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Ptcas Physical Therapy Application Essay

Here are some pointers for writing essays when you apply to physical therapy school. Please know that there isn’t a single best way to write your essays and everyone will answer each prompt differently, so do what works for you!

Essays are challenging to write, especially without any guidance. I learned everything about writing essays from the wonderful people at the Student Doctor Network Forums. I had about 10 revisions of each of the 7 essays I wrote, had several people read them each time, and still had trouble writing some of them.

How to Start Writing Your Essay

1. Organize Your Thoughts

Write down the essay prompt, either on a computer or by hand. Read it a couple times, even out loud, until you have a good idea of what it is asking.

Then write down any thoughts that came to mind. They can be related to the prompt, or you can just write down what you like about the physical therapy profession or any specific experiences that stand out to you.

It doesn’t matter if you’ll actually end up writing about them. Don’t worry about your grammar or if it is written well. Just write down all of your thoughts into bullet points, or just a few words or a sentence for each idea.

If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, there is a section at the end of this post just for you. There are a lot of questions that may help you come up with ideas for your essay, so go check them out!

2. Turn your ideas into paragraphs

Write more about each point that you wrote down. Try to form a paragraph and relate it back to the prompt. If you’re struggling on writing more than a sentence or two about the bullet point, then maybe one of your other ideas will be better to include in your essay.

3. Choose 2-3 things to talk about

Now that you’ve written as much as you can about each bullet point, you should start to see a general direction to keep writing your essay. What are your favorite topics? What ideas can relate to each other to make a cohesive essay? What ideas answer the prompt the best?

4. Form a Complete Essay

Now that you’ve chosen your favorite paragraphs, format them into one essay. Now you can add an introduction paragraph that briefly mentions these paragraphs and your overall topic. Then you can add a conclusion.

5. Edit Your Essay

Now that you have a complete essay, you can read it from beginning to end. If it doesn’t flow well between each paragraph, add some transition sentences. If you don’t answer the prompt very well, rewrite some sentences. Keep editing and rewording until the essay is finished.

How Do You Format Your Essay?

You can format your essay however you like! I recommend that you have an introduction, some body paragraphs, and a conclusion. However, you don’t need your typical “5 paragraph” essay. Some supplemental essays may also have a shorter length, so you might only write two paragraphs.

You can indent each new paragraph, or just put a space between paragraphs instead of indenting, unless the school states that there is a specific way they want you to format your essay.

General Tips for PT School Essays

I know that writing your essays is not as simple as those 5 steps. It can take weeks and be mentally exhausting. However, I’ve included a bunch of tips to help guide you to writing a great essay.

  • Be careful what you write about patients. If you choose to write about a patient, don’t include any specific personal information like their name, ethnicity, or occupation, or you will be violating HIPAA. Describing their general age, condition, gender, what setting you observed in, general occupation if it relates to your story, and what interventions were used is perfectly fine.
  • Don’t use contractions. I just did, but that’s besides the point! Contractions are too casual, so avoid them if possible.
  • First-person speech. It’s ok to say “I” and talk in first person. You’re writing about yourself, after all! Just make sure that you vary your sentence structure so that you don’t begin every sentence with “I”. There is never any reason to say “I think” in any sentence. It sounds unprofessional, so just delete it.
  • Focus on the positives. If you had any negative experiences, setbacks, or mistakes, don’t spend too much time writing about them. Explain yourself in a couple sentences, but focus on what you learned and how you’ve bettered yourself. Don’t dwell on the past, but try to focus on the positive results.
  • Try to avoid clichés. Almost everyone can write about how they want to be a physical therapist because they love to help people, or because they got injured and need physical therapy. You can briefly write these things, but you need to have other, more personal experiences that you can write about. Be sure to set yourself apart from others.
  • Why have you chosen each school? For supplemental essays for a specific school, make sure to mention why you want to go to their school, if it fits into the prompt. It’s good to show that you’ve done your research and are excited to attend their program for specific reasons.
  • Answer the question. It’s self-explanatory, but it’s so easy to get caught up in what you’re writing and go in a direction that doesn’t answer the original prompt. Make sure everything that appears in the essay helps to answer the prompt in some way.
  • Have others read and edit your essay. Family members, friends, classmates, college writing center, or people on the Student Doctor Network Forums can all help your essay. It’s so beneficial to have an outside perspective on essays, especially because the admissions committee reading your essay won’t read it in the same way that you do. Try to have as many people critique your essay as possible.
  • If you ask for help online, don’t post your entire essay for everyone on the internet to read. Make a new thread or comment on a current essay thread, and send an email directly to the person willing to read your essay. There are people that might steal your essay and use it as their own, so be careful who you send it to.
  • Take a break from writing. Constantly thinking about your essay, rewriting, and editing is exhausting. It’s helpful to take a few days from working on your essay, and then come back to it with a fresh start.
  • Try writing in different environments. I wrote mostly at home, but found that I got stuck with my writing. I started to write at coffee shops, which helped me be more productive. Try working at a library, outside, at a friend’s house, or in a different room in your own house.
  • Essays can take weeks to write. Make sure you start early enough so you aren’t stressed out from trying to meet an upcoming deadline. Start working on your essays as soon as possible.
  • Be careful when writing multiple essays. The PTCAS essay is sent to every school, so don’t copy and paste the same paragraphs into any supplemental essays. However, if two different schools have an essay prompt that is similar, then feel free to similar paragraphs.
  • Essays are weighed differently by each school. Some might not even read the PTCAS essay, others care more about their supplemental essays, or some schools do not care much about a well-written essay.
  • Maximum character length. You don’t have to write 4498 out of 4450 characters for your essay to be great.  Shorter is fine if you can get your point across. Aim for the character maximum, but it’s fine to have several hundred less than that.
  • What if you wrote too much? Worry about the essay length after you have written your thoughts down. When you are finalizing your essay, remove the repetitive information and anything that does not support the prompt, for starters. Then you can try rewording your sentences so they get straight to your point.

Tips for Specific Essays

If you’re stuck with writing your essays, see if you can answer these questions. You don’t need to answer all of them or any of them to write a great essay. A lot of these questions will overlap and be useful on other prompts, so make sure to read through everything if you need help.

Hopefully these questions will get you out of any writers block you may have.


You can find the essay prompt on the PTCAS Essay page, or on their Facebook page once it is released. When I applied in 2014, the essay prompt was released in early June, and the PTCAS application opened in early July. This gave me an entire month to write my essay before I could even start my PTCAS application.

The essay prompt changes every year or every several years, so I can’t give great advice for this. These are some tips from past essays, so hopefully they help.

  • How have your life experiences shaped who you are?
  • What observation experiences can you talk about?
  • Are there any patients that have influenced you?
  • How has an experience impacted how you want to want to practice physical therapy?
  • Who are the most influential people in your life?
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a physical therapist?
  • When have you been on a team or worked in a group? How was the team approach better than working by yourself?
  • Where do you see the field of physical therapy going, and how do you fit into that picture?
  • What sort of physical therapist to you see yourself being?
  • How would you treat your future patients?
  • What dream goals do you have?
  • What character traits are important to have as a physical therapist
  • What experiences have strengthened those traits for you, or what traits are you currently working on?
  • How has your time spent as a patient affected how you will be a physical therapist?
  • Are there any specific therapists that you wish to be like, or any therapists that you don’t want to become?
  • Why will you be valuable to this profession?
  • Are you interested in teaching, research, owning your own business, traveling, working for a nonprofit, or volunteering in another country?

Autobiography Essay

  • What challenges have you overcome in your life?
  • What are some of your major accomplishments?
  • Why do you want to be a physical therapist?
  • What things have you done that helped you grow as an individual
  • What activities have you participated in?
  • Who are some influential people on your life?
  • How have your family, friends, or peers shaped who you are today?
  • How would other people describe you?
  • What 5 words describe you the best?
  • What character traits are important for a physical therapist to have? Do you have these traits, or how are you improving them?
  • What is important to you?
  • How will your experiences make you a successful physical therapy student/physical therapist?
  • When did you know that you wanted to be a physical therapist?
  • How did your upbringing shape your personality, and how will that make you a better physical therapist?
  • How have your experiences led you to the physical therapy career instead of other health care careers?
  • Is there a central theme about your life experiences?
  • How can you contribute to the field of physical therapy and your future patients?

Diversity Essay

  • Describe your life experience as it is related to your culture.
  • Is it hard to understand others who are from a different culture?
  • Do you have a culturally different perspective than your peers?
  • Does your culture have a different set of health care beliefs, or have you encountered another culture with different beliefs?
  • Have you had an experience in life where you felt like your culture created a barrier for you?
  • Have you volunteered for an economically disadvantaged population?
  • Do you have trouble relating to higher socioeconomic classes?
  • Have your experiences helped you relate better to certain people?
  • Have you witnessed any social, cultural, or economic barriers when observing in a health care setting?
  • How have you learned from any of these experiences?
  • How does recognizing, understanding, or appreciating diversity make you a better physical therapist?
  • Have you worked with individuals with disabilities?
  • How do these experiences support that you will be able to work with diverse patients when you are a physical therapist?

Reapplicant Essay

  • Have you retaken any classes?
  • Did you retake the GRE?
  • Do you have additional observation experiences?
  • Did you observe in any new settings or see a different patient population?
  • Did you have any additional work experience?
  • Where you involved in any groups or team sports?
  • Did you volunteer?
  • How are you more prepared to be a successful student?
  • Have you improved any personal skills?
  • Have you worked with individuals that are different or gave you a unique perspective?
  • What have you learned and how have you improved?
  • How did these new experiences change your perspective, improve your application, change your personality, taught you something new, made you grow, or support your desire to become a physical therapist?

Does Your Academic Record Accurately Reflect Your Capabilities?

Most people say that you should only answer this section if something major happened in your life that was out of your control, like an illness, personal injury, family emergency, death of a loved one, etc.

Don’t use this area to write a list of excuses for why your grades weren’t as good as you wished. Examples of excuses: Explaining that you weren’t mature enough, didn’t study hard enough, partied too much, took too many difficult classes, or went to a challenging university. Those are excuses because you were responsible and they could have been avoided or handled better. If you are eager to explain yourself, you can try to add a sentence or two into your PTCAS essay.

A lot of people had lower grades at the beginning of their college career, so if your grades improved over time and your transcript shows that, you don’t need to write an essay to explain yourself.  It takes a while to learn how to succeed in college, and admissions committees understand that.

Additional Resources

Unfortunately there isn’t much information about physical therapy school essays. I found these resources for general essay writing, grad school essays, and med school essays, but they’re mostly applicable to physical therapy school too!

PTCAS Essay Prompt
Essay Workshop 101
Writing the Personal Statement
Personal Statement
Before You Write Your Personal Statement, Read This
Writing Your Medical School Personal Statement: Tips and Myths
Writing the Personal Statement for Medical School

Student Doctor Network Forums:

Supplemental Essays character limit
PTCAS Essay question for 2015-2016 application cycle!
This year’s personal statement prompt?
Should I or should I not write about this in my essay?
Re-applicant essay
Does your personal statement have to be 4500 characters? 


Like this:



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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