Studying Math

Is it too difficult to get on to a physiotherapy degree?

Should I even try to apply?

I received an email through this blog from somebody who is in much the same position as I was this time last year – at the start of an Access to HE course, in their early thirties, and wanting to apply to do physiotherapy. They were concerned that the course was too difficult to get onto and that people surrounding them were unsupportive of the career change because they perceived a high likelihood of failure. I wanted to address that here, as it is not the first time I have had this discussion and it affected me while applying too.

When you start reading around on how to get on to a physio degree, you realise it is a popular course with the benefit of NHS funding for EU students which makes it a financially viable option for a 2nd degree and that it leads to a rewarding career. The number of NHS-funded places on UK courses are limited – in-part – to ensure that there are enough jobs for qualified physiotherapists upon graduation. These facts compound to create a situation whereby vastly more people apply than there are places on courses for. To illustrate this, only 14% of applicants received an offer at my university to study physiotherapy for the current academic year 2015/2016. Compare that to my first degree in English, where 89% of applicants intake at my former university.

You also need good grades (actual and/or predicted) to get onto a physio degree. This varies from place to place but, because the course content is challenging and the competition is high, the academic entry requirements can be tough. NHS careers lists the requirements as 3 A levels at grade A-C including a biological science, plus a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade A-C including maths, English and science. When I was in the process of applying, I found that most universities were looking at AAB or ABB in terms of A level qualifications, or (for mature students without the necessary A levels) between 30 and the maximum 45 distinctions from a science based Access course.

Achieving these kind of grades isn’t easy. Especially if you’ve been out of education for a while, or never had much in the way of formal schooling. The person that emailed in was concerned that people surrounding them didn’t believe they had a chance of getting on to a physiotherapy degree. When I started my Access to HE course, I quickly found that physiotherapy had a reputation for being really difficult to get into, and that a lot of people try to get in and fail. In fact, a quick Google will show a bunch of worried people out there fretting about the same thing, people worrying that it’s too difficult to get on to a physiotherapy degree and so why even set yourself up to fail?

I’m not going to lie; the facts stand for themselves. Physiotherapy, for the reasons I mentioned above and many more, is a difficult course to get onto. Had I fully appreciated just how competitive it was before I had begun the process of application, I might just have wavered in my own resolve. I recognise a tendency in myself that I think many people can relate to – the tendency to not attempt things that I think I might fail at, in order to save my pride. It’s a form of self-sabotage and should be resisted at all costs. Had I have given into that little voice that whispered, ‘they’ll never pick you’, I wouldn’t be writing this now. Neither would I be 5 weeks into a physiotherapy degree at my first-choice university, and I certainly wouldn’t have begun to discover just how fascinating, varied, and rewarding physiotherapy truly is. The point is, some applicants must get picked. You may as well throw your name in and give yourself a chance rather than taking yourself out of the running.

Even if you don’t have the right academic qualifications, they can be achieved through alternative means. I did the Access to HE course, for example, as I only had two GCSEs and my A levels were not appropriate to the subject. That took a year. In order to get onto the Access to HE course, I needed to take the Edexcel iGCSE in maths, for which I had some tuition over the course of about 9 months, having never studied any maths at the required level. It wasn’t easy, doing homework on my lunch breaks at work, and fitting all this study around my job and life. It wasn’t cheap either, when I eventually hard to reduce my full-time hours during my Access to HE course to accommodate the frequent assignments and ensure I got distinctions every time. Then again, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

My advice –  and please bear in mind I am a 1st year physio student and do not speak on behalf of universities offering places or the NHS – is that if you really want to be a physiotherapist:

  1. Get some work shadowing experience, as much and as varied as you can. Not only will this be great for your UCAS application but help you to figure out if this is the career for you.
  2. Work really hard to make the entry requirements and beyond. Why not? You need the grades and it’s a good feeling to achieve to the best of your ability. And what you learn in the science based subjects could really help you hit the ground running when the course starts. If you don’t have traditional qualifications, look into an Access to HE course. A lot of (but not all) universities value this alternative. Several people of my course came through this route.
  3. Work really hard (see 2.)
  4. Work really hard (see 2. & 3.)
  5. Don’t discount the other life experiences you can bring to your application. Especially if you are a mature student with a few (or more) years of work experience – even in unrelated professions. You probably have many skills and attributes that are essential in physios, such as your ability to interact and empathise with people from varied social/cultural/geographical backgrounds.

So, yes, if you want you really want to study physiotherapy, and the grades are achievable, why shouldn’t you be amongst the applicants that gets chosen, like I was this year? Or like my classmates were? Every one of us, before receiving our final offers, had the thought that we might not get selected. The one thing we all have in common is that we started the process, and we followed it through. Now here we are. I thought I’d end with a few words from some of my cohort, who have all at some point have been told that ‘it would never be them’ or even thought that of themselves.

“I never thought I would get in! After 11 years out of education and nothing more than GCSE’s. But hard work and perseverance prevailed and I’m so glad!” – Natalie

“Not fitting the ‘standard’ entry requirements doesn’t mean that you can’t be a physio. It may mean that you can’t be a physio RIGHT now. Speak to physio schools you wish to go to and ask what they would require you to do. If you fit the academic entry requirements, but are worried about the level of competition or securing the relevant work experience, then perseverance and commitment is the key. Keep asking and someone will give you the opportunities.” – Rachel

“I got told the same thing and it put me off to begin with. I wish now that I hadn’t listened because I missed out on a few years that I could have used getting work experience! My advice would be to ignore them and just work hard on getting the grades and work experience that you need.” – Jenny

“I agree with Jenny: it is important to not listen to the people who think you can’t make it. Even better: if you can, avoid telling that group of people about your project of starting a Bsc in physio until you make it. That way, they can’t give you doubts or try to stop you. Also don’t worry about your age. And I highly recommend an access course for those with a different background. This course is highly regarded by unis and a great preparation for the Bsc. Finally, never give up on your dream: if you really want it, you’ll get it! I got great work experience with no connections whatsoever, for instance.” – Sylvia

Best of luck,



Featured image by Steven S.
Licence: for CC BY.

Category: Physio Student JourneyPhysiotherapy


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Article by: Vee Uye

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