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Prerequisites to Attend School for Becoming a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists require several years of formal graduate education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Physical therapists help patients who are ill or injured to manage their pain or improve their range of movement. A graduate degree and state licensing is required. The following article provides an overview of educational requirements, including what is needed for admission to a physical therapy program, and the job outlook for a career as a physical therapist.

Essential Information

Physical therapists (PTs) diagnose and set up treatment plans for people with movement issues due to accidents, disease or aging. A Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) is the minimum degree needed to pursue a career as a PT, though a doctorate in the field is more common. PTs also need to be licensed by the state they work in, and board certifications are available.

Required Education Doctorate
Other Requirements State licensure, optional certification
Projected Job Growth 34% between 2014 and 2024*
Median Salary (2015) $84,020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Prerequisites Needed to Become a Physical Therapist

Applicants to MPT programs generally must hold a bachelor's degree in a science-related discipline, such as applied science, athletic training, biology, chemistry, exercise science, psychology or rehabilitation sciences. Many colleges and universities allow students to declare themselves pre-physical therapy for advising purposes, but they don't offer pre-physical therapy as an undergraduate major.

Working with an adviser can ensure that applicants meet MPT course prerequisites, of which there typically are many. Before beginning an MPT program, students at most physical therapy schools must complete classes in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, molecular and cellular biology, general chemistry and physics. Additional prerequisites might include statistics, biomechanics and kinesiology.

Additionally, applicants to MPT programs are generally asked to submit letters of recommendation and scores for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Some physical therapy departments also request a statement of purpose, outlining an applicant's academic and professional goals.

MPT applicants often need to provide proof of clinical experience with a licensed physical therapist. This experience can usually be completed on a voluntary or paid basis, as long as it meets the minimum hourly requirement set forth by a school's physical therapy department.

Licensure Information

After a student has earned an MPT from an accredited physical therapy program, he or she must attain a state-level license to practice. Requirements for licensure vary, but generally include passage of the National Physical Therapy Examination, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states require additional jurisprudence exams. Licensed physical therapists must take continuing education courses to keep their licenses current.

Career and Job Outlook Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed physical therapists is expected to grow 34% between 2014 and 2024, which is significantly faster than average. Because many of these professionals are concentrated in major urban centers, job opportunities may be particularly strong in rural regions. The median annual wage for physical therapists as of May 2015 was $84,020, reports the BLS.

After completing a graduate-level degree program, physical therapists provide care to patients of all ages who are experiencing trouble with physical bodily functioning due to illness or injury. A bachelor's degree in a science-related subject is usually required for entry into a physical therapy graduate program. Physical therapists must meet education requirements and pass an exam to be licensed by the state in which they practice.

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