Explore: Physical Therapy

What is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists, or PTs, are health care professionals who evaluate and treat people with health problems resulting from injury or disease.  PTs assess joint motion, muscle strength and endurance, function of heart and lungs, and performance of activities required in daily living, among other responsibilities. Treatment includes therapeutic exercise, cardiovascular endurance training, and training in activities of daily living.  Although many physical therapists practice in hospitals, more than 70 percent practice in private physical therapy offices, community health centers, industrial health centers, sports facilities, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, schools or pediatric centers; work in research institutions; or teach in colleges and universities.

Physical therapists may now choose to become certified as clinical specialists in one of seven specialty areas: cardiopulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, and sports physical therapy.  A physical therapist may be eligible for specialty certification only after several years of clinical experience.

How Do I Become a PT?

After graduation from an accredited PT program, candidates must pass a state‑administered national exam for licensure.  Other requirements for physical therapy practice vary from state to state according to physical therapy practice acts or state regulations governing physical therapy.


Virtually all PT education programs have transitioned to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.  To maintain or be granted accreditation, programs will be required to award the DPT degree by 2015 and will have until 2017 to come into compliance with this decision. To practice as a physical therapist in the US, you must earn a PT degree from a CAPTE-accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam. DPT programs typically take 3 years to complete, depending on the specific requirements of the program.  All programs consist of basic and clinical medical science courses as well as clinical rotations/ internships, and many programs have a research component as well.

Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements can vary widely from school to school, but generally master’s and DPT programs expect a BA or BS with the following undergraduate curriculum:

NumberCourseUNH Course
1 yearAnatomy and Physiology with labBMS 507-508 or ANSC 511-512*
1 yearBiology with labBIOL 411-412
1 yearChemistry with labCHEM 403-404
1 yearPhysics with labPHYS 401-402 or PHYS 407-408
1 yearPsychologyAbnormal and Developmental Psychology are often required
1 yearEnglish 
1 semesterMath - Statistics (or other) 

*Visit the PTCAS directory to determine what type of anatomy and physiology courses are required for admission.

Some programs either require or strongly recommend exercise physiology (KIN 620), computer science, foreign language study, or additional coursework in the humanities or social sciences.  An applicant’s undergraduate major is not a factor in admission, so students may complete these prerequisites as major requirements, general education requirements, or as electives.  Many PT programs expect applicants to have had significant exposure to the profession, either through observation or volunteering. Students should consult the American Physical Therapy Association web page (www.APTA.org, Admissions Requirements for PT Programs) for listings of educational programs, and review individual schools to determine the specific requirements of the programs that they are interested in.

Master’s and DPT programs usually require the GRE exam.  The MCAT is not required. Many programs participate in the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). To view a list of programs, go to the PTCAS Directory at http://www.ptcas.org/home.aspx .The Directory features the admission prerequisites for each participating institution in a standardized format and in a set of comparison tables. For information on programs not participating in PTCAS, applications should be requested directly from the schools themselves. 

Further Information

The most current source of information is the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the unifying professional association for PTs.  Contact the APTA at:

1111 North Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
Phone: 800- 999-2782
Web: www.apta.org

Additional Resources


Sources: Most of the information in this brochure was taken from APTA literature.