, in addition to providing therapeutic and preventive care.

Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including private practice, outpatient rehabilitation centers, hospitals and clinics, sports facilities, skilled nursing facilities, community and government health agencies, and home health agencies. Although most are involved in practice, some physical therapists conduct research or teach in higher education.

Related Careers: occupational therapy, rehabilitation counseling, sports medicine, athletic training, and personal training.

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Physical Therapy Programs

Becoming a physical therapist requires 8+ years of education:

Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
Physical Therapy School (~3 years);
Residency (¾ -3 years);
Fellowship (½-3 years).

Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. Admission to physical therapy schools is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities.

Upon graduation from physical therapy school, students are awarded the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). Some schools still offer the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT), however by 2015 the DPT will be the required entry-level degree for all accredited programs.

Many physical therapy schools offer combined degree programs: DPT/PhD to combine physical therapy with research or teaching; DPT/MBA to combine physical therapy with business administration; DPT/MPH to combine physical therapy with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in physical therapy school.

About eighty percent of the physical therapy curriculum consists of didactic instruction in the basic sciences; the remaining twenty percent is devoted to clinical instruction. After graduation, licensed physical therapists who desire advanced training or specialization can complete a residency, and if desired, a fellowship.

The National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) is a national examination required for physical therapy licensure in the United States. In addition, DPT graduates may also need to pass state jurisprudence exams and/or meet other requirements, depending on the state in which they intend to practice. All physical therapists must be licensed to practice.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending.

The following UHM courses are commonly required for admission to physical therapy schools:

BIOL 171/171L and 172/172L
Introduction to Biology I and II8 cr.
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162LGeneral Chemistry I and II8 cr.
PHYS 151/151L and 152/152L
(or PHYS 170/170L and 272/272L)
College Physics I and II
(or General Physics I and II)
8 or 9 cr.
MATH 140 or higherPrecalculus or higher3 cr.
PSY/SOCS 225 or ECON 321Statistics3 cr.
PHYL 141/141L and 142/142L
(or PHYL 301/301L and 302/302L)
Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II8 or 10 cr.
PSY 100 and 240 (or 371)Survey to Psychology and higher
(usually developmental or abnormal)
6 cr.

In addition, PAC recommends the following UHM courses for students pursuing physical therapy:

KRS 353*Structural Kinesiology
KRS 354*Exercise and Sport Physiology
KRS 463*Sport Biomechanics

*These courses have specific course pre-requisites.  Please visit for more information.

Additional requirements may include CPR certification and courses such as English composition, social sciences and humanities, computer science (ICS 101), medical terminology (HLTH 110 and 125 at KCC), and exercise physiology and kinesiology (KRS 205, 353 and 354/L, 415, 416, 419, 420, 421, or 463). It is also recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above.

Work or volunteer experience involving direct contact with people with disabilities, illness, or other disadvantages is essential. Physical therapy schools may require anywhere from 30 to 200+ hours of observation or experience and may request that one of your letters of recommendation come from a licensed physical therapist. Some schools specify a minimum number of different settings for observation/experience, and may even specify a minimum number of hours in each setting. Be sure to check the specific requirements for each school!

Experience opportunities are available at hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, shelters, rehabilitation facilities, etc.; see UHM’s Pre-Health Advising Center for a list of possible contacts.

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What makes a strong candidate?

Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the physical therapy curriculum and are likely to become good physical therapists.

Are you capable of completing the physical therapy curriculum?

Admissions committees are seek students who have:

  • successfully completed the prerequisites
  • a high overall GPA
  • a high science/math GPA
  • performed well on the GRE
  • balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good physical therapist?

Admissions committees are seek students who have:

  • the school’s designated observation/experience requirements
  • demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
  • high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
  • a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
  • experience in the field and with what physical therapy entails
  • a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • strong letters of recommendation

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Researching Schools

There are currently over 200 accredited physical therapy schools in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths. Applicants can research schools using the Directory of Accredited Physical Therapy Programs on the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help you in this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 200+ schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to.

If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

Most physical therapy schools require applicants to take a standardized test called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in physical therapy school, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles, with the median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 55th percentile or higher are considered competitive for physical therapy programs.

Official Test Preparation Material:

  • The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test from ETS
  • Practice Questions on GRE website
  • Free diagnostic exam on GRE website

Click Here for the GRE Overview

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The Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to physical therapy schools: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview.

1.  Primary applications for most schools must be filed with the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS), which is a centralized application system.  Once the application is complete, PTCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated.

2.  Secondary applications or supplementary forms are specific to individual physical therapy schools; schools send these to applicants after they have received the PTCAS application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.  Some schools may even screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out.  However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application.

Note: Most physical therapy schools participate in PTCAS. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

3.  Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications (or supplementary forms), physical therapy schools invite promising applicants to interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs of interviewing, including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals.

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Financial Aid

WICHE:  Hawai`i residents are eligible to participate in the Professional School Exchange Program (PSEP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). In a competitive process, PSEP selects applicants to receive financial support from state funds; those students will be able to pay subsidized tuition if they attend a participating program on the West Coast. WICHE applications become available in July and have a mid-October deadline.

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of matriculation, generally in the summer of your application year. 


  • The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.
  • Contact individual schools’ admissions offices to find out how they handle:
    • Advanced Placement (AP) credits
    • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • non-US coursework
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on prerequisite science courses

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to physical therapy school.

UHM’s Pre-Medical
UHM’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA)

UHM’s Biology Club
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
Physical Therapists Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)
CAPTE Accredited Physical Therapists Education Programs
APTA Student Assembly
Sports Physical
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) ;
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program