Physical therapy graduate schools offer various programs to help students achieve the desired degree and licensure to become a practicing Physical Therapist.
PT programs develop the skills and knowledge necessary for Physical Therapists to help patients manage pain from chronic conditions and surgeries by using stretches, exercises, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease pain and increase mobility.
The master's degree in physical therapy is now considered an entry-level educational program. Upon successful completion of the curriculum, a student is eligible for the licensure examination which is now required to be a practicing physical therapist.
Physical therapy graduate programs could be a great option for those seeking to enter or enhance their career in the physical therapy field. For those new to the field, doctor of physical therapy (DPT) programs may be the perfect option.
DPT degrees are currently required for licensure in the United States and therefore the only option for those who wish to become a practicing physical therapist. Masters degrees in physical therapy are typically no longer available.iii
For those who are already licensed physical therapists or hold a masters in physical therapy, and wish to earn their doctorate degree to meet new industry standards, there is a transitional doctor of physical therapy (tDPT) degree. These physical therapy graduate programs may allow experienced physical therapists to pursue their doctorate degree while continuing work and avoiding courses in subjects they are already proficient in. Read more about tDPT programs below.
Practicing physical therapists may also want to possibly enhance their career by earning a board certification in one of eight different specialties. Graduate certificates in physical therapy may help allowing students to further specialize their knowledge, prepare for certification exams and better serve their patients.
If any of these sound like a perfect option for you, continue reading to learn more about these physical therapy graduate programs, general application and graduation requirements, and the possible benefits of earning a physical therapy graduate degree.
We asked physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu how physical therapy graduate programs gives you an edge:
"Going back to school 15 years post graduation was eye opening. It was good to see what is being taught in PT schools now and to keep up with the new graduates. As healthcare shifts regularly, we have to keep up with insurance companies requirements and new business laws. Receiving a doctorate physical therapy degree helps the profession as a whole as the physical therapy field attempts to standardize its practice act and its education. The degree also offered more in depth courses that I had not received in my PT school which makes my foundational knowledge stronger." Click to Tweet!
As the baby boomer generation hopes to remain active as they age, and as the number of outpatient surgeries continue to rise, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of physical therapists to grow 34% during the years 2014 to 2024.iv Combined with the fact that physical therapists make an annual median salary of $84,020 v now may be a perfect time to pursue a physical therapy graduate degree.
There are three common types graduate programs in physical therapy;
The application process to most of these physical therapy graduate programs is through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). This allows students to upload their application and transcript and easily send them to different schools. And, because all physical therapy grad schools have different requirements, students can also upload GRE and TOEFL scores, references, and signed PT observation hours.vi This may make the application process faster and easier, for students and for schools.
|Doctor Physical Therapy||DPT||Campus|
|Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy||tDPT||Online|
|Rehabilitation Studies||DClinP and PhD||Campus, Online|
|Master of Disability Studies||MA||Campus|
Physical therapy graduate programs award students who successfully complete DPT programs, a doctor of physical therapy degree, which is now the minimum level of education for licensed physical therapists in the United States.vii This requirement helps create a standard level of education for all physical therapists and allows them to be viewed as health care professionals. To earn a DPT, you must have a bachelors in physical therapy from a CAPTE-accredited institution or a masters in physical therapy. Typically DPT programs take full-time students three years to complete, though some programs offer a six or seven year option where students may receive a bachelors in physical therapy as well as a DPT degree.viii Program lengths vary by school. This includes all of the coursework, lab study, and 30 weeks of clinical work necessary to earn your degree. Due to the nature of the physical therapy profession and extensive hands on learning required, most DPT programs are only offered on-campus.
While there are a number of different regional accreditations for DPT programs, the only nationally recognized accreditation is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).ix Graduating with a DPT from a CAPTE-accredited school is one of the requirements to sit for the national physical therapy licensing exam.x When researching where to earn your doctor of physical therapy degree, it may be important to make sure that the DPT program has the CAPTE accreditation.
A Post-Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, otherwise known as a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT), is an option to those who are already licensed and practicing Physical Therapists. While earning a doctorate is not mandatory for currently practicing Physical Therapists, the tDPT was created for those who wish to meet new industry standards. xi
To earn a tDPT, or Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy, prospective students must have a baccalaureate, masters degree, or a certificate in physical therapy and be a licensed physical therapist.xii Applicants can enter a professional portfolio and tasks performed into the Physical Therapist Evaluation Tool (PTET). This allows students to show knowledge they’ve already acquired through education and work experience, and may help avoid taking courses in subjects they are already proficient in. xiii Depending on the clinical experience of the student, tDPT may take anywhere from one to three years to complete.
tDPT programs are not accredited by CAPTE, as the students are already licensed physical therapists and do not need to take another licensing exam. However, to uphold a certain level of education and to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel as physical therapists, there are many regional accreditations that hold programs to the same levels as CAPTE. Also, many programs that offer tDPT degree programs also offer DPT programs, which are accredited.xiv These programs will likely share resources and may therefore be similar. Carefully research your prospective programs and reach out to schools directly to learn more.
Upon earning a DPT or tDPT and becoming licensed physical therapists, students have the option to continue their education to become board-certified clinical specialists. This certification is awarded through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). Pursuing graduate certificates and specialty certifications may enhance a physical therapist’s career by helping develop a deeper knowledge of a particular area of practice. To be eligible for certification, a physical therapist must pass an exam and prove 2,000 hours of clinical practice in a specialty area, 25% of which occurred in the three years prior.xv
Physical Therapists can become board-certified in:
While not mandatory, earning your graduate certificate in physical therapy in one of these specialty areas could help prepare you for the board certification exam. It’s important to remember that not all institutions offer certificates in all of the different specialties. To learn more about your potential options, browse physical therapy certificate programs and contact schools directly.
While many may consider a masters degree the next step after college, Masters in Physical Therapy (MPT) or Masters of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT) degrees are not often offered in the United States. This is because a doctorate in now the minimum education needed to become a licensed physical therapist.iii Instead, students may enroll directly in DPT programs after earning their bachelors degree. As this is a relatively recent change, there may still be those who hold a Masters in Physical Therapy degree or schools who offer Physical Therapy Masters programs. However, those wishing to pursue licensure and sit board exams for the first time will need to continue their education and attend a CAPTE accredited doctoral program. Those who are already licensed may be able to streamline their education with a tDPT program.
When researching physical therapy graduate programs , it’s important to keep in mind your individual goals and understand how you learn. While many love the freedom and flexibility that online learning for physical therapy graduate programs may provide students, especially professionals who may have families and careers, it’s not for everyone. Increased freedom may mean more responsibility falls on the student, such as creating and sticking to a schedule and performing more individual study. It’s important to check physical therapy graduate programs to see the support they offer online students and if it matches your learning style.
For those who prefer hands on learning and in person interactions, physical therapy schools with on campus physical therapy graduate programs may be a great option. These programs could allow students to gain experience under the supervision of their professors, access campus facilities like libraries and laboratories, and take part in campus culture and activities. These benefits may be especially important to those new to the profession.
Because physical therapy is such a hands-on profession, online learning is typically limited to tDPT programs and graduate certificates. This allows those who are already licensed physical therapists to earn their physical therapy graduate degree while continuing to serve patients. Because licensed physical therapists likely already have experience in the field, less lab study may be required. However those pursuing a DPT degree may need to perform extensive clinical work and lab study, in addition to coursework. Lab study could include working with human cadavers and other exercises to help those new to the field develop real world experience. For this reason, most physical therapy graduate programs are offered on-campus.iii
Learn more about physical therapy graduate programs to find the one that’s great for you! Click on any of the sponsored listings on this page to learn more about individual programs such as curriculum, admission requirements, and faculty. Then, request more information directly from the physical therapist school! You can also sort your list by learning format or location using the menu bar.
SOURCES: [i]onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1123.00 | [ii]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-2 |[iii]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-4 |[iv]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-6 |[v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-5 |[vi]ptcas.org/General/ |[vii]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-4 |[viii]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-4[ix]capteonline.org/WhatWeDo/ |[x]apta.org/PTEducation/Overview/ |[xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv]apta.org/PostprofessionalDegree/TransitionDPTFAQs/ [xv]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-4