Pre-Physical Therapy Guide for New Incoming Students
This section provides information on planning for admission to physical therapy (PT) programs, beginning with your first semester in college. When you meet with an academic advisor during New Student Orientation, be sure you mention your intention to follow a pre-PT preparatory program. You will be subscribed to the Health Professions and Prelaw Center (HPPLC) mailing list, and receive information about important upcoming events, such as pre-PT Fall information sessions. Consult University Division resources for more information on planning for summer orientation.
Description of the Profession
Physical therapists (PTs) examine, diagnose, and administer treatment to individuals to restore function, relieve pain, and prevent disability following disease, injury, or loss of function; these examination and intervention activities are based upon research evidence. PTs can work in many different settings, and can develop specializations working with specific conditions. Physical therapy is one of the fastest growing health fields, and PTs are employed in many different settings. PTs must possess creative problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, patience, manual dexterity, physical stamina, and the ability to work closely with people from a variety of backgrounds.
The Degree Path
To become a practicing physical therapist you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), a clinical doctorate degree. Before being admitted to a PT program, you must successfully complete certain prerequisite courses and other admission requirements. Prerequisites are not the same for all PT programs, but most do require all or nearly all of the prerequisites listed on this page.
Choosing Your Degree and Major
Almost any degree and major is a good choice for pre-PT students, and most PT programs have no preference as to what major and degree you earn! There does not need to be an obvious connection between your major and PT. We recommend that you choose a major that interests you. It is also perfectly fine to be exploratory in the beginning, and to work with your academic advisor throughout the year to discover a major that is a good fit for you. Consult University Division resources to explore majors at IU.
Physical Therapy Course Admission Requirements
The courses required for admission vary from one physical therapy program to another. There is, however, a fair degree of prerequisite overlap across programs. By choosing from the courses listed in the section below you can be confident that you will begin to lay a foundation that will enable you to apply to a variety of PT programs. You can learn more about additional admission requirements later during the year.
Planning Your Fall Course Options
For your fall semester, you should begin with completing physical therapy required coursework, but you’ll also need to complete other courses for your particular undergraduate degree and major. Consult the University Division website on how to plan your fall course schedule for any of the majors you are considering.
Below is a partial list of IU DPT prerequisites, many of which are required by other PT programs, too. Try to register for 5-11 credits of these courses for the upcoming semester. We strongly advise that you not take more than one 5-credit course in the same semester.
As of this writing, the IU PT program generally accepts Advanced Placement credit as fulfilling prerequisites as long as the course is recorded on a college transcript and you received an AP score of 3 or higher. If you think you may have AP credit or other credit for one or more of the courses below, be sure to tell your Orientation advisor. For the most current policy, visit IU PT Admission Requirements
ANAT-A 215 (5 credits). (This course has limited seating and may not be available during your Orientation. If so, you can simply take it later.) We urge you to follow the anatomy study tips.
PHSL-P 215 (5 credits). Note that PHSL-P 215 is most appropriate if you have previously taken some anatomy and/or physiology in high school or college. (This course has limited seating and may not be available during your Orientation. If so, you can simply take it later.)
As a first step toward completing chemistry requirements, you should complete CHEM-C 117 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I (lecture) and CHEM-C 127 (lab). However, some students will need to complete a preparatory course before they are ready for CHEM-C 117/127. In order to determine your placement into chemistry, you should take the Chemistry Placement Exam.
PSY-P 101 (3 credits)
Human Lifespan Development
SPH-F 150, EDUC-P 314, or PSY-P 315 (each is 3 credits). (PSY-P 315 Developmental Psychology may fulfill requirements for a greater number of PT programs.)
Physics (two courses with lab)
PHYS-P 201 and P 202 or PHYS-P 221 and P 222 (10 credits total of physics; P 221/222 are calculus-based physics courses; ask your advisor about physics prerequisites). If you were very successful in a recent, challenging high school physics class, then, depending on factors such as your Math Skills Assessment, you should discuss with an academic advisor whether physics is an appropriate choice for the upcoming term.
Most PT programs accept almost any 300-level statistics course. You should consult with an academic advisor about whether you are ready to enrol in statistics during freshman year.
Additional Planning Notes; AP Credit
- For most DPT programs, science prerequisite courses must be major-level courses to count for admission. If placement exams recommend or require you to take a prep course or prerequisite prior to a required course, don't worry: with careful planning (and consultation with an academic advisor) you can still stay on track.
- Some PT programs may not accept Advanced Placement (AP credit), credit-by-exam, or exemption from degree requirements in place of admission requirements, or may only accept such credit under specific circumstances. If you have placement credit and/or exemptions, you will eventually need to check with programs to confirm their policies.
Your Course Load
A normal course load for most preprofessional students is 14-16 total credit hours. That means you’ll probably be enrolling in from four to six classes. During New Student Orientation, an academic advisor will help you double-check your options, choose appropriate courses, and plan an appropriate course load in which you’ll be able to be successful.
Other Activities for Pre-Physical Therapy Students
Clinical observation (or job shadowing) is a requirement for admission to most DPT programs. Clinical observation can also help you decide if a career in physical therapy is the best choice for you, or whether you need to explore other fields. Furthermore, extensive observation in a variety of settings can help you become a more competitive applicant to PT programs.
We strongly suggest you undertake some observation prior to beginning classes in the fall, but then use your freshman year to acclimate yourself to college, and to the increased demands of IUB courses. After freshman year, continue with more clinical observation, both in-patient and out-patient. Log your shadowing hours and take some notes during your experiences. Refer to the PT Clinical Observation page for more detailed suggestions.