If you’re looking into a career as a physical therapist, one of the biggest questions on your mind is likely “How hard is physical therapy school?”. The answer is that while PT school is challenging, it’s very doable if you’re motivated and willing to put in the work.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll give you an honest look at the difficulty level of DPT programs. We’ll cover the academic course load, clinical rotations, competitive admissions, and more. Read on for a realistic idea of what to expect if you pursue this rewarding healthcare career path.

Rigorous Academic Coursework

Physical therapy school is known for its rigorous academic coursework, requiring students to have a strong foundation in science and healthcare. The coursework is designed to prepare students for the complex and demanding field of physical therapy.

Heavy Science Pre-Reqs

Before even entering physical therapy school, students are required to complete a set of heavy science prerequisites. These prerequisites typically include courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology.

These courses lay the foundation for understanding the human body and its functions, which is crucial for success in physical therapy school.

Anatomy, Physiology, and Kinesiology Courses

Once in physical therapy school, students dive deeper into the study of the human body through anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology courses. These courses provide a comprehensive understanding of the musculoskeletal system, how it functions, and the principles of movement.

Students learn about the different body systems and how they interact with each other, gaining the knowledge necessary to assess and treat patients effectively.

Physical Therapy Specific Courses

In addition to the foundational science courses, physical therapy school also includes specific courses focused on physical therapy techniques and interventions. These courses cover topics such as therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, neurological rehabilitation, and pediatric physical therapy.

Students learn the practical skills and techniques needed to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide range of physical conditions.

Ongoing Tests, Quizzes, and Projects

Throughout their time in physical therapy school, students are constantly evaluated through tests, quizzes, and projects. The workload can be intense, with multiple exams and assignments to complete each week.

This ongoing assessment ensures that students are mastering the material and are prepared for the challenges they will face in their future careers as physical therapists.

Physical therapy school is certainly not easy, but it is a rewarding and fulfilling journey for those who are passionate about helping others. With dedication, hard work, and a strong support system, students can successfully navigate the rigorous academic coursework and emerge as knowledgeable and skilled physical therapists.

Clinical Education and Rotations

One of the most crucial aspects of physical therapy school is the clinical education and rotations. This is where students get hands-on experience working with patients under the guidance of experienced clinicians.

Hands-On Patient Care

During clinical rotations, students have the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom to real patients. This includes conducting assessments, developing treatment plans, and providing hands-on interventions.

It is a valuable learning experience that helps students develop their clinical reasoning and decision-making skills.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), clinical education accounts for approximately 30% of a physical therapy student’s education. This emphasizes the importance placed on practical training in preparing students for their future careers.

Variety of Healthcare Settings

Physical therapy students have the chance to experience a wide range of healthcare settings during their clinical rotations. This can include hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, sports medicine facilities, and even home healthcare.

Each setting offers unique challenges and opportunities for learning.

Exposure to different settings allows students to gain a comprehensive understanding of the diverse patient populations they may encounter in their careers. It also helps them develop the flexibility and adaptability required to provide effective care in various environments.

Long Hours on Your Feet

Physical therapy is a physically demanding profession, and this is reflected in the long hours students spend on their feet during clinical rotations. Treating patients requires constant movement and hands-on interaction, which can be physically exhausting.

Students must be prepared to stay active and on their feet for extended periods while maintaining focus and providing quality care to their patients. This aspect of physical therapy school helps students build stamina and resilience, preparing them for the demands of the profession.

Meeting Patient Expectations

During clinical rotations, students not only learn how to deliver effective treatments but also how to meet the expectations and needs of their patients. This includes building rapport, communicating effectively, and providing compassionate care.

Patients come to physical therapy with a variety of goals and expectations, and it is the responsibility of the student to understand and address them. This aspect of clinical education helps students develop the interpersonal skills necessary for establishing strong therapeutic relationships with their future patients.

Competitive Admissions

Physical therapy school admissions can be highly competitive, and applicants are expected to meet certain criteria in order to be considered for admission. Here are some key factors that contribute to the competitiveness of the admissions process:

High GPA Expectations

Physical therapy programs typically have high expectations when it comes to GPA. Applicants are often required to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher, although some programs may have even higher standards.

A strong academic record is seen as an indicator of a student’s ability to handle the rigorous coursework in physical therapy school.

Relevant Healthcare Experience

In addition to a high GPA, physical therapy programs also value relevant healthcare experience. This can include working as a physical therapy aide, volunteering in a healthcare setting, or shadowing a physical therapist.

Having hands-on experience in the field demonstrates a genuine interest in the profession and a commitment to pursuing a career in physical therapy.

Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation play a significant role in the admissions process. Programs typically require applicants to submit letters from professors, healthcare professionals, or employers who can speak to their skills, work ethic, and potential to succeed in the field.

These letters provide insight into the applicant’s character and abilities, giving admissions committees a better understanding of their potential as a physical therapy student.

GRE Scores

Many physical therapy programs require applicants to submit their scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE is a standardized test that assesses verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills.

Strong GRE scores can help applicants stand out in a competitive pool of candidates.

Interviews and Essays

Some physical therapy programs may also require applicants to participate in interviews and submit essays as part of the admissions process. These interviews and essays provide an opportunity for applicants to showcase their communication skills, passion for the field, and personal experiences that have shaped their interest in physical therapy.

It is important for applicants to be well-prepared and articulate during these stages of the admissions process.

It’s important to note that while these factors contribute to the competitiveness of physical therapy school admissions, each program may have its own specific requirements and criteria. It’s essential for prospective students to thoroughly research and understand the admissions process for the programs they are interested in.

For more information on physical therapy school admissions, you can visit the American Physical Therapy Association website, which provides resources and guidance for aspiring physical therapy students.

Time Commitment

3 Years of Full-Time Study

Physical therapy school is a rigorous program that requires a significant time commitment. Typically, students can expect to spend three years in full-time study to complete their degree. This duration allows for a comprehensive education in the field, covering a wide range of topics and skills necessary to become a licensed physical therapist.

40+ Hours Per Week of Classes/Clinics

During their time in physical therapy school, students can anticipate spending over 40 hours per week attending classes and participating in clinical rotations. This demanding schedule ensures that students receive hands-on experience in various healthcare settings, honing their skills and preparing them for real-world patient care.

Extensive Outside Studying

Physical therapy school requires more than just attending classes and clinics. Students are expected to engage in extensive outside studying to grasp complex concepts and stay up-to-date with the latest research and advancements in the field.

This may involve reviewing textbooks, conducting research, and collaborating with classmates on group projects.

Balancing Life Outside PT School

While physical therapy school demands a considerable time commitment, it is essential for students to find a balance between their academic pursuits and personal life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in extracurricular activities, and spending time with family and friends can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout.

It is important for students to prioritize self-care and seek support when needed.

For more information on the time commitment required in physical therapy school, you can visit www.apta.org. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) provides valuable resources for prospective and current physical therapy students.


In summary, physical therapy school requires dedication, hard work, and perseverance. The course load is intense, and you’ll put in long hours on academics and clinical work. However, if you have the motivation and support, it’s a very rewarding path.

With passion and commitment, you can graduate ready to improve patients’ lives as a licensed DPT.

If you’re up for the challenge, a physical therapy career offers great opportunities to help others and advance in a growing healthcare field. Just be prepared for three years of rigorous coursework and hands-on training. Know it will require sacrifice, but will pay off enormously in the end!

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