Should Physical Therapy School Rankings And Location Matter?

One question we get from pre-PT students a lot is “should physical therapy school rankings and location matter?” Let’s say you’re specifically looking at this one school that has a ton of great reviews, it’s known for being prestigious, and you’re thinking it might look good on your resume when you’re trying to find jobs. The real question is, does all of that matter to you? Because if you care about that, then it matters, right? You’re the one going to that school. You’re the one putting in 3 years of doctorate level schooling. You’re the one paying tuition.

But in general, applying to physical therapy school is not like applying to medical school. Location or rankings do not matter when applying to physical therapy school. It’s not necessarily like med school where your future employer might look at your resume and say, “Oh, you went to Harvard, that’s a very prestigious school.” In that profession, yeah, they might look at where you went. Some employers might only take Harvard graduates. But in the physical therapy profession, it’s not really like that. No employer is going to care where you went to physical therapy school, where the school was located, or what the program was ranked.

All physical therapy programs have to teach you the same content so that you can pass the NPTE (National Physical Therapy Examination) licensure exam. That exam is the same across all programs in the United States. If you pass the NPTE, future employers aren’t going to ask you where you went to school. They will ask, “Have you passed the NPTE yet? Can you start as soon as possible? What is your availability?” The board exam is what determines if you know your physical therapy stuff. The employers want to know that you can work legally as a licensed physical therapist, not what program you went to.

"It’s about you becoming the best possible clinician you can be, and to do that, you have to be in a program that will provide you with the tools and opportunities to thrive as a student."

Many times, pre-PT students will begin applying to PT school “shooting in the dark.” This basically means applying to PT schools without really looking that much into it. You're applying just to apply and see if you get in. Maybe this means you’re applying to the school because it’s close to home. Or because the school has a “good name.” Or maybe because you knew someone who went to that PT school, but you haven't done much research and don’t really know if you fit the culture. One way to figure out if you fit the culture of a PT program is by going on campus visits, attending open houses, or even scheduling a private tour with the school. You want to really feel out a PT school and figure out if it’s somewhere you can see yourself for 3 years. Is the school inviting? Friendly? Are the professors interacting a lot with the students?

The bottom line is this: look for PT schools that fit you. Don’t try to match yourself up with programs that look “nice.” At the end of the day, you want to know that this PT program you’re applying to is for YOU because YOU have looked into it, done YOUR research, and made sure that the program fits YOUR values. For example, let’s say you’re a pre-PT student applying this cycle and you didn’t do so well in your classes your freshman/sophomore year. However, you got straight A’s your junior/senior year. You might want to consider looking at programs that look at the last 60 credit hours of your schooling. Those physical therapy schools are basically telling you that even though you messed up early on in college, we want to see the better in your capabilities and academics, so, we are going to give you another chance by looking at your most recent grades. That might be a program you would consider looking in to because they are tailoring to YOU and the challenges you faced. 

The most important message to take away from this blog is that location or rankings do not matter when applying to physical therapy school. It shouldn’t be all about the ranking of the program or location. It’s about you becoming the best possible clinician you can be, and to do that, you have to be in a program that will provide you with the tools and opportunities to thrive as a student. There really isn’t a program that’s “better” or “worse” than another. It all depends on you and what you’re looking for. 

Remember, at the end of the day, a Doctorate of Physical Therapy Degree is the same ANYWHERE you go!


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