Best Online Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs

By the OnlineU team | Updated 11/17/2021
Quick Facts
Accreditation: APTA
Average Tuition: $30,571
Alumni Salary: $70,410

Physical therapists enjoy the benefits of working in healthcare—making a positive difference in people’s lives, working one-on-one with clients, earning a comfortable salary—without the high-stress environment that comes with some medical roles. For graduates working in their field of study as physical therapists, the median annual salary is $91,000, and the need for these professionals is projected to grow by 21% over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical therapists work directly with patients, providing short- and long-term care to manage and improve pain. Working with a physical therapist can help patients who have difficulty doing everyday tasks, such as walking, or who experience chronic pain. Below is a list of the most affordable online programs offering doctoral degrees in physical therapy. Continue reading for more information about accreditation, career options available in physical therapy, and answers to frequently asked questions about this field.

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Online DPT Programs with the Highest Return on Investment

2021 Best Online Colleges Offering Doctoral Degrees in Physical Therapy Badge

The average 10-year ROI for a DPT program in the US is $213,100. The top online DPT programs offer ROIs well above that national average; ROIs for the online physical therapy schools on this list start at $516,300. Top-ranked Utica College's DPT program costs $9,420 per year with an estimated ROI of $824,900. Our ROI rankings reflect real alumni outcomes to help students assess the potential long-term financial benefits of earning a Doctorate of Physical Therapy.

ROI amounts are based on data reported by the U.S. Department of Education. Tuitions are manually researched in order to determine tuition amounts specific to online degrees. Read our methodology for more details.

RankSchool Annual Tuition Median Starting Salary Median Debt 10-year ROI
# 1 #1 Utica University $9,420 $83,423 $27,251 $824,900
# 2 #2 Shenandoah University $5,840 $77,024 $83,883 $688,500
# 3 #3 Northeastern University $11,325 $69,338 $31,164 $675,000
# 4 #4 Winston-Salem State University $12,341 $70,344 $56,923 $653,300
# 5 #5 Arcadia University $14,400 $71,255 $70,000 $646,400
# 6 #6 University of Michigan-Flint $16,171 $71,155 $80,913 $631,800
# 7 #7 Andrews University $7,896 $75,301 $117,748 $628,600
# 8 #8 A.T. Still University of Health Sciences $7,680 $74,953 $148,581 $586,600
# 9 #9 The College of Saint Scholastica $12,000 $70,736 $113,983 $586,300
# 10 #10 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $26,565 $62,260 $100,109 $516,300

Best Doctoral Degrees in Physical Therapy Rankings Details


Utica University

Utica (NY)
  • 10-Year ROI: $824,900
  • Median Salary: $83,423
  • Annual Tuition: $9,420
  • Median Debt: $27,251

Utica College offers an online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program for licensed physical therapists to expand their skills and knowledge. The program focuses on coursework including diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, autonomous practice, pathophysiology, and more. Students who complete the course will learn to guide clinical decisions, analyze diagnostic testing, apply... risk management principles to physical therapy practice, and more. A total of 18-19 credit hours are required, including core courses and a capstone course. For the capstone course, students choose their focus area in community health projects, professional in-service, teaching, or clinical preparation. There is also a virtual residency that is completed at the beginning of the program.

Classes are completely virtual, and students use Engage or Canvas to complete assignments, communicate with teachers and peers, and receive updates. Courses are asynchronous so that professionals can keep working while completing the program. Financial aid is available and includes corporate education partnerships and employer tuition reimbursement. Students receive continued career support from Utica through mentoring services, job search assistance, career counseling, and access to their job portal Handshake.

To apply, students complete an online application. Resources for online students include technical support, library databases, access to Microsoft Office, and more.

Cost per Credit: $785
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: MSCHE
Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,169


Shenandoah University

Winchester (VA)
  • 10-Year ROI: $688,500
  • Median Salary: $77,024
  • Annual Tuition: $5,840
  • Median Debt: $83,883

The Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program at Shenandoah University is designed for practicing physical therapists to become doctorally-educated practitioners. The focus of the program is on evidence-based practices and allowing students to provide optimal patient care. The online tDPT program has three different tracks depending on the education level of the student.... Tracks I and II are for students who have earned a master's degree in physical therapy or another healthcare program. Each track requires 16 credits, with the first track being completed in three terms and the second track completed in six terms. Track III is for students who have a bachelor's degree in physical therapy and requires 20 credit hours over seven consecutive terms. As a whole, the tDPT program requires 30 credits to graduate, including the track requirements and transfer credits from previous degree programs. Shenandoah University is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Online learners in the program use Canvas to access course materials such as readings, lectures, and tests. Courses are asynchronous but require frequent interaction with peers and instructors through group projects and discussion boards. There is a requirement to attend two in-person orientation sessions on campus for one day each. Students receive support from faculty mentors, and small class sizes allow for more personalized attention in academic and professional development.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include library services, technical support, and more.

Cost per Credit: $730
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: SACS COC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 492


Northeastern University

Burlington (MA)
  • 10-Year ROI: $675,000
  • Median Salary: $69,338
  • Annual Tuition: $11,325
  • Median Debt: $31,164

Northeastern University offers an online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program for practicing physical therapists to become doctorally prepared practitioners. Students will enhance their knowledge and learn skills such as differential diagnosis, medical screening, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, nutrition, and motor control. Students have the option to choose a concentration... in orthopedics, geriatrics, advanced nutrition, education, and business management. The program is available on a full-time or part-time basis, and the duration of the program is one to three years. Students will choose the educational track or the clinical track to complete along with the required core courses. Students entering the program with a bachelor's degree are required to complete 33 quarter hours, and students with a master's degree are required to complete 24 quarter hours. A capstone course is required as a culmination of all of the work completed in the program.

The program is conducted completely online and is flexible to fit the needs of practicing physical therapists. Northeastern's experiential learning method provides students with the opportunity to apply their skills directly to the workplace. Graduates of the program have access to a community of alumni for networking and mentoring.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include faculty support and advisors, library resources, and more.

Cost per Credit: $755
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: NECHE
Graduate Online Enrollment: 183


Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem (NC)
  • 10-Year ROI: $653,300
  • Median Salary: $70,344
  • Annual Tuition: $12,341
  • Median Debt: $56,923

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) offers an online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program for professional physical therapists to grow their knowledge and keep up with advancements in the health care environment. Students in the program will learn to use evidence-based practices, advocate for the profession, integrate research into clinical practices, and more. The... program requires 24 credit hours and includes 12 credit hours of required courses and other P.T. elective courses. The program can be completed within four semesters or up to three years.

Courses are conducted entirely online and are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Coursework includes assignments, online discussions, and more, depending on the course. Although classes are asynchronous, some assignments will require communication with fellow peers or instructors, and assignments have set due dates for completion. The program also has monthly virtual meetings. Students who have already completed their master's degree may be able to receive six credit hours toward the program. Graduates from other WSSU programs can transfer up to nine credit hours toward the tDPT program. Alumni of the program receive continued career support and join a network of fellow graduates.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include academic advising, technology support, and more.

Cost per Credit: $686
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: SACS COC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 155


Arcadia University

Glenside (PA)
  • 10-Year ROI: $646,400
  • Median Salary: $71,255
  • Annual Tuition: $14,400
  • Median Debt: $70,000

Arcadia University offers an online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program designed for licensed clinicians to increase their knowledge by focusing on skills such as solving clinical problems, communicating through scientific writing, and using evidence-based practices. The degree is received after completing all 18 credits or a minimum of 12 credits. The program takes... one to three years to complete and includes core courses, a capstone course, and a clinical practice course. Students pick one clinical practice course based on their area of practice as a physical therapist: orthopedic, neurologic, cardiopulmonary, or geriatric.

Coursework is completed using Canvas and includes quizzes and assignments. Classes are entirely virtual, but they are both synchronous and asynchronous, with some live class discussions and some discussion board participation. Students are able to waive up to six credits and apply for a course waiver for some courses, such as the clinical practice course requirement. Alumni and current students receive support from career services and the university's career advisors.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include access to the self-service portal, library databases, and more.

Cost per Credit: $800
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: MSCHE
Graduate Online Enrollment: 565


University of Michigan-Flint

Flint (MI)
  • 10-Year ROI: $631,800
  • Median Salary: $71,155
  • Annual Tuition: $16,171
  • Median Debt: $80,913

The University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint) offers an online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program to help guide students in their professional growth and enhance their skills. Students in the program will gain clinical perspectives, use evidence-based practices, and prepare to become doctoral-level physical therapists. The program is offered on a part-time or full-time... basis. A total of 24 credits are required to graduate. On average, it takes students two years or up to three years to complete the program. Each student has their own personalized learning plan, and course content includes post-professional subjects, musculoskeletal imaging, and more.

Coursework is completed online using Blackboard, and classes are flexible to fit the schedules of working physical therapists. Coursework includes case reports, presentations, group projects, and didactic teaching methods. Live audio discussions are also included in the program's online learning format. Students have the opportunity to participate in independent studies in physical therapy. Students can transfer up to six credits towards the program for courses that have been completed within five years prior to admission. Graduates of the UM-Flint MPT program have the opportunity to transfer up to 12 credits. The program faculty become mentors to their students, and small class sizes allow students to receive personalized support.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include academic advising, tutoring, technical support, and more.

School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: HLC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 548


Andrews University

Berrien Springs (MI)
  • 10-Year ROI: $628,600
  • Median Salary: $75,301
  • Annual Tuition: $7,896
  • Median Debt: $117,748

Andrews University offers an online Physical Therapy- Transitional DPT program for practicing physical therapists who want to enhance their medical screening skills, differential diagnosis, imaging and laboratory science, and more. Students in the program will advance their knowledge and prepare for direct access practitioner roles.The online program requires 35 credits for degree... completion and includes degree core requirements, the interactive online course requirements, and a research project. The program is completed in two to three years, and students can enroll on a part-time or full-time basis. Andrews University is a Christian Seventh-day Adventist school with a variety of faith engagement opportunities. One of the program's learning outcomes is that students will learn to integrate Christian values into their physical therapy practice.

Online learning is conducted on the university's learning platform, Learninghub. Although the program is virtual, there is an in-person requirement of one to two short intensives on campus. The program also requires frequent interaction with faculty and peers. The interactive online program is still flexible to fit the needs of practicing physical therapists. Graduates have access to resources such as a networking platform, mentoring, and career services.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include tutoring services, academic counseling, writing assistance, tech help, and many more.

Cost per Credit: $658
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: HLC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 267


A.T. Still University of Health Sciences

Kirksville (MO)
  • 10-Year ROI: $586,600
  • Median Salary: $74,953
  • Annual Tuition: $7,680
  • Median Debt: $148,581

A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (ATSU) offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy transitional program for professionals who want to continue their studies in physical therapy practices. The program focuses on coursework related to pharmacology, radiology, evidence-based practice, and more. An individual plan of study is created for each student, and... the program can be completed within 1.5 to 2 years. A total of 64 credits are required, including a capstone course.

Courses are taught online using Canvas, and coursework includes reading assignments, PowerPoint and written lectures, a class discussion board, and more. Classes are asynchronous, with assignments due weekly. The program accepts many employer-based tuition reimbursement programs as well as installment plans. Graduating students receive discounts on continuing education courses at the university. ATSU reported that 50% of students in the program are referred from previous alumni or industry stakeholders. Students receive extensive support from faculty during the program as well as after program completion.

To apply, students submit an online application. Resources for online students include access to ATSU's online portal my.ATSU, enrollment services, and more.

School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: HLC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,604


The College of Saint Scholastica

Duluth (MN)
  • 10-Year ROI: $586,300
  • Median Salary: $70,736
  • Annual Tuition: $12,000
  • Median Debt: $113,983

The Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program at The College of Saint Scholastica (CSS) focuses on providing practicing physical therapists with the knowledge to enhance their practice, profession, and interaction with fellow professionals. The program's specific outcomes include analyzing health legislation, using evidence-based practices, managing patients and clients,... and more. The program consists of 16 credits in six courses, and course content includes pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, health care policy, differential diagnosis, evidence-based practices, and clinical experiences. Faculty are experienced professionals in the field. CSS is a Benedictine college that describes the school's integration of Benedictine values in the mission statement.

The program is conducted completely online, and online learning consists of asynchronous online courses and synchronous virtual classrooms. Coursework for online courses includes discussion boards and multimedia presentations. Virtual classroom coursework includes group work, presentations, and audio conferencing. The tDPT program at CSS is regarded for its high academic standards. Students who participate in the program receive thorough career preparation as well as a personal advisor to help the student with an individualized study plan, academic resources, and advising services. The small class size format allows for more personalized support and connections.

To apply, students submit an online application. Online students have access to resources such as counseling, career services, and student groups.

Cost per Credit: $750
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: HLC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 621


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill (NC)
  • 10-Year ROI: $516,300
  • Median Salary: $62,260
  • Annual Tuition: $26,565
  • Median Debt: $100,109

The Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) focuses on allowing licensed physical therapists to develop new clinical services, grow their knowledge and skills, and specialize in orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, or geriatrics. The program is available for physical therapists pursuing their advanced degrees... and for experienced physical therapists who want to advance their knowledge and skills. Students complete 30 credits of coursework to receive the degree, including a clinical foundation core, a clinical practice core, a specialty practice core, and a capstone course. The program is only offered on a part-time basis and is completed within two years.

Courses in the program combine distance learning, web-based instruction, and clinical application. Along with a payment plan, UNC offers other financial aid plans such as residency opportunities and employee benefits. Graduates of the program who have a significant amount of clinical experience have the opportunity to receive board certification. Upon receiving board certification, graduates can join clinical faculty as a clinical specialist for physical therapy education programs.

To apply, students submit an online application, and applications for the fall semester open every October. Resources for students include career services, the writing center, and more.

Cost per Credit: $1,771
School Type: Non-Profit
Accreditation: SACS COC
Graduate Online Enrollment: 1,204

Online Physical Therapy Degree Overview & Career Information

PTs and PTAs are employed by hospitals, private practices, and other clinical settings, working closely with doctors, nurses, and other medical consultants. Many physical therapists, after gaining experience in such settings, choose to open their own PT practices, though this requires business skill and credentials. Still other physical therapists work for high-end fitness centers or major sports organizations.

Online PT programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate level. Undergraduate programs prepare students for a career as a physical therapy aide or assistant, while graduate programs prepare students to become a physical therapist. All online PT programs require students to complete on-site clinical work in a hospital or physical therapy office.

Undergraduate PT degrees teach students about the basic theories and practices of physical therapy, human anatomy, patient care, therapeutic exercises, and pathophysiology. An associate degree in physical therapy is appropriate for people who wish to be PTAs, or who would like to more slowly ease themselves into postsecondary study. A bachelor's degree is an essential step for all physical therapists, though students don't necessarily have to major in physical therapy in order to proceed to a graduate PT program. Because PT programs are grounded in the sciences -- chemistry, physics, anatomy, biology, and kinesiology -- students who hold bachelor's degrees in these subjects often go into physical therapy.

PT graduate training programs draw all types of students and professionals. Some have expansive medical backgrounds but have opted for physical therapy training over nursing or medical school. Others may have athletic backgrounds and have garnered an interest in working with those who have injuries or other physical issues. Master's programs in PT typically last two years, and doctoral programs in PT last three years. Classes include gerontology, orthopaedics, clinical assessment, and medical law, which is especially useful for students who aspire to open their own practice.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Physical Therapy

Professionals entering the field of physical therapy are now required to have a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) in order to provide services to those who are recovering from work and sports-related injuries, automobile accidents, or debilitating illnesses. In addition to their degrees, DPT program graduates will need to earn physical therapy licenses for their state before they can legally practice. To earn this license, students must graduate from a PT program that is approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education, and they must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination.

Program Requirements

Most DPT take three years to complete at academic institutions. DPT programs usually consist of 120 to 130 credit hours. Applicants are required to have a baccalaureate degree and often must submit undergraduate transcripts, reference letters, and standardized test scores. Online DPT programs are often transitional DPTs, meaning that they are intended for practicing physical therapists who earned only a bachelor's or master's degree before the field shifted to requiring doctoral degrees. These programs can take fewer than three years to complete based on the professional and educational background of the applicant.


Doctoral degree programs in physical therapy teach students how to properly assess and treat patients with dysfunctional movements from pre-existing conditions. Students learn how to communicate with clients, devise action plans to meet their individual needs, keep track of patients' progress, and share preventive care techniques. While the general classes in DPT programs can be completed online, students may need to complete clinical courses on campus. Along with the didactic coursework, most programs also require students to complete fellowships or clinical rotations to help them gain hands-on experience. 

Examples of course topics include neuroscience, community health, human anatomy and physiology, injuries of the musculoskeletal system, pediatric physical therapy, pharmacology, research methods, and biomechanics. Classes like functional anatomy give students a medical science background, while specific physical therapy courses, like therapeutic modality interventions, discuss actual physical exercises and techniques students can use to rehabilitate patients.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Physical Therapy Program

Physical therapy degrees train students to rehabilitate patients who have some sort of functional impairment to their physical movement; this impairment may come from an injury, genetic defect, or disease. To learn the skills to help patients recover their range of motion or relieve pain, students take courses in natural science, physical therapy techniques, and patient management; this physical therapy theory is then applied during intensive clinical rotations. Here are some examples of the courses required throughout undergraduate and graduate PT programs:

  • Anatomy and Physiology: This foundational science course provides students with an in-depth understanding of the musculoskeletal system. Students learn to identify the different muscle and organ systems.
  • Basic Evaluation: Bedside manner and methods for evaluating patient cases are explored in this course. Students learn how to interview patients and review medical records.
  • Clinical Courses: Students learn the skills for interacting with patients in a medical setting. Through clinical rounds, students observe and diagnose patients under the guidance of an experienced physical therapist. Through these classes, students learn more about the diagnostic process and appropriate interventions for particular cases.
  • Exercise and Manual Techniques: Students study manipulation of the limbs and other exercises to increase range of motion. Hands-on stimulation, such as massage, is also discussed.
  • Human Development: Students study the growth and development of the human body, from conception to adulthood. This allows students to understand how illnesses can affect people differently at different life stages.
  • Kinesiology and Body Science: These classes cover the mechanics of the human body. Students learn how the musculoskeletal system works to afford movement, and how this movement can become impaired.
  • Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation: This is a specialized clinical course that covers particular exercises and assistive devices for musculoskeletal injuries. Topics like balance training and gait are discussed.
  • Natural Science: Neuroscience and cellular biology are two courses that are commonly included in graduate programs in physical therapy. Since physical movement is governed by many natural processes, these foundational science classes can shed light on different aspects of movement. For example, neuroscience courses discuss how trauma to the brain (through injuries like strokes) can influence how the body functions.
  • Therapeutic Exercise: Students learn the major strategies for relieving pain and restoring motion through exercise. This clinical course covers the exercises themselves and the skills for instructing and assisting patients in performing the exercises.

Is Hands-On Training Required?

Physical therapy is obviously a very hands-on profession, and physical therapy students need to learn clinical skills. Many online PT degrees are hybrid programs, which combine online courses with on-campus clinicals. Online classes cover topics like pharmacology, exercise physiology, communication, biomechanics, and physical agents. In on-site clinical classes and labs, students learn about musculoskeletal physical therapy, medical diagnosis, neuromuscular systems, pediatrics, and more.

In an online bachelor's degree, students learn general education topics and take the prerequisite classes required for PT graduate programs. Students can choose to major in any area that interests them, as long as they complete the classes necessary for grad school admission. Common required classes include biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, statistics, and psychology. Check out the graduate programs that you might want to attend to make sure you are taking the necessary prerequisites. Most programs require lab classes in subjects like biology and chemistry, and online students will need to complete these on-site.

If you are a practicing physical therapist, you may choose to earn the transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online. This program is for PTs who graduated with a Master of Physical Therapy or Bachelor of Physical Therapy before DPTs became the minimum educational requirement for practicing PTs. The physical therapy profession has moved away from the master's degree, and as of 2017, all schools have to offer the doctorate. The transitional DPT program is almost entirely online. It is a flexible way for current PTs to learn the latest skills in the field and to gain the higher credential.

If you are new to the physical therapy field, there are entry-level DPT programs that use a hybrid structure. This means that students complete some courses online, while also doing face-to-face study to learn clinical skills. These online/in-person programs may take longer to complete than a regular degree, although they are more flexible. You will need to be at your school's campus for several months each year to do clinical training.

Becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant

It takes many years of education to become a licensed physical therapist. If you like the work environment and knowledge required of the physical therapy profession but aren't sure if graduate school is right for you, you may want to consider the physical therapy assistant profession instead. PTAs help PTs with everyday administrative tasks, along with routine clinical ones. A career as a PTA requires an associate degree in physical therapy, a program that can be completed in about two years. Several community colleges, vocational schools and technical schools offer the program, and it can also be completed online.

Physical therapy assistants work under the direction of PTs to keep the practice running smoothly. They may work on office administration tasks, such as updating medical records, welcoming arriving patients, and maintaining office correspondence. Physical therapy assistants also work with patients before and after a treatment plan has been developed. They may take notes on the patient's medical history and ailments, help the patient with assigned exercises, or teach them how to use assistive equipment.

Like the physical therapy profession, PTAs have education requirements that are regulated at the state level. Those who wish to enter this profession must complete an accredited associate degree program; these online physical therapy assistant programs are offered by community and junior colleges, allied healthcare organizations, and career colleges. In these programs, students take general liberal arts courses, as well as natural science classes such as biology, exercise physiology, and kinesiology. The education of a PTA also involves training on conducting therapeutic exercises, providing therapeutic massage, fitting and adjusting devices on the body, and observing and evaluating data to facilitate a patient's physical progress. Students are required to complete a significant clinical internship in order to get hands-on experience before they hit the job market.

After graduation, certification and licensing are the next steps toward starting work as a PTA. Requirements vary from state to state, but most states require CPR and first aid examinations, as well as a certain amount of fieldwork hours. Prospective students should contact their state's regulatory board to learn about their exact professional requirements for PTAs.

Accreditation and Licensing Requirements

All professional physical therapists and physical therapist assistants must obtain a license before they can legally practice in the United States. Licensing requirements are regulated by individual state PT boards, but most require graduation from an accredited program, a certain number of hours of clinical work, and a passing score on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Some states also require that applicants pass separate tests on medical ethics or jurisprudence. Along with the required state license, physical therapists also have the opportunity to earn voluntary professional certification in specialist areas; credentials are offered by physical therapy professional organizations.

The Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the most important accrediting agency for graduate programs in physical therapy. Accreditation ensures that PT and PTA degree programs adhere to certain academic standards and graduate competent professionals. PT programs are only accredited at the master's and doctoral degree level, and the majority of accredited programs are doctorates. PTA programs are accredited at the associate level. The NPTE is administered by The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). To be eligible to sit for the NPTE, applicants must complete a CAPTE-accredited degree program or an alternative academic program that the FSBPT deems acceptable.

To maintain licensure in most states, PTs must complete continuing education classes every few years to update their training. Students should contact their state board directly to make sure they have the most current information about licensure. The FSBPT has more information about the eligibility requirements for the national exam and contact information for state licensing boards.

Related Careers and Specializations

Practicing PTs may, at some point in their careers, choose to pursue a specialty in one aspect of the physical therapy field. In order to take this next step in their career, they must complete a certification in physical therapy. Board certification can be used to demonstrate your particular skills, and it can help increase your practice. The certification is based on a broad working knowledge of physical therapy in general and the development of a deeper understanding of one particular kind of physical therapy, such as geriatrics or orthopedics. Once a physical therapist has chosen to pursue certification in their specialty, they must complete a set number of hours working in their specialty and pass a certification exam.

According to American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), the certification process takes roughly one year. Candidates must accumulate 2,000 hours of clinical experience in the specialty they are pursuing, then sit for the certification exam; however, depending on work environment and other outside factors, it make take more than a year complete the number of hours needed to qualify for the exam. There are no required courses to obtain a certificate in physical therapy, but the American Physical Therapy Association offers physical therapists continuing education opportunities that deal directly with specialties for which one can later become certified.

ABPTS currently certifies PTs in the following eight areas:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary: Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation physical therapists help to treat patients with cardiopulmonary disorders or those who have had cardiac or pulmonary surgery. 
  • Clinical Electrophysiology: Electrophysiology is the study of the electric functions of the body, and PTs who specialize in this area are prepared to record and interpret monitored data and apply their findings to a patient's physical therapy plan. 
  • Geriatrics: Physical therapy for the elderly and aging will be in higher demand as the US population ages. Elderly patients often deal with multiple physical issues, including muscle or joint pain and soreness, diseases, or other medical issues, often requiring the help of physical therapists. 
  • Neurology: Neurology physical therapists must be extremely patient, as progress with patients suffering from brain injuries is often very slow. Neurology physical therapists must often help people re-learn basic functions, including walking and talking. 
  • Orthopedics: Orthopedic physical therapy is one of the most common kinds of physical therapy, as these PTs work with people who have broken or weak bones. 
  • Pediatrics: Pediatric physical therapy is administered to young children or babies. Those who work in this profession must be patient and good with young children. 
  • Sports: Professional sports teams, college sports teams, and fitness centers often employ physical therapists to work with injured athletes. Some colleges offer entire degree programs dedicated to this specialization, usually known as sports medicine. 
  • Women's Health: Women's health specialists assist patients with medical conditions such as pre- and postnatal discomfort, incontinence, osteoporosis, and lower back pain.

Frequently Asked Questions About Physical Therapy Degrees

How many degrees do you need to be a physical therapist?

A doctoral degree is required to practice as a physical therapist. This will usually require prospective students to earn at least a bachelor’s degree as well. Some programs are designed so students take specific pre-professional undergraduate courses before they advance to the doctorate program, rather than earning a full undergraduate degree and then applying for postgraduate programs.

What is the best major for physical therapy?

The most common undergraduate degrees for physical therapists are exercise science, biology, psychology, and kinesiology, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. However, pre-professional programs are a good choice if they are available to you. Pre-professional programs are designed to prepare students who intend to pursue their doctorate.

What physical therapy specialty makes the most money?

Graduates who go on to become employed as physical therapists make the most money in nursing and residential care facilities, with median yearly salaries of $97,610, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Therefore, specializing in geriatric physical therapy would be a good choice. Sports medicine and cardiovascular/pulmonary specialties are also highly paid physical therapy professions, although specializing in any field is likely to boost your income.

This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the school by this site.

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