Why Should I Become a Physical Therapist?
Our top 20 accredited online colleges for physical therapy give you a running start for one of the fastest-growing occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that opportunities in this profession will grow by 22% by 2028; that’s more than four times the average growth rate for all occupations! Moreover, the need for physical therapist assistants is expected to increase by 27% in the next ten years.
More than 72 million Americans are Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. This second-largest generation is aging, causing the demand for physical therapy to quickly rise. By becoming a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant, you’ll gain job security and a rewarding career. Every day, you’ll be helping patients live healthier lives free of pain.
What Do Physical Therapists Do?
Simply put, physical therapists help patients improve their mobility and manage pain. First, they diagnose a patient through observation and screening. Then, they develop an individualized plan for recovery that might include exercises, stretching, and the use of specialized equipment.
A physical therapist assistant helps put a patient’s care plan into action through treatments like stretching and massage. This assistant also often keeps track of a patient’s progress, making any suggestions for improved patient care to the physical therapist.
Can I Earn a Physical Therapy Degree Online?
Yes! There are fully online physical therapy degree programs. These tend to be Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy programs, which are designed to help practicing physical therapists meet today’s educational standards for the industry.
If you’re just starting out, however, you’ll likely need to attend an on-campus program. On this list, you’ll find traditional programs offered by universities with robust online learning opportunities. At these schools, you can complete some of your coursework online.
What Are the Best Physical Therapy Degrees?
Accredited Online College uses the most recent data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Each program is scored individually. It’s then compared to all other universities offering that degree to determine the final score you see by each ranking. Accredited Online College considers the affordability, student-to-faculty ratio, and the number of programs offered on-campus and online.
Baker College is the largest not-for-profit, private college in Michigan. By offering courses online and at several campuses across the state, this school caters to non-traditional students who need flexibility. Through Baker Online, students can access their virtual classrooms at any time and from anywhere.
Baker College has an Associate of Applied Science program designed to train future physical therapist assistants. This 78-credit-hour program requires students to attend classes at Baker’s Allen Park, Auburn Hills, Flint, or Muskegon campuses. However, students can complete several of their 28 general education credit hours through Baker Online, including online classes in psychology, composition, and anatomy.
Fifty credit hours in Baker’s AAS program focus on the physical therapist assistant major. Three clinical experiences, for a total of 18 hours, ensure that students train in a real work setting. Graduates will be prepared to sit for the National Physical Therapy Assistants Examination licensure exam.
Based in Adrian, MI, Siena Heights University is a Catholic institution of higher education with eight additional locations across the state. This university serves approximately 2,300 students, and SHU Saints benefit from a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Siena Heights offers a pre-physical therapy concentration for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. This concentration helps students focus their undergraduate studies on coursework that will serve them as they continue on the path toward a Doctor of Physical Therapy. These students are supported by a dedicated pre-professional student advisor.
SHU’s pre-physical therapy students are encouraged to major in biology. The biology program offers four courses in collaboration with the Gray Institute, a leading online educator for physical therapists, athletic trainers, and chiropractors. Although biology is not a major offered through SHU’s fully online bachelor’s program, students might be able to fulfill additional general education requirements through its online portal.
Based in the charming college town of Vermillion, the University of South Dakota is the state’s flagship university, serving more than 10,000 students. Become a Coyote by enrolling in USD’s Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (t-DPT) program, which is the first online doctoral program in the South Dakota Regental System.
USD’s t-DPT program is meant for licensed physical therapists seeking to advance their education with a doctoral degree while they continue to practice. Candidates take 25 credit hours over five semesters, completing the program in approximately two years. All coursework aligns with the American Physical Therapy Association’s educational standards. To graduate, students complete an independent clinical research project under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
Since this is an accelerated path to a doctoral degree, significant on-the-job experience is required. For example, applicants with only a bachelor’s degree should have at least ten years of experience.
Located in Topeka, KS, Washburn University offers an Associate of Science program for future physical therapist assistants with impressive success rates. Over the past three years, 95% of Washburn’s PTA graduates have passed the National Physical Therapy Exam. Additionally, 80% of Washburn’s admitted students earn their degrees in just two years.
Washburn’s PTA students benefit from a 2,500-square-foot facility on campus that allows them to gain hands-on experience with advanced physical therapy equipment. This 70-credit-hour program is housed within Washburn’s Allied Health department. Twenty-four students are admitted each year. All students undertake three clinical experiences, totaling 17 weeks.
Although Washburn’s PTA is a traditional on-campus program, this university offers many courses online. The Allied Health department delivers certain classes online, and students might be able to complete their general education requirements through the College of Arts and Sciences’ online coursework.
Situated in downtown Cleveland, Cleveland State University boasts proximity to one of the biggest and most respected hospitals in the nation: the Cleveland Clinic. Students in CSU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program benefit from the university’s partnerships with this revered organization and more than 140 additional clinical sites.
Cleveland State’s three-year DPT program requires 133 credits. On top of the core physical therapy curriculum, CSU’s doctoral students take six elective credits. Many students choose to conduct independent research under the guidance of a faculty member, and this work can lead to publication or a presentation at a national conference. CSU’s DPT students also undertake 41 weeks of off-campus clinical training.
Applicants should already have a bachelor’s degree. If you do not have certain prerequisites, you might be able to earn these online. CSU also offers limited online classes in the DPT program, like the basic pharmacotherapeutics course.
At Northern Illinois University, students get the perks of joining a large student body without sacrificing individualized attention from their professors. NIU has more than 16,000 students but maintains a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
NIU is based in Dekalb, IL, approximately 60 miles west of Chicago. Students in NIU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program get a unique advantage: access to the university’s Physical Therapy Clinic. Here, students begin working directly with patients within their first year of study. This initial supervised experience is complemented by four off-campus clinical experiences, totaling at least 30 hours. In the last three years, all of the program’s students have found employment after graduation.
To apply, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and at least 50 hours of documented experience in a physical therapy work setting. You’ll also need to have taken certain prerequisite courses, many of which can be completed through NIU Online.
Based in Lubbock, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center is the state’s leading educator of health care professionals. More than 28,000 graduates earned their degrees from one of TTUHSC’s five schools and online programs.
TTUHSC offers a Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy with a focus in orthopedic practice. This Sc.D. program allows practicing physical therapists to keep working. Candidates often use their work to inform their final dissertation in either clinical research or clinical teaching. Its curriculum also prepares graduates for the Orthopaedic Certified Specialist (OCS) exam.
The Sc.D. program combines weekend in-person courses with additional online learning. On campus, candidates train in cutting-edge technology in TTUHSC’s newly built, multi-million dollar facilities. All TTUHSC graduates who have applied for academic positions in the past have been hired. Additionally, many of its students go on to teach entry-level physical therapy programs or lead their clinic’s post-professional courses.
Ranked at No. 5 on U.S. News & World Report’s Top Public Schools, the University of North Carolina is one of the most well-respected institutions of higher education in the country. This university has counted two Nobel Laureates among its faculty. Its School of Medicine has earned its fair share of accolades too, taking the No. 15 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the top physical therapy schools.
Within UNC’s School of Medicine is the Department of Allied Health Sciences, which offers a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy. The two-year, part-time t-DPT prepares physical therapists to teach in academia or a clinical setting. The degree is also ideal for those who want to start their own clinical practice.
UNC’s t-DPT program is meant for distance learners and includes online coursework. To graduate, you’ll take at least 12 courses and complete a case study capstone project.
The University of Michigan is a nationwide leader in higher education, ranking at No. 3 on U.S. News & World Report’s Top Public Schools. UM-Flint is a product of this revered institution’s mission to extend academic excellence across the state. UM-Flint’s students have access to research and student resources at all of UM’s campuses.
UM-Flint offers a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program that is highly customizable. Taking approximately three years to earn, this program does not follow a set curriculum. Instead, new students work with a faculty advisor to develop an individualized learning plan.
This degree’s coursework is delivered entirely online. All candidates take two core classes in evidence-based practice and service-learning. From there, students can choose from several courses covering topics like neuroscience, pharmacology, and geriatrics in physical therapy. Classwork is complemented by hands-on learning opportunities such as interviewing and developing business plans for practicing physical therapists.
Wayne State University is centered in downtown Detroit, and this university puts research to work for its community. For example, WSU launched an Integrative Biosciences Initiative, a multidisciplinary research effort to help eradicate Detroit’s health inequities.
By enrolling in WSU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, you’ll be on your way to becoming a licensed physical therapist, and you will have extensive research opportunities that can cause real positive change. This DPT degree takes ten semesters or three and a half years to complete. The program is designed for full-time students, but pursuing it part-time might be an option. Students follow a set curriculum and complete significant clinical hours at one of WSU’s more than 170 partner sites. In the last three years, all of WSU’s graduates have passed their exams and found employment.
Before enrolling, students must take certain prerequisite courses, many of which can be completed through Wayne State Online.
Established in 1997 in Fort Myers, Florida Gulf Coast University is a young university, but it’s growing fast. Here, enrollment has ballooned from 200 to 15,000 students in two decades. This growth has been bolstered by an entrepreneurial drive among FGCU’s faculty and students. In fact, one-fifth of FGCU’s students have started their own businesses.
If your goal is to open your own clinical practice, then FGCU’s entrepreneurial spirit and Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program might be the right fit for you. Geared toward distance learners, this program admits experienced physical therapists seeking to advance their practice by studying the field’s latest scholarship. All students complete 30 credit hours of required courses covering material like diagnostic imaging, medical Spanish, and professional issues in physical therapy. To graduate, students complete a case study as their capstone project.
Based in Utica, NY, Utica College is a private university with a strong online presence. Offering several fully online degree programs, Utica is praised by U.S. News & World Report for its online undergraduate and graduate learning opportunities.
Utica’s Post Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy is an online program with only one on-campus requirement. This ppDPT’s curriculum delves into topics like running your own practice, using the latest diagnostic imaging technology, and addressing global health care issues. Only 18 credits are required for graduation.
Utica’s doctoral students customize their capstone project to match their specific goals for the program. For example, if you intend to use your ppDPT to teach, then your project might put forth a new teaching-learning discovery. Or, if your goal is to improve the services offered at your current workplace, your project might focus on a researched initiative that you then present to your colleagues.
Andrews University sits a few short miles from Lake Michigan’s beaches in Berrien Springs, MI. This Christian university serves less than 5,000 students. Within its College of Health & Human Services is the School of Rehabilitation Sciences, which offers two distance learning opportunities for physical therapists.
The first is a Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy, the highest degree a student can earn in this field. Andrews partners with the North American Institute of Orthopaedic Manual Therapy to ensure its degree-holders earn recognition as Certified Manual Physical Therapists. Andrews’ candidates are also prepared to teach at a university and undertake scholarly research. Spanning 35-64 credit hours, this program’s requirements depend on an applicant’s previous academic accomplishments. Online coursework is complemented by clinicals and a few on-campus intensives.
Andrews also offers a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy, which can be completed mostly online in as little as 18 months.
Kent State University at East Liverpool is situated on the Ohio River, a stone’s throw away from Ohio’s Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. Serving just over 1,000 students, East Liverpool’s graduates benefit from a close-knit campus and its association with Kent State University, which boasts more than 250,000 alumni.
Kent State’s East Liverpool campus offers an Associate of Science degree in Physical Therapy Assistant Technology. Taking two years to earn, this program combines on-campus classes and lab work with off-campus clinical training.
If you’re also interested in becoming a certified athletic trainer, then Kent State might be the best school for you. This campus is the first in the country to offer a hybrid ATC-to-PTA program. This degree covers the core competencies needed by both athletic trainers and physical therapy assistants. Coursework is completed online with six required visits to Kent State’s Ashtabula Campus.
The College of Saint Scholastica is a Catholic university with campuses across Minnesota. A majority of this institution’s student body is made up of non-traditional students. And with St. Scholastica’s long list of fully online, accelerated degree programs, it’s not hard to see why.
St. Scholastica has a 16-credit-hour Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program delivered entirely online. Distance learners undertake six courses focused on topics like diagnostic imaging, evidence-based practice, and pharmacology. Online classes can be accessed anywhere and at anytime. To maintain personalized attention from professors, St. Scholastica caps its online classes at 24 students. And each student is assigned an academic advisor who will provide support throughout the program.
If you were trained as a physical therapist in another country, then St. Scholastica is a great option; a quarter of this university’s t-DPT students are foreign-trained.
Arcadia University is well-known for its global opportunities. Here, studying abroad is the norm, and this university’s Philadelphia campus is enhanced by locations in Greece, Spain, South Africa, and seven additional countries.
With such worldly connections, Arcadia’s Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy is an attractive option for international students. No matter where you come from, earning a t-DPT from this school comes with clout. Arcadia ranks at No. 20 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top physical therapy schools.
This t-DPT takes between one and three years to earn. Students educated in the U.S. must earn 18 credits, while foreign-trained students need 22 credits to graduate. The t-DPT is delivered through synchronous and asynchronous online coursework. In addition to aligning their skillset with the most up-to-date best practices, physical therapists can use this degree to enhance specializations in orthopedic, neurologic, or cardiopulmonary physical therapy.
The University of New England’s tagline is “innovation for a healthier planet.” Though this institution’s academic offerings go beyond health studies, UNE has a strong tradition in the field. Based in Portland and Biddeford, Maine, UNE is the leading educator of the state’s healthcare professionals. It is also home to the only medical college in Maine.
UNE offers a Doctor of Physical Therapy program that requires eight semesters or 106 credit hours. Students undertake classes, lab work, and three full-time clinical experiences. In addition to the core coursework, two electives are provided in orthopedics and pediatrics. To graduate, UNE’s students take a comprehensive exam and complete a research project or case study.
Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree and will need to fulfill several prerequisites. The science prerequisites for UNE’s DPT degree can all be completed through UNE Online.
With its main campus in Boston, Northeastern University is well-known across the country for its academic excellence. This private institution holds the No. 40 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s National University Rankings. Northeastern has taken advantage of its national reputation by opening graduate campuses in several states, including Washington, North Carolina, and California.
Northeastern’s Seattle-based campus offers a fully online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy, which is perfect for practicing professionals who are eager to add this impressive university’s name to their resumes. This t-DPT requires 26-35 quarter hours, depending on what level degree you already hold.
Concentrations are available in advanced nutrition, women’s health, business management, and four additional areas of study. If none of these fit the bill, then you can undertake a directed study focused on your desired concentration. All students perform a case analysis as their culminating project.
A.T. Still University is named for Andrew Taylor Still, the groundbreaking physician who founded osteopathy in the late 19th century. The university maintains a commitment to osteopathic principles, particularly Still’s emphasis on the patient as a whole unit: body, mind, and spirit.
ATSU enrolls nearly 4,000 students across its locations in Arizona and Missouri. Its Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy is delivered through the Arizona School of Health Sciences, however, students never need to visit campus. Accommodating the schedules of practicing physical therapists, this program’s online classes start every six weeks and can be completed one at a time. Each student sets their own course of study. On average, ATSU’s t-DPT students take 22 months to finish.
As a culminating project, students prepare a manuscript, which might lead to publication. Several courses in evidence-based practice and research methods help with the writing of this final paper.
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science is named for Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose photography first revealed DNA’s structure in 1952. Inspired by this scientific pioneer, RFU seeks to help shape the healthcare industry by graduating highly motivated and knowledgeable professionals. RFU emphasizes interprofessional education, encouraging students to interact and learn alongside faculty and peers in other disciplines.
RFU has a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy that is delivered almost entirely online. This two-year, part-time program is designed for practicing physical therapists who already have a master’s degree. Required courses delve into topics like screening for diseases, anatomic imaging, and healthcare delivery.
Students also take 14-20 quarter hours in electives, which span areas like nutrition and cultural diversity to healthcare policy and practice management. To graduate, students participate in either an independent study or practicum. No final exam is required.
Why Is Accreditation Important?
Enrolling in an accredited college or university is important no matter what degree you pursue. Accreditation guarantees that a school provides a quality education that adheres to national educational standards. It also ensures that employers recognize the value of your academic achievements.
Accreditation is especially vital to aspiring physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. To gain employment, you’ll need to be licensed in your state. To be licensed, you’ll need to pass an exam. And to even be eligible to take the exam, you’ll need to have graduated from an accredited program. The state licensing boards only recognize accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
Thus, all associate and doctoral degree programs on this list are accredited by CAPTE. However, CAPTE does not offer accreditation for post-professional programs. This means that the Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy and Post Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy programs on this list are not accredited, simply because no accreditation is available.
Will I Need Additional Certification On Top of My Degree?
Yes. Physical therapist assistants need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapist assistants to gain licensure in any U.S. state. Likewise, physical therapists need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam to earn licensure. Academic programs often design their curriculum with these exams in mind. The test performances of past graduates can be key indicators of a degree program’s quality.
Physical therapists can also choose to become board-certified in specialty areas like neurology, pediatrics, or women’s health. To earn certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialities, you’ll need to pass an exam and document 2,000 clinical hours in your chosen specialty.
How Much Do Physical Therapists Earn?
In 2018, the BLS reported an average annual income of $87,930 for physical therapists. Physical therapists working in nursing homes or residential care facilities reported the highest salaries, and the profession’s top paying states are Nevada, Alaska, and New Jersey.
How Much Do Physical Therapist Assistants Earn?
The median annual income for physical therapist assistants in 2018 was $58,040, according to the BLS. Physical therapist assistants are some of the highest-paid holders of two-year associate degrees. The top-paying states for this vocation are Texas, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Why Should I Earn a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy?
Today, a Doctor of Physical Therapy is the required degree for entry-level physical therapists, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past, physical therapists could begin their practice with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy. If this is your academic background, then a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy can help you advance your education to meet today’s industry standards.
Of course, education is about more than adding a new title to your resume. A Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy is also a good idea for physical therapists who want to ensure they utilize the most contemporary best practices with their patients.
Technology is always changing, and new advances can vastly improve a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. That’s why many t-DPT programs offer courses in diagnostic imaging and medical screening. Additionally, t-DPT programs often incorporate a research or case-analysis final project. These give you the opportunity to contribute a scholarly work to your field or create a researched solution to an issue in your workplace.
Since these programs are geared toward working professionals, they are often delivered in a distance learning format through online coursework and limited on-campus requirements. This means t-DPT students can receive all the benefits of their program while continuing to earn a paycheck.
What Scholarships Are Available to Physical Therapy Students?
Each university has its own institutional scholarships, and some might offer departmental scholarships that are only open to physical therapy students. Additionally, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers several financial awards to aspiring physical therapists, such as the Minority Scholarship Award and the Mary McMillan Scholarship Award, which is given to students in their last year of study.
If you’re interested in pursuing higher education, then you should check out our Top 20 Easy Accredited Online Ph.D. Programs and the 15 Most Affordable, Accredited Online Associate Degree Programs!