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 2015-2016 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
Four-Year Sample Plan
Financial Aid
Additional Information

Field Description:

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 may advance their career by becoming a board certified clinical specialist through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). Although it is not mandatory, the option to be “board-certified” is available. The areas for certification include:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports Physical Therapy
  • Women’s Health

Click here to access more information regarding Physical Therapy Specialty Certification.

Work Setting:

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.

For more information on job outlook, click here.

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

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Physical Therapy Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become a Physical Therapist:

7+ years of education:

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

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. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage.

Degree Conferred:

Upon graduation from physical therapy school, students are awarded the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). The DPT is the required entry-level degree awarded for all accredited programs.

Combined Degree 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.

 What to Expect in PT 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 Licensing Examination(s):

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.
BIOL 275 or 375, or MICR 351, or MCB/MICR 461
Advanced Biology Course (Cell and Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biology of Microorganisms, or Immunology)3 cr.
PSY 100 Survey to Psychology
3 cr.
PSY 240 or 371Advanced Psychology Course (Abnormal or Developmental)3 cr.
ENG 100English Composition3 cr.
KRS 354/354LExercise and Sport Physiology*5 cr.
HLTH 110 or 125 at KCCMedical Terminology1 or 2 cr.

Additional requirements may include CPR certification and courses such as kinesiology (KRS 305, 353, 415, 416, 419, 420, 421, or 463), social sciences, and humanities. It is also recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above. A summary of the prerequisites can be found here.

CHEM 171/171L might not be accepted by physical therapy schools in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L. Students should double check with the schools they are interested in if the schools would accept CHEM 171/171L in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L.

* KRS 354/354L is a major restricted course. Its prerequisites are KRS 113 or PHYL 103 or PHYL 142/142L (or concurrent), or BIOL 171/171L (or concurrent). To enroll, complete the prerequisites for KRS 354/354L and email the instructor for an override. More seats may be available during the spring and summer semesters.

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.

Click here for a four-year sample plan.

Click here for a sample general timeline.

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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 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 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
  • a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life
  • strong letters of recommendation

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Researching Schools

There are currently 235 accredited physical therapy schools in the US and Puerto Rico, 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:

Commercial Test Preparation Companies: 

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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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. The process follows an accelerated timeline.

1.  Primary applications for most schools must be filed with the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS), which is a centralized application system. It includes a personal statement (4500 characters)Once the application is complete, PTCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated. The PTCAS application fee is about $140 for the first program designation and $45 for each additional program designation.

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. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops here. For sample interview questions click here.

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  • 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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Financial Aid

Financial planning is a crucial step in applying to physical therapy schools. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after physical therapy School. To learn more about financial planning, click here.


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). PSEP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state professional healthcare programs at participating WICHE institutions when such programs are not available at a public institution in their home state. Many Hawai‘i residents must attend professional schools out-of-state to obtain the necessary education and training needed for professional healthcare positions. Therefore, the State of Hawai‘i, through WICHE PSEP, helps subsidize the tuition costs for qualifying Hawai‘i residents to attend a participating WICHE PSEP program. In return, WICHE PSEP students are required to return to work in the State after completing their program of study.

PSEP selected students pay reduced levels of tuition at the WICHE participating institution. The home state pays a negotiated “support fee” designed to cover a portion of the cost of the students’ education; this fee is paid directly to the enrolling program’s institution. No payments are made directly to students. Students enrolled at public institutions generally pay the resident tuition rate, however, students may be required to pay the unmet non-resident tuition differential if the WICHE PSEP support fee does not cover the entire non-resident tuition differential.  Students enrolled at private institutions pay the balance of the full private tuition minus the WICHE PSEP support fee.

Support is available to a limited number of Hawai‘i residents studying physical therapy and enrolling at participating WICHE PSEP schools.  For a list of participating schools, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE PSEP program, please visit

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.

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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.

Associations CAPTE Accredited Physical Therapists Education Programs
APTA Student Assembly
Sports Physical Therapy
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE)
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT)
Entrance Exams Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Applications Physical Therapists Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)
Financial Aid Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
Current OpportunitiesHealth – Current Opportunities
EngagementHealth – Clubs and Organizations