Best Physical Therapy Schools + Career Information – 2023
Written By: Editorial Staff @ NursingProcess.org
Your interest in helping others as a physical therapist allows you to enter one of the fastest growing sectors of the healthcare field. Physical therapists are in high demand by employers such as hospitals and private clinics, and graduates from an accredited program enjoy a comfortable salary that can reach six figures within only a few years of gaining experience. You can use our list of the 5 best physical therapy programs to find one that gets you on the right track for starting this lucrative career.
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What Education is Required to Become a Physical Therapist?
You will need to complete a doctoral degree to become a physical therapist. Although you can sometimes enter a doctoral program as a freshman, you will typically need to complete a bachelor’s degree first. Some people also finish a master’s degree before entering their doctoral program.
A doctoral program costs anywhere between $28,960 and $112,910. This cost is in addition to any tuition, books, and fees that you must pay for before you enter the doctoral degree program.
| Type|| Cost|
|Doctoral||$28,960 - $112,910|
You can expect to complete your degree program within as little as three years. However, many doctoral programs take longer due to the intensive nature of the coursework. For instance, you can expect the program to take longer if you need to complete a residency or clinical experience. Having prior experience in the healthcare field may help you finish the program faster.
| Type|| Length|
Can I Pursue This Program Online?
Physical therapy schools tend to require all students to attend classes in-person. While some of these classes may take place on the college campus, you can also expect to participate in clinical experiences that allow you to practice your new skills in a real-life environment. You may work beneath a licensed physical therapist to treat patients after a brief period of classroom training as part of the requirements to earn your degree. Physical therapy is a very hands-on position, which means that you must learn how to help patients in one-on-one learning experiences. Keep in mind that all undergraduate coursework that you need to finish before you apply to a doctoral program may have options that allow you to complete it online.
The majority of doctoral programs require you to have a bachelor’s degree for admission. Some programs may allow first-year students to apply, but this will cause your training to take longer. In addition, to hold a degree, you will need to meet these requirements.
• Prior coursework in subjects such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology and ethics
• Complete an application with the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service
The curriculum for this program includes advanced coursework in subjects such as neurobiology, biomechanics, and pharmacology. You will also continue to deepen your understanding of science concepts in physics and biology. The majority of training programs focus on teaching students how to provide general care services along with the option to specialize after you complete the program. Medical ethics and the best practices for patient care and recordkeeping should also be included in a quality program. Physical therapist training includes approximately 30 hours or more of clinical experience that builds upon your prior learning in the classroom.
Why Attending a Program Accredited by CAPTE Makes a Difference?
The CAPTE provides accreditation to around 250 different programs for training physical therapists. Choosing a school with this distinction lets you know that you will be properly trained so that you can pass the licensing exam and graduate with a firm understanding of how to help patients recover from illnesses and injuries.
What are the 5 Best Physical Therapy Programs Accredited by CAPTE in the Nation for 2023
The University of Delaware offers a top-ranked Physical Therapy program (PTP) at the Newark suburb in Delaware. The 2.5-year course begins in summer and takes in a maximum of 60 students. The training provides students an opportunity to kick start their professional career early while providing them extensive hands-on training during the six internships (three full-time and three part-time) that are an integral part of the curriculum. The University runs two state-of-the-art clinics in which students train under the expert supervision of faculty members who are accomplished researchers.
• The college has been ranked the #1 Physical Therapy program by US News & World Report.
• The program consistently for the last ten years has recorded an impressive graduation rate of 96%.
• 100% of its graduates have passed the licensure examination.
The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree offered by Iowa State University in Iowa City, Iowa, is a two and a half years course. Around 40 students are enrolled in the program every year in July, and the curriculum is designed in a manner to maximize students’ exposure to real-world practical learning. To further enhance the practical exposure, the curriculum contains five full-time clinical internships spread over a total of 35 weeks (one 6-week internship, one 2-week internship, and three 9-week internships). In order to train students for these clinical experiences, the program starts providing exposure to clinical exercises from the very first semester.
• The DPT program of UIowa was ranked 6th by the US News & World Report.
• The official web page of the university states that for the year 2016 and 2017, 100% graduation, as well as employment rate, was recorded for students of the DPT program.
• 98.7% of students enrolled for the DPT program in 2016 and 2017 passed the licensure examination.
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia offers aspirants a range of physical therapy program choices –
The regular 35-month DPT Program
provides students education on a variety of subjects related to health, management, and professional behaviors. The curriculum contains 144 credit hours and includes a 30-week clinical internship. The internship is divided into three terms (10-week each) and is scheduled in your second and third year of the training.
In collaboration with other schools, Emory also facilitates four dual degree programs - DPT/Ph.D., DPT-MPH, DPT/MBA, and DPT/MA (Bioethics):
• If you opt for the Dual DPT/Ph.D.
, you will first complete the 3-year DPT program requirements at Emory school of medicine, followed by the 42-credit Ph.D. program requirements at Georgia Tech School of Biological Sciences. This dual program can completed in a total of 6-7 years
• For the 4-year DPT/MPH program
, you will study DPT courses in the first, second and fourth year at Emory, and fulfill the 32-credit MPH Course requirements in the third year at Rollins School of Public Health.
• To complete the DPT/MBA program
, you will study the DPT course for the first two years at Emory, followed by completing your MBA in the third year at Goizueta Business School. After this, you will complete two clinical affiliations and other elective courses during the last year.
• The coursework of DPT/MA-Bioethics dual-degree program
will begin with the DPT program for a year, followed by 30-credit MA-Bioethics program during the second year, and then you will get back to complete the remaining DPT course requirements for another two years.
• The DPT program of Emory was ranked 5th by the US News & World report.
• Emory also offers three residency programs in orthopedic, acute care, and neurologic. These programs are helpful for physical therapists to gain immaculate knowledge and experience in niche areas of study.
The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program offered by the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, is available in both the residential and hybrid format.
DPT Residential Program:
The residential DPT is a 3-year full-time program which begins every year, typically during the end of August. The program inducts around 95 students per year, and the coursework is divided into the first year (12 courses, one clinical experience), second-year (15 courses, two clinical experiences), and third-year (5 courses, three clinical experiences).
DPT Hybrid Program:
Hybrid DPT program, on the other hand, starts in June (every year) and enrolls around 48 students per session. The program requires completion of 35 online courses, 12 on-campus immersions, and a 50-week clinical internship.
• USC has been ranked #1 in the DPT program by the US News & World Report.
• The university offers a unique concept of Service Learning Experience (SLE), which provides students an opportunity to contribute to society through volunteering.
The University of Pittsburgh located in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, currently offers a variety of programs for aspiring physical therapists.
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT):
The three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program consists of 120-credits. The course starts in June every year and contains a clinical internship of more than 65 weeks.
Doctor of Physical Therapy - Ph.D. in Bioengineering (DPT-PhD):
This six-year dual-degree program combines the DPT program with a Ph.D. degree in Bioengineering. The total credit requirement for this dual degree program is 196 credits, which includes 124 credits for DPT and 72 credits for Ph.D.
Physical Therapy (MS):
The one-year master’s degree post-professional program in physical therapy is available in two different specializations: Musculoskeletal and Neuromuscular. The course structure is divided into three full terms and to graduate, and you must earn 33 credits while maintaining a minimum 3.0 GPA throughout the program.
Rehabilitation Science (Ph.D.):
The interdisciplinary nature of this Ph.D. program makes it unique in nature. The coursework requires minimum completion of 72 credits, which be completed in eight or ten years, depending upon transferred credits, as approved. This program starts three times a year – fall, spring, and summer.
• The DPT program of Pitt has been ranked #1 in by the US News & World Report.
• This program boasts of an impressive 100% employment rate for the last five years (from 2014 to 2018).
Certification and Licensure Requirements to Work as a Physical Therapist
You will need to be licensed to work as a physical therapist in every state. Although every state may have a different set of requirements that must be met to obtain your license, all of them require that you pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. This exam is offered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
. To take the exam, you will need to have a doctoral level degree. You may also need to use the provided study materials on their website to refresh your knowledge before taking the exam at an approved testing center. Once you pass the exam, you may still need to comply with additional requirements in your state, such as passing a criminal background check or taking a law exam.
In addition to obtaining your license, you may also decide to become a board-certified physician assistant. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties
offers the opportunity to seek specialty certification in nine different areas such as geriatric care or orthopedics. Becoming board-certified requires you to finish at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in the specialty area within the past ten years. Alternatively, you can seek specialty certification by completing an American Physical Therapy Association-approved residency program.
Where Do Physical Therapists Work?
Offices of Physical Therapists:
Many physical therapists open their own office or group practice to serve patients.
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private:
Hospitals employ physical therapists to help patients recover their abilities after treatments such as surgeries.
Home Healthcare Services:
Physical therapists are needed to work within the homes of patients to help them learn how to accomplish their activities of daily living.
A physical therapist may choose to be self-employed and work in a variety of different environments.
Nursing and Residential Care Facilities:
Senior citizens and people with disabilities rely upon physical therapists in these facilities to help them strengthen their abilities.
| Industry || Employment |
| Number|| Percent|
|Offices Physical Therapists||85,480||37%|
|Hospitals; State, Local, and Private||55,850||24%|
|Home Healthcare Services||25,420||11%|
|Nursing and Residential Care Facilities||10,670||5%|
Work Environment & Conditions
The work environment for a physical therapist varies widely depending upon the employer. If you work in patient’s homes, you can expect to travel frequently from one location to another throughout the day. Physical therapists who work within hospitals may be required to work weekend or late evening hours, and this type of position involves working within an environment that requires strict attention to hygiene and infection control. Performing physical therapist duties is also physically demanding. At times, you may need to demonstrate how to perform an exercise, or you may need to physically assist patients with their therapies such as by serving as a source of stability.
What Starting Salary Can I Expect as a Physical Therapist?
A physical therapist salary starts at about $32.65 an hour, which equals out to around $5,660 a month. Your annual salary should be about $67,910 once you begin working after you complete your training program.
| Type|| Salary|
| Hourly||$32.65 |
| Monthly||$5,660 |
| Annual||$67,910 |
| (Source: In-House Research)|
How Much Will My Salary Grow with Experience?
Physical therapists who stay in their field and maintain their license through continuing education courses are rewarded with a rising salary. Over the first ten years, your salary nearly doubles to $107,430. By the time that you reach 20 years of experience as a physical therapist, you will be making around $128,830 a year. Getting board-certified as a specialist and completing residencies helps you to bolster your salary even more within the physical therapy field.
| Level of Experience|| Hourly|| Monthly|| Annual|
| 1-4 years||$38.80 ||$6,730||$80,700 |
| 5-9 years||$46.98 ||$8,140||$97,720 |
| 10-19 years||$51.65 ||$8,950||$107,430 |
| 20 years or more||$61.94 ||$10,740||$128,830 |
| (Source: BLS)|
How Many Job Openings are there for Physical Therapy Graduates?
| New|| Replacement|| Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)|
| (Source: careeronestop)|
10 Year Employment Outlook
Physical therapists are needed within all of the different employment environments, and the estimated growth rate is faster than normal compared to other occupations. Right now, more physical therapists are needed to serve geriatric patients due to the aging population. You will also find that there is a high demand for physical therapists who are willing to visit people in their home as more people are living longer with chronic diseases that limit their abilities such as arthritis. As more communities expand, you will find positions opening-up in new locations such as recently built hospitals where the services of physical therapists are needed. Due to children with disabilities being identified earlier, there is also an increased demand for physical therapists that specialize in pediatric care. Overall, the ten-year career outlook for this position demonstrates an all-over increase in the need for physical therapists who choose to specialize and maintain skills that match technological advances in the medical field.
| Employment || Employment Growth, 2021-31|
| 2021|| 2031|| Number|| Percent|
State Wise Employment, Job Openings & Salary Breakdown
| State || Employment || Annual|
(New + Replacement)
| Alabama || 2,470 || 170 || $97,120 |
| Alaska || 610 || 30 || $104,470 |
| Arizona || 4,280 || 430 || $99,980 |
| Arkansas || 1,930 || 140 || $93,160 |
| California || 24,100 || 1,550 || $114,230 |
| Colorado || 5,170 || 440 || $96,170 |
| Connecticut || 3,500 || 220 || $103,920 |
| Delaware || 980 || 70 || $96,460 |
| District of Columbia || 670 || 40 || $96,760 |
| Florida || 14,970 || 1,040 || $91,730 |
| Georgia || 5,990 || 470 || $96,670 |
| Hawaii || 1,030 || 50 || $100,130 |
| Idaho || 1,270 || 120 || $88,750 |
| Illinois || 9,460 || 500 || $99,420 |
| Indiana || 4,370 || 310 || $92,790 |
| Iowa || 2,430 || 160 || $88,120 |
| Kansas || 2,200 || 140 || $91,930 |
| Kentucky || 3,420 || 200 || $86,220 |
| Louisiana || 2,910 || 160 || $95,820 |
| Maine || 1,460 || 60 || $86,600 |
| Maryland || 4,000 || 340 || $96,250 |
| Massachusetts || 6,660 || 520 || $95,780 |
| Michigan || 7,040 || 490 || $89,570 |
| Minnesota || 4,430 || 250 || $89,130 |
| Mississippi || 1,820 || 110 || $96,520 |
| Missouri || 4,170 || 280 || $89,790 |
| Montana || 1,190 || 90 || $85,530 |
| Nebraska || 1,650 || 130 || $91,990 |
| Nevada || 1,560 || 140 || $105,880 |
| New Hampshire || 1,560 || 80 || $91,230 |
| New Jersey || 7,420 || 530 || $105,430 |
| New Mexico || 1,310 || 110 || $92,050 |
| New York || 15,300 || 1,370 || $103,580 |
| North Carolina || 6,720 || 450 || $92,200 |
| North Dakota || 850 || 50 || $83,060 |
| Ohio || 8,060 || 510 || $95,870 |
| Oklahoma || 2,080 || 160 || $91,100 |
| Oregon || 2,770 || 210 || $96,010 |
| Pennsylvania || 11,670 || 770 || $97,490 |
| Rhode Island || 850 || 60 || $94,620 |
| South Carolina || 3,110 || 220 || $88,170 |
| South Dakota || 930 || 60 || $88,010 |
| Tennessee || 4,140 || 320 || $91,630 |
| Texas || 16,280 || 1,150 || $102,300 |
| Utah || 2,050 || 170 || $91,570 |
| Vermont || 720 || 50 || $88,310 |
| Virginia || 6,610 || 420 || $96,900 |
| Washington || 4,810 || 850 || $101,130 |
| West Virginia || 1,170 || 110 || $93,000 |
| Wisconsin || 5,040 || 310 || $93,010 |
| Wyoming || 540 || 40 || $90,910 |
|(Source: BLS & careeronestop)|
Important Organizations & Associations
Members of the APTA receive benefits such as discounts on their continuing education along with access to pertinent news within the field.
As a member of this organization, you receive access to tools that aid in the regulation of the physical therapy field. This is also the organization through which you will first begin your journey toward earning your license.
This organization is best known for its educational conferences that allow members to network with other professionals. You can also receive discounts on training and equipment that help you be a better physical therapist.
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