Skip to main content

Advice from Students


Advice from PT Students

There have been few moments where I’ve had to recall specific details from my undergraduate courses. That being said, I’ve found that learning some things “again”, like anatomy, were easier the second time, so I think the undergrad pre-requisites were a useful foundation to build upon. -Tom Tresh, Class of 2017

It's helpful to remember content from anatomy and exercise physiology. I didn't find myself needing to remember many details from basic sciences such as chemistry and physics. -Rachel McElroy, Class of 2016

Having a solid foundation in the health sciences is advantageous. Retaining concepts from anatomy and kinesiology in particular will be beneficial. The first semester has a heavy anatomy basis, and having background knowledge of the material will guide your studying.
~ Megan Kaiser, DPT Class of 2015

I think the most important pre-requisite classes to retain information from are your anatomy and physiology courses. The more you are able to retain from those classes the easier it will be to catch on during the first semester.
~ Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

Honestly, the best thing to retain from undergraduate coursework is the method with which you managed to learn the most information. Graduate school is going to be different and it is going to be challenging in some way, no matter how much you retain from your previous coursework. The best thing you can do for yourself is to prepare a method that works best for you personally regarding information intake and retainment. If you had to choose a couple classes from which to review, though, definitely review any kinesiology courses and anatomy coursework you have done. As before stated though, if you don't review this, you will survive! It will just be a little more hectic for you. Overall, just know how to study.
~ Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

A good chunk from some classes, less from others. Having a solid foundation of anatomy, especially from the cadaver course (BMS 309 at GV) is very helpful in keeping up with the heavy anatomy content in the first semester of PT school. Additionally, an undergrad kinesiology course (MOV 300 at GV) makes the PT kinesiology course much more manageable. Skimming through old notes from these classes in the early weeks of school would not be wasted time. Knowledge of principle concepts from undergrad courses, rather than individual details, was adequate for other classes. What's neat about the allowance of several different majors into the GV DPT program is how each student brings their own wealth of undergrad knowledge, views, and experiences to share with one another in studying the same material.
~ Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

I would say the main thing that helped me is retaining anatomy related information including bones, muscles, and landmarks. If you have a chance to take cadaver lab in undergrad it will be very helpful.
~ Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

PT answer, “it depends”. There are easy classes and hard classes. I would say overall the classes are challenging and take some dedication but I also feel that I got what I put into the classes. I never really felt behind or lost with any of the classes. -Nick Failer, Class of 2017

The DPT program is a rigorous curriculum, as it should be. If you are accepted to the program you have clearly dedicated time and energy into your studies for undergraduate coursework and you should have no problem being successful in the DPT program. You will end up studying more than you ever have but in return you are gaining immense knowledge and skills to become a licensed practicing physical therapist. -Stacey Omiljan, Class of 2016

The courses are difficult, and move at a rapid pace. They are manageable as long as you stay on top of the material. My advice is to review material early as opposed to cramming. The great thing is that all the classes are related. Studying for one class reinforces material for a second class.
- Megan Kaiser, DPT Class of 2015

The courses are challenging, but essential to becoming physical therapists. There is a lot of information that you need to learn in three years in order to be prepared to work in the field.
- Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

The classes are definitely challenging, but not all of them are equally challenging, and the professors have structured the curriculum well. None of the semesters (thus far anyway) have been completely overwhelming; the amount of information you learn very quickly might be, but again, it's all stuff you love. You are going to have a couple difficult classes per semester and a couple less difficult, just like undergrad. One of the best parts about the GVSU DPT department though is that all of the professors are here to see you succeed; they WANT you to excel and they WANT you to be happy with the amount of material you are comfortable with. I guess the first few weeks are like the first few weeks of a sport beginning after the off-season; you feel out of shape and like you'll never be able to be in shape again, but after a few weeks, you've adjusted and things are manageable again.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

Not as hard as you may think. The material is not difficult-it's not organic chemistry or physics. Rather, it's just A LOT of material. If you've ever taken an accelerated science course in the summer, you can accurately imagine the rate and amount of material that unloads at you from the first semester classes. You won't need to study harder, just more often.
- Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

I wouldn't say the classes are inherently harder than undergrad, they are just more accelerated. In undergrad you would have spent two weeks on a section that would be covered in one or two class periods now.
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

It varies, and it depends on your particular strengths. Some may struggle more with the rote memorization of first semester anatomy or kinesiology, and others may struggle more with the abstract treatment concepts in fourth semester neurological interventions. Regardless, if you’re accepted to the program, you’re capable of making the adjustments necessary to pass PT school-level courses. -Tom Tresh, Class of 2017

Be prepared to treat the program like a job. A lot of time spent outside of class will be spent studying. It varies significantly from person to person depending on how you study best. -Micah Huegel, Class of 2016

During the week, I spent between two to four hours a night studying. This time increased prior to exams. I generally spent a good chunk of the weekend studying prior to exams or midterms. During my first year, I was able work 10 hours a week, and still take some weekends off to travel home.
- Megan Kaiser, DPT Class of 2015

It all depends on your personal study habits! Some people spend a lot of time on things, so if you are one of those people, that probably won't change. If you're one of those people who doesn't spend a whole lot of time on anything, that might stay pretty similar; it also might increase depending on the amount of satisfaction you see with your grades.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

The studying/homework time needed for this program is fairly demanding. In order to stay on top of things it's pretty important to do out of class work daily.
- Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

Grad school is a seven-day-per-week occupation. There are very few "busy-work" assignments, but there is at least one exam every week in the first semester. The best advice I can give is to look over notes on the same day you took them. An hour of study on the day you took the notes saves you two hours of frantic study the night before an exam.
- Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

I think studying two hours outside of class every day would set anyone up very well to succeed in this program. And of course you can take a day off to relax now and then.
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

If you had good study habits in undergrad, you will not need that much adjustment during graduate school. Most people use the same study habits but just need to adjust the amount of time spent on studying. -Anna Stinson, Class of 2017

Quite a bit of adjustment is required due to studying habits. What works for one class does not work for another. Playing around with habits was helpful-groups, independent, flashcards, hands-on, whiteboard, etc. -Jamie Bott, Class of 2017

It was a fairly large adjustment between undergraduate and graduate school for me. The workload in graduate school is significantly greater than in undergrad and it is essential to stay on top of things and not procrastinate.
- Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

It is sort of like drawing a comparison between apples and oranges; undergraduate coursework is laced with courses that you aren't necessarily going to be able to see the relevance of to your life. Graduate school is different because everything you learn is something you're going to need to use or to know for the future. Another difference though is that if you applied to such a specific program as this, you pretty much have to be sure that it is something you love to do, and that makes all the information seem personal and more retainable. You will hear a lot of jokes about social lives going down the drain, but most of it is talk...some of it will be true on certain weeks (exam weeks, weeks with a couple lab practicals, etc.). For the most part, though, you will probably continue the pattern that worked most efficiently for you in undergrad.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

There are adjustments, but they are easy adjustments. I believe transitioning into graduate school is actually easier than transitioning into undergraduate school. Since you spend so much time with your PT classmates, they inevitably become a group of close friends. You quickly create a "professional friendship" with the professors, who are approachable and eager to help you learn and manage the studies. Thus, you have a wide support unit as soon as you start school.

Plus, GPAs don't matter nearly as much in grad school as undergrad. The focus is to learn the material as best you can to make you the best PT possible. It's a freeing feeling, in fact, to not rate yourself by a decimal number. There are relatively few "busy assignments," and at this level, most all the material fits your passions and interests. Overall, once you get to the PT program, you are taking classes you want to take and are surrounded by like-minded people that want you to succeed. This makes it easy to transition into.

It should be stated, however: the biggest adjustment is finding the rhythm and discipline to study (at least a little) every day of the week. A mistake is to let Friday and Saturday be "study-free" days.
- Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

The biggest adjustment for me is setting aside time each day to study information from class. In undergrad I would just wait until a couple days before an exam to study, but it's harder to do that in grad school. If you study a little every day, it will also help you stay stress-free when exams roll around.
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

Is the first semester really stressful? If so, what are ways that students cope with it?

The first semester is challenging because you’re meeting a ton of new people, finding a new place to live, go to a different building (and finding parking-which is always difficult), and a lot of classes. Working out, listening to music, Bible study classes, intramural sports are among the most popular ways to cope with the stress. -Jamie Bott, Class of 2017

Personally, I think the first semester is the hardest semester of PT school. You have to teach yourself how to manage stress because there are lots of tests so there’s never really any time to sulk or get down on yourself for getting something wrong. I utilized walking and studying to help keep me active while still retaining my notes! I think having a regular exercise schedule helps to physically reduce the mental stress very well. -Micah Huegel, Class of 2016

The pace and heavy content of the first semester is stressful, but it is also an exciting time. Students rely on their classmates for help, and everyone takes an interest in each other's well being. Finding a balance between school and time off is important. I would recommend going to the gym, and spending time doing the things you enjoy. This rejuvenates you and allows for more focused studies.
- Megan Kaiser, DPT Class of 2015

The first semester of the program is definitely an adjustment and at times really stressful. However, everyone in the class is going through it and the encouragement and help from classmates is essential to being able to cope with the stress.
- Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

The first semester is amazing. You are challenged each and every day, you begin to realize that at the end of 3 years, you will still never feel like you know enough (but you definitely know more than you think you know), and you become close with your class and bond in a way that only something difficult but ultimately satisfying can promote. However, it's a manageable stress for sure--the other students from other programs around the building always comment on how "happy-go-lucky" the PT students seem, and it's because we have so many hands-on labs and interactive studies. AND we have an amazing staff, many of whom will take the time to calm you down when you need it. Exercising with your friends is always a great stress reliever too, and your class will do social things together that makes you feel like a normal human being again when you need it.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

Ultimately, it's up to you how stressful you make the semester. Yes, the material comes at you like Gatling fire, but if you study a little every day and keep an eye on the profession beyond the books, you'll be fine. If you piled work and organizations or sports on top of your undergrad schedule, you'll be accustomed to the work amount. The first semester may serve as a healthy wake-up call for many, but like the PT professors have said, any student accepted into the program can succeed through it. Another thing to remember-GPAs don't matter as much at this level. Don't ignore them, but don't let them be the ruling goal of your studies.

Though I say to study every day, don't let PT school swallow you whole. Do things unrelated to PT-keep an exercise routine (highly recommended), rock climb at GV, explore the city of GR. Do something each week where you are not thinking about school, and enjoy it. And get enough sleep!
- Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

The first semester can certainly become stressful if you allow it to be. It will help if you realize that you're not going to get an A on every exam and assignment. And like I said, take a night off every week or on the weekend to relax.
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

Stop worrying about what other people are doing, and study the way you have done in the past. You got into PT school because you excelled in undergrad by learning what works best for you, so keep doing that! -Anna Stinson, Class of 2017

Make an effort to get to know the faculty. We have an amazing group of clinicians at our fingertips. Even if it’s a simple greeting or an unrelated conversation, the faculty is phenomenal at making time for students. -Sarah Harlow, Class of 2017

I am not sure I would have done much differently during semester one, but I would have reviewed more prior to beginning the semester. I think it is a huge advantage to have a good handle on anatomy/physiology before starting the semester.
- Keesha Olsen, DPT Class of 2015

I would have studied more frequently for less duration. Studying for hours on end before a test is less effective sometimes than just reviewing stuff day by day. However, no real regrets from that first semester! Loved (almost) every minute of it.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

I would have found my study rhythm earlier in the semester (meaning, using the time of day I am most productive do to my studies, and stay consistent at that time.) Also, I would have organized my binders and wrote down all significant due dates in my planner in the first week of classes.
- Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

I really wouldn't have done anything different in my first semester. I stayed pretty stress-free and got good grades by not freaking out about every exam and assignment and putting in a couple hours of studying every day.
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

Remember everyone here is smart. You got in because you are smart. Don’t spend all your time comparing yourself to everyone else. You do not need straight As. Work for that A, but do not dwell if you didn’t get 100%. Just learn the material. And take it seriously; this is all job training you will need in the future. - Ben Mastbergen, Class of 2017

Schedule a standing weekly study session with a classmate (or classmates) and practice all the things you learned in lab that week on each other. Don’t compare yourself to your classmates. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Know that you and a classmate could each study differently and absorb the same amount of information. Figure out what works well for you and do that. -Rachel McElroy, Class of 2016

Try not to forget about the things that make you happy. It is important to get involved and participate in PT events and opportunities, but it is okay to have outside hobbies too. If you play intramural sports-start a team, if you like to volunteer at the animal shelter-find a place nearby, if you like to travel-make it happen. We often need to talk and relate with our patients and those are the life experiences that you will come back to, not your time in class. -Sarah Harlow, Class of 2017

Be prepared to fall in love with the things that you learn and to feel yourself becoming the person you need to be in order to carry the DPT title. Professionalism, enthusiasm, dedication--these are all things you see in the staff each and every day, and when people lead by example, it spreads faster than a disease. Also, be prepared to fall in love with each and every one of your classmates; maybe you won't agree with the things they do sometimes, but you learn quickly that they are your peers above all else and that working with them each and every day is an unparalleled privilege.
- Patty Kool, DPT Class of 2015

For me, one of the hardest things was stay motivated to study, especially after doing it for five years in undergrad. I even started doubting how much I wanted to be a PT. As I found, this is a relatively normal phase to go through. If you get into the program and start feeling bogged down by the studies, rekindle that motivation to be a PT-ask a clinic to go observe for an hour or two. Share your struggles with classmates and even professors-they want to help you become a PT, not just learn the material. When you see PT beyond the books, it makes the books less daunting.
 - Patrick Lawrence, DPT Class of 2015

Some advice I would give is to become an engaged learner. Worry about concepts rather than memorizing useless facts and ask a lot of questions!
- Nate Keniston, DPT Class of 2015

Taking classes in PT school is a very different experience than taking undergrad classes. The information presented to us is now just focused on what we, as PT students are excited about learning! This makes class enjoyable, and it is easier to stay engaged. There is a lot of hands-on learning in labs, as well as listening to lectures. The professors are very knowledgeable, and their strong passion for the field of physical therapy is so apparent. They really have an interest in helping us learn, and to help us become better than average physical therapists. So much inspiration, valuable advice, and knowledge is gained just from interacting and conversing with them. These factors, among many others, make physical therapy school feel like it is not just about taking classes, but it is more like an exciting life experience.
- Kelsey Michals, DPT Class of 2015

While I never had a normal job during PT school, I did have other commitments at times (e.g. coaching football) and I found it to be more stressful than rewarding. Everyone is different, but I’d suggest you make sure you can handle school alone before adding anything else to your plate. -Tom Tresh, Class of 2017

Absolutely, I worked every semester. But you have to know how you function. I worked throughout undergrad as well so I was used to having outside responsibilities. My advice would be to keep your hours low during first semester while you adjust and when you’re looking for a job, take into account the employer’s flexibility with changing school schedules (because there will be the occasional required event outside of what is posted on Blackboard). -Sarah Harlow, Class of 2017

Grand Valley has an amazing reputation for their program across the state and nationally. They have amazing faculty that are experts in their field and really want you to succeed. I liked the curriculum layout in that you get to learn in the classroom and in labs, then go out into the clinic and utilize those skills throughout the entire program versus waiting until the final year to get out in the clinic. Grand Valley has 5 clinical experiences, which I found to be more than in other programs that give you the opportunity to see and work in different clinics and settings. GVSU also has beautiful facilities that allow you to work with top of the line equipment. Additionally, being located in Grand Rapids is ideal for having a fun time out with your classmates to de-stress! -Stacey Omiljan, Class of 2017

Facilities, faculty, free printing. The professors are incredible-very educated and helpful. The facilities are state of the art, and you get unlimited free printing. Taylor Spitzley, Class of 2017