The physical therapy field is growing rapidly. Therefore, many educational institutions offer degrees in physical therapy. These top schools for physical therapy can help students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to practice professionally.
Courses offered by these schools meet the standards set by the CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education). The Commission is an independent body that performs regular reviews of accredited programs to ensure they continue to meet established standards of excellence and quality.
More than 49,000 new jobs in physical therapy are expected to open up across the country by 2030, a 21% increase from 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those thinking about a future in physical therapy will be pleased to know that we have compiled a list of the top programs in the country.
Best physical therapy schools
University of Southern California
If you want to become a physical therapist or therapist, attending the University of Southern California is a great option. The University of Southern California is a large private, non-profit institution in the heart of Los Angeles. USC is a fantastic institution, as evidenced by its Best Colleges ranking of #18 out of 2,241 universities in the country.
In the most recent year for which data is available, USC awarded degrees in physical therapy/therapy to roughly 142 students.
The University of Texas Medical Branch
Physical therapy and therapist students would do well to attend the University of Texas Medical Branch. Galveston’s lone public university, UTMB Galveston, has a relatively modest student body.
In the most recent year for which data is available, UTMB Galveston awarded degrees in physical therapy to around 42 students.
Northwestern University is a large private, non-profit institution in Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern University is one of the best in the country, as evidenced by its Best Colleges ranking of #5 out of 2,241 institutions.
In the most recent year for which data is available, approximately 90 students majoring in physical therapy/therapist graduated from Northwestern.
MGH Institute of Health Professions
The MGH Institute of Health Professions is a small, private, non-profit institution in Boston.
In the most recent available academic year, roughly 70 students majoring in physical therapy/therapist graduated from MGH Institute of Health Professions.
A T Still University of Health Sciences
The A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in Kirksville, Missouri is a private, non-profit institution with a modest enrollment.
In the most recent year for which data is available, approximately 142 students majoring in physical therapy/therapist graduated from A T Still University of Health Sciences.
UNC School of Medicine
The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at the University of North Carolina is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to make a dramatic shift in their professional lives. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 or higher GPA in their undergraduate studies, though their major is irrelevant.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not required of those applying to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. UNC noted that it eliminated the requirement because “requiring GRE scores may present a barrier to our goal of attracting the best candidates” in an effort to attract a more diverse pool of applicants. Interviews with UNC are required of the finalists.
Applicants from North Carolina will be given priority “if two applications are essentially equal,” the school said.
Students who enroll in the program will have 36 months to devote to it. More than 100 hours of coursework, plus a final exam and a culminating project.
They spend 36 weeks in clinical rotations where they are exposed to musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and acute care, giving them invaluable hands-on experience.
Some of the clinical work that students complete at UNC must be done in an underserved area, and the university has partnered with around 200 facilities to make this possible.
The high rates of both graduation and employment among UNC alums attest to the program’s success. Between 2017 and 2020, more than 93% of students who enrolled in the program completed it. Additionally, each and every graduate from the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019 found work within a year of receiving their certification.
Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions
Creighton University is opening a second campus specifically for DPT students.
Since 1992, the university has provided a Doctor of Physical Therapy program in Omaha, Nebraska; in the fall of 2022, a similar program will be made available in Phoenix, Arizona.
Creighton has a distinguished past because it was the first university to offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The three-year, eight-semester program starts every August.
Students begin their 44 weeks of clinical education experiences in the second year of their program, where they also participate in in-class labs.
Creighton allows students to participate in international programs like the Physical Therapy Institute for Latin American Concern (ILAC) Program and the China Honors Immersion Program (CHIP) to gain international clinical experience.
Nearly all of its graduates find work within a year of leaving school.
A minimum of 60 hours of observation with a licensed physical therapist are required, as well as a GRE score, prerequisite courses, and an interview with Creighton faculty.
Emory University Division of Physical Therapy
Emory University provides DPT students with a diverse community and more intimate class sizes.
Emory’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program attracts students from all over the country because its graduates have had a 100% employment rate within six months of graduation for the past 11 years.
The DPT cycle begins every June and continues for a total of 35 months. Group activities and labs with mannequins that mimic real-world health care encounters complement traditional lectures. There are never more than 70 students in a classroom.
The university places a premium on research, and so DPT students spend their final year collaborating with a mentor from the faculty on a research project.
Graduate assistantships are available for students who want to work with professors on their research. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Master of Public Health (MPH), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Master of Arts (MA) in Bioethics (DPT), or Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are all viable dual degree options for students looking to maximize their career potential.
Physical therapy students-to-be are encouraged by Emory to shadow practicing PTs in a variety of settings and document their observations. They must also take the Graduate Record Examination and have completed several prerequisite courses.
Washington University in St. Louis
At prestigious Washington University, DPT students progress through four stages of development.
The university in the Midwest takes what it calls “a learner-centered approach to education,” providing students with individualized curriculum, guidance from faculty, and regular evaluations of their progress.
Students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program spend nearly three years gaining knowledge through case studies, classroom instruction, and variable amounts of clinical experience. For some of their clinical training, the university actively encourages them to go beyond the greater St. Louis area.
Research opportunities are another way for students to broaden their education. Some examples of these are internships and research studies in which you can volunteer your time.
An NIH pre-doctoral research training grant has been awarded to the School of Medicine, allowing for the participation of select students in faculty-guided research projects.
Application deadline is February 1st, but the program accepts students continuously throughout the year. Although the GRE is not required, students applying to this program should have completed their undergraduate science and math requirements.
The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program in Washington state has been granted accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), demonstrating that its curriculum satisfies the requirements for its graduates to seek PT licensure throughout the United States and its territories.
University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
When it comes to physical therapy programs, University of Pittsburgh ranks highly. This highly regarded program offers students the flexibility to either attend class in-person or engage in some course work entirely online.
The University of Pittsburgh provides a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program that can be completed entirely online or in a traditional classroom setting.
Students enrolled in hybrid courses will have to make occasional in-person lab visits to the school during the first five terms, in addition to completing some lab work remotely. Six to nine days are dedicated to each “immersion event” held on campus.
Students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program are also required to complete four clinical experiences, two of which are six weeks long and two of which are fifteen weeks long.
Both a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Doctor of Philosophy in Bioengineering are offered to students at the University of Pittsburgh. Students with a bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering or a closely related field are the intended participants in this course.
Graduates of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program have proven they have the skills necessary to be successful.
For classes graduating between 2016 and 2020, the employment rate was 100% within six months of graduation. More than 96% of the class of 2020 passed their respective professional licensing examinations.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University is widely regarded as one of the best physical therapy schools in the country, and it offers a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree program that is 2.5 years long and is based on a methodology developed by Northwestern’s faculty.
The first cohort of students will enroll in the fall of 2022. In order to learn how to recognize and treat movement disorders, they participate in training based on the Motor Control Framework. Students spend their entire first year and three additional years engaged in four consecutive full-time clinical experiences. Part-time integrated clinical education experiences begin in the fall of their first year.
Northwestern has joined several other schools in dropping the requirement for GRE results, though applicants must still meet other academic requirements and complete physical therapy observation hours.
An alternative option for first-year students at Northwestern is the Northwestern Undergraduate Pre-Physical Therapy Scholars Program.
Students in their junior year of college are eligible to apply to the DPT program; those who are accepted typically begin the program after earning their bachelor’s degrees. Five new students per year are allowed into the program.
Duke University School of Medicine
Duke University is ranked highly on our list of top schools for physical therapists. Duke University takes a novel approach to providing clinical training for its Doctor of Physical Therapy students.
As part of a four-person team, students can put their knowledge to use with actual patients in two different settings during the STEPs program’s full-time clinical experience.
Duke also keeps an eye out for prospective DPT students as they begin the admissions process and reach out to faculty and current students. Big Sib participants are matched with sophomores or juniors in their first year of college.
The first half of the three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program consists of classroom and laboratory instruction, while the second half is spent in clinical rotations. After finishing the STEPs program in their second year, DPT students complete three culminating clinical experiences in their third and final year of school.
The convenience of being so close to Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program is also appreciated by students. The Trent Semans Center for Health Education and an anatomy lab are also nearby, as is Duke University Medical Center, where students can study, conduct research, and use other staff facilities.
How does physical therapy work?
What happens during physical therapy? The purpose of physical therapy is to restore a patient’s mobility and independence by strengthening their muscles and improving their range of motion. Physical therapy can be helpful in treating conditions like pain, movement dysfunction, and limited mobility caused by illness or injury. A physical therapist, for instance, can evaluate your mobility, create a treatment plan, and get you back to running without knee pain if you’re a runner who’s recently started experiencing problems.
The benefits of physical therapy can range from preventing injuries to curing existing ones. Patients with injuries or medical disorders can benefit from physical therapists’ ability to implement measures for injury prevention and performance enhancement, as well as correct functional movement abnormalities.
Therapists in this field are called physical therapists, physiotherapists, or PTs. These professionals educate their patients, create individualized treatment plans, and suggest exercises to help their patients gain mobility, strength, and function.
What is a Doctor of Physical Therapy?
A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is a terminal degree that requires another three to four years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree to complete.
Physical therapists with a Master’s degree can take the licensing exams in all 50 states by pursuing a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.
A bachelor’s degree and completion of required pre-requisite courses, such as those in Anatomy, Biology, and Physiology, are necessary for entry into a DPT program.
Like many other fields in medicine, becoming a physical therapist requires extensive training and testing. However, I can assure you that the challenges you will face will be well worth it. If you get your physical therapy education from one of the top schools on this list, your professional life will be great.