There are two main positions within physical therapy, Physical Therapists (PT) and Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA).
The physical therapy school requirements to become a PT is different than that needed to become a PTA. Both positions require a college degree, but PTs are required to have an advanced degree and the course requirements are much greater, both in quantity and quality.
Physical Therapy School Requirements
Most physical therapy school requirements include completing program courses with a minimum grade point average (GPA) to pass, generally 2.5 – 3.0 or higher. Useful undergraduate courses for both positions would include anatomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics (among others). Even social science and advanced math classes like statistics can prove valuable.
While there is no universal undergraduate curriculum, most physical therapy schools require the following for admission:
General Biology I and II
General Chemistry I and II
General Physics I and II
This is just a list of the most basic required courses and is in no way the complete list of required courses before admission.
Physical Therapist Education Requirements
To practice as a Physical Therapist, you must obtain either a Master’s degree or Doctorate degree in physical therapy. There is no longer an option for a Bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.
Generally, to pursue the advanced schooling required to become a PT, you will need to start with a Bachelor’s degree with a solid emphasis in science, physics and physiology. An additional 2 – 2 1/2 years of schooling are required for a Master’s degree (MPT) or 3 additional years for a Doctorate degree (DPT). Most graduates are DPTs these days.
Instead of requiring a Bachelor’s degree, some physical therapy education programs offer a 3+3 format whereby you can take 3 years of targeted undergraduate schooling plus 2-3 years of advanced physical therapy courses, ending up with a Master’s degree or Doctorate degree in physical therapy.
Each physical therapy school has its own requirements and prerequisites, so you really need to know in advance what they are before attending an undergrad college beyond your freshman year. If you are already past your freshman year, it may be a good idea to research the PT schools whose prerequisites most closely match the courses you’ve already taken. This can save you both time and money.
Most PT schools also require a certain number of hours of volunteer or paid experience working in a physical therapy environment, usually with a licensed Physical Therapist. Some programs also require two letters of recommendation from licensed Physical Therapists, so you’ll need to get work experience from at least two different facilities.
Competition for available classes in physical therapy schools can be stiff, so grade point averages from both High School and/or any college classes taken so far can make a big difference. See physical therapist education requirements for more details.
Physical Therapist Assistant Education Requirements
To become a Physical Therapist Assistant you’ll generally only need to obtain an Associate’s degree in physical therapy. Again, each school and state has its own required course curriculum, so pay attention to these details.
The required courses for PTA often do NOT overlap with courses necessary for PT, so you need to decide beforehand which career pathway you plan to pursue.
Students that change career paths midstream are usually unsuccessful when trying to apply classes taken for PTA to get credit for their PT class requirements. Having said that, there are accredited programs in a couple of states that allow PTAs to continue to work and take courses on the weekend to obtain the Master’s degree required to become a full PT.
In addition to obtaining your Associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and meeting the physical therapy school requirements, you’ll generally need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. Some states also require additional licensing or exams to practice in those states.
As with physical therapy schools, competition for the available number of student positions in PTA schools can be stiff, so grade point averages from both High School and any college classes can make a big difference. See physical therapy assistant programs for more information.
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