Preparation for Physical Therapy School
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The Division of Biological and Physical Sciences offers all the prerequisite courses needed for admission to physical therapy schools. Listed below are some of the questions students often ask about preparation for physical therapy. The answers to these questions are based primarily on admission requirements for the physical therapy program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in Jackson, but most of these questions apply equally well to other schools of physical therapy. For more detailed information on PT at UMMC, visit the School of Health Related Professions.

If you have questions that are not answered here, please contact Dr. Tiftickjian, the physical therapy advisor, by email, phone, or in person. New questions will be answered and added to this FAQ.

For more information, see the suggested curriculum for pre-physical therapy.

Physical therapy as a profession

•  What is a physical therapist?

•  A physical therapist examines, designs, and implements physical therapy interventions to enhance or maintain endurance, muscle strength and mobility, and to treat pain, movement dysfunction, or disability due to disease, injury, loss of a body part or birth defects.

•  What therapies are used?

•  A therapist helps the patient prevent injury and overcome movement dysfunction through the use of exercise, education, assistive devices, and physical procedures.

•  What other benefits does a physical therapist provide?

•  For the community and individuals, the therapist provides health promotion and prevention consultation, assesses the living environment and recommends adaptations to eliminate architectural barriers. Psychological, sociological and economic factors must be considered when interacting with clients/patients and community groups.

•  In what environments do physical therapists work?

•  Physical therapists are employed in hospitals, private practices, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, industry, research centers, health maintenance organizations, sports medicine centers, nursing homes, community centers, wellness centers, outpatient clinics and school settings.

•  What are the differences between entry-level masters and doctoral degrees?

•  The status of the entry-level physical therapist graduate with either degree is the same. All accredited programs are designed to provide a broad physical therapy background. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education uses the same evaluative criteria to accredit masters and doctoral level programs. Individual institutions determine the degree to be offered.

•  Is there a ranking of physical therapy programs?

•  The American Physical Therapy Association does not rank programs. The accreditation process assures quality in physical therapy education.

•  What is the typical starting salary for a physical therapist?

•  The salary for a beginning therapist is dependent upon the type of clinical setting, the size of the community and the region of the country. Current information can be obtained online from The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Admission requirements

•  When does the PT program begin at UMMC?

•  May

•  What is the application due date for UMMC?

•  The deadline is normally around November 1st, but check the website for the exact date for the year you plan to apply.

•  When can I apply for UMMC?

•  Applications are available in July preceding the date of enrollment. Students may apply for the program during their final year of enrollment in a baccalaureate program and be admitted contingent upon successful completion of the degree program. All prerequisites for the program must be completed before enrolling in the program.

•  I am not a Mississippi resident, but I am planning to apply to UMMC. What are my chances of being admitted?

•  Preference is given to applicants who are legal residents of Mississippi. Out of state applicants will be considered only if there are positions available after all qualified Mississippi applicants are accepted. (Basically, this means that only Mississippi residents will be admitted.)

•  When does the PT program begin at UT Memphis?

•  August

•  What is the application due date for UT Memphis?

•  Check the website for current application deadlines.

•  I am not a Tennessee resident, but I am planning to apply to UT. What are my chances of being admitted?

•  Priority is given to Tennessee residents; however, your chances for admission might still be very good if your academic credentials are excellent.

•  What are the admission requirements for PT at UMMC?

•  Completion of a bachelor's degree (any major) Completion of specified prerequisite courses Submission of a score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) 40 hours of observation time with at least 2 different physical therapists

•  Will the MCAT or other exam substitute for the GRE?

•  No. The GRE requirement will not be waived.

•  How competitive is admission to physical therapy schools?

•  Admission to PT school is very competitive. For example, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the PT program accepts about 50 students each year. There are typically at least twice that many that apply, and most of those that apply are well qualified. To give yourself the best chance of getting accepted, you need to work hard to maintain a high GPA from your first semester and prepare well for the GRE exam by working to get the most possible from your general education courses as well as your science prerequisites.

•  How many students are accepted each year into the PT program at UMMC?

•  One class of 50 students are admitted each year.

•  What are the prerequisite courses needed for admission to PT at UMMC?

•  General biology, 2 courses
General chemistry, 2 courses
Physics, 2 courses
Statistics, 1 course
Advanced science (300-level or above), 1 course

These 8 courses are the minimum requirements. Study the other questions in this FAQ, and talk to your advisor for more details on each of these prerequisites. Be sure to download the detailed curriculum list for this program from the DSU sciences website.

•  What is the minimum GPA needed for acceptance to PT school?

•  For the PT program at UMMC, you must have a minimum GPA of 3.0, both overall GPA and GPA on prerequisite courses. All grades on prerequisite courses must be C or better. Although 3.0 is the minimum, keep in mind that the average GPA of applicants that are accepted is significantly higher, usually above 3.5. So to be competitive, you must have a GPA significantly higher than 3.0.

•  How do PT schools calculate GPA?

•  Most professional schools calculate your overall GPA as one factor and your GPA on specific prerequisite courses as a second factor. That is, they use both your overall GPA and your GPA on just the prerequisite courses to determine your academic qualifications. You overall GPA is important, but you should also strive to do the best you can in your prerequisite courses.

•  How much observation/volunteer experience do I need?

•  UMMC requires 40 hours of documented observation time in at least two physical therapy clinical departments. A maximum of 20 hours may be used from any one site. Additional observation or volunteer experience is beneficial. For UT, their is no specific observation time requirement. However, it is important that the candidate has visited a variety of settings and observed occupational therapists who work with children and adults representing different age groups. Observation hours earned through employment will not be accepted.

•  How do I get observation hours and who arranges them?

•  Each student makes his or her own arrangements for observation time. Most PTs are more then happy to allow pre-PT students to observe them. Most students who are interested in PT will already know one or more therapists who practice in their home towns. If you need help finding an observation site, ask other pre-PT students you know at DSU or your advisor. Forms verifying observation hours must be submitted as part of your application. Observation forms must signed by a licensed physical therapist and the license number included. Forms are available on the UMMC website.

•  When should I do my observation time?

•  You must do your observation time in the year that you apply for PT school (not earlier), and you must have completed all observation hours before the application deadline. The best time to do this is in the spring and summer before the fall in which you plan to apply.

•  What factors are used to decide who is accepted?

•  Overall GPA; GPA in prerequisite courses; GRE score; interview; related work or volunteer experience; extracurricular activities (especially if they are related to health care or if they demonstrate leadership); membership in honor societies, such as AED.

•  How can I increase my chance of being accepted?

•  A high overall grade point average, especially in the prerequisite course work, and exploring as many aspects of the field as possible are essential. You should do observation time and/or volunteer experiences in a variety of physical therapy practice settings. Also important are excellent writing skills, and good interpersonal skills. Give yourself enough time to prepare for the GRE. An above average GRE score increases your chances.

•  What is the application and selection process?

•  All applications are done online. See the UMMC website for detailed instructions. Specified documents must be completed and mailed to the Office of Student Services and Records. The physical therapy admissions committee reviews all information in completed application materials. From the group of applicants, the most competitive students are invited for an interview. Applicants accepted for admission are chosen from those that are interviewed. The specific characteristics for review are academic record (prerequisite GPA and overall GPA), written communication skills, knowledge of physical therapy, GRE scores, verbal communication skills, problem solving and resume. All components of the process are included in determining the admitted class.

•  If I get my application in early, will I have a better chance of being admitted?

•  In general, no, but you should start your application procedure as soon as applications become available for the upcoming year. It is very important that the professional school receives all your application materials by the deadline. Be sure you allow plenty of time for your transcript, preprofessional evaluations, etc. to arrive. Check with the admissions office to be sure all materials been received.

•  Does my application need to be turned in as a complete packet?

•  No, you should submit your application data form and the deposit early. The other application materials (transcript(s), observation forms, resume, and official GRE scores) must reach the registrar's office by the deadlines posted.

•  Is an interview required?

•  Yes. Applicants with strong enough credentials will be selected for interviews. Of those that interview, the most qualified will be accepted for admission.

•  If I get an interview, does that mean I am accepted?

•  No. However, it does mean that you are being considered among the top applicants. Be sure to prepare well for the interview because it is often the deciding factor the determines who will be accepted for admission.

•  Can I apply to more than one program at UMMC at the same time?

•  Yes. Students are encouraged to apply to multiple programs. Each admissions process is a separate activity. For example, physical therapy and occupational therapy programs are fairly similar. It is fairly common to apply for both at the same time.

Prerequisite courses

•  Are minimum grades required in prerequisite courses?

•  Yes. All prerequisite courses must be completed with a grade of C or better.

•  Is a bachelor's degree required for admission?

•  Yes. PT programs require that a 4-year college degree is obtained before beginning the PT program.

•  What undergraduate degree should I have?

•  Any undergraduate degree is acceptable as long as you complete the required prerequisite courses. All entering students are required to have at least an undergraduate degree with background in the humanities, social sciences, physical and biological sciences. Non-science majors are encouraged to apply. All applicants must complete prerequisite courses before entering the program.

•  Are some majors better than others for the purpose of having a strong PT application?

•  Not necessarily. As long as a degree is completed and all the prerequisite course have been taken, no major is better than another. But you should consider you choice of major carefully. While there are advantages to choosing a major in biology or chemistry, the first question to ask is: what career interests me as a fall-back plan if I am not accepted to PT school. The major that prepares you best for that option is probably the best major to choose. Keep in mind, however, that a science major will automatically build in all the PT prerequisites and provide a background in science that is well above the minimum required for pre-PT.

•  What is the most common major chosen by pre-PT students?

•  The most common major is biology.

•  Why do most pre-PT students choose biology as a major?

•  The main reason is that nearly all the courses required or recommended as prerequisites for PT are built into the general biology major. (Physics is an exception.) PT and the biology major both require: general biology, general chemistry, advanced biology courses, trigonometry, and statistics. This amounts to approximately 32 credit hours, most of which are not required for non-science majors. So you if you major in a non-science discipline, you will need to take many additional PT prerequisites that would not be required for the major. Majoring in biology also means that you automatically take additional advanced biology courses and this strengthens your PT application.

•  But isn't biology a difficult major?

•  Yes, but not as difficult at the physical therapy program will be. The strong background in science provides good preparation for the many science-related courses you will take in PT school. If you struggle with the rigor of the biology major, you are probably not the best candidate for physical therapy school.

•  Which courses satisfy the "advanced science" prerequisite?

•  Any BIO or CHE courses numbered 300 or above that are designed for science majors and have a laboratory component. If you are a biology or chemistry major, you will automatically satisfy this requirement with your upper level BIO or CHE courses. For non-science majors, suggested courses are cell biology (BIO 300), genetics (BIO 328), comparative anatomy (BIO 343), histology (BIO 423), and many more. Although medical terminology (BIO 329) is a 300-level course, it cannot count as one of your advances sciences (no lab). Medical terminology is a good course to take has an elective, but UMMC does not allow it to count as one of your prerequisite courses. Remember that you will need certain lower level prerequisites before taking upper-level courses.

•  Is anatomy and physiology considered an "advanced science" for UMMC?

•  No. Both semesters of anatomy and physiology are 200-level courses. The advanced science courses must be at the 300/400-level.

•  Why should I take anatomy and physiology if it is not required?

•  Taking A & P is recommended as it helps prepare you for the human anatomy course you take in PT school. You should try to take it if possible in addition to your other science prerequisites. Anyone preparing for the health professions will benefit from knowing something about human anatomy. If you are a biology major, A & P can count as BIO electives under the major requirements. Although not specifically required at UMMC, many other PT programs do require two semesters of anatomy and physiology. If you are considering applying for occupational therapy as well as physical therapy, you should take it. A & P is required for OT.

•  Does microbiology satisfy the advanced science requirement?

•  No. At DSU, introduction to microbiology is a 200-level courses. The advanced science course must be at the 300/400-level. However, it is logical to take microbiology as part of your coursework, especially for biology majors. Most pre-health students benefit from a course in microbiology, and it is required for several other heath-related professional schools. For biology majors, microbiology can count as a 200/300-level elective under the major requirements.

•  Would it be to my advantage to take more science courses than the minimum required?

•  Definitely! Even if you have As and Bs in your required science courses, you can benefit from additional science coursework. If you have any Cs in your science courses, you will certainly benefit from additional science coursework. These additional science courses are built-in to the biology major, which is one of several good reasons for choosing that major.

•  Does it matter whether my science courses have a laboratory?

•  Yes. Fo all science course you take that include a lab component, you must take the lab, even if it is considered a separate course (e.g. general chemistry and physics). Not all advanced science course have lab components. Although such courses can be used to fulfill the advanced science requirement, your PT application will look much better if you take courses with a lab component. For science majors this is not an issue; they will take significantly more lab science courses than the non-science major.

•  Which statistics course should I take?

•  The best choice is MAT 300. For PT prerequisites, the statistics course can be a math, psychology, or education statistics course. Business statistics is not acceptable. DSU biology majors should take MAT 300, as this is the only statistics course that satisfies the advanced math requirement for the BS degree in biology.

•  Which courses should I take to satisfy the physics requirement?

•  For nearly all PT students, the correct course sequence is Physics for Life Sciences, PHY 221/222 (lecture) and PHY 233/234 (lab). The other physics sequence, PHY 231/232 require calculus as a prerequisite. Calculus is not required for physical therapy.

•  Do I have to take trigonometry?

•  Either trig or calculus. Plane trigonometry (MAT 105) is a prerequisite for Physics for Life Sciences. Calculus is a prerequisite for General Physics. Most pre-PT students take Physics for Life Sciences. Here is another advantage of the biology major: trig is a math requirement for biology majors.

•  Can non-majors courses count toward science prerequisites?

•  No. Courses such as BIO 110, CHE 110, PHY 110, and PHY 205 will not count toward the PT prerequisites. These courses are designed for non-science majors and are not acceptable for PT requirements. If you took your introductory science courses at a community college, be especially careful to make sure those courses are majors courses. Your advisor can help you make this determination.

•  Can I take any of the pre-PT courses at a community or junior college?

•  Yes, any required courses that are 100- or 200-level can be taken at 2-year colleges. However, the advanced science course and the statistic course must be taken at a senior college. Once you start your science coursework at DSU, you should take all required sciences at DSU. This is because courses are structured as part of an overall curriculum. Taking a "mix and match" approach can present problems, and PT schools may question why you did not take all prerequisites at the same institution. It is a mistake to take some courses are a community college just because you think they may be "easier."

•  Must I complete all the prerequisite courses before the application deadline?

•  No. However, you must plan to have all courses completed by the start date of the PT program your are applying for. UMMC requires that at least 5 of the 8 prerequisite courses are completed by the end of the Fall semester in the year of application. The remaining three can be taken in the final Spring semester before graduation if needed. For biology majors, this is not usually a problem; they normally have all the prerequisites completed by the end of their Junior year.

•  I had to retake a prerequisite course because I made a D the first time. Will this hurt my chances?

•  It will be a disadvantage, although it won't eliminate you from consideration if the majority of your science grades, especially the most recent ones, are excellent. All grades are used to compute your GPA. Repeated course grades are averaged, not dropped, so retaking a course does not improve your overall GPA as much as you might think. Of course, if you have a grade below a C in a required prerequisite course, that course must be repeated.


•  What is the GRE?

•  The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination. It is required for most post-baccalaureate programs, for example Master's and Doctorate degrees. It is a general exam, somewhat similar to the ACT, but for college students applying for graduate programs. Because physical therapy is a doctoral program, the GRE is required for admission.

•  What sections of the GRE must be taken?

•  The GRE General Test is required. You do not have to take any of the specific Subject Tests.

•  How is the GRE General Test structured

•  The test has three sections: (1) verbal reasoning, that measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts; (2) quantitative reasoning, that measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis; and (3) analytical writing, that measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively. Detailed information is available on the GRE website.

•  What scoring scale is used for the GRE?

•  The GRE has three parts: verbal reasoning (score scale = 130-170), quantitative (score scale = 130-170), and analytical writing (score scale = 0-6).

•  What is the minimum GRE score for PT acceptance?

•  There is no minimum GRE score required, but your GRE score weighs just as heavily on whether you are accepted as does your GPA. Before 2012, the average GRE score for students recently accepted at UMMC was in the 1000-1100 range, BUT the GRE has been revised as of August 2011, and a new scoring scale is in affect. The maximum score (verbal + quantitative) is now 340 instead of 1600 as in the past. At this point, it is too early to tell how the new scoring scale will be interpreted by PT schools, so check back on this point after the new test has been in place for a while. If it is fair to look at the past and current scoring proportionally, a score of about 212 on the new test would be equivalent to 1000 on the old test. Remember that what PT schools look for is a combination of GPA and GRE. If your GRE score is not so hot, but your GPA is outstanding, you will still have a good chance. On the other hand, a high GRE score can counteract a less-than-great GPA.

•  When should I take the GRE?

•  Making reservations for taking the GRE should be done approximately 6 weeks prior to the date of the exam. It takes about 4 weeks for score to be reported after you have taken the exam. Your score MUST be on file with the PT school by their application deadline. So you should take the GRE at least 2 months in advance of the deadline (at the very latest) to be sure your score gets there in time. The recommended time to take the GRE is in the spring of your Junior year. If your score needs improvement, this gives you time to retake it early in the fall of the next year when you will be applying for PT school.

•  How much does it cost to take the exam?

•  The test fee is $175.

•  Where can I find out more about the GRE?

•  The best place is the GRE website. You can get all the information you need about the exam, how to register to take it, and even download a complete practice test booklet which also has information on scoring and how to prepare for the exam.

The physical therapy program

•  What is the length and sequence of coursework within the program?

•  The physical therapy program at UMMC lasts three calendar years. The first year of the program focuses more upon classroom and laboratory activities on the campus; the second and third years include more clinical applications coursework and experiences.The clinical experiences require the student to temporarily relocate with at least one period being at an affiliated organization outside of the state. Students are responsible for their own living expenses during this time.

•  Can I attend PT school part-time?

•  No (at least for most schools). PT programs are generally full-time only.

•  Will I be able to work while attending PT school?

•  The best answer is: No. PT is a very demanding program. Most students find it difficult if not impossible to work while pursuing this program. Experience points to a high correlation between working and difficulty in progressing through the program. A variety of financial aid programs are available for those accepted into the program.

•  How long does it take to find employment after completing the PT program?

•  This varies, but most students in recent years have found employment within a very short time (weeks) after completion.

•  Would it be to my advantage to complete an Physical Therapy Assistant (OTA) program before applying to PT school?

•  No. The only exceptions would be if you wish to work for a time as an assistant or if you want to use this as a fall-back plan. The best reason for completing an PTA program is that you have chosen that as your career. Certain individuals who are PTAs do decide to return to school to become PTs, but that is the exception rather that the rule. Like volunteer experience, work experience as a PTA may give you a slight edge in admission, but this should not be the only reason you elect to go this route.

•  Are there any 2-year physical therapy assistant programs nearby?

•  There are four physical therapy assistant programs in Mississippi. These are two-year programs resulting in an associate degree after which you take a national licensing exam in order to be licensed to practice in Mississippi. The programs are at Pearl River Community College, Hinds Community College, Meridian Community College, and Itawamba Community College.

Did this document answer your questions? If not, please contact Dr. T.

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