How I Chose a DPT Program

Right off the bat, I made a list of my needs vs. my wants. Sounds cliché, but I think it really helped when I made my campus visits. And, I know that campus visits aren’t always a viable option (I didn’t get to go to a lot of places I think I might have liked), but if you can get to a school, it really does help to get a sense of the vibe of the place.

Okay, I’m getting carried away. Let’s start from the beginning.

Every program differs. Each now offers a doctorate degree and runs approximately 3 years, but there’s so much more that goes into the DPT degree. Below is my personal needs vs. wants list.

Yours may look similar to mine- or it may not look a thing like it!

Really think about what it is that you want and then what things you would like… but could live without. The fact of the matter is, it’s going to be difficult to find the “perfect” program, meaning it has every single thing you want and nothing that you don’t. You may have to make some compromises. But, that’s okay, because you’re still going to find an amazing program and you’re going to kill it while you’re there. 🙂

Oops! The wants definitely aren’t showing up- so I’ll reproduce everything here… 

NEEDS:

_scholarship opportunities
_location
_travel opportunities
_research
_clean facilities
_NPTE pass rates
_accreditation
_clinical placement

WANTS:

_group work
_small class size
_assistantships
_first summer off
_rank
_teacher to student ratio
_boards prep course

To guide my list-making, I kept these 8 categories in mind: 

this-one-2

To find my answers, I looked at a school’s website, asked questions on campus visits, attended open houses, read online forums, and got into contact with current students.

Student Activities:

This was actually a big one for me. With my anxiety, I knew that I wanted to attend a program where it wouldn’t be all work, all the time. Plus, I’ll be moving away from my family, so I wanted to ensure that I would have enough outside of my studies to occupy my time without feeling too homesick.

I was on the hunt for some combination of a student government or leadership within the PT program, ambassadorship, intramural involvement, and just a general family atmosphere. I was a student ambassador in college and have been playing intramural sports since high school, so I didn’t want to miss out on those experiences if possible.

That last one on my list- the family atmosphere- is subjective and difficult to gauge. Programs that didn’t have their students available for an open house didn’t necessarily throw me off, but the ones who did have students present definitely won me over more easily. Then, even between the programs where students were there to talk about their experiences, it was clear which students were comfortable and playful with each other, and which were simply colleagues (again, my own perceptions, I could have been 100% wrong! But, I had to trust my gut.)

Pass Rates:

At the end of the day, I’m going to school to practice as a physical therapist. It wouldn’t be worth it to go through three grueling years only to not pass the boards. Some schools provide board prep exams, which I think is amazing, because they’ll use past exam questions to simulate the real exam.

I typically searched for 95% or higher first-time pass rates.

Cost:

I not only looked for low tuition (because in the world of doctorate degrees, nothing comes cheap) but also scholarship opportunities. The schools that were the most attractive were the ones with multiple scholarships to offer.

Frankly, physical therapy is not a field that is racially varied. So, a lot of schools offer minority scholarships, and it was motivating to see an effort to diversify the class.

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions regarding scholarships when you call or visit. I was hesitant to talk about money at first, but I soon saw that they were going to provide me with that information anyway, so it was best to be as clear as possible on where I could best cut costs.

Be sure to ask about typical living cost, extra fees (technology fees, white coat fee, etc.) because that stuff can really add up.

Location:

Another biggie. On my campus visits, half of my mind was made up before I even walked into the program building just based on my drive there.

When you’re picking a program, ask yourself: what’s the town like? Do I feel safe here? Is there anything to do? Is it too far from home? Is it TOO close to home? Can I handle the typical weather for the next couple of years?

I had an idea in mind of the type of area in which I wanted to be before I even began my search. I knew that I did not want to be in a rural area and that I preferred the south (either North Carolina or Georgia) or somewhere near my home in the Midwest, so that’s where my program research began.

I toured one school where the students and faculty straight up told me that it wasn’t a safe area. Granted, it was a big city, and nothing is guaranteed, but they didn’t do a whole lot to make me feel better about my options. My tour guide told me that he knew of students who had been held at gunpoint. I don’t know if he was going for a lighthearted conversation or if he was trying to get me not to apply, but the latter stuck. I just couldn’t see myself there with additional and avoidable stresses elsewhere.

Testimonials:

Don’t believe everything that you hear. But, DO utilize former and current students- they want to help. And this will be where you’ll probably get the most honest and upfront answers to your questions.

You wouldn’t buy a car based on just one or two opinions- don’t choose a grad program that way! On the other hand, you also don’t want to end up confused by too many differing opinions on that same car program. My point here is- it’s important to find a balance. It takes some practice, so start your school hunt early on, and look into enough to know what various programs offer- you might find something that you didn’t know existed, but come to find that you’d actually really like.

Travel:

Two reasons: 1. I don’t know what kind of travel opportunities I’ll have once I graduate and enter the “real world” and 2. I want to be able to do work abroad. I’ve only been on one medical service trip, but that alone completely changed my perspective on international and rural healthcare, particularly in a field such as physical therapy, which appears to be universally discredited as a necessity.

A lot of schools offer spring break trips and overseas rotations. Those are experiences that I know will change the way I practice and I don’t want to miss out!

I also looked for travel opportunities to local and national APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) conferences. I want to attend as many conferences as I can and take in all the info possible before I start working. Additionally, it would be such an honor to present my research at a conference. Which leads me to…

Research:

People seem to be pretty divided on this one. Students either HAVE to have a required research component in their program or would much rather just focus on clinical and didactic aspects- because whatever your preference, those last two facets alone will probably be a huge chunk of your time.

I did some research in college and I want to advocate for evidence-based practice right from the get go. I’ve never seen a program that DOESN’T advocate for evidence-based practice (in my opinion, this should be a no-brainer), but to see it weaved throughout the curriculum was an extra boost in my mind.

Accreditation:

My advice is- do not only apply to schools that are not accredited and hope that it will happen soon. This is never a guarantee- and it’s true that even accredited schools can lose their accreditation- but you don’t ever want to put yourself in a position where you could put your blood, sweat, tears, and money into a DPT program and then not be able to sit for the boards…meaning you’d have to start your entire PT education over again, elsewhere.

That being said, I did apply to a school that was not accredited at the time. The admissions staff were very confident that their accreditation would be confirmed that fall, but I still applied to another school at the same time so that I would not put myself in a difficult position.

Have schools on your application list that are accredited and for which you have the necessary qualifications, giving you a better chance of getting in.

————————————————————————–

I know that this post may make me sound nit-picky and as if I believed that I deserved to get into any school I wanted to.

I promise, that’s not it! When people used to ask my friends and me where we wanted to go to school, we would always answer “anywhere that’ll have us!” Hopefully, that’s not how it has to be. Be confident in your abilities and the fact that you deserve to go to professional school (medical, physical therapy, dental, whatever), and that you deserve a program where you are comfortable.

You know why you’re applying to school and you know, even if it’s way, way deep down, that you can be successful in your chosen field. Like I said, it’s very unlikely that you will find a program that covers all of your wants and needs, and omits the things you don’t want. BUT, you can certainly find a program that has some or a lot of what you’re looking for, and I hope that you find it! Good luck, applicants!!

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