Best Physical Therapy Programs 2021

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Physical therapy helps individuals improve, restore, and maintain body movement and function. Individuals at every life stage can benefit from physical therapy. Available careers in the field depend on the individual’s education level. For example, physical therapy aides, who work under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants, do not need a postsecondary degree.

Physical therapy assistants implement treatment plans to help patients improve their mobility and quality of life. These professionals work under the direction and supervision of licensed physical therapists. Physical therapy assistants need strong listening and communication skills, along with the ability to work as part of a team.

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Physical therapy professionals work in hospitals, schools, and fitness centers. An associate degree in physical therapy assistance can lead to positions in this growing field. Full-time students typically earn their associate in physical therapy in two years.

Top 10 Best Physical Therapy Programs 4-Year Colleges

Rank School Location
1 City Colleges of Chicago-Malcolm X Chicago, IL
2 Sinclair Community College Dayton, OH
3 Lorain County Community College Elyria, OH
4 Central New Mexico Community College Albuquerque, NM
5 Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, IN
6 Florida State College at Jacksonville Jacksonville, FL
7 Miami Dade College Miami, FL
8 College of Southern Nevada Las Vegas, NV
9 College of Lake County Grayslake, IL
10 Clark State Community College Springfield, OH

FAQ


  • How long does it take to complete a physical therapy assistant program?

    Physical therapy assistant programs usually take two years to complete. However, part-time learners may take longer to graduate. Some programs offer accelerated options.


  • Do I need a license to be a physical therapy assistant?

    Most states require physical therapy assistants to hold a license. Graduates of physical therapy assistant programs must pass a state-administered national exam to qualify for licensure.


  • Where do physical therapy assistants work?

    Physical therapy assistants often work in medical settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, and skilled-nursing facilities. These professionals can also work in schools, workplaces, and sports facilities.


  • What's the difference between a physical therapy aide and a physical therapy assistant?

    Physical therapy aides need only a high school diploma or the equivalent. They typically perform nonmedical tasks and gain skills on the job. Physical therapy assistants work directly with patients and need at least an associate degree.


Career and Salary Outlook for Physical Therapy Assistants



Salaries for physical therapy professionals vary based on position, location, and education level. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy assistants earn a median annual salary of $58,790, while physical therapy aides earn a median salary of $27,000 per year. The BLS projects employment for both occupations to increase 29% from 2019-2029, much faster than the average for all careers.

Salaries for physical therapy assistants also vary by industry. For example, physical therapy assistants who work in skilled-nursing facilities earn a median annual salary of $66,840, compared to a median annual salary of $55,490 for those who work in physicians’ offices. Physical therapy assistants with more work experience also tend to earn higher salaries.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Physical Therapist Assistants $58,790 29%

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Physical Therapy Assistant Programs



Students should choose an accredited school to ensure they receive a high-quality education. Accreditation demonstrates that an institution or program delivers consistent and quality education to students. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes private accrediting agencies, which regularly evaluate schools to ensure they meet and maintain set standards of academic quality.

Schools can receive regional or national accreditation. Regional accrediting agencies evaluate institutions in a specific geographic area. These agencies require schools to meet higher standards than national accrediting agencies. Because of this, regionally accredited institutions typically only accept degrees and credits earned from other regionally accredited schools.

The best physical therapy assistant programs hold programmatic accreditation from the Commision on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). CAPTE accreditation signifies that the program follows the discipline’s best practices and adequately prepares learners for physical therapy careers.

Physical Therapy Assistant Certification and Licensing

Practicing physical therapy assistants must hold national licensure. Graduates of physical therapy assistant programs can take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which assesses competence and knowledge of physical therapy principles. Some states, including California, Nebraska, and Florida, also require licensure candidates to pass a jurisprudence exam to demonstrate knowledge of state laws and regulations.

Prospective physical therapy assistants should contact their state’s licensing authority for details about licensure requirements. Some states require candidates to submit additional materials. For example, applicants for a Georgia license must pay licensure fees and provide transcripts from a CAPTE-accredited institution. Georgia candidates must also pass the NPTE and a jurisprudence exam. Most states accept online licensure applications.

Courses in a Physical Therapy Assistant Program



Associate in physical therapy programs prepare learners for careers as physical therapy assistants. Graduates of associate programs can pursue a bachelor’s degree in the field to qualify for more advanced positions and graduate studies. The best physical therapy assistant programs help learners develop key skills necessary to practice in the field. Coursework typically covers topics including therapeutic exercises and kinesiology.

Many programs also cover specialized care practices. Degree-seekers may prepare to work with specific populations, such as children, older adults, and athletes. Some physical therapy assistance programs offer a specialization in physical fitness and training. In addition to specialized coursework, clinical experiences prepare learners for careers in unique subfields.

The following list includes examples of courses in physical therapy assistant programs. Classes vary by program, so learners should contact their school for a list of available courses.

Kinesiology
This course explores human movement. Students examine the structures and functions of the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and circulatory systems. Coursework also covers psychological, sociological, and mechanical aspects of human movement. This foundational course prepares students to assess and treat patient mobility challenges.
Therapeutic Exercises
Students in this class learn how to choose appropriate exercises for each patient. Degree-seekers prepare to identify the correct mode and dose of exercises for each patient’s condition. Students also learn how to apply and monitor progress, including documenting, treating, and assessing patients. Graduates apply knowledge from this course when assessing patient responses to exercises.
Neuropathology
This course focuses on the structure and function of the nervous system. Students learn how to recognize nervous system pathologies and how to implement exercises based on clinical reasoning. Coursework also explores the therapeutic management of common neurological disease and conditions.
Orthopedic Practice
This class introduces students to common orthopedic conditions and physical therapy interventions. Degree-seekers explore each joint of the body and learn about tissue healing, pain management, and recovery. Learners also prepare to safely and effectively deliver interventions for patients with orthopedic conditions.
Modalities
Students in this course learn about common physical agents, which are energy sources that cause injury or disease. Degree-seekers learn to safely provide physical therapy treatment. The course typically includes a lab component, during which students gain hands-on experience.

Scholarships for Physical Therapy Assistant Students

Students can apply for scholarships based on their background or field of study. Students in even the most affordable physical therapy assistant programs can apply for scholarships to cover tuition and expenses. Many organizations offer financial awards for students earning an associate in physical therapy. Learners can also qualify for awards based on financial need.

Minority Scholarship Award for Student Physical Therapists and Student Physical Therapist Assistants

Who Can Apply: Minority students in the physical therapy field can qualify for this scholarship from the American Physical Therapy Association. Applicants must demonstrate contributions to minority affairs, high academic achievement, and professional excellence in physical therapy. Candidates submit a 600-word essay outlining their professional goals and community service.
Amount: Varies

Academic Award of Excellence

Who Can Apply: Physical therapy assistant students in the final year of their program can qualify for this award from the American Academy of Physical Therapy. The scholarship committee considers each applicant’s GPA, leadership abilities, and financial need. Applicants must complete a questionnaire about their professional goals.
Amount: Varies

First Things First Scholarship

Who Can Apply: RentDeals.com offers this scholarship to first-generation college students. Applicants must be a graduating senior with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates must submit a recommendation letter and proof of acceptance to a regionally accredited institution.
Amount: $1,000

Ruth Marie Park Scholarship Fund for Advancement in Healthcare

Who Can Apply: Women pursuing new careers or professional advancement in healthcare can apply for this award. Applicants must live in Kansas and demonstrate financial need. Candidates must have graduated high school at least two years prior to applying for the scholarship.
Amount: Varies

Healthcare Education Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: High school or community college students who plan to transfer to a healthcare related major can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must demonstrate volunteer or paid experience in a health and wellness field. The Hispanic Education Endowment Fund sponsors the award.
Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Best Physical Therapy Programs 2021



Individuals who are interested in helping others improve their mobility may consider earning an associate in physical therapy. In addition to strong job growth, careers in physical therapy assistance often provide personal fulfillment. The following list highlights the best physical therapy assistant programs to help prospective students find a program that fits their career goals.

  1. City Colleges of Chicago-Malcolm X
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    A system of colleges with multiple locations in Chicago, MXC offers an associate in applied science in physical therapist assistant. The program prepares students to aid licensed physical therapists.

    MXC's associate in physical therapy assistant teaches students therapeutic techniques needed to work in direct patient care settings. Students learn these skills in courses such as orthopedic practice and neuromuscular rehabilitation. Courses such as health promotion and wellness and therapeutic procedures ensure students know the foundations of physical therapy.

    The program also provides students with hands-on experience through clinical education. Clinical education includes placement in inpatient and outpatient physical therapy environments. Students interested in the personal fitness trainer program can enroll in the personal trainer practicum.

    Minimum requirements for the competitive program include graduation from high school or a GED certificate. Applicants must complete prerequisites with a "C" or better to qualify for admission. Students entering the program must submit documentation of health history and criminal background checks.

  2. Sinclair Community College
    Location

    Dayton, OH

    A community college based in Dayton, Ohio, Sinclair offers an associate in applied science in physical therapy assistant. The program trains students to provide rehabilitation services in settings such as schools, hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities.

    Students interested in a healthcare profession focused on movement and rehabilitation may consider applying for Sinclair's associate in physical therapy assistant program. Enrollees begin the program with general education courses such as anatomy and physiology and English composition. Later, they take technical courses taught through lectures, clinical education, and lab training. Notable courses include modalities, the medically complex patient, and functional mobility.

    Students complete the program with a clinical education practicum and corresponding seminar. Learners take practica for 40 hours per week for eight weeks.

    Applicants must complete a criminal background check. They also need to provide proof of health insurance and a health history.

  3. Lorain County Community College
    Location

    Elyria, OH

    A community college located in Elyria, Ohio, LCCC features an associate in physical therapy assistant that prepares students for careers working in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and long-term care facilities.

    LCCC's five-semester program helps students obtain state licensure to practice as physical therapy assistants. Students take prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology and college 101. Technical courses include physical therapist assisting procedures and general pathology. At the end of each year, students complete a clinical practicum to gain hands-on experience. Enrollees can join student organizations like the Physical Therapy Assistant Association to network and learn from other students.

    The program requires applicants to submit at least a high school transcript or GED certificate. Applicants must also complete high school biology and algebra with a grade of "C" or better. If applicants possess less than 15 hours of college credit, they must also demonstrate a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher.

  4. Central New Mexico Community College
    Location

    Albuquerque, NM

    A community college based in Albuquerque, CNM offers an associate of applied science in physical therapy assistant. One of the best physical therapy assistant programs, the 63-credit degree teaches the skills and knowledge needed for careers as physical therapy assistants.

    Students complete an online screening process with the Coordinated Program Entry Office prior to registration. This process allows the school to determine a student's readiness for coursework. After the screening process, students register for courses such as clinical kinesiology, pathophysiology, and clinical preparation. The program requires students to complete three full-time clinical practica under professional supervision.

    Tuition costs depend on state residency. New Mexico residents receive reduced tuition prices. Students can apply for financial aid to help fund their education. Applicants must submit criminal background checks prior to starting the program.

  5. Ivy Tech Community College
    Location

    Indianapolis, IN

    Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, ITCC offers an associate of applied science in physical therapy assistant. The program prepares students to implement physical therapy treatment plans under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

    ITCC's 69-credit associate in physical therapy assistant teaches students how to use equipment and provide treatment interventions. Students learn physical therapy modalities and documentation skills. Technical courses include diseases, trauma, and terminology. Students also take courses such as treatment modalities and kinesiology. Prior to taking technical courses, students must complete general education coursework. Enrollees also complete clinical education for professional, hands-on training.

    The program requires applicants to take the TEAS. Accepted students must submit criminal background checks, drug testing, and physical exam results. Accepted students enter the healthcare support program with a concentration in physical therapy assistant until they complete prerequisite courses.

  6. Florida State College at Jacksonville
    Location

    Jacksonville, FL

    FSCJ offers a physical therapy assistant associate in science that prepares students to pass the state-administered national exam. This exam allows students to work as a licensed physical therapy assistant.

    The associate in physical therapy assistant combines general education courses with technical courses. Technical courses teach physical therapy theories and practices through lectures, labs, and clinical experience. Notable courses include basic patient care and therapeutic exercise. Students complete clinical training at local facilities for practical learning experiences.

    FSCJ's program requires students to complete 23 credits of general education prior to starting professional coursework. Students must complete these courses with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. They must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA in all professional courses to remain in the program.

    Applicants must complete at least 10 hours each of outpatient and inpatient physical therapy observation. They must also take the HESI-A2 entrance exam and score at least a 75% across all categories.

  7. Miami Dade College
    Location

    Miami, FL

    The largest college in the Florida College System, MDC features an associate in science in physical therapy assistant. The program prepares students to work with licensed physical therapists to implement treatment plans.

    MDC's 74-credit associate in physical therapy assistant program prepares students to work in areas such as wound care, service learning, and orthopedics. Most students complete the program in at least two years. Notable courses include applied kinesiology and disabilities and therapeutic procedures. The program provides both online and in-person classes for flexible learning. Many courses offer recorded video lectures for students, including lab settings. Students complete clinical training at local facilities to graduate.

    Applicants must complete introduction to healthcare and introduction to healthcare lab prior to program entry. They also need at least 25 hours of physical therapy observation to qualify for admission. MDC's program gives preference to Florida residents.

  8. College of Southern Nevada
    Location

    Las Vegas, NV

    The largest public college in Nevada, CSN offers an associate of applied science in physical therapy assistant that prepares students to work in settings such as hospitals and home health.

    CSN's 72-credit associate in physical therapy assistant program allows students to choose from various general education courses. For example, students can take psychology or sociology to supplement their professional coursework. Professional coursework includes administration in physical therapy and principles of physical agents. Students participate in clinical training at the end of the program. Prior to clinical training, students must have current CPR and First Aid cards, as well as personal health insurance.

    Students complete a health programs orientation prior to starting the program. They must also meet with a health programs advisor. Applicants complete a limited entry workshop prior to submitting their application. CSN grants limited entry and only accepts top applicants.

  9. College of Lake County
    Location

    Grayslake, IL

    A public college located in Illinois, CLC offers an associate of science in pre-physical therapy that prepares students to transfer into a four-year, pre-professional bachelor's program.

    CLC works with students to ensure they meet transfer criteria for the four-year school of their choice. The pre-physical therapy program offers recommended courses for students without a school in mind. Recommended courses include abnormal psychology, exercise physiology, and contemporary health issues. Students also complete general education prerequisite courses.

    The school offers small class sizes for individualized attention, making CLC home to one of the best physical therapy assistant programs. Student development counselors help students determine the best course of study once they choose a school. Familiarity with the transfer school of choice is strongly recommended early in the program.

    Applicants must submit high school or college transcripts. Tuition rates depend on district and state of residency. CLC also offers scholarships to students for tuition, books, and other fees.

  10. Clark State Community College
    Location

    Springfield, OH

    A two-year college located in Springfield, Ohio, Clark State offers an associate in applied science in physical therapy assistant. The program prepares students to take the state licensure exam needed to practice physical therapy.

    Clark State's 65-credit associate in physical therapy assistant allows students to learn online and in person. For example, many courses offer an online lecture component and onsite labs. Notable courses include rehabilitation, physical therapy assistant procedures, and lifespan human growth. Students complete two directed practices in local clinical facilities. Prior to directed practices, students must submit a criminal background check and enroll in liability insurance.

    The program accepts 36 students each year. Applicants must submit separate applications to Clark State and the physical therapy assistant program. They must also complete high school physics with a "C" or better. Students must complete prerequisite courses with a GPA of at least 2.5.

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