PTCAS: Personal Statement/Essays

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Welcome to the last #dptwiththecc post (*cue sad music*).


What is a personal statement?

Every year, PTCAS has an “essay” section. This is essentially your personal statement, even though it is not stated outright. The personal statement is your chance to really show your personality, so you want to make it count! If your grades or GRE scores aren’t the best, your essays could really set you apart, + take your application to the next level.

The question/prompt will be the same for everyone, and this is updated every few application cycles. Because the PTCAS application opens at the end of June/early July, PTCAS usually releases the prompt for the upcoming cycle on their Twitter and Facebook pages in the spring. This will give you time to start brainstorming and drafting your essay before the application even opens! For the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 cycles, the prompt was “What is professionalism in the context of being a student in a doctor of physical therapy program?”. When the prompt for the next cycle is released, I will most likely have a post about how to tackle it!

In addition to the PTCAS essay, most programs require you to write supplemental essays. These are additional essays that will let the program know a little bit more about you. These essays could be long or short, depending on the program. When I applied, my program had 2 supplemental essays (1150 characters each). One essay asked about a life failure and how I overcame it, and another asked about my experience with diversity.

What should I write about?

Katie from My Road to PT has a GREAT blog, and in her post about essays, she comprised a list of some example topics + questions. They are listed below:

  • 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?

Re-applicant 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, teach you something new, help you grow, or support your desire to become a physical therapist?

While these specific questions may not be asked, they can be used to brainstorm possible responses/give you an idea of the types of questions to expect.

What should I put in my personal statement?

Why you actually want to become a physical therapist is the number one thing that should be in your essay (duh)! You should also try to have a “theme” (as long as you can somehow relate it to the prompt). This will make your essay cohesive, and interesting to read. Almost everyone wants to be a physical therapist because they want to help people, or because they had an awesome physical therapist when they were injured. While this is great, try to focus on another reason why you want to become a physical therapist. This is a personal statement, so make it personal! For my PTCAS essay, I wrote about the lack of representation in the field for black women, and how I want to help increase the presence of underrepresented populations + treat underserved communities! Really think about WHY you want to help people. What are your passions? Pull from your life experiences (healthcare + non-healthcare related) to make your theme come to life.

In addition, you should extensively research the programs you are applying to before you write your supplemental essays! Read their mission statement, and find out what they value. Are they a research program? Do they really value diversity and inclusion? Are they big on global health? Whatever the program’s values are, include how your personal values align. This will make you stand out, and show that you are a serious applicant. If it is applicable to the prompt, you could also discuss why you want to attend the program that you are applying to!

How long does the personal statement have to be?

PTCAS has a limit of 4500 characters (about 1 page) for your essay. I would recommend using most or all of this space (without adding in irrelevant information of course) if possible. If you can get your point across in fewer characters, then that’s fine too! I wouldn’t stress about the character limit until you feel like you’ve completed most of your essay, as it is easier to take things out at the end. I would recommend drafting your essay in a program like Microsoft Word (or a plain text editor like Notepad), so that you can always see how many characters you’re at. Then, you can just paste the essay into PTCAS later.

Does your academic record accurately reflect your capabilities?

This question will be asked in the PTCAS application, but I wouldn’t answer it unless there was an extenuating circumstance that affected your academics. Admissions committees don’t want to hear excuses for why your grades weren’t as good as you wanted your freshman year (it happens!), or how you spent too much time partying or distracted. As long as your grades improved over time (your transcript will reflect this), you are fine!

General Tips

  • ACTUALLY ANSWER THE PROMPT! I know this may seem obvious, but I have edited many essays for pre-PT students, and come across essays that didn’t even answer the prompt. This is a sure-fire way to stop someone from reading your essay, so follow directions, and try not to deviate too far from the prompt.
  • Avoid contractions (i.e. don’t, can’t, won’t, etc.). Your essay should be formal.
  • Show don’t tell!
  • Vary your sentence structure. You want your writing to have style, so don’t make every sentence sound the same.
  • Make sure to have an introduction (with a captivating opener to engage the reader), and a conclusion to bring your essay full circle (remember your theme!). I began my essay with a childhood memory, but you could begin with a quote (kinda cliché, but you could make it work), a question, a general idea, or something else. You want to grab the reader’s attention immediately!
  • Remember HIPAA! If you want to discuss a patient you observed, don’t include any of their personal information!
  • Don’t plagiarize!
  • Keep your audience in mind: you never know who the admissions committee is composed of, and everyone may not agree with your views.
  • When brainstorming, start by making a list of your thoughts/ideas about the prompt. Later, you can turn these ideas into actual paragraphs.
  • Make sure your theme is present in each paragraph.
  • Have at least 3-4 people proofread/edit your essays (for content + grammar). Of course, you’re going to think your essay is good, but you need an outside source’s opinion. You may think you’ve conveyed your point, but you’ll never know for sure unless you have someone proofread it. This could be a family member, a friend, a current DPT student, a physical therapist, a professor, etc. The Student Doctor Network Pre-PT Forum has a thread you can visit if you’re looking for someone to edit your essay. I wouldn’t recommend having another pre-PT student edit your essay (unless you know them personally, or really trust them), as there are some not-so-nice people online that could potentially steal your essay. I had my mentor (who is also a physical therapist), a recent DPT grad, and an accepted pre-PT student edit my essays. Try to avoid having too many people edit your essays, as you may lose your “personal” touch.
  • Provide lots of examples!
  • Don’t rush the process! It takes a while to write a good essay, so allow yourself enough time to do so. You may even have to take a break and come back later with a fresh mind. Regardless, you’ll have that “aha” moment eventually! If you are really stuck, try writing in a different environment (i.e. the library, a coffee shop, or a bookstore). Sometimes a change of scenery is all you need!
  • Try reading your essay out loud. It is much easier to catch mistakes this way, versus if you are only reading it in your head.

Thank you so much for tuning in to this series! If you missed any of the posts, be sure to check them out under the “Pre-PT” section of the blog! I covered getting organized, grades/study tips, extracurricular activities, observation hours, letters of recommendation, and the GRE! Once it gets closer to the new application cycle, I will definitely have more tips and advice for y’all!

If you have any requests for posts you’d like to see in the future (or ever need anything), feel free to leave a comment, DM me on Instagram, or shoot me an email (! Can’t wait to continue creating content for you guys!



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