If you are looking at a career as a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant, there are many available physical therapy schools for you to choose from. Choosing the right institution is a combination of several factors including the reputation of the educational establishment and whether you want to pursue a career as a physical therapist (PT) or a physical therapy assistant (PTA).
Why Go for Accredited Schools
Generally, it is best to find an accredited school offering PT education. Accreditation is not done by the US Department of Education (USDE). The accrediting body of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
CAPTE accredits programs, but not individuals. It is the only recognized body for accredited PT programs.
In effect, this is the only way for an aspiring PT to sit the licensure examinations to practice in the 50 states. In addition, continuing professional education is also encouraged. Access to federal and state financing is another factor why educational establishments are accredited as they offer student assistance of some sort.
Professional PT and PTA Education Overview
Currently, there 2 ways of getting a professional PT education:
• Masters – 2 to 2.5 years
• Doctoral – 3 years
For PTA education, an Associate Degree is required that will take 2 years to complete. After course work, you are required to do practicum, laboratory and hands on work with patients plus voluntary work. Entry into DPT programs may also be done using the 3+3 rule. The first 3 years is a bachelor’s degree preferably in the sciences with an eventual continuation to the PT program in the last half. Fresh high school graduates can get places in the PT programs because some schools recruit directly from the graduates pool.
Professional PT and PTA Schools
In the US, there are 212 accredited programs on physical therapy offered by 199 schools. From this number, 202 programs are offered as MPT and 9 as DPT. A full list of schools can be found on the data based of the USDE and the CAPTE website.
The majority of PT education are offered in 203 campuses which means that lectures, laboratory and practical/hands-on experience require physical presence. PTA programs exist in 235 institutions and there are 252 available courses.
Due to the nature of the curriculum, online courses are not options for students following the PT or PTA programs as they require extensive and in-depth laboratory and hands on experience.
Only 2 CAPTE PT accredited schools do a part of the course online or through correspondence: the Nova Southeastern University and the University of ST, Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida. For PTA programs, 5 states offer a part of the course through e-learning. But, there are flexible ways to earn the degree such taking weekend, day, or evening only courses.
If you are pursuing a transitional DPT program, there are 24 schools offering e-learning (GradSchools). However, these are not recognized by CAPTE, but are excellent ways to update clinical experience before pursing a DPT.
1. Physical Therapists
Each school varies on the admission requirements but there are common prerequisites that must be met by the candidate:
• Undergraduate or BS Degree
• Good GPA scores, at least 3.0 or above; other schools require a science GPA of at least 3.0
• Good GRE results
• 2-4 letters of recommendation or referrals, one of which should be from a physical therapist (not all schools)
• Good communication and interpersonal skills for patient management.
• Minimum number of voluntary work hours ranging from 20 hours to 100 hours
• 3-4 credits in specific subjects such as biology, physics, human anatomy, physiology, college math, statistics, psychology, and sociology; others may require 1 or several credits in English composition and writing.
• TOEFL, TWE, TSE results
2. Physical Therapist Assistants
• Must be a high school graduate
• GPE of 2.0
• Practical experience or volunteer work is also an advantage
Tuition costs vary according to the school but the average prices are: $21,684 for a public (out-of-state) school, $11,413 for a public (in-state) school, and $25,364 for a private school (APTA, 2008).
You can apply directly to the school of your choice for admission. However, most accredited schools offering PT and PTA education use the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) where you submit applications and admission requirement online. You’ll hear from them after 5 weeks whether you have been accepted or not. There is a fee to process your application.
Outlook of PT Education
It is estimated that by 2015, all practicing PTs are expected to get their doctoral degrees from physical therapy schools.
Q & A Video
This is a helpful youtube video that covers a lot of physical therapy info.