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Choosing a Physical Therapy School

With so many schools boasting DPT programs, there is a plethora of options available for students seeking an advanced level of education. Whether or not a physical therapy school is a good fit depends on a number of factors. A few of these include the program’s distance from home, the cost of the program, and the teaching style utilized by the program.

There is a multitude of choices, and it can be difficult to know what to look for in a school before you’re actually enrolled in the program. As such, here are some suggestions to keep in mind when searching for the right physical therapy school:

Search for a physical therapy school near home

This is a key strategy for students when searching for both undergraduate and graduate school. Generally, students who attend out of state colleges will pay at least double, and sometimes nearly triple the money it would cost to attend a local school.

Not only are local schools cheaper, they can be significantly less stressful for a student, and living at home can encourage more opportunities than moving out of state. If the school is close, it gives students the convenience to continue living at home possibly even working part time.

Even if relocation to another part of the state is a must, students will not have to worry about switching their driver’s license, applying for residency, or getting new insurance.

Currently, there are physical therapy schools in 46 of the 50 states in the US.  The cheapest options will typically be public schools within your home state. However, if you find that you must move out of state to attend PT school, it is wise to apply for residency in your school’s state as soon as you can, which will likely save you a lot of money on tuition after your first year (if the school is a public school).

Many states require residents to have lived in, and paid taxes to for at least a year in their state. Individuals applying for residency must have proof in order to be granted residency. For those with a parent or a spouse in another state, most states require that they live there at least a year before the family member can claim residency for schooling.

Rising undergraduates should look for a 3+3 program

For students who have not yet begun prerequisite courses for physical therapy school, a 3+3 program is often the most efficient and least expensive way to complete your schooling. 3+3 programs are offered by several schools that have both undergraduate programs and physical therapy schools.

Generally, PT programs will require a 4-year bachelor’s degree prior to admittance to another 3 years of PT school. While this allows students to complete their prerequisite courses at a more relaxed pace (while receiving a broader range of coursework), it does take 7 years to earn a physical therapy degree this way.

The 3+3 program reduces the length of overall education required to be a PT. The first year of physical therapy school also counts as the final year of a bachelor’s degree, allowing the student to earn a doctorate in physical therapy in 6 years instead of 7.

These programs are designed for students who are already determined to become physical therapists, as they requires students to apply the 3+3 program within the first year of school.

Following acceptance, the student must maintain a GPA indicated by the college chosen for DPT school. After the initial 3 years of schooling, the student will begin the DPT program.

Investigate the little things

Many DPT programs will have information that is easily accessible on the school’s website. Things to keep in mind when choosing a program can include the following:

  • Class sizes, or teacher-student ratios, can be indicative of how much help an individual may receive in school. If class sizes are very large, teachers may have less time to answer questions, either in class or during office hours. Smaller class sizes typically allow teachers to answer more questions or hold discussions about topics, which can encourage additional participation and understanding.
  • Pass rates for the national physical therapy exam (NPTE) may or may not be posted on the school’s website, but can be found from other sources. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will post the average NPTE pass rates for each school during a period of 3 years. Higher pass rates for a particular school generally means that students are better prepared for the national test needed to become a PT.
  • Tutoring opportunities may be referenced online as well, and can otherwise be discussed with an advisor. Whether a student is searching specifically for a PT program or is otherwise looking for a school to begin prerequisite courses, getting acquainted with the tutoring center ahead of time can make the whole process easier in the future.
  • Teaching style is another very important aspect to consider when you apply to physical therapy school. There are two main types of teaching styles that can be used in PT programs: problem-based learning (PBL) and traditional learning. Problem-based learning involves students working in small groups to work through problems that may be encountered in a clinical setting. Traditional learning is what is most commonly used in universities, and involves lecturing from the professors in a more traditional format. PBL can encourage active participation in students but requires more dedication on the student’s part in order to learn the material.

Tour the facility and/or attend an information session

Many PT programs will have information sessions for interested candidates. Instructors will discuss course materials, the objectives of the program, and answer questions that prospective students might have. It is helpful to do research on the school ahead of time to write down any questions that may be unanswered on the program’s website.

During the tour, take the time to note how large the classrooms are (halls vs rooms) as well as the overall resources that will be at your disposal. Take note of the equipment that the PT department utilizes, if the technology looks new or outdated, and whether the lab/gym area appears to be a comfortable place for learning.

These are good indicators of how the next 3 years of your life will be spent and how current the program will be in terms of its curriculum.

Meet with an academic advisor

After finding what might be a suitable school for a physical therapy program, meeting with an advisor can further solidify any choice made. Advisors have further information about:

  • Whether previous credits will transfer fully transfer (this is especially helpful when transferring schools, especially to an out-of-state college)
  • Acceptance rates
  • Application procedures, including when, where, and what to submit when you apply to physical therapy school

Advisors may also have additional information about the school itself, including any housing or meal requirements that may be assigned to freshmen or sophomore students, the possibility of additional scholarships, transportation support around campus, and other general information about the school.

While there are many options for physical therapy school, sometimes compromises are necessary. Not every school is going to have the latest technology while still being affordable and close to home. Many schools may have larger class sizes, but employ problem-based learning so students can develop critical thinking skills within smaller groups.

It is best to make a checklist of what the most important facets of a physical therapy school will be. Often, minute disturbances in learning can be ignored if there is a good support system or tutoring center. Students, especially ones who have come so far as to be accepted into physical therapy school, are resilient; many “issues” with a school may end up being minor and can be overcome in time.

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About Chris Dinham

Chris Dinham
Chris is the owner of The PT Blog where he helps students and their parents choose the right PT school and path. He manages multiple authors who contribute to The PT Blog, ranging from current PT students to Doctors in Physical Therapy (DPT). He is passionate about helping students decide the right career path and helping them navigate through the schooling process. In his free time Chris enjoys surfing, snow skiing and photgraphy. Check out for more information.

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