Physical Therapy Schools
There are over 200 accredited physical therapy degree training institutions and 250 accredited physical therapy assistant training programs in the US. Accreditation of the program is done by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, which serves to ensure the quality and consistency of the education. The length of the typical physical therapy assistant program is 2 years, approximately 75% of which is spent in the classroom and 25% spent in clinical education. This leads to an Associate Degree.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy degree generally requires 3-4 years with a similar percentage of time being spent in the classroom versus clinical settings. While some programs offer a Master’s level, almost all physical therapy degrees are now offered only at the Doctorate level. All physical therapy degree programs will emphasize not only professional knowledge and clinical techniques, but also critical thinking and problem solving skills, ethical and professional behavior, collaborative interactions with others, and interactive people skills.
Prerequisites for admission into a physical therapist program vary between institutions but generally require coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, math, and psychology. Applicants should have a high grade point average in this highly competitive field and should also try to get as much clinical exposure to the profession as possible. There are many factors to consider when selecting a program and several of those are outlined below.
Choosing a School
The selection of which physical therapy degree programs to apply to is a very personal and important
decision. There are several factors to consider. One is whether to pursue an Associate’s Degree for
physical therapy assistants or Master’s or Doctorate level degree for physical therapists. Most physical
therapists will pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and in fact, this will be the only type of
accredited program by the end of 2015. There are currently 203 Doctoral level programs, 9 Master’s level
programs, and over 250 accredited physical therapy assistant programs.
Cost (tuition, cost of living etc.) and geographic location are important. But applicants should also consider the quality of the education. While the commission that accredits the schools does not rank the physical therapy degree programs, there are certain publications such as US News and World Report that rank programs based on select criteria. However, these rankings are somewhat arbitrary and it is more important that the applicant take multiple factors into consideration.
Applicants should consider student-to-faculty ratio, class size, and the design and length of the
curriculum. Find out about options for clinical experience settings (hospital, clinic, nursing home,
etc.). One of the most telling statistics that the applicant may want to research is the licensure exam
pass rate for graduates of the program. The school should be able to provide you with student-to-faculty
ratios, percentage of faculty with a doctoral degree, and career placement percentages. These data are
also available for most schools on websites such as The Princeton Review. The applicant may also want to
contact current or former students with questions about the experience and satisfaction with the
Applying to School
Applying to a physical therapy degree training program can be a complicated procedure. However, there
is an entity called the
Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) that
allows applicants to use a single web-based application to apply to multiple programs. PTCAS is a
service of the American Physical Therapy Association and most, but not all, physical therapy degree
programs participate in PTCAS. In preparation for the application process, applicants should research
programs they are interested in attending and make sure they have all of the prerequisite coursework and
determine whether they are required to have earned a Bachelor’s Degree prior to beginning training. Some
programs require some level of volunteer physical therapy experience; if so, the supervising physical
therapist’s signature may be required to verify this experience. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
should be taken at least 6 weeks prior to the application deadline. Most programs will ask for letters
of recommendation so adequate time should be allowed to secure those as well. The applicant will also
need to have official transcripts sent from all colleges attended.
Course requirements will vary between programs but in general, most applicants will have majored in
biology, exercise science, or similar. The applicant will most likely be required to have completed
courses in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, physiology, math, and psychology as well as some higher
level biology courses such as embryology, cell biology, histology, etc. Most physical therapy degree
programs will have a minimum grade point average requirement. This varies but is often around 3.0 or
higher on a 4 point scale. There is usually a minimum GRE score as well, which also varies by
institution. Most programs will also ask applicants to attend an interview. This gives the institution a
chance to assess the applicant’s communication skills, professionalism, attitudes, knowledge of the
profession, and motivation for pursuing a career in the field.
Ranking of Physical Therapy Schools
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy
Education (CAPTE) accredits physical therapy degree programs and physical therapy assistant programs
to ensure a high level of quality in the education program but the Commission does not rank the schools.
However, there are various publications and websites that do attempt to rank programs based on various
criteria. One of the most popular rankings is that done by the magazine US News and World Report. It
should be noted however, that the rankings are often not scientific in nature. For example, the US News
rankings are obtained by a simple peer assessment survey sent out to deans, administrators, and faculty,
of which only a small percentage respond. The Princeton Review is another organization that is sometimes
used to help applicants decide what school is right for them. It provides information on physical
therapy degree programs such as costs, student-to-faculty ratio, class size, percentage of faculty with
a doctoral degree, and licensure pass rates of graduates.
Physical Therapy School Accreditation
All physical therapists and physical therapy assistants must receive a degree from an accredited
physical therapy degree program before they may sit for the licensing exam. Schools conferring degrees
in physical therapy are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
(CAPTE). The Commission accredits programs for both physical therapists and physical therapy assistants.
The purpose of accreditation is to ensure the quality of the education that the students receive,
assuring that the program has qualified faculty, proper curriculum, adequate resources, and well-trained
graduates. These standards not only benefit the students but the public as well, ensuring the quality of
training these healthcare professionals receive. The commission is composed of individuals with various
relevant backgrounds, such as clinicians, educators, curriculum experts, administrators, and
representatives of the public. The CAPTE currently accredits over 200 physical therapy programs and 250
physical therapy assistant programs in the US.
The accreditation process involves extensive internal and external review and evaluation of the
program curriculum as well as multi-day, on-site visits by expert reviewers who interview students,
faculty and administrators, as well as review course materials and other pertinent data. The program is
evaluated on the following areas: students, faculty, curriculum, clinical education sites, policies and
procedures, space and equipment, administration, and outcomes. Once a physical therapy degree program
has received accreditation, the program must submit reports on a regular basis to CAPTE and be formally
reviewed every 5 to 10 years.
Last Updated: 02/27/2013