Aspiring physical therapists begin by completing a pre-physical therapy track or concentration within a bachelor's degree program in a relevant subject. From there, they must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and pass a state licensure exam in order to practice. Read on to learn about relevant undergraduate and graduate degree programs in this field.
Schools with Physical Therapy Programs
This table lists some of the schools in the nation that offer programs in physical therapy as well as their locations, degrees levels and tuition.
|College/University||Location||Institution Type||Degrees Offered||Tuition (2015-2016)*|
|Grand Canyon University||Phoenix, AZ||4-year, Private, for-profit||Pre-PT||$17,050|
|Messiah College||Mechanicsburg, PA||4-year, Private not-for-profit||Pre-PT||$32,240|
|Mercyhurst University||Erie, PA||4-year, Private not-for-profit||Pre-PT||$33,314|
|Purdue University - Main Campus||West Lafayette, IN||4-year, Public||Pre-PT||$10,002 (in-state),
|SUNY Oneonta||Oneonta, NY||4-year, Public||Pre-PT||$7,870 (in-state),
|University of Delaware||Newark, DE||4-year, Public||Doctoral||$30,132|
|University of Miami||Coral Gables, FL||4-year, Private not-for-profit||Pre-PT, Doctoral||$45,727 (undergrad), $33,300 (grad)|
|University of Pittsburgh||Pittsburgh, PA||4-year, Public||Pre-PT, Master's, Doctoral||$18,192 (in-state undergrad), $21,260 (in-state grad)|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles, CA||4-year, Private not-for-profit||Doctoral||$39,984|
|Washington University in St. Louis||St. Louis, MO||4-year, Private not-for-profit||Doctoral||$47,300|
Source: *National Center for Education Statistics
University Selection Criteria
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when searching for a school in the field of physical therapy:
- If you're looking into pre-physical therapy programs, confirm that a school offers all pre-physical therapy courses typically required for admission to DPT programs.
- Look for schools with a dedicated physical therapy program that offers both undergraduate and graduate options.
- Search for schools accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
- If you are a prospective graduate student, choose between programs based on your previous experience and career goals. DPT programs are designed for those who want to practice physical therapy, while PhD programs prepare students for academic research careers. Master's programs are typically designed for professional physical therapists seeking further specialization in the field.
Common majors of study for prospective physical therapy students include biology, psychology, sociology and chemistry, as they provide foundational knowledge relevant to the practice of physical therapy. While almost any major is acceptable for DPT admissions, most graduate physical therapy schools require applicants to have taken a core series of courses, including biology (general, anatomy & physiology), chemistry, statistics, physics, psychology (introductory and advanced), English/writing and humanities/social sciences. Many undergraduate institutions provide pre-physical therapy advising services to help undergraduates make sure that they fulfill all the requirements, and some even offer pre-physical therapy as an area of emphasis within a biology program.
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Programs
A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from a CAPTE-accredited school is the minimum educational requirement for state licensure to practice physical therapy. These programs last for three years and include advanced courses in the biomedical sciences as well as at least 30 weeks of practical training in clinical settings. There are also some accelerated 6-7 year programs that combine a bachelor's degree and a DPT degree.
PhD in Physical Therapy Programs
PhD programs in physical therapy give graduate students the chance to conduct innovative research in the field. Students work closely with faculty members to develop a research project in a particular aspect of biomechanics, rehabilitation or another relevant subject, ultimately resulting in a publishable dissertation and oral defense. It is important to note that some schools only accept licensed DPTs to PhD programs.
Master's Degree Programs
Like some PhD programs, master's degree programs in physical therapy are post-professional programs that experienced DPTs can use to increase their knowledge of the field and improve their clinical skills. Possible areas of concentration include musculoskeletal physical therapy and neuromuscular physical therapy. The final degree conferred is a Master of Science (MS).
Students interested in pre-physical therapy undergraduate programs have several factors to consider, including tuition costs and how well a program prepares them for future enrollment in a graduate program. Options for graduate students vary depending on their future aspirations and prior qualifications.