Academics & Coursework

Before applying, physical therapy schools expect that applicants develop certain competencies. Students develop some of these competencies through undergraduate coursework, while they develop others through experiences outside the classroom. Physical therapy schools review your application, looking for indicators that you have developed these competencies. They will expect you to have completed certain coursework and maintained a certain GPA to demonstrate academic readiness for graduate school.

Choosing a major #

Physical therapy programs do not require a particular major for admission. Pre-PT students may select any major and degree to combine with the courses required for admission to physical therapy school. You should select a major in which you are genuinely interested, in which you can excel, and one that provides latitude to pursue an alternate career path if you choose not to attend physical therapy school.

Although you can choose any major, pre-PT students need to complete a challenging set of prerequisite coursework in the sciences. In addition, pre-PT students need to develop strong critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills. Coursework in the humanities and social and behavioral sciences can help you build skills in these latter areas.

While some majors may be “common” or “popular” among pre-PT students, that does not mean that these majors are preferred by admissions committees or are more competitive majors for admission. Rather than choosing a major based on what you think will “look good” on an application, choose a major that interests you and will provide the foundation for multiple career pathways.

Prerequisite coursework #

Each physical therapy program establishes its own course prerequisites for admission, and course requirements vary from school to school. The most commonly required courses include anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and statistics. Course requirements for Indiana University’s physical therapy program in the School of Health and Human Sciences are listed below.

Some PT programs may not accept Advanced Placement (AP) credit, credit-by-exam, or exemption from degree requirements to fulfill admission requirements, or may only accept such credit under specific circumstances. Research program requirements and contact programs if you have AP credit or credit-by-exam.

As a pre-PT student, you should plan to apply to multiple schools. Begin researching their requirements early to determine what additional courses are required for admission. You should contact programs to confirm that the suggested IU Bloomington coursework fulfills their requirements. The PTCAS website provides a summary of program prerequisites for all physical therapy schools as well as detailed information on the application requirements for each program.

Course requirements for IU School of Health and Human Sciences #

Students planning to apply to IU’s PT program on the IUPUI campus should complete the coursework below and review IU’s admissions requirements on their DPT program website.

Course Requirements for IU School of Health and Human Sciences1, 2 IU Bloomington course(s) that can fulfill the requirement
Human Anatomy with lab ANAT-A 215
Human Physiology with lab PHSL-P 215 or BIOL-P 451
General Chemistry I & II with labs CHEM-C117/127 and CHEM-C 118
General Physics I & II with labs PHYS-P 201 and 202 or PHYS-P 221 and 222
Statistics3 PSY-K 300, SPH-Q 381, STAT-S 303, or equivalent
Introductory Psychology PSY-P 101 or 155
Lifespan Development4 SPH-F 150, EDUC-P 314, or PSY-P 315 (P: PSY-P 101 and PSY-P 102; or PSY-P 155)
Medical Terminology5 CLAS-C 209
  1. All prerequisite courses must be at least 3 credit hours (with the exception of Medical Terminology) and completed with a grade of ‘C’ or higher. Online courses are acceptable except for science courses with labs. Dual credit courses are acceptable if recorded on a college transcript with a grade. Courses taken for AP credit and completed with a score of 3 or higher are also acceptable if they appear on a university transcript. CLEP tests are not accepted. Students may retake up to 15 credit hours of prerequisite courses. One prerequisite course may be outstanding at the time of application.

  2. Human anatomy, human physiology, chemistry, and physics must be courses for science majors.

  3. Must include both descriptive and inferential statistics.

  4. Course must include entire lifespan of human development from conception to death (infant to old age).

  5. Required for matriculation, not admission. Formal coursework or online instruction with certificate of completion (even if 0 credit hours) are acceptable.

Additional course guidelines for IU Bloomington students

For other PT programs you may also need to take a combination of some of the coursework below. Research programs early to find out what courses you will need to apply for admission. Note that many programs require coursework in biology and pre-PT students should plan to take BIOL-L 112.

  • Biology: BIOL-L 112 and, if a lab is required, BIOL-L 113.
  • Abnormal Psychology: PSY-P 324.
  • Exercise Physiology: SPH-K 409.
  • Biomechanics: SPH-K 391.

Academic record and GPA #

Your undergraduate GPA is one of the primary ways physical therapy schools will evaluate your application for admission. Physical therapy schools review your undergraduate transcript and the grades you have earned in your courses as a way to evaluate academic competencies that you have gained.  Grades are considered to be a reliable predictor of how you would perform in physical therapy school. Admissions committees look at your undergraduate transcript for indications of whether you will have the intellectual abilities and self-discipline to succeed in the demanding PT school curriculum. 

Most programs have a minimum undergraduate cumulative GPA requirement of 3.0 or higher and require all prerequisites be completed with a grade of “C” or higher. Keep in mind that the minimum required prerequisite grades are rarely competitive for admission.

What is a competitive GPA? The mean cumulative undergraduate GPA for accepted students nationally in 2017 was 3.59. For the 2020 entering PT class at the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences the mean cumulative undergraduate GPA was 3.77. As a pre-physical therapy student, aim for a cumulative GPA of 3.6 or higher to be academically competitive. GPA is not the only factor in admission, but a low GPA cannot be overcome by other factors in admission.

Calculation of GPA #

Physical therapy schools will evaluate your performance in all coursework you take as an undergraduate. Be aware that grades in prerequisite courses essentially count double during the admission process as they are calculated into your cumulative undergraduate GPA and prerequisite GPA.

We strongly urge freshmen and transfer students to focus on academics and making the transition to challenging IUB coursework. Strong academic performance is the crucial foundation upon which a successful application is built.

Course retakes #

When you apply to physical therapy school your GPA will be calculated by PTCAS, the centralized application service. PTCAS does not replace grades when you repeat a course. If you repeat a course, both the original and the new grade will count toward your cumulative undergraduate GPA.

Physical therapy programs will also evaluate your prerequisite GPA, or sometimes your math/science prerequisite GPA. Some physical therapy programs will allow a certain number of retakes or repeated credit hours to be counted towards your prerequisite GPA. However, before you retake a course to try to earn a higher grade, you should speak with an advisor and carefully consider all the ramifications of your decision.

Parallel planning #

What is parallel planning? It's a smart strategy to ensure your success. There are many possible paths to your goal of a healthcare career! Some students convince themselves that there is only one career for them – but the truth is that you could potentially be successful in a wide number of fields. A parallel plan is a plan you create that you can pursue right alongside your first choice of a career. Pre-health science courses can be challenging, and parallel planning allows you to efficiently change paths at some point if you discover you do not like or no longer want to pursue your primary career path.

How could you create a parallel plan? Explore your interests, goals, and values. Meet with a career advisor. Think about other goals you would like to achieve alongside being an physical therapist – for instance, would you like to encourage healthy lifestyles, improve global health, or develop new treatments through research? Your answers to these questions may help indicate additional career paths through which you could find meaning and success.