Leveraging Yourself As A Student-Athlete When Applying To Physical Therapy School

“As a student-athlete, I haven’t had time to do much else.” As a collegiate athlete applying to physical therapy school, you may think you’re behind the 8-ball because you didn’t have the time to complete full-time internships, study abroad, or have a ton of campus involvement. Was all that time you put into honing your craft on the court/field really worth it when it comes to your future career? The answer is YES! Being a student-athlete is the best decision you have ever made in preparing yourself for graduate school and the professional world.

As an athlete, you have learned and developed skills that are directly transferrable to the profession of physical therapy and PT school itself. Everything you learn both on and off the field is not a back-up plan for life after sports, it is part of the rest-of-life plan for life after sports. Being a collegiate athlete requires rigorous mental and physical demands that directly correlate to the demands of physical therapy school. PT school is fast-paced, challenging, yet rewarding, just like the sport that you have dedicated yourself to. Student athletes embody exactly what admissions committees and employers are looking for: leadership, determination, loyalty, time management skills…the list goes on! However, there are four important aspects of being a student athlete that you should make sure to leverage when writing your application essays, interviewing, and applying for future jobs:

You are a continuous learner.

As an athlete your brain is hard-wired to be a continuous learner. You’ve been coached your whole life, studied different game strategies, and adapted to changing situations on the fly. You have a shorter learning curve than the average person and are quick to implement new strategies, skills, and ideas. You’ve studied other teams, created scouting reports, and ingrained the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent in your mind so that you are consistently prepared and are able to anticipate what is to come rather than just react to it. As an athlete, you are also extremely self-motivated both in the classroom and in playing your sport. You don’t sit around and wait for a coach (or teacher/employer) to dictate your next move. You seek out learning opportunities to help you grow, spending hours upon hours practicing a skill until you master it. You know that results don’t come without commitment and expect improvement to take time and effort, not just happen overnight. This testimony that improvement will require time, patience, and persistence will be helpful in motivating and relating to your future patients, and having the mindset of a continuous learner will be vital in making sure you excel in the classroom as a PT student.   

You are an effective communicator.

From discussing possible problems and team dynamics with your coach, communicating with teammates during practices and games in order to carry out your game plan, to receiving and providing feedback, you’ve learned many ways to effectively communicate with others. This all translates to how you will be able to communicate information with future classmates and coworkers, solve problems in the clinic, and ultimately how you will be able to figure out the goals and needs of your future patients in order to identify/progress an appropriate physical therapy plan of care.

In addition to interpersonal communication skills, student-athletes may not realize that they have been developing their public speaking skills throughout their athletic career. Weather that be providing a motivational pre-game speech in the locker room before a game, doing a post-game media interview, or speaking to a group of recruits and their parents, you’ve learned how to address people in many different ways based on how they best learn and receive information.  You have demonstrated how you communicate under pressure quickly and efficiently, sharing within-game strategies within seconds with your teammates on the court. You can respond to post-game interview questions on the fly in a professional manner, representing yourself and your organization even when your emotions may be busting at the seams after a tough loss or emotional win. You are comfortable interacting with and communicating information with people, no matter how formal or informal the setting.

You are adept in teamwork.

Student athletes know the importance of teamwork “in victory and in defeat”. You can work with people when things are going well and when things aren’t going so well in order to make a positive impact on the situation. You understand the whirlwind of having amazing wins and heartbreaking losses, yet still have the drive to keep pursuing a goal. Having this mindset and personal experience of triumph and defeat will help you relate to the ups and downs your patients will experience during their recovery. You are a motivator, you are accustomed to encouraging others, and strive to create a positive culture around you.

You also understand that people learn in different ways. You have experienced different coaching styles and have seen what techniques are most effective in teaching people of varying personalities. Working and collaborating with other PTs, PTAs, techs, classmates during school, and most importantly the ability to collaborate and work as a team with your future patients will be extremely important throughout PT school and your career as a physical therapist. The ultimate win is having the best possible balance of teamwork and autonomy so that your patient can reach their goals!

You are resilient.

As an athlete, you achieve your goals. Period. If one avenue is blocked you find another way. You learn over time how to think the game, work smarter, and more efficiently on the field. You know how to set goals to keep you on course and hold yourself accountable. You are okay with failing, because you use it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, make adjustments, and better yourself. This resilience is what you will need to get the job done in the classroom and as a future physical therapist in the professional world.

Overall, you have all the skills….resilience, dedication, teamwork, time-management, communication and leadership skills to be a grade A applicant to physical therapy school. You just have to learn how to effectively package all of your assets and market yourself.

This involves being able to tell a compelling narrative. Your story will be more effective and memorable when you use specific examples that make you stand out. Personal and individualized stories/experiences are what make you unique instead of just stating general characteristics when writing your application essays or undergoing interviews. Every applicant is going to list leadership as one of their strengths on their application, so show them specific times you stepped up as a leader in your life. Show them specific instances of when you have displayed the above listed characteristics. Only then will you be able to leave an impact on an application committee.

Finally, use your college athletics experience to start to build a personal brand online-having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn is vital in showcasing your passion for physical therapy, your drive and dedication to an organization, and how well-rounded you are. Above all, be confident in the attributes you bring as a current/former student athlete because you are the full-package!

 -Katie Budz, PT, DPT



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