Writing Essays For Pt School

So, you’ve decided you want to be a physical therapist? Congratulations! That means you’ve decided to pursue pretty much the best career the world can offer. Unfortunately, the idea of actually applying to PT school can be pretty daunting, but I’m here to help! Hopefully I can make the process a little easier by passing on a few pieces of advice I found helpful back in my application days. These are either things I wish I had known when I was applying or tips I heard firsthand from professors, PT’s, previous students, etc. I hope they’ll be useful for you as well:

1. Think about what you want out of a school

One of the most difficult parts of applying to PT school is figuring out how you’re even going to start narrowing down the 220-something schools to just a handful that you are interested in. Before you dive in, make a list of characteristics you want your school to have. Some things to consider might be:

  • Location
  • Cost of tuition
  • Class size
  • Research opportunities
  • International opportunities
  • Clinical schedule/requirements
  • APTA Involvement
  • And many more!

Do some research and don’t apply to any schools that don’t fit ALL your criteria. If you want a large class, don’t apply to a school that will only admit 20 students. If you don’t want to move to Texas, don’t even look at the schools in Texas. Also, make sure you know why you are applying to each school—If you can’t explain specifically what jumps out to you about a particular school, you probably shouldn’t be applying there. The PT school application is just as much about you figuring out which is the right school for you as it is about each school figuring out who is best for them.

Some first years at the top of Estes Cone in October–funny how long ago that seems now!

2. Be honest with yourself as an applicant

Be a well-rounded applicant! Know where your weaknesses are and make up for them by being strong elsewhere. For example, if you don’t have the highest GPA, then you should take the time to study for that pesky GRE to boost your academic profile. Don’t make excuses about your weaknesses, but instead be able to articulate what you’ve done to overcome those setbacks. Find other ways to strengthen your application outside of academics: volunteer, get observation hours in a variety of PT settings, take extra time on your essays, or rack up some more extracurricular activities. Here are a few more things you can do if you feel like you might not stand out next to someone with a 4.0 who was president of 17 different clubs:

  • Apply to schools that conduct interviews so you can sell yourself in person.
  • Do a little extra research to find the schools that are going to look at you as more of a whole person rather than primarily emphasizing GPA and GRE scores.
  • Apply to schools with less applicant volume so you have less competition.
  • Look at the school’s acceptance statistics (e.g. what percent of in-state vs. out-of-state applicants they accept) to see what your chances are of getting in.

Survivor contestants and Jeff Probst: we take Halloween very seriously.

3. Don’t apply to too many schools

It might seem like applying to 20 different schools is playing it safe, but here’s the catch: not only does it take a lot of time to complete all those supplemental applications, but every school comes with a fee of its own and you have to pay to send your GRE scores to each one. Think about it: say you get into all 20 schools. You are probably seriously considering less than half of them, so you’ve already wasted time and money by just submitting an application to the schools you don’t really want to go to. My point is, only apply to schools you know you can see yourself at. You also need to take into account the cost of visiting each school, which brings me to my next piece of advice.

A post-finals ski trip to celebrate surviving our first semester!

4. Visit a school before you make a decision

The best way to get a feel for your fit in a DPT program is to go to the school and see it for yourself. You can email current students and professors all you want, but it’s not the same as actually seeing the campus and talking to those people in person. You would hate to show up for your first day of class and realize you don’t want to be there! On the flip side, you might be on the fence about a certain program and then fall in love with it once you’re there. If a school requires an interview, obviously you have to visit. That’s how I knew I wanted to go to Regis – everything about the interview day made me feel welcome, and I felt a better connection with the program than I had with either of the other two schools I had already visited. I had also gotten accepted into a program that didn’t have interviews, but when I visited the school on my own time, I realized I did not see myself there at all. So even if you get accepted to a school that doesn’t do interviews, you should definitely take the time to visit on your own before choosing it.

Trekking up waterfalls on the Subway hike during our summer break trip to Zion National Park

5. Location matters

You may be thinking, “PT school is only 3 years, so I don’t really care where I live as long as I’ll be at a good school.” Although location might not be a top priority for everyone, it’s still something to consider. Remember that PT school is hard, so you are going to need a sanity break every once in a while. That means you want to be in a location you know you would enjoy when you need to escape all the studying. (For me, and for a lot of us at Regis, having the mountains nearby is perfect.) Moral of the story: make sure wherever you end up, you have access to something you like to do for fun.

Some of the first years took our service dog-in-training, Zuma, to Estes Park this summer!

6. Rankings DON’T matter

While it might feel pretty cool to get into the top ranked PT school in the nation, remember that every accredited program is going to teach you the skills you need to be a good physical therapist. Sure, you should look at academic statistics such as first-time pass rates, but what else about the school stands out to you? (See tip #1.) Don’t feel bad about yourself if you are not applying to super highly ranked schools—they will all ultimately get you to where you want to be!

Trampoline parks aren’t just for little kids’ birthday parties

7. Student debt is real

They say ignorance is bliss, but you wouldn’t want to ignore all your loans until graduation and then find out you’ve racked up a ton of debt. This is, by no means, a lesson in finance, but you do need be realistic with yourself. Consider the cost of attendance of the schools you are applying to and figure out this will affect your financial planning. Also, try to have a basic understanding of how financial aid works so you are prepared to manage it while you’re still in school. That being said, you should still go with your gut when choosing schools and don’t base your decision on money alone. Remember, your education is an investment for you to pursue a profession for which you are passionate.

Giving snowshoeing a try at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

8. Don’t procrastinate

This seems self-explanatory, but coming from personal experience, it is really easy to put things off and end up submitting your applications a little too close to the deadline for comfort. Give your references plenty of time to write their recommendations, but more importantly, give yourself more than enough time to write your essays and personal statement. Know the individual requirements for each school so you aren’t scrambling to get things together at the last minute. If you’re like me and you can never seem to kick the bad habit of procrastination, make your applications like homework or a job. Set aside a few times per week to work on them, and assign yourself deadlines (that you will actually stick to—be realistic and make manageable goals!) to hold yourself accountable.

And that’s a wrap on semester 2!

9. Be able to explain why you want to be a physical therapist

Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your application. It is every admissions team’s snapshot into who you are as a person. Before you start, you should write a mini essay about exactly why you want to be a PT (this was a requirement for me in an undergrad class, but I would recommend doing it because it was extremely helpful). Go below the surface-level answer, of “I want to help people” and instead make it personal: add your own anecdotes, style, and voice. Also make sure your reasoning isn’t too general; describe specifically why you were drawn to PT, and don’t allow the same reasons to be applicable to other careers. Make it clear that you understand what a PT does! It’ll be challenging, but once you are able to put all that into words, you will be able to transfer a lot of it to your real personal statement, no matter the prompt. Then you should get it proofread as much as possible. Ask a PT, your favorite professor, your high school English teacher, your neighbor’s son’s girlfriend’s uncle—whomever you think would provide good feedback and help you make your statement as strong as possible.

Learning new skills at the APTA Colorado Chapter’s spring conference

10. Take a risk and be adventurous!

Finally, this is my own personal piece of advice. The closest PT school to my home in Portland is only 19 miles away. The closest school I actually applied to is a whopping 996 miles away. Why? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Pacific Northwest and I by no means wanted to “get out.” It’s just that I stayed in Oregon for undergrad (go Beavs) and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try somewhere entirely new for a change. Maybe that mindset isn’t for everyone, but whether you’re coming straight from undergrad or starting a whole new career, taking on PT school is life-changing no matter how close you are to home. It was definitely scary moving away from all my friends and family, but I love having this new home with new friends and new hobbies all separate from that other part of my life. So just consider stepping a little further outside of what you’re comfortable with; it might be fun to take on a little extra risk and you will be all the more stronger for it.

Taking in the views at our campsite in Zion National Park

I hope these tips ease some application anxiety and help you feel a little more prepared for the fun that is PTCAS. If you stay organized and keep this advice in mind as you tackle your applications, the whole process will be a lot less stressful. Good luck!

Kelsie Jordan graduated from Oregon State University and is currently finishing her first year at Regis. Kelsie loves to line dance, the outdoors, and is the admissions representative for the Class of 2019.




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Topic: What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapist degree program?

Professionalism, in the general sense, is upholding one's own profession to the highest standard. As a student in a doctor of physical therapy program, professionalism means to continuously expand my knowledge on rehabilitation, make strides to communicate with colleagues and patients alike, and uphold a set of ethical and fair morals. A commitment to the aforementioned duties will shape my future as a graduate student and as a rehabilitation professional.

It is without a doubt that without knowledge, there will be no progress. Someone who is ignorant to traditional or "old-fashioned" methods of treatment will be able to treat a certain number of patients. As a student pursuing a career in physical therapy (PT), I will always look forward to learning about new methods to treat a patient of his or her pain and/or discomfort. There is no such thing as knowing enough since there will always be new cases of patients who will require special and individualized treatments. Being able to experience a clinical environment firsthand, I was able to see how knowledge is power when it came to treating patients. Throughout my internships at several physical therapy clinics, the PTs continuously educated the patient and I throughout the entire interaction. She was explaining her approach to treating her patients while making sure both the patient and I understood what the problem is and what the protocol for treatment is. Being able to confidently teach something so specialized, like rehabilitation, is a key goal of mine to achieve in a graduate program.

As people, we are all subject to a set of rules and laws which are in place to maintain the environment from running amok as well as protection. Being a PT student is no different. In fact, we are held to a much higher standard because we are learning to deal and help others in pain on a daily basis. During my internship, I was given the opportunity to work with patients by explaining and guiding them through their prescribed exercises of the day. Oftentimes, they were patients who only needed complete their strengthening exercises and they were free to go. Given that I wasn't allowed to touch a patient, guiding the patients can get tricky. Although challenging, it was a great learning experience to teach the patient in a way that allows the patient to learn. It taught me how it important it is to be able to communicate with patients in an effective manner, which is a quality that makes up professionalism. Proper communication is definitely pertinent to a career like physical therapy, in order for both the therapist and the client to have true altruistic relationship.

Not sure where to go from here, I just wrote this without much planning. Had to start somewhere
Feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Hi Howard, honestly, as I go through the essay, I must say that the words you use in your sentences are very clear, it exudes the clarity of the ideas that you want to convey in your answer. Though the prompt is quiet heavy and geared towards a serious standing on professionalism, I believe you manage to express a positive and rather lighter meaning to the word and its meaning.

Further to your essay, you we're having doubts with the last few sentences of the essay due to the fact that you have exhausted all the pertinent information for the topic and as much as I would like reading your essay, I think you have stretched the idea too long that you run out of information to fulfill the answer to the prompt. However, you don't need to, I believe, aside from the minor enhancements as mentioned above, you can definitely focus on refining the sentence construction as this is a crucial part of the essay.

Overall, it is a well managed essay, the length can still be dragged down to just 2 paragraphs but make sure that you don't eliminate the necessary information and don't worry, a prompt like this doesn't need to be that long, it's just needs to be straight forward and direct to the point.

Hi Howard,
You have a great start to your essay so far! Your writing seems focused, clear, and academic, so nice job there!

Are you looking to extend your essay or just write a conclusion? If you are looking to extend it, it might be helpful to think about boundaries, as professionalism and boundaries tend to go hand in hand. Some examples of boundaries and general professionalism could be:

-not fraternizing with clients about non-work related things or maybe letting them feel like you might be able to have a non-PT related relationship (like friends or even more

-ensuring that your touch and all of your actions are professional
- being reliable, on time, etc...
-being ethical (not taking advantage of clients)

There are tons of ways to write about being professional.

That's really all I have for you today. Hope I haven't misinterpreted what you were asking. Take care.

@Hiddengrace I was stuck on what else to add on or just if i should add on in general. I felt like my essay wasn't as personal as I thought it could be but I don't write enough to know good writing or not. I'm just stuck on if I should include some type of conclusion at the end. Also, definitely appreciate the examples of being professionalism. I couldn't brainstorm anymore ideas aside from mine.

@justivy03 I will try to shorten it. I felt that a prompt that is given a 4000 character max limit should have a decent amount of writing. I wasn't sure if too little was going to be mad, because I've seen some really short and really long ones and tried to hit the midpoint lengthwise. For my two body paragraphs, I tried to explain my take on the qualities of professionalism I've brought up with real life examples I've experienced through observation. I can see why you would think I was getting a little repetitive, trying to fluff up my essay.

Thank you guys so much! Will be revising my essay this week with your help

I was actually just reading something about this prompt and a lot of people said they found it confusing. They said because they don't ask specifically about your views, experiences, or opinions on professionalism, that made figuring out what to write tricky. However, I think that's exactly what the prompt is asking. This is the website I am referring to and there are some good ideas on how to structure the essay in the very last comment, so give that a read.It might be helpful for you. This will also give you some ideas on what to write and how to make your essay more personal.


Also, you still have a good amount of words to write with, it looks like. I would suggest editing what you have in order to make it more succinct and less wordy. Then you will definitely have extra room to talk more about professionalism, your personal experiences, and add a nice conclusion.

As fas as being on topic, I think the prompt is actually pretty general for a reason. They discuss that, too, in the above link.

Here are some resources for you:

Professionalism in general: greensheet.com/gs_archive.php?issue_number=050801&story=12

Professionalism in PT: pittphysicaltherapy.com/join-our-cause/apta-core-values

These might help you with more ideas.

Hope I've given you some good resources! I'd like to see your edited draft, so post it to this thread when it's done.

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