Physical Therapy Preparation Guide

To practice as a physical therapist in the U.S., you must earn a doctor of physical therapy degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam. The length of professional DPT programs is typically three years.

Admission Considerations:

Most DPT programs require applicants to earn a bachelor's degree prior to admission. Some programs offer a 3+3 curricular format in which three years of specific pre-professional (undergraduate/pre-PT) courses must be taken before the student can advance into a three-year professional DPT program. Other requirements vary by state. For example, some states also require a law exam and a criminal background check. Check with your state board for specific licensing requirements. After gaining work experience, some physical therapists choose to become a board-certified specialist. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in clinical specialty areas of physical therapy, such as orthopedics, sports, and geriatrics. Board specialist certification requires passing an exam and completing clinical work in the specialty area.

Academic Pre-Requisites:

PLEASE NOTE – The following courses should be taken for letter grades (not P/NP). AP scores may not be accepted for the courses listed below.

  • The most commonly required course prerequisites are:
    • Anatomy 1 (or A&P 1 with lab)
    • Physiology 1 (or A&P 2 with lab)
    • Biology 2.1
    • Biology 2.2
    • Chemistry 3A/AL
    • Chemistry 3B
    • General Physics 20A
    • General Physics 20B
    • Psychology 1A
    • Math 15 (Statistics)
    • Some programs my require additional courses such as:
      • PSYCH 5; CHEM 8 or 12A; MICRO 5 or 60; Biochemistry and/or Calculus

PLEASE NOTE: There is no particular undergraduate major required to be eligible for admission to a DPT program. The most common undergraduate majors include exercise science, biology, kinesiology, and psychology.

  • Many programs require applicants to have volunteer or paid experiences working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.
  • Some universities offer Bachelor degree programs with a pre-physical therapy option (not required for graduate school admission).

Check each individual university to determine which specific prerequisite courses must be completed. In addition, use to determine all lower-division major preparation courses required for your chosen major if you are transferring to a CSU (California State University) or UC (University of California).