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What Should You Major in to Become a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists generally major in biology or another foundational science as an undergraduate, and they undergo specialized training in physical therapy (PT) at the graduate level. All states require physical therapists to obtain licensure and at least a master's degree in order to practice. View article »

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Video Transcript

Education for Physical Therapists

Let's explore which major options and prerequisite coursework are recommended for aspiring physical therapists at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We'll review the prerequisite classes required for admission into a physical therapy/PT program, as well as licensing and career information.

Undergraduate preparation for physical therapists usually includes majoring in one of the foundational sciences, such as biology or physiology, though the specific major isn't necessarily important. For aspiring physical therapists, coursework is most important, as there are specific undergraduate prerequisites that must be completed in order to gain admission to a graduate PT program. The mandatory prerequisite classes are generally the same regardless of whichever major is chosen. PT prerequisite courses include, but are not always limited to:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

It's often recommended that undergraduates gain volunteer or internship experience with a physical therapy provider as well, since observation hours are a common requirement for entry to PT graduate programs.

At the graduate level, students study the methods and practices of the physical therapy profession. Graduate courses teach body movement and therapeutic techniques, as well as how to work with pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients. Students must typically participate in supervised clinical internships during the program.

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Licensure Requirements

Physical therapists in the United States are required to be licensed, though each state has different licensing criteria. In general, physical therapists must have graduated from an accredited program and must have passed national and state examinations. Continuing education requirements must usually be fulfilled in order to maintain licensure.

Salary and Employment Information

As of May 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median salary of $85,400 for physical therapists. According to the BLS, 34% of all physical therapists worked in PT offices and/or offices of speech therapists, occupational therapists, and audiologists in 2014. Twenty-seven percent of all physical therapists worked in hospitals in 2014. The remainder practiced in nursing facilities, physicians' offices, and home healthcare. The BLS predicts an increase in job openings of 34% from 2014 to 2024, especially in rural areas and locations with a larger elderly population.

Aspiring physical therapists have a diverse range of majors to choose from to be eligible for admission to a graduate PT program. More importantly, undergraduates must complete a number of mandatory prerequisite classes to be eligible for enrollment in a graduate PT program. All practicing physical therapists are required to obtain proper licensing. Specific requirements for licensure vary by state. With the growing number of job openings, a career in physical therapy is a great choice for someone interested in health, science, or human anatomy.

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