Online Physical Therapy Schools and Colleges: How to Choose

Jan 02, 2019

Although rare, aspiring physical therapists and physical therapy assistants can find online programs to help prepare them for licensure. This article explains degree levels, program accreditations, and other degree requirements such as internships.

How to Select an Online Physical Therapy School

Bachelor's and master's degree do not qualify someone to work as a physical therapist anymore, so individuals interested in becoming one must now obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. It's important to note that while online physical therapy Ph.D. programs for those just entering the field are not available online, transitional, accelerated programs - for bachelor's- or master's-educated licensed physical therapists - are available in online form, with a clinical component. Online PTA programs also require in-person, clinical experience.

Career Goals

Before choosing a program, individuals must determine their career goals. Those who want to work in entry-level positions alongside licensed physical therapists, or who want to gain some experience in physical therapy and see if they like it, might benefit from a physical therapy assistant (PTA) associate's degree. This can be completed in two years.

Those who have goals of becoming a physical therapist, overseeing the treatment of patients and helping them overcome physical obstacles, will need to earn a doctoral degree in the field. Due to the amount of hands-on work, Ph.D. programs for those just starting out are not available online.


In order to become licensed, individuals should enroll in a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. This is applicable for both PT and PTA programs.


While PTA programs are appropriate for those with no previous college experience and generally include any required coursework, transitional doctoral programs require applicants to be licensed physical therapists.

Clinical Requirement

While most classes in both associate's and transitional doctorate programs in physical therapy can be completed online, it is likely that students will have to complete internship hours at a physical therapy practice, clinic or hospital as part of their coursework.

List of Online Physical Therapy Degree Programs

Online Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) Associate's Degree

An online associate's degree in physical therapy prepares students to work for licensed physical therapists in a professional setting. Under direct supervision, a PTA assistant works with patients with physical limitations by performing therapeutic exercises, demonstrating how to use adaptive devices and conducting diagnostic tests. Coursework includes:

  • Introduction to physical therapy
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical kinesiology

Online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

The transitional Ph.D. in Physical Therapy program is for those who already work as physical therapists but who don't have a doctorate. This program provides the additional training that is required to continue working in the field. To be eligible for the program, applicants must also possess a physical therapist state license. In addition to clinical practice that must be completed, the transitional DPT program includes online courses in:

  • Differential diagnosis and screening
  • Radiology and imaging
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuromuscular physical therapy

Schools with Online Programs in Physical Therapy

A.T. Still University has a transitional doctoral program for licensed, practicing physical therapists who do not yet have their doctorate. Since all physical therapists must hold a doctoral degree in 2020, this program allows current physical therapists to continue practice. Applicants must bear either credentials from certain certified agencies or a bachelor's degree or higher in physical therapy.

Prospective physical therapy assistants can acquire a physical therapy aide certificate online through Ashworth College. This program can potentially be completed within four months. However, the program does not include the licensing and training which may be required to practice as a physical therapy assistant.

While physical therapists must obtain a doctoral degree, their assistants might only have a certificate or associate's degree. The best programs prepare students for licensure and ensure that an internship or practicum is completed.

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