Physical Therapy Degree Guide

Read up on what goes into earning a physical therapy degree, from how long it takes to what you’ll learn.

Physical Therapy Degree Requirements

In order to become a physical therapist, you will need to earn your doctoral degree from a physical therapy program. In order to be accepted into a physical therapy program, you will need to hold a bachelor’s degree, and oftentimes, programs will require that your undergraduate hours include a specific number of science and health-based courses.

In the past, students had the choice between a master of physical therapy (MPT) or doctor of physical therapy (DPT), but as of 2015, all accredited physical therapist programs are doctorate level.

What certification will I need?

In addition to your degree, you will also be required to pass national and state licensure exams in order to be certified to practice in your state. Every state’s exam is different, but your physical therapy program should have you adequately prepared to pass the test. If you choose to, you can become certified in a particular clinical specialty, like pediatric or sports physical therapy.

Since some physical therapy schools offer programs for specific certifications, you’ll need to research your school choices carefully to be sure that you’re preparing yourself for a certification that meets your goals.

What will I learn in my courses?

Earning a degree in physical therapy is a big commitment, but the right program will fully prepare you to take on the career. While your specific classes will vary somewhat by program, an example of a physical therapy school course list might include the following:

  • Human anatomy
  • Fundamentals of movement
  • Research methods
  • Clinical practice
  • Exercise physiology
  • Principles of exercise
  • Kinesiology and biomechanics

How long will it take?

Your physical therapy program will take around two to three years to complete—and this is on top of the four years it will take to earn your undergraduate degree. Needless to say, all these years in school make earning your physical therapy degree a huge commitment. However, physical therapy school usually is worth the investment, as great earning opportunities make the financial and time investments worth it.

Are online programs available?

Physical therapy is a hands-on profession, one that will require you to interact physically with patients and even sometimes demonstrate movements and exercises. Because of this, earning a degree entirely online isn’t possible; you can, however, choose to enroll in a web-based program. Web-based programs will allow you to complete technical courses online, but there is still a good deal of clinical practice and in-person learning that you will need to complete as well.

Are there prerequisites?

Before you can enroll in a physical therapy program, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. The majority of physical therapy schools will require that you complete certain science and health-based courses during your undergrad studies. Bear in mind that there may also be GPA requirements for the physical therapy program you choose to enroll in, and if you did poorly in a required undergrad class, you could be asked to retake it.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Physical therapy courses can be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you’re pursuing a degree in physical therapy, attending an accredited program will definitely be to your benefit. Enrolling in an accredited program signifies that you’re attending a highly reputable school, and it might also make you eligible for government financial aid, which for some students is a must.

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