Programmatic use of holistic admissions and DPT student perceptions of factors influencing choice of program
Study of the use of Holistic Admissions Review (HAR) in physical therapy education is emerging as a strategy to promote equity and inclusion through the consideration of applicant non-cognitive variables as predictors of success in the program and field. Previous research has shown that prospective students pursue programs that can provide accessible, high-quality, vetted physical therapist education from institutions with good reputations and rankings. The purposes of this project were to describe and explore 1) the specific programmatic use and weight of holistic non-cognitive admissions criteria and practices across accredited PTEPs in the United States and 2) the applicant PTEP admissions experience with an emphasis on non-cognitive prerequisite criteria and factors that influence PTEP choice. The first study of this dissertation used a prospective design with a survey instrument developed by the PI, that was Delphi reviewed and administered to PTEP admissions committee members across the United States. The second study, a prospective mixed methods inquiry, included qualitative interviews of first year DPT students, asking them to describe their recollection of their perspectives and influences as applicants during the most recent PTEP admissions cycle. Interview results were then used to refine a survey instrument administered to a national sample of student physical therapists. Study 1 findings revealed the use and weighting of novel non-cognitive admissions criteria and applicant background factors by >50% of PTEP respondents including web-based interview formats, socioeconomic disadvantage, military experience, extracurriculars, and underrepresented racial minority status. The reported use and consideration of applicant institutional alumni status and tutor/teaching experience differed significantly by program institutional designation as public or private. Study 2 analysis found significant proportional differences in student responses to influencing factors including racial identity, program culture, and program reputation in the application to and selection of a PTEP when subdivided by respondent minority status, gender, career status, and repeat applicant status. Cost (72.1%), Program Educational Quality (69.1%), Program Ranking/Reputation (63.2%), Location, (61.8%), Delivery Model, (60.3%), and Accreditation (57.4%), were reported by >50% of respondents as influential on their program selection decision-making. Analysis of qualitative interview transcripts and survey open-ended responses uncovered the following qualitative themes: 1) applicants value flexible prerequisites and entrance requirements that match program mission; 2) applicants value HAR and transparency; 3) applicants appreciate when programs invest in interviews; 4) conventional and emerging (new) factors influence application to and selection of a PTEP; 5) applicant identities impact the influences on their decisions. Results provide insight from a variety of program and current student physical therapist perspectives regarding the influences driving admissions decisions and choice of program and support the emerging use of holistic admissions review in physical therapist education. PTEPs may wish to re-examine admissions rubrics, application review practices, and recruitment strategies with the perspectives of other programs and applicants in mind.