Physical therapy is a critical part of healthcare, aimed at helping individuals regain mobility and reduce pain. To become a licensed physical therapist and work with patients, you must meet specific education and training requirements. In this article, we will explore what degree you need to be a physical therapist and the various education pathways available to aspiring physical therapists.

What Education is Needed to Become a Physical Therapist: A Comprehensive Guide

There are multiple paths to becoming a physical therapist, but all require specific education and training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that aspiring physical therapists must hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree to enter the field. However, there are different pathways to obtaining a DPT degree.

Different Pathways to Becoming a Physical Therapist

While there is only one endpoint, there are multiple ways to obtain it. Some undergraduate students choose to apply to physical therapy programs within their colleges or universities. Alternatively, students can earn an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as kinesiology or biology, and then apply to a graduate program in physical therapy.

Accreditation and Certification Requirements

Physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Graduating from a CAPTE accredited program signals to potential employers that you received a valuable education and gained the necessary skills and knowledge to help patients.

Comparison of Degree Programs

Physical therapy education requires a significant investment of both time and money. It is essential to compare degree programs based on location, cost, course structure, curriculum, clinical experience opportunities, and post-graduation employment rates.

Breaking Down the Different Degree Options for Prospective Physical Therapists

Physician therapy students can choose from three different degree options:

Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy

The bachelor’s degree program in physical therapy is rare and was more commonly offered in the past. It generally takes four years to complete. Graduates of undergraduate physical therapy programs can work as physical therapist assistants or rehabilitation aides, but cannot practice as licensed physical therapists.

Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy

The master’s degree program in physical therapy was offered until transitioning to the current doctoral model. This option generally took two-three years to complete and is no longer available.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree

The most common degree required to become a licensed physical therapist is the DPT degree. This program generally takes three years to complete and requires significant clinical experience. The DPT program has allowed for an extended curriculum that provides aspiring physical therapists with more extensive training than its predecessors.

From Bachelor’s to Doctorate: The Path to Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapist

After completing the relevant degree, you must earn licensure to practice as a physical therapist.

Scope of Practice for Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help improve patients’ mobility, manage pain, and prevent future injuries. Their primary responsibilities include assessing patients, developing care plans, and providing treatment to improve function and minimize discomfort. Physical therapists also teach patients exercises and stretches to perform independently, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals as needed.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

All states require individuals who want to practice as physical therapists to become licensed. Additionally, most states require continuing education credits to maintain licensure. The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) is the required exam for licensing. Graduates must pass a background check and a jurisprudence exam in addition to the NPTE to receive licensure.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Physical therapy is a continually evolving field that requires practitioners to stay informed about the latest techniques and trends. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) provides resources for continuing education and professional development to help physical therapists stay up-to-date with industry changes.

Choosing the Right Academic Program to Launch Your Career in Physical Therapy

Choosing the right academic program is an essential consideration when launching a physical therapy career.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Physical Therapy Program

Factors to consider when choosing a physical therapy program include location, program cost, curriculum, student-to-faculty ratio, licensure pass rates, clinical experience opportunities and affiliations, faculty experience and specialties available scholarships or financial aid packages.

Comparing Physical Therapy Program Outcomes and Quality Metrics

Various organizations collect and report data on physical therapy program outcomes and quality metrics. This includes graduation rates, licensure pass rates, and post-graduation employment rates. Reviewing this data can help you make informed decisions when choosing a program.

Selecting a Program based on Individual Career Goals

Individual career goals also play a role when selecting a physical therapy program. If you know you want to specialize in a specific area of practice, such as sports medicine or geriatrics, find programs that have courses and clinical experiences in this area.

Beyond the Classroom: Clinical Experience Requirements for Aspiring Physical Therapists

Clinical experience is a crucial component of physical therapy education and training. Prospective physical therapists will have to participate in clinical internships or fieldwork to meet these experience requirements.

Clinical Fieldwork and Internship Opportunities

Clinical internships and fieldwork opportunities vary depending on the academic program and clinical facility. These opportunities allow students to develop hands-on experience in a clinical setting, work with patients, and receive feedback from licensed physical therapists.

Importance of Clinical Experience for Career Development

Clinical experience is critical for physical therapists to develop practical skills and become comfortable working with patients. This also helps students identify areas of practice in which they may want to specialize.

Finding Clinical Experience Opportunities

Physical therapy programs typically have a list of affiliated clinical facilities and internship opportunities. Students can also seek out clinical experiences beyond the program requirements, such as volunteering at a rehabilitation center or observe clinical practice settings.

Navigating the Prerequisites and Admissions Process for Physical Therapy Programs

The prerequisites and admissions process for physical therapy programs can vary depending on educational pathways and program requirements.

Preparing for a Physical Therapy Program

Preparing for physical therapy programs may include taking prerequisite undergraduate classes, gaining clinical experience, and studying for standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for non-native English speakers.

Common Admission Requirements for Physical Therapy Programs

Common admission requirements for physical therapy programs include fulfilling prerequisite coursework, completing an application, providing recommendation letters, and submitting transcripts, test scores, an essay, and a resume or CV. Some programs might also require an in-person or virtual interview.

Tips for a Successful Admissions Process

Successful admission to a physical therapy program requires preparation, organization, and attention to detail. Tips for success include researching different program options, reaching out to program advisors, maintaining a high-grade point average, gaining clinical experience, and ensuring timely completion of application materials.


Physical therapy is a challenging but rewarding career path that demands specific education and training requirements. Prospective physical therapists should consider different academic pathways, program quality metrics, and clinical experience when choosing a program. Becoming a licensed physical therapist requires hard work and dedication, but it also affords professionals the opportunity to help people in need and improve their quality of life.

Resources for Further Education on Physical Therapy Education Requirements

For information on physical therapy education, we recommend visiting the following websites:

By Riddle Reviewer

Hi, I'm Riddle Reviewer. I curate fascinating insights across fields in this blog, hoping to illuminate and inspire. Join me on this journey of discovery as we explore the wonders of the world together.

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