How to Make the Most Out of Your Pre-PT School Experience!

  When gearing up to apply to physical therapy programs you end up with a laundry list, a long laundry list, of things to do. Letters of recommendation, personal essays, observation hours, resume building, the list goes on and on! If you’re familiar with my background story, you know that I applied to PT school for two cycles, which means I had two laundry lists. Now I’m no expert, but I think the second time around I did a much better job with my laundry list and kept more of my sanity. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with how to be the best pre-PT student possible and you want some insight of how to stay organized during your application process keep reading because I’m going to share some tips with you!

Obtaining Observation Hours

            Between deciding where to go for your observations hours, how many hours to do, and how to make the most of the experience there’s a lot to think about! One thing is for sure, variety is important and attractive to PT schools. The realm of physical therapy is wide, there’s so much to experience. The more that you see as a pre-PT student the better your understanding is of the profession, and that will keep you on your toes in PT school. Yes, quantity of hours is important but so is variety! Don’t spend all your time at one clinic, find a way to evenly disperse yourself between outpatient clinics, acute care, pediatric clinics, specialty clinics, or rehabilitation centers.

Also, while you’re out there observing remember that you can do more than observe. No, you cannot treat patients but you can learn. Pick the brain of whomever you are observing, take notes on specific interesting things you learned or saw (without breaking HIPPA rules, of course), and ask if there’s any way you can help. Yes, you are just observing, but you can be helpful to the therapist you are with. For example, maybe the PT you are observing wants to get creative with an exercise with their patient that involves the patient throwing and catching a ball… that’s where you come in!

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

            Building upon my last point, asking a physical therapist that you observed to write you a letter of recommendation is an awesome idea! If you were the type of observer who asked questions and tried to be helpful it’s an even better idea. One important thing to keep in mind is avoiding putting a PT in the awkward position of having to write a letter for you if they barely know you. Wait until you have built up a decent number of hours and allowed a relationship to blossom. This will not only put the therapist in a more comfortable position but it will also give them more to write about and a more personal letter is the ultimate win!

            On the other hand, you might also seek a letter of recommendation from a professor. Now this advice may require some pre-planning, but my best piece of advice is to introduce yourself to one of your professors early in the semester. Upon re-taking my anatomy and physiology courses for my second application, I introduced myself to my professor on syllabus day and told him about my plans to apply to PT school. After midterms, I reached out to him and asked for him to write one of my letters of recommendation. This gave him time to know what type of student I was and I had a few grades in the gradebook to support that I was a hardworking student. Again, allowing time for a relationship to build makes it easier on yourself to ask, and easier for them to respond yes and write a quality letter!

Building a Resume

             We all know building a resume isn’t easy. There’s that cycle of needing experience to have your first job but not being able to get experience because you don’t have experience… it’s a mess! But, if you work smart enough and wind up with a job to add to your resume for PT school, that’s awesome. Personally, I worked as a rehab tech at a pediatric rehab facility and I know that was a huge highlight of my application! Other jobs besides a rehab tech that may stand out to a PT program are any within the healthcare field, maybe a receptionist. When I was searching for a job with some relation to PT school, I printed out 20 or so copies of my resume and drove around town dropping them off. Within the same week I got a phone call for two interviews! So yes, the old school physical copy of a resume method works.

            If you don’t have time for a job or you’re applying right out of school and don’t intend on working prior to PT school you still want to beef up your resume. From my own personal experience, I’ve learned that volunteerism really does stand out and it speaks to your character. Finding ways to volunteer and give back to the community is something that The University of Miami Doctor of Physical Therapy Program is big on (that’s where I am a third-year student) so naturally, as an applicant with a variety of volunteer experience I got some cool points! I can’t speak for every program, but I can’t imagine that any other PT school wouldn’t feel the same exact way.

Writing the Perfect Personal Essay

          Simple, BE PERSONAL!

I could write just that, but I won’t. I am a firm believer in telling my story and sharing my passion and I must say, it’s taken me to my wildest dreams. Do not be scared to open up and share your personal raw reasons for why PT is your dream career or why X, Y, or Z school is the best fit for you. Your transcripts, GRE scores, observation hours, etc. supply the program with the numbers they need to know you are a good student and you will succeed in the program. But to excel as a physical therapist, social skills and bedside manner is so important! Let your personality be your selling point. As physical therapists, we spend so much time face to face with our patients and admissions committees are seeking smart, dedicated students with the passion and personality to match. So open up, be personal!!

And finally, staying sane

            The process of applying to PT school isn’t easy, it’s going to take a lot of time and patience but the end goal of being accepted is so worth it. So take your laundry list and pin it up somewhere you can see it and conquer it! Every item you cross off is another step closer to your first day of PT school, even the tiny things are worth celebrating. In fact, celebrate every little accomplishment up until the day you get accepted and then celebrate BIG!       


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