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Undergraduate Physical Therapy Degree Programs

Aspiring physical therapy workers can earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field. Some of the study areas include pathology, kinesiology, physics, and genetics.

Essential Information

Associate's degree programs prepare students to enter the job market as physical therapist assistants, while pre-physical therapy bachelor's programs prepare students to enter graduate study, which is required for licensure as a physical therapist. Both options include classroom learning, along with significant laboratory training.

  • Program Levels in Physical Therapy: Associate's or bachelor's level
  • Program Length: Two to four years
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Other Requirements: Some schools may require students to complete general education courses before being fully admitted

Associate's Degree Programs in Physical Therapy

A 2-year physical therapy assistant Associate of Applied Science program is designed to prepare students to enter the job market as a physical therapy assistant, working with licensed physical therapists to provide patient care. Students learn techniques such as hydrotherapy, traction, and massage to help alleviate the physical pain that patients experience. In addition to applying these physical therapy techniques, students gain hands-on experience in learning to help patients increase their mobility by using canes, wheelchairs, crutches, and other aids.

Many of the classes in an undergraduate physical therapy program have a laboratory component. Programs may also include an internship or clinical rotation. The professional or core courses will cover topics including:

  • Musculoskeletal therapy
  • Massage
  • Neuromuscular therapy
  • Kinesiology
  • Pathology
  • Rehabilitation techniques

Bachelor Degree Programs in Pre-Physical Therapy

A Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy program is designed to prepare students to continue their education into a physical therapy graduate program. These pre-professional programs provide coursework and training related to advanced theories and concepts in physical therapy. Upon completing a program, students will be expected to understand disease prevention, health promotion, professional communication methods, and statistical analysis. Graduates will have learned how to work as part of a healthcare team and provide basic patient care.

Most courses in these programs are focused on scientific topics. Laboratory courses provide hands-on experience. Topics covered in a program include:

  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Microbiology
  • Athletic injury care
  • Exercise physiology

Popular Career Options

Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy students may wish to begin working in the field while continuing their graduate education. Possible job options include:

  • Physical therapy assistant
  • Physical therapy aide
  • Nurse aide

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were around 76,900 physical therapy assistant jobs in 2012 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected 41% job growth in the field from 2012-2022. This rate is much faster than the average and is attributed to the growing needs of an aging population. As of May 2014, the BLS reported that physical therapy assistants took home a median annual wage of $54,410.


Continuing Education

Most students who earn a bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy enroll in a physical therapy graduate program in order to become a physical therapist. According to the BLS, physical therapists are required to hold a graduate degree and meet state regulations, such as testing.

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