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 2017-2018 Catalog.

Physical Therapy Programs in Hawai`i: None

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.

Physical Therapy vs. Occupational Therapy:

Both Physical Therapists (PT) and Occupational Therapists (OT) interact with patients and have the ultimate goal of providing patients as much assistance to recover from injuries and/or to live as productively and independently as possible. However, there are also very important differences between the two fields. The main difference is that OT is concerned with improving the client’s performance in daily activities and to optimize their independence, whereas a PT is focused on improving the client’s body movement. Additionally, OTs consider the patient not only based on their injuries, but how that disability could affect their developmental, cognitive, emotional and behavioral abilities. PTs are more direct in treating the physical source of the problem. 

Real life examples: 
PT: A PT would help a patient with a knee injury from playing sports through rehabilitation and rebuilding muscle groups so that the patient can regain his/her function of the knee. 
OT: An OT would help a patient who suffered from a stroke and must learn to cope with the disability in their everyday lives such as teaching them to how to feed themselves again, tie their shoes, etc. (building both basic and fine motor skills). 

back to top

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).

Many schools require a bachelor’s degree. Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. For those schools that do not require a bachelor’s degree, 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.

Matriculation statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

 ApplicantsMatriculantsPercentage of Applicants that Matriculate
National Applicants18,4599,22749.99%
UH Mānoa Applicants721825%

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs 

There are a large number of Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs offered across the nation. Although these programs vary greatly in terms of degree offerings, course curriculum, and program duration, they are all geared to help students in preparation for professional school by taking relevant graduate level courses or to meet the necessary  prerequisites courses for their intended program. For more information, please visit our Post-Baccalaureate and Specials Masters Programs page.

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.

back to top


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.

More than 25% of the programs in this field require the following UHM courses for admission:

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 Survey to Psychology
3 cr.
PSY 240 (Fall only) or 371 (Spring only)Advanced Psychology Course (Developmental or Abnormal)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.

Click here for a four-year sample plan.

Click here for a sample general timeline.

back to top

Experience and Personal Development

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.

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is also a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgment, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

back to top

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. Be sure to apply to schools in all 3 categories (“Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety.”) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and chat with students.

Application statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

 ApplicantsApplicationsAverage # of Applications/ApplicantRange of # of Schools Applied To
National Applicants18,459114,0276.18N/A
UH Mānoa Applicants724826.691-30
UH Mānoa Matriculants181488.221-30

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

School UH Mānoa Students Matriculated into for the 2015-2016 Admission Cycle

Boston University
California State University, Sacramento
Creighton University
Duke University
Loma Linda University
Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus
Methodist University
Northwestern University
Samuel Merritt University
Touro University Nevada
University of California, San Francisco-San Francisco State University
University of Colorado
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
University of Puget Sound
University of Southern California
Western University of Health Sciences

Top 10 Schools UH Mānoa Students Applied to for the 2015-2016 Admission Cycle (Ordered from Most to Least Popular

1. Pacific University
2. Chapman University
3. Western University of Health Sciences
4. University of Washington
5. West Coast University
6. University of Puget Sound
6. University of the Pacific
8. Azusa Pacific University
8. Mount St. Mary’s University
8. University of Nevada, Las Vegas

back to top

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. For the 2016-17 application cycle, the mean percentile scores for national accepted applicants were 51.89% for verbal, 45.82% for quantitative, and 55.66% for analytical.

Official Test Preparation Material

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

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

back to top

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 that opens in early July. 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. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

2.  Secondary applications or supplementary forms are specific to individual physical therapy schools. Schools may include these applications in the PTCAS application. Other schools may send these applications after they have received the PTCAS application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, letters of recommendation, and/or fees. 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.

Re-applicants: Many applicants may not be admitted to the professional school that they desire on their first try. However, if an when you choose to re-apply, there are many things to consider before re-submitting another application the following cycle. For more information on how to improve your application, click here.


  • 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

back to top

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.

APTA Financial Education Program: Students are invited to visit the new APTA Financial Education Program, an online tool designed to increase financial literacy, including in the area of student debt. This free educational platform offers an individualized experience to users through videos, articles, webinars, quizzes, online communities, live chats, calculators, and more. Go to

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.

back to top

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

back to top