How I got Accepted into my Dream DPT Program

How I got Accepted into my Dream DPT Program

I remember the happiness I felt when I finally received my acceptance email from Duke. After stalking the student doctor network forums religiously (don’t be like me), and constantly refreshing my email, the moment I had been waiting for for so long was finally here. It has been two months since that email, and it still feels SO unreal.


I should probably introduce myself before I continue blabbing on, so HEY, I’m Dashaé Smallwood. I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro this past May with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, and a concentration in Sports Medicine. Since my senior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to become a physical therapist. Once I put my mind to something, there’s no stopping me. As I reflect on my PT school application process, there are so many things I did to become the best applicant I could be.

First, I committed to applying Early Decision to Duke. This would show the admission’s committee that I was serious about their program, and really wanted to attend. This would increase my acceptance chances as well, as the applicant pool would be much smaller, and my application would be one of the first to be reviewed. Applying Early Decision was also binding, so if I was accepted, I couldn’t apply to any other schools this application cycle. That was fine with me though, because I knew that Duke was where I wanted to be. The Early Decision deadline was August 15th, so I had to make sure that all of my application materials would be ready on time. We were told that we would be notified of a decision by the end of September, and if we weren’t accepted, we were free to apply to other programs. I knew that I wanted to pursue my DPT degree at Duke, so I did everything in my power to have a well-rounded application, and stand out.


Observation Hours

Duke’s program didn’t have an observation hour/setting requirement, but they recommended that you have at least 100 hours in a variety of settings. To cover all my bases, I shadowed at an outpatient orthopedic setting, an inpatient rehab setting, a skilled nursing/extended-care/home-health setting, and an outpatient pediatric setting. I ended up with 138 hours total, with at least 30 hours per setting. The fall before I applied to PT school, I shadowed at the hospital near my University (the inpatient rehab setting I previously mentioned). There, I met so many great therapists, and two Duke DPT alum. One of these therapists offered to be my mentor (and eventually write me a recommendation letter), and helped me tremendously throughout my application process. She gave me lots of suggestions to boost my application, and I really believe that they helped secure my spot at Duke. Her first suggestion was to list the types of patients, injuries, and interventions I observed while shadowing on my resume.


To set myself apart, my mentor also recommended that I try to shadow at a physical therapy clinic within the Duke University Health System. Not every student has the opportunity to do this, so I was grateful that I lived in NC. At the time, I lived about an hour away from Durham, so I contacted Duke’s pediatric clinic to see if I could set up a one-day shadow experience. Luckily, they actually had an observation program for pre-PT students. Because the clinic only had limited therapists, and so many students wanted to shadow, you had to apply for the program. When I emailed the coordinator (another Duke DPT alum), she informed me that the application deadline for the program was the next day. I told her a little bit about myself, and thankfully, she extended the deadline so that I could get my application in. I was so excited, that I completed the application that night. A week later I was accepted, and I drove to Durham every Tuesday to shadow for four hours. I learned so much at the pediatric clinic, and I got to network with current Duke DPT students, a DPT faculty member, and other DPT alum. I bonded with one DPT alum in particular, and she ended up offering to write me a recommendation letter! This leads me to the next topic.


Letters of Recommendation

For Duke, I had to have one recommendation letter from a professor, one from a therapist I shadowed, and another from a person of my choice. I ended up having two letters from Duke DPT alums (my mentor and the therapist from the pediatric setting), and a letter from my favorite professor, who was also the Dean of my major’s undergraduate studies. Having recommendation letters from Duke graduates made me more “credible”. Of course, every program values the opinions of its past students, so it was a good move to have two alums recommending me for Duke’s program.



I graduated Summa Cum Laude from UNCG, and my overall PTCAS GPA was a 3.82. My pre-req GPA was a 3.65, and I had all A’s in every course except Physics I and II, and Physiology (I had B’s in those). Duke didn’t have a minimum GPA requirement, but the average overall GPA for accepted students was a 3.60, and the average pre-req GPA was 3.70. My stats were in this range, so I figured I had a decent chance of getting in.



Because I was applying Early Decision, I had to take my GRE early. I chose to take it the summer after I graduated (in July), so that I could fully dedicate my time to studying. I used Magoosh’s Test prep, and their three-month study plan. I studied for about three hours every weekday, and took a full-length practice test almost every weekend. Magoosh’s program was super helpful, and because of it I ended up with a 160 V (86th %), 156 Q (62nd %), and 3.5 AW (42nd %) (316 composite score). My AW score wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be, but it didn’t end up making or breaking my application. Duke also didn’t have a minimum GRE score, but their accepted students usually scored in or around the 50th percentile. I scored above the 50th percentile for each section except for AW, so I was very proud of myself.


Extra-Curricular Activities

I made sure to have a variety of extra-curricular activities, and they are listed below:


Kinesiology Club, Bronze Leadership Challenge, Kinesiology Commencement Honor Marshall, Club Lacrosse Secretary, Campus Activities Board Member, Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, Employee for my University’s Facilities and Game Operations (2+ years), Retail Sales Associate (5+ years), Retail Store Lead/Keyholder (new position), Volunteer for a Summer Enrichment Program for refugee and immigrant youth (42 hours), Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp Counselor (144 hours), Muscular Dystrophy Association Muscle Walk Volunteer (8 hours)



Personal Statement/Essays

Duke’s program really values diversity and inclusion, so I made sure to talk about the traits and experiences I possess that have prepared me for this type of environment. In addition, I made sure that my essays were very personal, while also remembering to actually answer the prompts.



Lastly, Duke no longer conducts interviews, so I unfortunately don’t have any experience with this process. I did attend Duke’s DPT information session this past summer though, and my mentor suggested that I treat it as if it were an interview. Taking her advice, I decided to dress professionally, and network as much as I could while there. I was one of the only students who dressed up, so I definitely stood out (in a good way). My mentor advised that I bring copies of my resume (which I did), but I was too afraid to actually give them out. Instead, I introduced myself to whoever I could, just to get my name out there. I interacted with current students and faculty members, learned more about Duke’s program, and also got to tour the DPT facilities. I am glad that I decided to visit Duke before applying, because it further solidified that this was the right program for me.


And that’s it! I hope this post gave you a little insight into my PT application process. If you’d like to learn more about me or follow my DPT journey, check out my Instagram: @thecurlyclinician. I love talking to/meeting new people, and my DMs and comments are ALWAYS open for questions! I am excited and eager to start my DPT journey at my DREAM school, and I can’t wait to see what my future holds.

Thanks for reading! 🙂