Your Preprofessional Timeline
(Guidelines for pre-OT, PT, and PA students)
Important: Keep your legal and student ethics records clean! They can potentially impact both admissions and professional licensure!
What should I be doing, and when?
Everyone's situation is different. How you progress through your undergraduate degree, how you decide when the best time is to apply, and the process leading up to your application to graduate professional programs, depend on a number of factors. HPPLC advisors can help you assess your preprofessional timeline, circumstances, level of competitiveness, and your options, as well as offer honest, constructive feedback about any steps you can take to enhance your success. After reading this page you are welcome to click the Make An Appointment link on our homepage and follow the instructions to get with the advisor who can best assist you.
Some people progress in a manner which enables them to apply during the Summer after their junior year (and/or Fall of senior year), but many choose to wait until after their senior year to apply. Some defer their application because they need more time to complete admission requirements; others, because they decide there are certain things they must do to strengthen their application to professional programs; others defer applying because they want to undertake a gap-year experience; some defer for personal reasons. Everyone's situation is different.
Obviously everyone's goal is to confirm their career decision and proceed in a timely manner through the process of becoming a competitive applicant to professional programs. For their part, professional programs prefer that people apply when they are ready, and do not look down upon those who choose to apply later; indeed, the average applicant to OT, PT, and PA programs is around 23 or 24 years-old.
That said, the information on this page is meant to provide pre-occupational therapy, pre-physical therapy, and pre-physician assistant students with a map they can follow to progress through their preprofessional process as efficiently as possible. You can also add items below to your IGPS task list.
Long term planning fundamentals
We realize that seeing a list of so many "fundamentals" may seem overwhelming. Don't worry: some of them will sink in right away, some you may want to put in your phone or other calendar to set off a reminder when the time comes, and we also advise that you simply skim through this list every so often to remind yourself of important timing thresholds. Of course, you can also see a HPPLC advisor for help planning how the items on this page figure into your own timeline.
- SUMMER, not fall, is usually the optimal time to apply! Plan to apply at least 8 or more weeks prior to your earliest deadline.
Read the IMPORTANT: Start By Reading This! section at the top of the OT, PT, or PA page.
Know that each person's situation / timeline is different. Therefore, it's very important that you take the sample timeline below as just that - a sample, a rough estimate for a 4-year preprofessional timeline that you can adapt to your own circumstances with the help of a HPPLC advisor. Many people, for instance, discover their path later in their undergraduate degree, but they can still situate themselves within the sample timeline. People also pursue academics, garner clinical observation, do program research, and get hands-on experience at different paces, so some choose to defer their application for a year or two and adjust their timeline accordingly. Professional programs want you to apply when you are ready; they do NOT look down upon people who apply later. The average applicant is around 23 or 24 years old.
Read the Overview of the Admission Process. It'll take just 10 minutes, and will take some of the mystery out of the preprofessional process.
Preprofessional timeline and degree timeline are not the same thing. Think of them as overlapping, related, but different processes. For most students who have been pre-OT or pre-PT from the start, and for some pre-PA students, it is feasible to apply during Junior Summer and complete both the preprofessional timeline tasks and degree timeline tasks in four years. However, for many pre-PA students and alumni, and a fair number of pre-OT and pre-PT students, the preprofessional timeline may take longer to complete. Set a goal for when you hope to apply, and be open to revising this plan if need be. Flexibility is especially helpful for pre-PA students, and for pre-OT and pre-PT students who began their preprofessional process a bit later in their undergraduate career.
The sample timeline below can help you build short-term To Do lists as well as do long-range planning. This planning should include attending HPPLC information sessions for your area (announced through our email lists - subscribe from our homepage) and scheduling individual appointments with a HPPLC preprofessional advisor (the Make An Appointment link on our homepage).
Get to know your instructors: you will need letters of recommendation! Most students meet with instructors to get extra help, which in turn helps them break the ice to perhaps ask for a letter of recommendation. For the same reason, even 4.0 GPA students who rarely need additional help (a rare thing indeed) need to establish a strong rapport with instructors!
Plan for rolling admissions and early application cycles. Generally, those who are pre-OT, PT, and PA should consider Summer rather than fall as the time during which they ought to apply. Thinking of Fall as the application period can be a serious miscalculation because many programs begin filling spots long before their actual deadline (a process called rolling admissions),and some deadlines fall on September 1st or even earlier. Also, the application, and everything leading up to it, takes time and careful planning (that's why we offer this website!), so the Summer affords a valuable opportunity to finish all of this up before adding the additional responsibilities of Fall courses.
- PA: Not all, but most programs require the CASPA central application. A new CASPA application cycle opens in mid-April of each year. For programs with extremely early application cycles, e.g., August, plan to apply as early as June. Even a May application can be advantageous for some programs. (The exception might be if all of your programs happen to have January or February application cycles.)
- OT, PT: Many OT and PT programs require the OTCAS or PTCAS central application, respectively. A new OTCAS and PTCAS application cycle opens in the first week of July. Plan to apply by the end of July or first week or two of August, even for programs with October deadlines. (The exception might be if all of your programs happen to have January or February application cycles.)
Note the prerequisite deadline of each program you're thinking of applying to (i.e., the time by when you must complete all prerequisite courses in order to be eligible for admission in a given year). Plan accordingly. For example, many programs only allow one or two prerequisite courses to be in progress at the time you apply, and some don't allow any prereqs to be taken in the Spring prior to when the professional program begins. On the other hand, many programs are more flexible. You won't know how long you have to complete your prereqs until you check with each of your programs.
- Winter / Spring applications: Some programs do have Winter or Spring application cycles, but because most have deadlines in the Fall, Summer usually becomes the default optimal time to apply in most situations. You are welcome to schedule an appointment with a HPPLC advisor to discuss your preprofessional and application timelines.
Be aware of prerequisite expiration dates if you are thinking of deferring your application for a number of years. For example, if you plan to embark upon another years-long post-graduation experience or career prior to entering professional school, prerequisites can expire or become invalid if too much time passes between when they are taken and when the application is submitted. Prerequisites remain valid for 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the program. Some programs have split prereq expiration dates; for example, 5 years for anatomy and physiology but 7 for everything else. Pre-applicants who determine (through program research and conversations with programs) that they must factor prereq expiration into their planning sometimes graduate and then complete prerequisites later so the courses will fall within the necessary time frame leading up to their application.
It is usually best to avoid overlapping most lab courses. To complete your prerequisites most efficiently, try enrolling in one of the lab courses each semester. Doing so is especially important for pre-PT and pre-PA students. Depending on when you want to apply, Summer courses might be an option or a necessity.
Studying abroad can impact your preprofessional timeline. Depending on the particular study abroad program, you may or may not be able to take some prerequisite courses while abroad. Plan accordingly.
Those who spend 30 hours each week studying, reading, getting help, and so on, earn higher grades than those who don't - its that simple. If you choose not to follow this advice, you are making a decision to be less competitive for admission, and your stress level will likely be higher. Effective time management is critical to the success of your application to professional school. Rigorously utilize HPPLC time management / study tips and tools
Transfer students new to IUB: be aware that most transfer students tell us that IUB courses are more challenging and time consuming than previous college courses they've taken elsewhere. Please plan accordingly.
- Also learn the shadowing deadline by when any required observation must be completed. (Pre-PA, also learn the direct patient care deadline.)
- Some programs begin professional coursework in the Spring. Such programs usually require that you apply the Spring or Summer prior. Accordingly, they will also have different prerequisite deadlines than programs that begin professional coursework in the Summer or Fall.
SAMPLE Preprofessional Timeline
(Remember: your particular timeline depends on your individual circumstances)
- Focus first and foremost on your academic and personal transition to college - we can't stress this point enough!
- Build a strong support network on campus: get to know your RA, others on your floor, your advisors, your instructors, and those sitting near you in class, and thereby form a support network to help you adjust to life at IUB. If you start feeling lost, sad, or lonely, meet with someone in CAPS. They can help!
- OT, PT, and PA programs are very competitive, so form excellent academic habits from the start. College is a major step up from high school, but you can do it! Five or ten hours of studying and extra help each week will not be sufficient to help you become competitive for graduate programs, but the HPPLC time management / study tips and tools can help you form solid college-level habits and skills.
- Read the description of the profession of interest at the top of the given HPPLC page.
- In Fall semester, attend the group information and orientation sessions for your area(s) of interest.
- Undertake clinical observation (shadowing) in your area(s) of interest. Try to do so during breaks or on weekends so you can stay focused on academics
- Get in the habit of meeting with instructors in office hours, and even chatting before and after class. Learning how to break the ice and establish a rapport will not only make it easier for you to ask for letters of recommendation in the year or two leading up to your application, but will also help you be more comfortable during your shadowing and hands-on experience.
- Read the top of the Researching Accredited Programs page, and follow the simple guidelines to build a working list of 25 or 30 OT, PT, or PA programs (which you will hone and narrow over the next several semesters). Building this initial list will take less than an hour! Glance through the prerequisite courses for the programs on your list, which will help you very quickly get a sense of which courses you might need eventually.
- Regarding freshman-year courses:
- Pre-OT: try to take a prerequisite course in each of Fall and Spring semesters.
- Pre-PT: try to take one of your 5 credit prerequisites each semester to avoid overlapping them later.
- Pre-PA: begin your chemistry sequence in Fall if at all possible, whether you place into Chem-C 103 or C117. Usually it's a good idea to continue with chemistry each semester, although circumstances vary.
- Continue with strong academics. Between now and sophomore Fall, learn to be literally a "full time student," spending 40 or more hours per week on courses and preprofessional activities: in the classroom, studying, getting extra help, shadowing, researching programs (and, fore pre-PA, seeking out direct patient care experience). Use the time management tool on the HPPLC Professional Development page.
- Consider meeting with a HPPLC advisor to discuss your progress, timeline, and Summer preprofessional plans. (Simply click the Make An Appointment link on our homepage and follow the instructions to get with the correct HPPLC advisor and supply the needed information.)
- In Spring, contact people associated with the preprofessional experiences you are thinking of pursuing that Summer, shadowing as well as direct patient care. It can takes weeks to get the ball rolling, so try to arrange to have things in place in time for the Summer.
Summer after freshman year
- Undertake extensive clinical observation beginning the Summer after freshman year. Log your hours and take notes as described on the HPPLC Clinical Observation page.
- Pre-OT and pre-PT: when you shadow, ask if you can volunteer at some point with patients - applying cold / hot packs, waiting with patients while the practitioner is with another patient, and the like. Log hours and take notes as you would with shadowing.
- Pre-PA: read the Patient Care section of the HPPLC PA site, and arrange opportunities for freshman Summer. Also arrange opportunities ahead of time that you can begin during sophomore Fall. Log hours and take notes as you would with shadowing.
- If you can't locate a PA to shadow, try shadowing your family physician, and ask him or her if they can refer you to some PAs.
- Try to get some hands-on experience, perhaps volunteering in a way which has you interacting directly with those you are serving. Log your hours and keep a journal of these experiences, which could play a role in your eventful application. (See log / journal guidelines on the Clinical Observation page.)
- Invest additional time honing and narrowing your list or programs, using the resources and guidelines on the Researching Accredited Programs page.
Fall and Spring, 2 or 3 years prior to applying
(Sometimes sophomore year, but often junior year)
It is during this time - two or so years prior to applying - that things begin to get more and more busy for pre-OT, PT, and PA students. Expect to spend more hours each week fulfilling preprofessional and academic tasks. Time management becomes even more crucial at this point, as there are a number of projects you need to work on simultaneously, especially if you hope to apply to programs during your junior Summer (but remember that about half of all preprofessional students defer their application by a year or more).
- Continue to get to know your instructors! You will eventually need letters of recommendation. If you have an excellent experience this year, you could ask for one.
- Begin refining your program research, fully utilizing the resources and guidelines on the Researching Programs page. Narrow your list of possible programs to 10 or 15. (Or do so the Fall prior to when you plan to apply, if you are deferring your application).
- Continue to undertake shadowing and hands-on experience (but don't allow them to diminish time you invest in academics).
- Double-down on being extremely diligent with regard to time management and your devotion to academics. Every 1/3 of a grade matters, so do everything possible (and ethical, of course!) to grasp the material and earn the best grades possible. A grade of B is okay, but only if you have thoroughly utilized all of the HPPLC time management tips and tools to earn the best grade possible.
Expect to be literally a "full time student," spending 45 or more hours per week on courses and preprofessional activities: in the classroom, studying, getting extra help; shadowing; program research (and, fore pre-PA, garnering direct patient care experience).
Summer, a year prior to applying
(Sometimes Summer after sophomore year, but often later)
- If you plan to apply a year from now, review the ETS GRE site, and take a practice electronic GRE. Doing so will help you decide how much prep you need in the next year.
- Continue to shadow and gain additional hands-on experience related to your area - ideas and information at OT, PT, PA.
- Continue researching programs using the guidelines and resources on the Researching Programs page.
- Based on the results of your GPA calculations (below), make sure it looks like you will fall within range of the programs you are considering.
- Use a GPA calculator to determine your total cumulative GPA thus far (includes all ACP / dual credit, all college-level courses from all institutions you've attended).
- Also calculate your total prerequisite GPA.
- Pre-PT and PA, calculate your total science GPA up till this point (chem, bio, anatomy, physiology, physics, stats).
- Students who feel they can do well with the accelerated pace of Summer courses sometimes complete a lab prerequisite or two over sophomore Summer. While we generally don't suggest taking chemistry elsewhere over the Summer (unless it's the final chemistry course you will need), anatomy and/or physiology, or physics, may be options. Whether doing so will benefit you, or is necessary, will depend on your circumstances
- Review the long term planning fundamentals at the top of this page and make sure you understand each program's deadlines and cycle (rolling admissions, prereq and shadowing deadlines, hands-on experience deadlines, etc.).
Fall of the year prior to applying
(People sometimes apply the Summer after Jr year, but often apply Sr Summer or later. Remember: It is YOUR timeline, so fashion it according to what will work best in YOUR circumstances!)
- Continue to emphasize academic performance and time management.
- Narrow your list and confirm prereqs for the 8 - 12 programs to which you will apply. Use the list of fundamental research questions to fill in important knowledge gaps; for example, what letters of recommendation do you need, when should you apply to be most competitive (rolling admission cycles), prereq and shadowing deadlines, hands-on experience deadlines, etc.
- Read the Personal Essay timeline. Begin drafting your essay over the Winter or in Spring. (Sometimes if someone is studying abroad the Spring prior to applying, they begin drafting their personal essay that Fall instead.)
- Begin gathering letters of recommendation. Plan to get at least one from a professional in your field with whom you've done clinical observation, and at least one from faculty from whom you've earned an excellent grade, preferably in a 200-level or higher prerequisite. Letter requirements vary by program, so confirm with each one.
- Decide when you will take the GRE. Plan to take it by at least May or June, but adjust if need be. Consult the HPPLC GRE page for additional preparation and timing information.
- Assess your clinical observation and other pertinent experiences, and make sure you are on track to fulfill the requirements or preferences for each program, keeping in mind their shadowing and hands-on experience deadlines. Usually, all experience needed for the application should be completed by the time you submit it.
- Sometimes those who must take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) will begin preparing during their junior Fall, but this depends on your own circumstances and timeline.
- Review the Application section of the OT, PT, or PA page and bear in mind the time-sensitive items (for example, when the central application service cycle ends and begins during the Spring/Summer). If you have not done so join your CAS's email list.
- Over Fall semester, or beginning over Winter break, it is wise to begin a draft of your personal essay. Be sure to read and thoroughly incorporate the tips and suggestions in the Personal Statement / Essay section of the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA page.
- Review the Application section of the OT, PT, or PA page and bear in mind the time-sensitive items (for example, when the Central Application Service cycle ends and begins during the Spring/Summer). Also, join your CAS's email list.
Spring, just prior to applying
- Continue to emphasize academic performance and time management.
- Remember that SUMMER, not Fall is usually the best time to apply. Some programs have August 1 deadlines and begin to fill spots much sooner!
- Double-check the Application section of the OT, PT, or PA page and plan accordingly. Familiarize yourself with central application service (CAS) and non-central application service processes for your programs.
- Continue drafting your personal essay. The time at which it must be finished and submitted will depend on the application cycles of your programs. Check to see if your programs require additional essays at any point during the primary, or possibly secondary / supplemental, application process.
- Request any remaining letters of recommendation ASAP! Try to give recommenders 6, 8, or more weeks to write the letter.
- You might find that it makes sense to begin filling out applications around this time. Some applications become available in late Spring or early Summer for non-CAS programs, and some CAS applications open as early as mid-April. Again, consult the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA page; the OTCAS, PTCAS, or CASPA site; and non-CAS program websites.
The Summer you apply
(Remember: While people sometimes apply the Summer after Jr year, it is common and oftentimes advisable to apply Sr Summer or later. It's YOUR timeline: plan according to what will help you create the strongest application within your circumstances)
- If you haven't done so already, you will likely apply in early to mid-Summer. Many applications open early in the Summer (including Central Application Services - refer to the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA page, and to the OTCAS, PTCAS, or CASPA site). To be more competitive for admission to some programs with earlier rolling admissions cycles, you may need to submit your application as early as May, June, or July. On more rare occasions - for example, if all of your program application deadlines are in November or over the Winter - you may have a bit more time. The time by which you yourself should submit applications will depend on where you are applying, and how your program application cycles are structured. Refer to your area's HPPLC page and Central Application Service website for additional information related to the application timeline.
- The GRE is commonly taken in May or June of the year applying; though this again depends on your program application cycles.
- You may need to complete your personal essay by April or May, depending on your program application cycles. (Even if all your programs have November or Winter application cycles, plan to complete your final essay draft by the start of Fall term.)
- NOTE that some programs with rolling admissions or early decision begin interviews during the Summer! Prior to interviews, be sure to thoroughly utilize the suggestions and resources in the Admission Interview section of the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA site.
- Some people take additional prerequisites during the Summer in which they are applying, though this is best avoided if at all possible so you can focus on the application, and on finishing up other admission requirements, such as essays.
Fall, the year applying
(You may have already applied during the Summer; if not, finish up applications early in Fall!)
- Continue to emphasize academic performance and time management.
- Politely check with your recommenders the progress of any letters of recommendation not yet completed.
- Submit all remaining application materials.
- Some programs require a "secondary application." Check each program's website to learn if and when you must submit a secondary application.
- It is common for programs that begin professional coursework in the Summer to require that all prerequisites be completed by the end of the Fall prior; in other words, oftentimes Spring prerequisites are not allowed. By doing careful program research well ahead of time, you can meet prerequisite deadlines.
- Interviews might be held at any time during the Fall, Winter, or Spring, so plan accordingly. Thoroughly utilize the suggestions and resources in the Admission Interview section of the HPPLC OT, PT, or PA site.
- (If you decided to defer your application, follow the timeline for junior Fall and junior Spring.)
Spring after applying
(Sometimes this is Sr Spring, sometimes later. You may have already finished applying or may have some Spring application cycles)
- Interviews might be held at any time during the Fall, Winter, or Spring. You can prepare using the Admission Interview Guidelines, and feel free to meet with a HPPLC advisor to discuss interview strategies.
- Remember that some programs begin professional coursework in the Spring. Such programs usually require that you apply the Spring or Summer prior. Accordingly, they will also have different prerequisite deadlines than programs that begin professional coursework in the Summer or Fall.
- (If you decided to defer your application, follow the timeline for junior Spring and junior Summer.)
This information was prepared for Indiana University Bloomington students by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Please note that specific requirements and policies can change at any time without notice. Students are responsible for obtaining the most current information directly from application and testing services, and the schools and programs in which they have an interest. Refer to each program's web pages, bulletins, and other publications for the most current information. Students are responsible for understanding degree course requirements, as well as other requirements, policies, and procedures related to the degree(s) they are pursuing; for enrolling in appropriate courses; for understanding IU policies/procedures; and for following through properly with regard to all of the preceding.