Physical Therapy
Schools and Degrees

Physical therapists and physical therapy aides or assistants work to rehabilitate and treat patients who are recovering from injuries or illnesses that have led to problems with mobility or pain. This guide for aspiring physical therapy students covers pertinent information on the education they can expect, the jobs they might have after graduation, and other points that are vital in the pursuit of a physical therapy position or degree. Also included are tips from a practicing professional in the field and advice on choosing the right school.

Physical Therapist Schools and Programs

Physical therapists work with patients who have suffered from injury or illness, helping those patients regain a wider range of movement and manage pain. Physical therapy assistants also help patients, but do so under the supervision of a physical therapist. Physical therapy aides often have less responsibility but still perform important duties, such as cleaning equipment, washing linens, helping patients move to the treatment area or taking care of clerical tasks.

Physical therapy aides must have at least a high school diploma in order to begin work, though some might choose to obtain formal education in order to qualify for jobs in administration or management. Physical therapy assistant programs can be found in community colleges, trade schools and vocational schools, and most states require an associate degree. Physical therapists must hold at least a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which can be obtained through colleges or universities. DPT programs are open to qualified applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a related major.

Vocational Schools

Physical therapy aides can begin their educational journey at vocational schools, where several certificate and diploma programs can prepare them for the rigors of working in a physical therapy practice. These programs focus on the basics that students will need to know about physical therapy in order to perform entry-level work, such as the principles of treatment, medical terminology, effective communication and the like. Many diploma or certificate programs can take up to six months, but some – especially those completed online – can take as little as one month.

Community Colleges

Students who are interested in working as a physical therapy assistant can find numerous programs through community colleges; in fact, the majority of the physical therapy assistant programs currently accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education are found in community colleges across the nation. The program typically culminates in an associate degree. Students complete both classroom instruction and hands-on training during the pursuit of their degree.

Four-year Schools

Colleges and universities offer several programs for those going into the field of physical therapy. Physical therapy assistants can choose to earn a bachelor’s degree, including the fundamentals of physical therapy as well as further education on management and administrative duties, thus expanding their possibilities for career advancement. Those who intend to become physical therapists must complete their bachelor’s degree before moving into the doctorate program. Students who pursue the bachelor’s degree can expect to complete general education courses, including those in social and natural sciences, mathematics and English, as well as targeted courses that prepare them for work in the physical therapy field.

Physical Therapist Schools

In most cases, physical therapist schools come under the umbrella of four-year colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade or vocational schools. Some stand-alone schools, such as the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, focus on only health-related programs, including physical therapy. These schools tend to offer only graduate programs, and thus are only suitable for those who have already earned their bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or a closely related field.

Top Physical Therapy Schools: 2016-2017

To succeed in the physical therapy field, students must enroll in a quality program that covers the industry-specific skills of the field. Prospective students may consider various factors while researching the best physical therapy school for them including cost of tuition, student-to-teacher ratios, financial aid opportunities, program count and graduation rates. To make this process easier for students, we have analyzed every physical therapy program in the country and found the top list based on this criterion. Explore the top physical therapy schools below.

Rank School Name Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-Teacher Ratio Grad RateDescriptionPlacement Services Counseling Services Credit for Experience
1
Western Iowa Tech Community College
99.81 $$$$$ 46% 3 17:1 N/A

Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) was formed in 1966 as an area vocational technical school located in Sioux City, Iowa. Students interested in the physical therapist assistant (PTA) program work toward an associate of applied science degree. The two-year program prepares students to become physical therapist assistants who work under the supervision of physical therapists. The program includes both classroom lecture and on-site clinical practice settings (hospitals, nursing homes, etc.). Graduates of the program at WITCC enjoyed a 100 percent employment placement rate in 2015. The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

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2
San Juan College
99.52 $$$$$ 28% 2 20:1 N/A

San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico is one of the largest two-year community colleges in the state. The college is also ranked fifth in enrollment offering education to more than 15,000 students every year. The physical therapist assistant program offers students the chance to learn techniques that help patients recover from injury, illness and surgery. The physical therapist assistants are field continues to grow. San Juan College offers both on-campus and online PTA programs, which gives students the flexibility to choose. Upon completion of the program students earn an associate of applied science degree and be able to take the national license exam (San Juan College graduates have a 100 percent pass rate).

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3
Rhodes State College
98.82 $$$$$ 15% 2 14:1 N/A

Rhodes State College is a public, state-assisted institution in Lima, Ohio, providing degree programs, non-credit workforce development and business consulting. The physical therapist assistant program (PTA) at Rhodes is a two-year, 70 credit hour program that prepares students to work under the supervision of a physical therapist. The curriculum combines classroom learning with clinical rotations that give students access to real-life applications. After earning the associate in applied science degree from Rhodes, students can register for the National Physical Therapy Examination through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. The PTA program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

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4
Kansas City Kansas Community College
97.49 $$$$$ 22% 1 13:1 N/A

Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) is located in northeast Kansas and offers a flexible schedule of courses including day and evening, late afternoon, Saturdays, summer, online and at mid-semester. The physical therapist assistant (PTA) program offers students the chance to work toward an associate of applied science degree. Students complete a total of 75-75 credit hours in both classroom and clinical settings. Upon completion of the program, students prepare for passing the licensure examination, and then begin administering treatment to patients under the care of a physical therapist. KCKCC graduates have a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the national exam.

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5
Delta College
96.87 $$$$$ 9% 2 17:1 N/A

Delta College is a leading community college in Michigan that offers two-year degree programs and is a charter member of the National League for Innovation. Students interested in pursuing a physical therapist assistant (PTA) degree will complete four semesters (48 credits) during the technical phase of the program, and 40 hours of observation in a clinical setting. Upon completion of the degree program, students will carry out patient treatment techniques, as directed by a physical therapist. Graduates of Delta's PTA program enjoyed a 100 percent employment placement rate within six months of passing the licensure exam in 2014.

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6
Hutchinson Community College
96.67 $$$$$ 59% 1 15:1 N/A

For more than 80 years, Hutchinson Community College has been a prominent two-year educational institution in Hutchinson, Kansas. One of the program's Hutchinson offers to students is an associate of applied science degree toward becoming a physical therapist assistant. The program includes 12 months of learning in both classroom settings and clinical sites within commuting distance of the campus. Once a student graduates, he/she can sit for the national boards in order to become licensed as a physical therapist and able to treat patients with debilitating injuries or diseases. The physical therapist assistant program at Hutchinson Community College is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

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7
Tulsa Community College
96.60 $$$$$ 39% 1 17:1 N/A

Tulsa Community College (TCC) offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs. For students interested in becoming a physical therapist assistant, Tulsa offers a five-term program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Physical therapist assistant positions continue to be in high demand across the U.S. and growth is expected to continue exceeding other occupations (Department of Labor projects a 41-percent growth from 2014 to 2024). Graduating from the PTA program at TCC will earn students an associate of applied science degree.

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8
Hinds Community College
96.34 $$$$$ 22% 1 18:1 N/A

The physical therapist assistant (PTA) curriculum at Hinds Community College is a two-year program that exposes students to classroom education, laboratory settings and clinical experiences for hands-on learning. Students learn how to work with patients in specialized areas that include pediatrics, orthopedics, neurology, sports medicine, ergonomics, cardiac rehabilitation, wound care, burn management, amputation rehabilitation and pain management. Students who complete the program will be awarded an associate in applied science degree and are eligible to take the state licensure exam. The PTA program at Hinds Community College is accredited and students enjoy high job placement rates upon graduation.

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9
South Arkansas Community College
96.31 $$$$$ 4% 1 14:1 N/A

Students interested in South Arkansas Community College's physical therapist assistant program (PTA) will need to complete 32 hours of prerequisite courses before they can begin PTA training. The program is three semesters in length, consisting of both daytime classroom learning and clinical internships (which can range between 30 to 40 hours each week). The program is limited to 20 students, and upon completion of the program, graduates are awarded an associate of applied science degree. Passing the national licensure exam will make graduates eligible for employment as a physical therapist assistant.

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10
Clark State Community College
96.31 $$$$$ 4% 1 14:1 N/A

Clark State Community College is a two-year educational institution in Ohio with locations in Springfield, Beavercreek and Bellefontaine, along with a comprehensive list of classes offered online. The physical therapist assistant (PTA) program trains students to perform patient treatment alongside a physical therapist in different settings including inpatient, outpatient and home care. The PTA program courses combine an online lecture component with an onsite lab setting with students completing a total of 60 hours of observation/clinical experience. Graduates of Clark State have experienced a 95.6 percent licensure pass rate and a 98.9 percent employment placement rate within six months of graduating.

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11
Eastern Arizona College
96.29 $$$$$ 26% 1 20:1 N/A

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12
Itawamba Community College
96.28 $$$$$ 52% 1 19:1 N/A

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13
Kilgore College
96.17 $$$$$ 21% 1 17:1 N/A

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14
Sinclair College
96.13 $$$$$ 28% 1 15:1 N/A

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15
State Fair Community College
95.70 $$$$$ 14% 1 17:1 N/A

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16
Baltimore City Community College
95.69 $$$$$ 13% 1 17:1 N/A

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17
Northeast Community College
95.68 $$$$$ 38% 1 17:1 N/A

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18
Technical College of the Lowcountry
95.61 $$$$$ 9% 2 17:1 N/A

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19
Northeast Texas Community College
95.46 $$$$$ 21% 1 20:1 N/A

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20
Carl Albert State College
95.45 $$$$$ 32% 1 23:1 N/A

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21
Murray State College
95.42 $$$$$ 30% 1 16:1 N/A

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22
Athens Technical College
95.40 $$$$$ 1% 1 13:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
23
North Central State College
95.38 $$$$$ 9% 1 15:1 N/A

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24
Jefferson College
95.35 $$$$$ 12% 1 19:1 N/A

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25
Southeast Community College
95.27 $$$$$ 47% 1 18:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
26
Owens Community College
95.25 $$$$$ 12% 1 16:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
27
Delaware Technical Community College-Owens
95.21 $$$$$ 15% 1 13:1 N/A

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28
Capital Community College
95.15 $$$$$ 23% 1 13:1 N/A

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29
Roane State Community College
95.10 $$$$$ 7% 1 16:1 N/A

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30
Mountwest Community and Technical College
95.02 $$$$$ 12% 1 18:1 N/A

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31
Del Mar College
94.88 $$$$$ 18% 1 14:1 N/A

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32
Kennebec Valley Community College
94.82 $$$$$ 38% 1 18:1 N/A

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33
Great Falls College Montana State University
94.81 $$$$$ 11% 1 18:1 N/A

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34
Wallace State Community College - Hanceville
94.80 $$$$$ 21% 1 16:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
35
Walters State Community College
94.80 $$$$$ 20% 1 18:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
36
Trident Technical College
94.79 $$$$$ 4% 2 21:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
37
Weatherford College
94.76 $$$$$ 16% 1 18:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
38
Washington State Community College
94.74 $$$$$ 13% 1 11:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
39
Edison State Community College
94.71 $$$$$ 16% 1 15:1 N/A

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40
Somerset Community College
94.71 $$$$$ 8% 1 18:1 N/A

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41
Lorain County Community College
94.67 $$$$$ 25% 1 20:1 N/A

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42
Chippewa Valley Technical College
94.65 $$$$$ 2% 1 12:1 N/A

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43
Chattanooga State Community College
94.62 $$$$$ 9% 1 18:1 N/A

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44
Delaware Technical Community College-Stanton/Wilmington
94.60 $$$$$ 7% 1 13:1 N/A

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45
Washtenaw Community College
94.59 $$$$$ 14% 1 19:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
46
Lone Star College
94.32 $$$$$ 13% 1 18:1 N/A

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47
Guilford Technical Community College
94.30 $$$$$ 5% 1 20:1 N/A

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48
Zane State College
94.26 $$$$$ 28% 1 16:1 N/A

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49
Jefferson Community and Technical College
94.20 $$$$$ 1% 1 16:1 N/A

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Rank School Name Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-Teacher Ratio Grad RateDescriptionPlacement Services Counseling Services Credit for Experience
1
Idaho State University
99.74 $$$$$ 37% 2 16:1 31%

Idaho State University offers a 34-month program which includes eight semesters of coursework and internships, clinical experience starting in the first year for students wishing to pursue a physical therapy assistant degree. Upon completion of the program, students will earn a doctor of physical therapy degree and may become qualified candidates for professional careers. Over the entire span of the 20-year physical therapy program at Idaho State, students have compiled a 99 percent licensure exam pass rate and have seen a 100 percent employment placement rate following graduation.

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2
Florida Gateway College
98.52 $$$$$ 33% 1 14:1 N/A

Florida Gateway College in Lake City, is a two-year educational institution where students can complete degree programs in less time than with a four-year institution. Students can become a physical therapist assistant through the PTA program at Gateway College. The degree plan includes required prerequisites and then students have to complete one fall semester, one spring semester and a six-week clinical rotation, and then one summer semester and an eight-week clinical rotation. After completing the program, students can take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to obtain a Florida license.

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3
College of Central Florida
98.38 $$$$$ 24% 1 28:1 N/A

College of Central Florida offers accredited four-year degree programs and over 70 programs to choose from. For students looking to pursue a career in physical therapy, the college of Central Florida has a four-year PTA program spanning seven semesters (30 credits of general education courses and 44 credits of PTA courses). The average pass rate for the licensure exam upon completion of the program is 100 percent. Graduates must take and pass this exam in order to legally practice as a PTA. The employment placement rate for the last three years has also remained at 100 percent.

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4
Pensacola State College
98.33 $$$$$ 23% 1 21:1 N/A

Students who wish to pursue a physical therapist assistant position with Pensacola State College can expect a five-semester program of study. The curriculum includes daytime classroom learning, laboratory experience and clinical rotation settings. Students who complete the program will earn an associate of science degree in physical therapist assistant (PTA-AS). The program trains students to work with patients on treatment procedures, exercises, performing tests, etc. For the 2013-2014 year, graduates of Pensacola's PTA program enjoyed a 100 percent employment placement rate. The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

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5
University of Maine at Presque Isle
98.27 $$$$$ 79% 1 13:1 37%

The University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) is one of only two colleges in the state that has a physical therapist assistant program. This five-semester program should takes students two years to complete. As part of the program, students will learn from licensed practitioners and have access to a training lab complete with an in-patient simulation room to provide more interactive experience. In addition, students will also spend time on at least three clinical experiences for more hands-on learning. Upon completion, students will receive an associate degree in physical therapist assistant.

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6
State College of Florida-Manatee-Sarasota
98.21 $$$$$ 11% 1 22:1 N/A

State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) was founded in 1957, and since then 44,000 students have successfully graduated. Through the physical therapist assistant program (PTA), students learn to become skilled health care professionals who help patients with mobility, exercises, treatments and daily activities. The program at State College is five semesters long (74 semester hours including both classroom learning and onsite clinical experiences) and upon completion, students will earn an associate in science degree in physical therapy assistant. The program begins in January and ends the following year in March. The PTA program is an accredited program.

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7
Southwestern Oklahoma State University
98.07 $$$$$ 63% 1 18:1 35%

Southwestern Oklahoma State University is located right in the middle of western Oklahoma and offers students associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs either through in-person learning or online applications. The associate in applied science degree for the physical therapist assistant program (PTA) requires students to complete 17-18 general education credits, 17-18 technical occupational support credits and 29 technical occupational specialty credits. Upon completion of the program, SOSU graduates enjoy a high employment rate and licensure exam pass rate. Enrollment is limited to 16 students, so interested candidates are encouraged to apply early.

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8
Clarkson College
98.05 $$$$$ 59% 2 11:1 N/A

With one of the largest and most well-respected physical therapist assistant programs in Nebraska through an associate of science degree, Clarkson College was founded in 1888 as a nursing school. Expanding over the years to offer a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, Clarkson College maintains a laser-like focus on health care disciplines. The PTA program trains students to assist with patient evaluation and assessment, implement patient care plans and treatments, administer modalities and report to the therapist on patient responses. This structured curriculum and 15 week hands-on clinicals trains students to become fully-licensed PTAs.

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9
Florida State College at Jacksonville
98.05 $$$$$ 15% 1 22:1 N/A

Florida State College at Jacksonville's fully-accredited physical therapist assistant associate in science degree program is designed to qualify students for careers in kinesiology, patient care, and physical therapy. Qualified students may be able to earn degree credits through a prior learning assessment. FSCJ opened in 1965 to serve the Northeast Florida area, growing to five campuses offering technical certifications, as well as bachelors and associates degrees to some 50,000 students. The PTA program qualifies students who have completed both classroom courses and a robust clinical education to sit for state exams, qualifying them as a licensed physical therapy assistant graduates.

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10
Daytona State College
98.02 $$$$$ 24% 1 18:1 N/A

The physical therapist assistant (PTA) course offered by Daytona State College is a fully-accredited degree program, preparing students for a career assisting physical therapists in nursing homes, hospitals, rehab centers, clinics and schools. Located in Daytona, Florida, home of the world-famous Daytona beach and International Speedway, this rigorous program includes hands-on training in treatment programs, therapeutic exercise, mobility and functional skills, balance and coordination exercises. Applications to the full-time, day program are accepted during September only. Successful completion of both the classroom coursework and the clinical instruction qualify students to apply for state licensing boards.

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11
College of Southern Nevada
97.98 $$$$$ 20% 1 24:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
12
Missouri Western State University
97.89 $$$$$ 60% 1 17:1 30%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
13
Arkansas Tech University
97.88 $$$$$ 56% 1 20:1 41%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
14
Lake Washington Institute of Technology
97.74 $$$$$ 7% 1 15:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
15
Vincennes University
97.74 $$$$$ 18% 1 17:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
16
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
97.72 $$$$$ 79% 1 15:1 48%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
17
Siena Heights University
97.70 $$$$$ 99% 1 11:1 43%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
18
St Petersburg College
97.64 $$$$$ 23% 1 22:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
19
Broward College
97.57 $$$$$ 23% 1 27:1 N/A

Yes Yes Yes Read More
20
St Catherine University
97.47 $$$$$ 99% 1 11:1 59%

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21
University of Saint Francis-Fort Wayne
97.43 $$$$$ 100% 1 12:1 50%

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22
Dixie State University
97.37 $$$$$ 23% 1 20:1 63%

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23
Miami Dade College
97.26 $$$$$ 24% 1 23:1 N/A

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24
Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale
97.17 $$$$$ 77% 1 12:1 60%

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25
New York University
97.15 $$$$$ 52% 1 10:1 83%

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26
University of Cincinnati-Clermont College
97.02 $$$$$ 18% 1 16:1 N/A

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27
University of Evansville
96.89 $$$$$ 97% 1 14:1 68%

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28
Polk State College
96.77 $$$$$ 7% 1 26:1 N/A

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29
New England Institute of Technology
96.76 $$$$$ 73% 1 13:1 N/A

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30
Seminole State College of Florida
96.76 $$$$$ 18% 1 29:1 N/A

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31
Touro College
96.63 $$$$$ 63% 1 16:1 50%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
32
Baker College of Flint
96.52 $$$$$ 84% 1 24:1 10%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
33
SUNY College of Technology at Canton
96.15 $$$$$ 16% 1 17:1 32%

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34
California University of Pennsylvania
96.09 $$$$$ 55% 1 22:1 54%

Yes Yes Yes Read More
35
Baker College of Muskegon
96.06 $$$$$ 80% 1 33:1 18%

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36
Gulf Coast State College
94.48 $$$$$ 28% 2 19:1 N/A

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37
Washburn University
91.11 $$$$$ 58% 1 14:1 34%

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38
Villa Maria College
91.09 $$$$$ 94% 1 8:1 33%

Yes Yes No Read More
39
Indian River State College
90.75 $$$$$ 11% 1 26:1 N/A

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40
Louisiana College
90.53 $$$$$ 99% 1 11:1 39%

Yes Yes No Read More
41
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Shenango
90.44 $$$$$ 71% 1 11:1 30%

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42
Arkansas State University-Main Campus
90.34 $$$$$ 65% 1 17:1 39%

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43
Mount Aloysius College
90.30 $$$$$ 99% 1 12:1 33%

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44
University of Indianapolis
90.16 $$$$$ 97% 1 11:1 54%

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45
Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Hazleton
89.71 $$$$$ 72% 1 14:1 49%

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46
Kent State University at Ashtabula
88.84 $$$$$ 53% 1 22:1 20%

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47
Hodges University
88.66 $$$$$ 37% 1 15:1 18%

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48
South Texas College
88.32 $$$$$ 1% 1 27:1 N/A

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49
Kent State University at East Liverpool
88.00 $$$$$ 15% 1 27:1 33%

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What’s the Difference?

Before embarking on their educational path, students need to understand the distinction between physical therapists, assistants and aides. The following table illustrates some of the differences between the three titles, including academic qualifications and workplace responsibilities.

Physical Therapy Aide Physical Therapy Assistant Physical Therapist
Education Minimum of a high school diploma; some employers prefer a certificate or diploma. Minimum of an associate degree in physical therapy assisting; those seeking advancement might opt for the bachelor’s degree. Minimum of a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, requiring graduate study beyond the bachelor’s degree in an accredited program.
Responsibilities Aides might clean linens and equipment, help patients to and from the treatment area, and handle clerical tasks. Assistants work with patients under the supervision of the physical therapist, including operating equipment, performing a variety of techniques, educating the patient and reporting results to the supervisor. The physical therapist forms a diagnosis and patient treatment plans, works with patients to restore mobility and relieve pain, consults with other healthcare providers on plans of care, educates the patient and keeps track of progress.
Licensure None required. Required in all states expect Hawaii. Additional requirements vary by state. All states require licensure; some also require a law exam and background check, as well as continuing education.

Physical Therapist Schools Must-Have List

It pays to do plenty of homework when choosing a physical therapist assistant school or physical therapist school, or searching for the proper place to receive a physical therapy aide diploma or certificate. Different programs may have unique traits, so students should play close attention to what makes a school one of the top choices. Here are several elements students should look for when they are narrowing down the long list of physical therapy opportunities into a “short list” of potential schools.

The proper accreditation.

In order to qualify for licensure and find work as a physical therapist or assistant, students must graduate from an accredited program. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education currently accredits 333 physical therapy assistant programs and 228 physical therapy programs. Though some programs might be accredited on the school level through regional or national accrediting agencies, students should always look to CAPTE accreditation before enrolling.

Top-notch faculty.

Physical therapy is a career that requires in-depth knowledge of the human body, as well as certain points of medicine. Faculty who have made a splash in the physical therapy field are always a good bet when looking for a top-notch program. Students should look for instructors that have conducted research, made their opinions and findings known in physical therapy or medical journals, served on regional or national committees, and otherwise have a firm foundation from which to draw their teachings. In the same vein, the class size might matter as well–learning from the best faculty doesn’t help much if the classes are so large that one-on-one time or questions are impossible.

Pass rate on the licensure exam.

Passing the licensing examination is one of the first goals for someone finishing physical therapist assistant school or physical therapy graduate school – this is a requirement in order to begin work. Schools that boast a very high pass rate on the examination, especially for first-time exam takers, are a great way to ensure that the program teaches all the pertinent information required by the exam. Look for pass rates listed on the school website, or call the admissions office to get hard numbers before applying.

Hands-on experiences with equipment

As medical technology advances, physical therapy evolves with it. This often means new equipment and techniques are introduced on a regular basis in the hopes of taking patient outcomes to an even better level. Look for a school that provides hands-on work with state-of-the-art equipment during clinical rotations, as well as “free time” with the equipment outside of class to become more familiar with its usage.

Networking and affiliations.

Those who graduate from physical therapist school need a strong career position after graduation; that’s why networking during their education is so important. Ideally, a school offers networking opportunities, such as on-campus interviews, dinners and meet-and-greets with those in the physical therapy world, a job board of potential employers and the like. Students should also look into the affiliations of a school. One that has strong ties to a medical center or research hospitals might offer many more opportunities for employment after graduation, especially within that particular medical establishment.

Degree level and program format.

Physical therapy programs for certificates and associate, bachelor’s or doctoral degrees require different commitments in terms of time and budget. Given the investment, students should look into which type of program works best for them. Another choice relates to the format in which instruction is delivered. Those who are already working or have other obligations might seek out a program that offers night, weekend or online classes, to lessen the need to carve out precious time in an already packed schedule.

Physical Therapy Degrees and Certificates

Hundreds of schools across the nation offer degrees and certificates for the field of physical therapy. Students can opt to earn a certificate or diploma in order to enhance their resume as a physical therapy aide. These programs often take up to six months or as little as one month, and can prepare students with a more in-depth understanding of physical therapy.

Another option is to attend a community college or university and earn an associate degree in order to become a physical therapy assistant. This typically takes two years, though some might choose a four-year degree in order to improve their job prospects.

Physical therapists must acquire the doctorate in physical therapy, requiring a bachelor’s degree as well as three additional years in the doctoral program. In addition to the education required, students can then apply for a one-year residency that will allow them to gain even more experience and work toward becoming a board-certified specialist.

Physical Therapy Aide Diploma or Certificate

Though no formal education is required to begin work as a physical therapy aide, students may pursue a certificate or diploma program through vocational or trade schools. These programs typically take between one and six months to complete, and cover information such as the basics of physical therapy, exercise training and more. Students who complete the program can look forward to an expanded skill set that might help them find a job upon graduation. Below are some of the common courses students can expect to encounter in the PT aide program.

Medical Terminology

Introduction to typical medical terms, including those that pertain to anatomy, pathology and procedures or the nervous, sensory, circulatory and respiratory systems.

Common Physical Disorders

Focus on the most common physical disorders, such as hernias, arthritis, osteoporosis and the inflammatory process that occurs after an injury.

Physical Therapy Treatments

Overview of certain treatments physical therapy aides might be asked to assist with, including the use of heat, cryotherapy and basic massage.

Workplace Health and Safety

Focus on proper lifting and moving techniques, the use of CPR, assessment of patient needs and distress, infection control, disaster procedures and universal safety precautions.

Physical Therapy Associate Degrees

Individuals who want to work as physical therapy assistants must graduate from an accredited associate degree program with the appropriate major. These programs typically take two years to complete, depending on the student’s availability, but those who choose an accelerated format or online courses might graduate in less time. In most schools, about 75 percent of the curriculum is based in the classroom, while the other 25 percent is focused on clinical studies. The most popular programs result in the Associate of Applied Science degree, which prepares students who wish to jump right into the workforce upon graduation. Below is a table of classes that associate degree students can expect to encounter in the physical therapy assistant program.

Anatomy and Physiology

Focuses on the structure of the human body, with special emphasis on organ systems, muscles and nerves. Cells, tissues and organ systems are researched in relation to their role in health and disease.

Physical Therapy Fundamentals

Emphasizes various physical therapy treatments, including those that use certain tools, such as pelvic traction, compression pumps and others. Applications, contraindications, patient tolerance and more are discussed.

Kinesiology

Looks at movement of the body as produced by joints and muscles, normal joint range of motion, palpation and muscle testing, measurements, and principles of biomechanical issues and their effect on the body.

Therapeutic Exercise

Prepares students to help patients with various exercises indicated during the treatment process, including assessment of injuries and healing, programs designed for medical and surgical conditions, and implementation of exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Rehabilitation

A look at the rehabilitation techniques used for adults who have suffered from orthopedic, medical, neurological or spinal cord injuries or diseases. Focus is on functional activities, patient safety and documentation.

Physical Therapy Bachelor’s Degrees

The undergraduate degree in physical therapy is often called the Pre-Physical Therapy program, and is designed to prepare students to enter the Doctor of Physical Therapy program upon graduation. The program emphasizes creating a strong foundation for physical therapists that will hold them in good stead when they apply for doctoral studies. Another option is the bachelor’s degree in biology with an emphasis on physical therapy and rehabilitation. No matter the choice, students can expect courses that focus heavily on biology, statistics, mathematics, anatomy and physiology, and other courses that are required by an accredited program that prepares students to pursue the DPT.

In most cases, the bachelor’s degree program takes four to five years to complete. Some schools offer six-year programs that combine the bachelor’s degree and physical therapy doctorate. Students should look for the pre-DPT program at large colleges and universities that offer undergraduate programs and possibly graduate programs as well.

Students who enter the bachelor’s degree program can expect to encounter the following sample courses, in addition to the general education requirements.

Physics for the Physical Sciences

Specifically designed for those intending to enter the physical sciences, this course includes points such as mechanics, waves, sounds and fluids in the study of biology and medicine.

Physiology of Exercise

Focus on various parts of the body and how they react to acute and chronic exercise. Course includes study on physical training, physiological support systems, energy expenditures during exercise therapy and more.

Principles of Strength and Conditioning

Studies in strength training, exercise science, exercise design, programming and planning of training, and the practical application of such. Brief overview of prescriptions for rehabilitation and administrative procedures.

Medical Aspects of Rehabilitation

Emphasis on the science and medicine of sports, rehabilitation, physical traumas and their medical implications, including overtraining and overreaching, pharmacological interventions and exercise for particular populations.

Anatomical Kinesiology

The function of the body as it relates to movement, sport and rehabilitation, including systematic studies of each physical structure.

Physical Therapy Master’s Degrees

Though physical therapist master’s degrees are rare, they do exist. The typical degree is a master of arts, which prepares students to enter the PhD program in physical rehabilitation science. Those who earn the master’s degree are not qualified to work as a physical therapist; however, graduating from the PhD program can allow a student to enter research positions and take advantage of post-secondary teaching opportunities. Courses in the master’s degree program are quite similar to–if not the same as–those that are typically offered during the first few years of the doctorate.

Physical Therapist Doctorate Degrees

This is the minimum qualification for those who want to work as physical therapists. The Doctor of Physical Therapy is available only to those who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, and who apply for the program through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). By using this service, applicants can simply send in their information one time, and then apply to several DPT programs in order to find the right one. Students can expect a rigorous educational experience that includes at least three years of study, after which they will continue their education with a one-year residency. The DPT program requires hands-on training in addition to classroom time.

The following courses are a sampling of those that students might encounter when pursuing their DPT:

Professional Issues and Ethics

Focus on rehabilitative sciences as a profession, including the evolution, legal issues, current changes or proposals, ethical theory, education and practice, and the proper maintenance of peer and patient relationships.

Kinesiology and Pathomechanics

Analysis of normal and abnormal movements of the body, based on muscle mechanics, segment and joint mechanics, muscle function and laboratory findings.

Case-Based Learning

Small group case studies with simulated learning experiences, clinical work and a problem-based learning format that delves into various issues the physical therapist might face in practice.

Therapeutic Physical Agents

The use of various agents in rehabilitation, including hot and cold therapy, biofeedback, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), massage, soft tissue immobilization, hydrotherapy and other options.

Pharmacology for Physical Therapists

Overview of contemporary pharmacology, including basic pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic principles, drug therapy and how it interacts with physical interventions, and small group case studies and presentations.

Keep in mind that there is also a PhD in rehabilitation sciences available for those who intend to enter teaching or research professions; however, this is a very rare path, as most choose to attend the DPT program and put their skills to work in the field before pursuing research or teaching positions.

Physical Therapy Toolbox/Checklist

The world of physical therapy can be a demanding one, but there are certain skills, traits and knowledge that can make the job easier. These are a few of the most important points that physical therapists, physical therapy aides or physical therapist assistants need to keep in mind when they are considering future employment.

  • Significant physical strength and dexterity.

    Patients who have mobility issues need someone to help them move–that’s part of what the physical therapist and assistants do on a daily basis. Strength is crucial in performing this physically intensive job and helping to avoid injury. However, being flexible and having good dexterity is also important. As any physical therapist will tell you, sometimes strength is not quite as important as leverage. Those who work in the field need to have both.

  • Continuing education.

    A requirement to keep physical therapy licenses current, continuing education does more than just make sure the credential stays in play. This kind of training also allows those in the field to learn about new techniques and technologies, which can be a strong factor in eventual employment opportunities. Practicing professionals should always seek out further education, even after they have their degree in hand.

  • Strong communication skills.

    Physical therapy includes working closely with patients and their families or caregivers. To that end, those who work in the field must be able to communicate very well, explaining to patients exactly why they are doing certain therapeutic exercises, what the outcome might be, what they should avoid, and the importance of continuing even when they are at home. These skills also come into play when writing the reports and various types of documentation that are required after patient encounters.

  • Volunteer work or internships.

    Internships, whether paid or volunteer, are very important when completing a physical therapy degree program and preparing to enter the workforce. Though education is a major factor, experience also matters a great deal. Students should have a large number of clinical hours under their belt upon graduation, and be prepared to continue that experience with volunteer work outside of their normal scope of employment. This helps keep their skills sharp, opens up new employment horizons and might allow for the use of newer technologies.

  • The National Physical Therapy Exam.

    Administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, this examination is required for those who want to become physical therapists, and most states require it for physical therapy assistants as well. Some states might have other criteria such as additional testing or background checks. Students who enter a physical therapy school should be aware of requirements and plan for them during their education. Those enrolling in physical therapist assistant schools can look into the state guidelines to determine whether the test will be required for them.

Physical Therapy Specializations

Once physical therapists have earned their doctorate, they can pursue even more training in order to become board-certified specialists. Prerequisites for specialized certifications include a license to practice, and completion of either 2,000 minimum hours of clinical work or an approved residency program in the clinical area. Certain certifications might offer other options in order to earn the credential.

Physical therapists can currently choose from eight specialty areas offered through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, including:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Orthopedics
  • Women’s Health
  • Neurology

As of June 2014, over 9,000 physical therapists had become board certified in orthopedics, a much higher number than any of the other specialties. The lowest number of certifications, just over 160, was found in clinical electrophysiology.

Interview with a Physical Therapist

Adrian Miranda, PT, DPT, OCS, is currently working as a physical therapist.

Andrea Holley
What led to your decision to pursue a degree in physical therapy?

I was always interested in sports growing up. I knew I wanted to be involved in the healthcare field but I was not convinced I wanted to go to medical school. PT sounded like I would be able to work with an active population and still be involved in medicine.

What is your educational background, and how does it apply to your current job?

I went to Ithaca College for my undergraduate degree and I received my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Ithaca as well. I did a 1-year orthopedic physical therapy residency program at Sacred Heart University. And currently I am in my 4th year of my ScD at Texas Tech University. All those helped me to get a great grasp on the foundational science behind what I do and why I do it. It also helped me in the clinic to use the most up to date manual therapy approaches, exercise interventions and educational tactics. I did more than is needed to get a physical therapy license but currently the standard of education for physical therapists is to receive their Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT).

What does your day-to-day work entail?

I treat patients in the clinic three days a week and I teach orthopedic residents at Touro College on my other days. On my days in the clinic I work with an orthopedic population. Ages 8 years old to 88 years old and all different types of activity levels. A day in the clinic means you treat patients for an appointment session, then you have to document what you did that session, occasionally you have to call insurance companies to get extensions on insurance allotted visits, and occasionally you have to return a patient’s phone call.

After Physical Therapy School: What’s Next

Those who choose to enter the world of physical therapy can encounter different career opportunities, depending upon their level of experience and education. For physical therapists, aides and assistants, the typical working environment tends to be the same: private offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. These professionals can all expect to be on their feet and moving around during much of the day, dealing directly with patients to provide treatment and care.

The physical therapy aide often works full time, performing a variety of duties in an office, hospital or clinic. Potential responsibilities including setting up equipment, greeting patients and helping them move to the treatment area, cleaning equipment and linens, and completing clerical tasks. Aides are supervised by physical therapists or assistants. In some states, they might be allowed to do more than this, so aspiring students should contact their state board for detailed regulations. The job outlook for this profession is expected to be excellent, with 40 percent employment growth from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The physical therapist assistant works directly with patients while under the supervision of the physical therapist. They can expect to perform basic treatments, such as massage, gait and balance training, supervised exercise and certain therapeutic modalities. They report the results and patient progress to the physical therapist. They typically work full time, and hours may include weekend or evening schedules. Those who have earned their bachelor’s degree might be able to advance into administrative duties as well. Employment growth of this profession is even higher than that of PT aides, with projected 41 percent growth from 2012 to 2022.

The physical therapist works closely with patients, as well as other healthcare providers, to form a diagnosis and treatment plan for those who have difficulty with mobility or pain. Physical therapists work directly with patients, as well as supervise the work that their assistants perform. They use advanced techniques and technologies to help patients, evaluate progress and change treatments as needed, and educate patients on what they are doing and why. The BLS forecasts employment growth of 36 percent from 2012 to 2022 for physical therapists.

Featured Careers Tool

  • Physical Therapist

    In conjunction with doctors and other healthcare providers, design and carry out physical therapy courses of treatment for patients to facilitate improvement, restoration and maintenance of physical functions and well-being. Keep records of progress and adjust as necessary. Supervise physical therapy assistants.

    Median salary: $81,030

    Hourly salary: $38.96

    Growth: 36%

    Number employed: 204,200

  • Physical Therapist Assistants

    Work directly with patients to carry out courses of treatments as prescribed by physical therapists. Report patient progress to physical therapists. Discuss

    Median Salary: $53,360

    Hourly salary: $25.65

    Growth: 41%

    Number employed: 71,400

  • Physical Therapist Aides

    Keep treatment area clean, organized and well-stocked. Supervise patient exercises under supervision of physical therapist assistant. Schedule appointments and follow up with referring doctor offices.

    Median Salary: $24,310

    Hourly salary: $11.69

    Growth: 41%

    Number employed: 50,000

Advice from a Physical Therapist

Physical therapist Adrian Miranda has several words of good advice for those who are thinking about entering the physical therapy profession.

“Go observe a physical therapist for an extended period of
time. Furthermore, observe more than one physical therapist. I would also say try as many different activities as you can,” he said. “This way you can learn about how the body works. If you are someone who enjoys movement, such as sports, dance, hiking or even music, this will give you an advantage in physical therapy. You should also accept creativity as physical therapy teaches you that no two people or conditions are the same. Physical therapy is a challenging profession, and at the same time it is extremely satisfying and rewarding to see your patients improving and having a better life.”