What is the Best Undergraduate Major for Physical Therapy?

undergrad majors for Physical therapy

If you know you want to become a PT and you’re about to start your undergraduate degree, you may be wondering what is the best physical therapy major. Don’t worry – you’re not alone in wondering this. In fact, over 19,000 soon-to-be PT School applicants will be choosing a major this year.

The real question is this: does your undergraduate major matter when applying to PT School?

Personally, I had earned a Bachelor’s in Business and an MBA before I applied to PT School. I didn’t fit the mold at all!

From my experience, when it comes to undergrad degrees in Physical Therapy, your major matters less than you think.

Physical Therapy Majors (pre-PT undergrad)

Be advised that there is no “physical therapy major” in undergraduate studies. While you do need to complete certain prerequisites to become a PT, your undergrad degree or major can be in anything you choose. The actual physical therapy degree, or Doctoral of Physical Therapy (DPT), is earned in a graduate-level program at a PT school.

What’s the best major for Physical Therapy?

Most Pre-PT programs encourage students to major in exercise science, human biology, or even kinesiology. It’ll be easier to satisfy PT school prerequisites in those programs, but it won’t necessarily give you a better chance of success in PT school.

Think about it this way: an average major will make you an average PT school applicant. 

Although a conventional Pre-PT degree will give you a glimpse into human movement and the biological processes of the body, it won’t set you apart from everyone else. In fact, you will find yourself surrounded by other students, with your same degree in kinesiology or biology, applying for the same PT School seat you want!

What makes a PT school applicant stand out? 

If you really want to distinguish yourself from your PT school competition, try going a different route other than Exercise Science. 

Imagine if you were on the admissions board for your dream PT school. Consider how someone with a degree in Engineering, Marketing, or Teaching stands out from the crowd. Such an applicant will bring unique experiences and perspectives to the table. Sure, they will have completed the same prerequisites as a Kinesiology major, but they’ll have so much more to offer. 

For instance, during their PT school interview, an applicant with an Education degree might discuss how their training in teaching can help them educate clinic patients and inform learning strategies. 

A degree in a different field could provide invaluable, transferable skills which you as a unique applicant can play to your advantage.

How to Set Yourself Apart When Applying to PT School

If you are applying to PT school having graduated with an “unconventional” undergraduate degree, don’t despair. You can promote yourself in many ways. 

In my opinion, there are three key benefits to having a non-science degree when applying to become a PT (or any health professional, for that matter).

  1. You bring a unique perspective and skill set to the field.
  2. You demonstrate an ability to pursue things that interest you, instead of completing a biology degree because “that’s what everyone else does.”
  3. You’ll have options to pursue work outside of Physical Therapy if you happen to change your mind.

These three benefits not only strengthen your application, they improve your chance at success in any employment, Physical Therapy notwithstanding.

Still Want to Know the Top 10 Majors for Physical Therapy?

If you think a science-based degree is best for you, you’re in good company. The top majors accepted into Physical Therapy school are science degrees, as you can see in the table below. 

physical therapy major
Data sourced from APTA. Graph reflects all majors designated, regardless if applicants designated multiple majors or the same major for multiple degrees

According to this graph, these are the top 10 majors among accepted Physical Therapy school applicants: 

  • Exercise Science
  • Kinesiology
  • Biology
  • Health Science
  • Psychology
  • Athletic Training
  • Pre-PT
  • General Studies
  • Biological Sciences
  • Physiology

However, just because these majors are popular doesn’t mean you have to choose them. Many successful PTs have studied other majors in undergrad, including the following: :

  • Business Management
  • Marketing
  • Finance
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Human Factors & Ergonomics

For their generalized skill sets and broad employability, I’d recommend any of these majors over the “top 10” most popular. 

Look for Transferrable Skills in a Physical Therapy Undergrad Major

Ultimately, your undergraduate degree will not get you into PT school. The admissions board will look for someone who demonstrates a strong work ethic, interpersonal flexibility, and a host of transferrable skills. 

To be a good Physical Therapist, you’ll need to gain skills to educate your patients and engineer solutions to home setups. If you go on to become a clinic manager or owner, you’ll need additional skills in creating marketing plans, balancing the budget, and understanding the basics of employment taxes and human resources. 

Considering the breadth of expertise required of a PT, earning a degree outside of Biology will certainly work in your favor!

For PT undergrad majors, my preference is business management (but I may be biased). 🙂  

Curious to Know How To Become a Physical Therapist?

Keep reading to get an insider’s look on how to become a physical therapist.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Physical Therapist?

If your next question is how long it takes to become a PT, check out the video below:

how to become a physical therapist infographic

((Pin the infographic or click through to read the full article)

Tim Fraticelli DPT, MBA, CFP®

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.

13 thoughts on “What is the Best Undergraduate Major for Physical Therapy?”

  1. I am an aspirant for MS in Exercise Science or Kinesiology and going to join it by Summer 2019. After completing my MS in Exercise Science or Kinesiology and also after clearing a US Licence exam as a physical therapist do I need to do DPT to practise in USA?

  2. Hi, I have a BA in Business Management since 2007 and I am thinking of a career change to Physical therapy. What would be the best way to get into the field? Would I just need to do pre-requisites and then be able to go straight to the Master’s program and complete 3years or how does that work? I currently live in Florida. Would I be able to work while studying?

  3. hello iam an under board PT 1996 in philippines, really long years passed and for sure lots of changes in modalities, and everything , How can I be updated again with the course, do I have to start first until intership, im planning to take Pjilippines board again , but afraid because I am OUTDATED ALREADY.

  4. hello iam an under board PT 1996 in philippines, really long years passed and for sure lots of changes in modalities, and everything , How can I be updated again with the course, do I have to start first until intership, im planning to take Pjilippines board again , but afraid because I am OUTDATED ALREADY.

  5. i dont know what the best collage would be to major in this, i’m going to millitary school mid-may and will graduate at 16, my parents want me to go to UGA to cheer for the bulldogs but i want to go to dallas.

  6. Hello I graduated high school in 2015 and did a year of community and technical college (1ctc) I enjoyed taking Anatomy and Physiology 1 and 2.
    I moved to a different state and started some online courses that fell through in 2016. Then I went to a 4 year university as a PHYSICS EDUCATION MAJOR fall of 2017 and left in the spring 2018.

    Now I am at (2ctc) I will be 22 when I graduate with my A.S. this spring 2019. I applied to my PTA program.

    If there is a long wait time for my PTA program should I go back to my 4 year college and complete my physics.ed.major. If I take certain forgiven loans I am required to work for 5 years minimum. Or
    should I go to the military and have them pay for my school and work there for the rest of my life?

    I really want to get my DPT but I was shy about it and didnt know if my major mattered. Now I am willing to do whatever it takes.

  7. Hi im a senior in highscool. What major do you think would be best for me to have to get in DPT? I saw that excersice science is a popular one. Do they mostly want people w excercise science degrees? or it would be better for me to do a degree not everyone does?

  8. I am a PT having bachelor degree in physiotherapy from India and working in saudi Arabia since 15 years Still working.planning to move US as license PT and want to do t DPT.need some suggestions.

  9. Hi im a senior in highscool. What major do you think would be best for me to have to get in DPT? I saw that exercise science is a popular one. Do they mostly want people w exercise science degrees or would it be better for me to do a degree not as popular?

  10. Two questions I would like your thoughts. I’m a senior in high school and looking at colleges in my area. I also plan on playing competitive tennis for whichever college I choose. Uconn has an exercise program where my 2 state colleges have biology and kinesiology. What is the acceptance rate for a Graduate school if I go to a state college and not a specialty school? I really want to continue playing tennis at a competitive level, do you feel this is all possible?

  11. Is it possible to be a art major, complete the prerequisites with strong grades and be accepted into a DPT program?

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