Help! Which School Should I Choose?

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Jan 7, 2016
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I am currently an undergraduate student in Chicago, applying for physical therapy schools this summer. I have narrowed down my choice to two options:

1. University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) -----> $76K, and I would be able to commute to school
2. University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) -----> $108K, but that's not including 3 years worth of living expenses​

I estimate that I will graduate with about $27K in undergraduate debt. Now, based on the numbers, it's obvious which choice I should go with. However... I also want to pursue a PhD degree in Biomechanics after completing my DPT. I want to do research in running biomechanics, and UWM has the facilities, research, and professors that are doing exactly that. UIC does not have any of it.

My fear is that if I attend UIC, I will have a significantly more difficult time being accepted into the PhD program later. I won't have the connections or the experience to make for a strong biomechanics candidate. By attending UWM then, I am banking on the hope (operative word) that:
[1] I will get into the PhD program (which, there's no guarantee of that either), and
[2] that having both a clinical and teaching/research degree will give me the freedom and flexibility to work in a variety of settings.​
In essence, if I cannot land a contract with a running company or become a professor and institutional researcher, I can 'fall back' on my DPT.

So, is it worth taking out more loans then? The PhD won't be any additional debt because I can always get an assistantship or teaching position and receive tuition remission. Any advice, opinion, or anecdotes would be most greatly appreciated!

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Have you considered going into the PhD program in biomechanics INSTEAD of PT school? From your post, it sounds like that's where your true interests may be. In the end, I feel that the PhD is better suited to research in biomechanics. You might end up with the exact same job with 3 years less of schooling (subtracting a DPT program from your plan). Plus the PhD might be cheaper overall if you could get an assistantship.
If I were in your shoes, I'd run the numbers for the years after the DPT diploma. For those years, your expenses will be roughly the same in either case (i.e., whether you start your PhD or not). However, you will have income if you can't get into UWM, since you'll be working as a PT. If you do get into the PhD program, most of your income will be deferred until you graduate and get a job. Have you checked out the job market for PhDs in this field, esp. for tenure-track positions? Don't forget to account for taxes. I hope you like Excel, it's an excellent tool for running financial scenarios.
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What about the dual DPT/PhD programs at schools like Northwestern and Delaware?
I think Northwestern has a DPT/Biomechanics PhD track.
My gut is go to UW for a phd in biomechanics. Then decide if you feel you need a DPT later. (And I don't think you will). I'm very into running biomechanics. And I've had about 5 mins of it in PT school thus far. I just don't see that connection for what you want to do. And certainly not at that high cost.
Heck you can even teach in a DPT program with a phd in biomechanics!
I love that you mentioned that! I would recommend that if you're interested in running biomechanics, to check out:

Dr. Davis (works at Harvard) along with Dr. Powers (works in the DPT program at University of Southern California) and Dr. Heiderscheit (works in the DPT program at UWM) collaborate annually in Chicago to present a symposium. It counts as Continuing Education for health professionals, including physical therapists.

Yes, they all have PhD's in Biomechanics. Yes, they all have PT degrees. I know that both Dr. Davis and Dr. Powers are active leaders in APTA.

Just because the link isn't distinct, doesn't mean that it's nonexistent! I would urge you to delve deeper. Perhaps it's just your particular curriculum that doesn't focus on running and/or the biomechanics of it particularly.
Yes, I've attended a presentation by Dr. Heidersheit before. Yes, physical therapists do treat runners and help with biomechanics research. I'm just proposing that you might not need the DPT to do exactly what you want to do in life. Consider too that many of the professionals currently in the field got a bachelors in PT and then went on to a research phd. This is a different path than our current model where the bachelors PT option is gone. Although they can do both, just consider the time/cost as the well to that end research job. And your salary is unlikely to change even having 2 doctorates.
I clicked all the links you posted, and for the most part, they seem to prove my fear--that tuition remission/scholarships/stipends aren't provided until the PhD portion of the dual degree is started. Therefore, I will still have to take out loans for the DPT portion of the degree. In which case, I'm not sure if going through the program is worth it, since it isn't the perfect fit for me to begin with. Thanks for your time and effort in searching!
Just wanted to point out that TWU does offer scholarships for the DPT portion. I'm an out of state student there, and received scholarships for in-state tuition, plus some other scholarships on top of that. And they do have a biomechanics lab. Instate tuition is around 30k total for the whole program. Just something to consider. Also, since you haven't started applying yet, you might want to find a variety of programs to apply to in order to increase your chances of getting into one or more. It's pretty competitive.