Physical Therapy Graduate School Program Overviews

Physical therapy graduate students can obtain either a master's or a doctoral degree. These programs were designed to teach students how to treat and prevent the progression or onset of physically disabling conditions resulting from injuries or diseases in settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices.

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Essential Information

An advanced degree is required to work as a physical therapist. Students enrolled in these graduate school programs complete hands-on clinical labs and internships, as well as classroom lectures, in both the master's and doctoral physical therapy programs. Potential physical therapy graduate students must possess a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university, but the degree doesn't need to be in physical therapy. Individuals also need to have completed specific courses in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, statistics and social sciences.

Prior to getting accepted into graduate school, students must take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and also have letters of recommendation. A master's degree can be earned in 2-3 years and a doctorate in three years. Licensing requirements typically apply for those seeking a career as a physical therapist.


Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)

The master's degree program in physical therapy prepares students for entry-level practice in a multitude of clinical settings. Some students must enroll in a clinical lab each semester, with full-time clinical labs taking up the majority of the final semester. The bulk of the classroom courses for the master's degree program in physical therapy involves science-based classes. Students also learn critical-thinking and communication skills.

Prospective MPT students might want to be aware that schools take into account grade point average in their bachelor's degree program. Some programs also require individuals to write an essay discussing why they wish to work in physical therapy. Examples of courses offered through the master's degree program for physical therapy include:

  • Pathokinesiology
  • Orthopedic management
  • Therapeutic technology
  • Physical therapy management
  • Cardiac rehabilitation

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)

The highest degree students can obtain in physical therapy is a doctoral degree. The typically 3-year program includes clinical and lecture-based education to prepare graduates for employment in clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and private practices, as well as patients' homes. With the skills taught in the DPT program, students learn how to prevent injuries, impairments, limitations and disabilities in patients while promoting fitness, health and a high quality of life.

Potential students in a physical therapy doctoral program need a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university and specific GRE scores, as well as having completed several prerequisite science, humanities, psychology and statistics courses. Schools also consider results of interviews with DPT faculty, recommendations from previous professors and volunteer or employment experience in physical therapy.

In addition to classroom curriculum, students of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program take clinical instruction through internships. Students may apply course content in an actual clinical environment. Typical courses offered in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program include:

  • Anatomy
  • Patient and client management
  • Human development
  • Medical practice management
  • Movement science
  • Musculoskeletal systems

Popular Careers

Graduates of master's and doctoral degree programs in physical therapy may become licensed physical therapists working in clinical settings, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practice offices
  • Physician offices
  • Outpatient facilities
  • Nursing Homes

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapist employment from 2014-2024 is expected to increase 34%, which is much faster than average (www.bls.gov). The BLS states that this job growth is due in part to the increase in the elderly population and the improvements in treatments and techniques for physical therapy practices. As reported by the BLS, the mean hourly wage for physical therapists as of May 2015 was $41.25, which translates to $85,790 annually.

Continuing Education Information

Before graduates of physical therapy master's degree programs can practice in any state, they must pass state and national licensing exams to become licensed physical therapists. Specific eligibility requirements vary by state.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, as of 12/31/2015, entry-level physical therapists must hold a doctoral degree. Graduates of the master's degree program for physical therapists can continue their education by enrolling in a Doctor of Physical Therapy transition program (tDPT).

Students who are interested in becoming a physical therapist, must obtain a master's or doctoral degree in physical therapy so they can work in settings such as hospitals, outpatient facilities and nursing homes. A bachelor's degree, a passing GRE exam and letters of recommendation will be required for students interested in these graduate school programs.

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