It's fairly common knowledge that a job in the health care field can be a rewarding way to earn a living, and physical therapy careers have some of the brightest employment outlooks in the industry. Physical rehabilitation is a vital part of the wellness journey after an illness or injury, and only licensed physical therapists can guide patients through the right steps for optimal recovery.
The road to a physical therapy career typically starts with a pre-physical therapy (pre-PT) degree at the undergraduate level, although other bachelor's degrees may be acceptable if the right course prerequisites are met. The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is a professional degree, not an academic doctorate, so you don't need to earn a master's before applying.
Online degrees for physical therapy students may also be available, particularly at the doctoral level. Many pre-PT programs have clinical experience sections that are difficult to translate to the virtual classroom, but online physical therapy degrees can be found once you're finished with your undergraduate work.
Best Colleges for Physical Therapy (PT) Programs
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) publishes robust data on colleges and universities around the U.S., so we put together a big set of data to find out which ones could be called the top physical therapy schools in the country. Click the button for more info on our methodology and read on for a list of the ten best colleges for physical therapy degree programs.
Located in Findlay, Ohio, our No. 1 school features options for physical therapy students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The pre-PT program has three paths to admission: early assurance, which is available only to qualifying high school students; junior admit, available to third-year University of Findlay undergraduates; and transfer admit, available to senior-level undergraduates transferring to UF from another institution.
Doctoral candidates can choose from two distinct programs, each designed with a different type of student in mind. The traditional DPT Program is the most common option for pre-PT students, while the weekend physical therapist assistant (PTA) to DPT bridge program can help working PTAs fit the terminal degree plan into their busy schedule.
Just three schools on our list put up better numbers in the graduation rate category than the University of Mary, and that's not the only category of our analysis where it stood out. The North Dakota school also ranked No. 3 for distance enrollment percentage among schools on our list and charged the second-lowest average cost for tuition and fees in 2015.
The DPT program at this Benedictine Catholic institution comes with several hard science prerequisites, primarily in biology, chemistry, physics and anatomy, and requires at least forty hours of clinical experience in a licensed physical therapy setting. What's more, the school reports that 100 percent of its DPT graduates between 2014 and 2016 passed the National Physical Therapist Exam (NPTE) and found work in the field.
Idaho State University took the crown for most affordable average tuition and fees in our top ten by a wide margin. Undergraduates at our No. 3 school paid just shy of $6,800 per year on average in 2015 -- nearly $10,000 less than the average enrollment expense at the second-place school in that category. ISU also features an open admission policy, so no qualified student is turned away based on prior academic performance.
The DPT program at ISU takes 8 semesters to complete, splitting program hours between classroom courses and clinical sections in a variety of practice settings. Classroom courses include professional communication, research methodologies, resource management and manual evaluation and treatment.
The hands-on approach to anatomy instruction at this Franciscan Catholic university includes time spent in the cadaver lab, observing the human muscular and skeletal systems as they appear in the body itself. In addition to the standard DPT program, Saint Francis University offers a dual degree option that confers both a DPT and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
SFU ranked No. 3 among schools that made our list for the prominence of its physical therapy program in relation to the rest of its degree catalog. More than 17 percent of students who graduated from SFU in 2015 were awarded DPT degrees, and only one other school in our top ten had a higher graduation rate.
This Catholic institution in the Hudson River Valley is the smallest of our top physical therapy schools, having awarded just 505 total degrees in 2015, but it's home to the largest percentage of physical therapy students of any school on our list. Nearly one in three graduates from Dominican College during that academic year earned a physical therapy degree.
Dominican College offers a special type of program for practicing PTs whose licenses were earned before a DPT was required to practice. The Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (t-DPT) program is offered fully online, takes between 18 and 36 months to complete and requires a prior master's-level degree in physical therapy.
Multiple pathways to a DPT degree are available at D'Youville College. Applicants who already hold a bachelor's degree that meets the program prerequisites will enroll in a standard three-year DPT program, but undergraduates who have yet to earn their first college degree have three different trajectories to choose from.
The list of six-year sequential degree plans at this Buffalo, New York, school earns you one of three Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees as well as a DPT degree. Bachelor's degree options for sequential DPT students include biology, health services management and exercise and sports studies. D'Youville college also reported a student-faculty ratio of 9:1, which suggests that professors will have enough available time and energy to help each student personally if needed.
The numbers seem to show that Carroll University understands the value of academic support for students who need it. Only one other institution among our top ten physical therapy schools earmarked a larger percentage of its budget for academic support services such as academic advising, career counseling and other helpful programs.
The pre-PT program at Carroll has no fewer than 10 approved majors for undergraduates to pursue on their way to the professional graduate program. Mainstays like biology and exercise science are on the list, naturally, but so are history, sociology, public health, Spanish and other less common pre-PT bachelor's degrees. Incoming undergraduates can choose a 3+3 or 4+3 format for their early admission DPT track.
The six-year DPT program at Ithaca College is designed for first-year undergraduate entry and features opportunities for students to pursue undergraduate minors and concentrations in other fields of study en route to their DPT. All full-time physical therapy faculty at the New York institution hold doctoral degrees, and no other school in our top ten had a higher graduation rate.
Ithaca College prides itself on the clinical aspects of its DPT program, which include screening clinics for performing arts injuries, electives in aquatics and electrodiagnostics and a "Center for Life Skills" course that focuses on helping people with longstanding neurological conditions.
Aspiring physical therapists at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus spend 11 academic terms of full-time enrollment to earn their degree, which requires 118 credit hours of study and 35 weeks of clinical experience. LIU Brooklyn is also one of the larger schools in our top 10, so it might be right for you if you're looking for a physical therapy school with a bustling atmosphere.
The curriculum you'll study on the way to finishing those 118 hours includes a good mix of classroom instruction and clinical sections, including such subjects as movement analysis, therapeutic exercise, clinical reasoning, neuroscience, cardiac and pulmonary pathology and health promotion and wellness.
Our No. 10 school doesn't offer options for online physical therapy degrees, but it provides flexibility measures for its students in other ways. Select courses are available on weekends and in evenings for those with daytime responsibilities during the week, and alternative tuition payment plans exist for students whose budgets require some flexibility as well.
Undergraduate students in the pre-PT program at Springfield College are required to complete a minor as well as their primary health science/pre-PT coursework. The final year of the six-year program contains specialty courses that can help you enhance your skillset, such as clinical electrophysiology, adult neurology and pediatric physical therapy.
Physical Therapy Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
A few entry-level careers exist for physical therapy graduates, but it's uncommon that someone starts a pre-PT program and doesn't follow all the way through to the terminal degree. Here's some info about the top degree for physical therapy students and the career that requires it. Plus, check out our handy visual guide to becoming a physical therapist.
Career Outlook for Physical Therapy Majors
You may not be able to know everything about your chances to land a solid job in physical therapy, but keeping an eye on employment projections can help you stay on top of things and avoid surprises. Here are a few quick data points about the physical therapy career market.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Physical Therapist Assistants
|Physical Therapist Aides
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Physical Therapy
Scholarships and grants for physical therapy students may be offered through federal, state, institutional or private sources. One aid program open to all PT students in the final year of their programs is the Mary McMillan Scholarship Award administrated by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Check out these other financial aid opportunities and see if any apply to you.
Reapplication required for renewal.
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.0 GPA, full-time enrollment, and satisfactory academic progress.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015