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Physical Therapy

The goal of physical therapy is to help restore function, improve movement, manage pain, and prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs. Physical therapists spend time learning the functional limitations of their patients in order to make individualized treatment plans and to monitor improvement.

Some physical therapists specialize in a particular type of care (by patient age or type of therapy). Physical therapists often actively work with patients and spend a large portion of their days on their feet.

Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists.

Physical Therapists typically do the following:

  • Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers

  • Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods

  • Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patients’ goals and the expected outcomes of the plans

  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness

  • Evaluate and record a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed

  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how best to cope with challenges throughout the process

Important Qualities:

  • Compassion: Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.

  • Detail oriented: Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient’s problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.

  • Dexterity: Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.

  • Interpersonal skills: Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must be able to clearly explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients’ concerns to provide effective therapy.

  • Physical stamina: Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they demonstrate proper techniques and help patients perform exercises. They should enjoy physical activity.

  • Resourcefulness: Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and able to adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.



Required Coursework

Physical Therapy Profession Details
SubjectEmory CoursesPrerequisite for DPT
General Chemistry
(2 semesters)
CHEM 150 and 202 with labsYes
Introductory Biology
2 semesters
BIOL 141 and 142 with labsYes
2 semesters
PHYS 141 and 142 with labs
PHYS 151 and 152 with labs
Anatomy and
2 semesters
Please speak to your advisor about completing this course while at EmoryYes
1 semester
QTM 100 or ECON 220Many
1-2 semesters
Any course with PSYC prefixYes
2 semesters
Any course with ENG prefix, some courses with CPLT prefix, and CWRT courses in the English languageMany
1 semester
MATH 111 (or higher level)Some
Exercise Physiology
1 semester
No Emory Course EquivalentFew
Medical Terminology
1 semester
No Emory Course EquivalentFew


The chart is a list of common pre-DPT program requirements and the Emory course equivalents. The course prerequisites vary widely across programs. This list does not include all courses that may be required by DPT programs. Additionally, schools have differing policies for accepting AP/IB credits to fulfill prerequisites. Students are responsible for verifying the prerequisite coursework and AP/IB policies of the schools to which they plan to apply.

Helpful resources include the PTCAS Comparison of Prerequisites by Program and PTCAS Program Directory

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Students should review all information on the GRE section of PTCAS before submitting an application to test.

Length: 3 hours and 45 minutes

Sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing

Cost: The registration fee is $205 which includes the exam and scores sent to four schools. Sending scores to additional schools costs $27 each. Applicants with financial need may request a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate to cover 50% of the GRE fee.

Scores: Scores range from 260-340 Verbal and Quantitative Composite, and 0-6 Analytical Writing.

GRE Prep Resources: There are a variety of GRE prep resources, each differing in both cost and teaching style. PHA does not endorse any specific test prep resource, but we encourage you to explore each of the different options to determine which will best fit your needs. 

PHA does not endorse any specific preparation service or program.

School Selection

Number of schools: Students typically apply to between 5-8 Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.

Factors to consider:

  • Admission requirements: The prerequisite coursework and clinical experience requirements vary widely between each DPT program. Determine where you're eligible to apply based on the coursework you've completed or will complete before matriculation.

  • Location: Urban vs. rural setting, proximity to family, recreational opportunities, cost of living, etc. Additionally, think about where you will be doing your clinical work – types of hospitals/clinics, patient population, etc.

  • Mission Statements: You should look for schools with mission statements that fit with your own goals.

  • Curriculum: Seek out information about the curriculum and consider how it fits with your learning style.

  • Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available

Additional resources for school selection:

*Not affiliated with APTA. Always double check any information with PTCAS, APTA, or with the school itself.

Primary Applications

Applications for PTCAS are reviewed on a rolling basis. We recommend applying as early in the cycle as possible. For additional information on Centralized Application Services and Personal Statements, see the "Apply" section of the PHA website.

  • Centralized Application Service: PTCAS - Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service

  • Number of Participating Schools: Over 200

    • *There are currently 21 programs that do not participate in PTCAS. Check the individual websites of the non-participating schools for their application procedures.

  • Cost: $145 which includes one DPT program designation. Each additional school is $45.

  • Fee Assistance? Yes, through the PTCAS Fee Assistance Program, which includes a waiver for all PTCAS fees for the first DPT program designation on your application. Applicants will pay the $45 fee for all additional program designations.

  • Personal Statement Prompt: “What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?" 4,500 character limit

  • Application Timing: Students will apply in the summer of the year preceding their planned matriculation. PTCAS cycle opens late June/Early July.

  • Resources:

*Not affiliated with APTA. Always double check any information with PTCAS, APTA, or with the school itself.

Secondary Applications

The majority of participating PTCAS schools require a secondary application or supplemental materials. Information on each school's requirement is listed on the primary application. Required information may include a high school transcript, photo, fee, additional essays, and possibly other information (it varies widely by school). Some schools may allow their secondary application materials to be submitted directly through the PTCAS application, while others may request this material at a later time. Applicants should check the primary application to determine what supplemental material is required. For more information, see the PTCAS Supplemental Information page.

Recommendation Letters

Doctor of Physical Therapy programs typically require between 3-4 recommendation letters. PHA typically recommends at least one of your letters be from a science faculty member. Almost all DPT programs require an evaluation letter from a physical therapist. The other letters should be made up of professional references who can write compellingly about your personal qualities that will contribute to a successful career in physical therapy.

PTCAS allows you to submit up to four evaluators. Individual DPT programs sometimes ask for additional letters of evaluation separate from the PTCAS application.



After submitting the primary application, and secondary applications where required, students may receive interview offers any time between August-April in the year preceding matriculation. Not all DPT programs require an interview as part of the application process, but for the ones that do, the interview is a very important element in the application process. When a school invites you to an interview, they are indicating an interest in selecting you. The interview gives both of you the opportunity to exchange information to determine if you are a good “fit” for each other.

Schools use personal interviews with applicants to assess qualities such as self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and ability to overcome challenges. Be prepared to discuss why you wish to pursue a career in physical therapy and the experiences that have motivated you.


*Not affiliated with APTA, PTCAS, or any individual DPT program.

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