Those interested in pursuing an education in physical therapy must complete either a Master’s degree (MPT, MSPT, or MS) program or a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. An increasing number of students are opting to pursue a doctorate degree in physical therapy because the American Physical Therapy Association is moving toward requiring this degree for practice by the year 2020. The majority of doctorate programs require a student to possess an undergraduate degree. There are some doctorate programs that will accept students with only three years of undergraduate work and a select few who admit students with no college credits. It typically takes a student six to nine semesters to complete a doctorate program in physical therapy. The American Physical Therapy Association reports that there are currently 142 accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy programs in the United States.
The Master’s degree in physical therapy commonly requires students to have earned an undergraduate degree or a minimum of three years of undergraduate study at the time of admission. Like the doctorate degree option, there are select programs that accept students at the freshman level. The length of study to earn a master’s degree in physical therapy also varies between six to nine semesters.
Admission to either of these educational programs can be extremely competitive. Prospective applicants will need to have a high grade point average in prior academic studies. Excellent grades in classes such as chemistry, statistics, and biology are especially important. Work or volunteer experience as a physical therapy aide, the ability to show leadership traits, letters of recommendations from physical therapists or previous science instructors, and involvement in clubs, sports, and community activities may also be reviewed by admissions personnel.
Upon completing a degree in physical therapy, further training can be obtained by completing a fellowship or residency in a specialty area. The American Physical Therapy Association defines a residency as “A planned program of post-professional clinical and didactic education that is designed to advance significantly the physical therapist’s preparation as a provider of patient care services in a defined area of clinical practice.” The APTA describes a fellowship as “A post-professional, funded, and planned learning experience in a focused area of physical therapist clinical practice, education, or research (not infrequently post-doctoral, post-residency prepared, or board-certified physical therapists).” The APTA can be contacted for further information about the post-graduate educational opportunities.
A comprehensive listing of schools offering degrees in physical therapy in each state. The website of the APTA also contains this type of information. There are several online educational opportunities that can be discovered by using your favorite search engine to return results. Many of these programs are accelerated because they’re designed for working adults.
The costs associated with obtaining a degree in physical therapy can be extensive but the fees can be considered an investment in your future. Once you obtain a degree in physical therapy and pass the licensing examination, you will be eligible to work as a physical therapist. The median annual salary of a physical therapist in 2006 according to the U.S. Labor Department was $66,200. The earning potential of a physical therapists can be affected by geographical area, years of experience, and the size of the facility in which they are employed. Many state and federal educational grants do not require repayment. Scholarships are another avenue that can help with the costs of education. The total fees associated with this degree will depend on tuition costs and materials used by the program you attend. It may be cost-effective to take as many courses via distance education to save on travel costs.