Physical therapists make a significant positive impact on their patient's lives. To attain licensure as a physical therapist, you must possess a doctorate. Fortunately, there are many doctoral programs in physical therapy to choose from. The following sections highlight the top online programs in the United States, typical curriculum and admission requirements, and different career paths. Our guide also provides answers to common questions about the field.

What Schools offer Physical Therapy Doctorate Programs in 2020?

Rank School Location
1 A T Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville, MO
2 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI
3 Arcadia University Glenside, PA
4 Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network Boston, MA
5 Shenandoah University Winchester, VA
6 The College of Saint Scholastica Duluth, MN
7 University of Michigan-Flint Flint, MI
8 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
9 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
10 Utica College Utica, NY

Every state requires each physical therapy licensure candidate to possess a doctorate. Once you earn an online doctoral degree in physical therapy and meet other licensure requirements, you can apply for a license and begin a career as an entry-level physical therapist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most physical therapists work in private medical practice, hospitals, or home healthcare services organizations. After gaining experience, some physical therapists open private practices.

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Accredited Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

School Location Graduation Rate Description Toggle

A T Still University of Health Sciences

Kirksville, MO Graduation Rate: 54%

A renowned provider of osteopathic healthcare education, ATSU comprises two campuses and an online division, and offers more than 40 programs across six academic schools. The university serves more than 3,100 students from nearly all 50 states and 35 countries.

ATSU offers a transitional, or post-professional, doctor of physical therapy online. The program includes a customizable curriculum modeled after the American Physical Therapy Association. Topics include differential diagnosis, pharmacology, and evidence-based practice. Students may choose to complete the online doctorate in physical therapy one course at a time or double their course load to graduate more quickly.

The program culminates in a capstone project that requires students to develop a manuscript describing their evidence-in-practice. Online courses in the doctorate in physical therapy begin every six weeks. Applicants must hold a regionally accredited physical therapy bachelor's degree and a physical therapist license.

Andrews University

Berrien Springs, MI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Andrews operates its campus in Berrien Springs, Michigan, more than 25 extension centers worldwide, and a comprehensive online division. Andrews enrolls nearly 4,800 students and offers more than 150 programs on campus and online.

Andrews' transitional doctor of physical therapy takes place primarily online, with 11 days of on-campus attendance required throughout the program. The online doctoral degree in physical therapy requires 34 credits in core and research topics including comparative religion, differential diagnosis, and clinical pharmacology. The program culminates in a didactic dissertation project.

Applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and a physical therapist license. Andrews accepts applications on a rolling basis and admits online students in the fall, spring, and summer semesters.

Arcadia University

Glenside, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 71%

In addition to a main campus located in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Arcadia features an extensive offering of online programs. The university serves more than 3,700 students across six schools and colleges.

Arcadia's online transitional doctorate in physical therapy (tDPT) delivers coursework both synchronously and asynchronously. Designed for applicants with current physical therapist licensure, the tDPT program requires 18 credits (for U.S. therapists) or 22 credits (for foreign-educated therapists). The program culminates in a clinical practice sequence.

Students may also pursue a hybrid DPT degree, accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The hybrid DPT prepares students to pursue licensure through the National Physical Therapy Exam. In addition to online coursework, students must complete 32 weeks of clinical experience, including on-campus immersions and part-time clinical experiences.

Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network

Boston, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 88%

Northeastern emphasizes global learning through its main campus in Boston, Massachusetts, 10 international extension sites, and an online campus. Students may choose from dozens of programs across nine schools and colleges, including more than 140 online offerings.

Northeastern's 35-credit online doctoral degree in physical therapy includes required coursework in topics like differential diagnosis, medical screening, and case analysis. Students may choose a concentration from areas like geriatrics, orthopaedics, and pediatrics. Learners may also develop an independent study project in a concentration tailored to their area of expertise.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in physical therapy. Students can enroll full time or part time and graduate in 1-2 years.

Shenandoah University

Winchester, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Established under the auspices of the United Methodist Church, SU serves nearly 3,800 students at its campus in Winchester, Virginia, and through online education. Students may choose from more than 70 programs, including more than 25 online offerings.

SU's transitional doctorate in physical therapy offers multiple completion options. Track one serves accelerated students and takes one year to complete. Track two caters to master's degree-holders and takes two years to complete. Track three, intended for bachelor's degree-holders, requires 20 credits and takes three years to complete.

Coursework in all tracks includes professionalism in physical therapy, differential examination, and contemporary practice in physical therapy. In addition to primarily online coursework, students must attend two one-day courses on campus.

The College of Saint Scholastica

Duluth, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

Affiliated with the Catholic Church in the Benedictine tradition, CSS operates seven physical campuses and an online division. CSS serves nearly 4,000 students and offers dozens of programs, including 10 available online.

CSS's transitional doctor of physical therapy requires 16 credits over six courses in subjects like evidence-based practice, diagnostic imaging, and differential diagnosis. CSS offers at least two doctorate in physical therapy courses each semester, enabling students to begin the program in any semester. Online enrollment is typically capped at 24 students.

Incoming students are assigned to a personal advisor to develop their individual curricular path. CSS provides all distance learners with counseling, tutoring, and access to student groups and clubs.

University of Michigan-Flint

Flint, MI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 46%

One of three University of Michigan locations, UM-Flint serves over 8,500 students at its campus in Flint and online. The university maintains a modest 13-to-1 student-faculty ratio.

UM-Flint's transitional doctorate in physical therapy suits practicing physical therapists seeking to advance their career through doctoral education. The 24-credit curriculum explores subjects like post-professional neuroscience; advanced imaging for diverse populations; and teaching, learning, and health education. The program requires both a service-learning practicum and an evidence-based practice course.

Students may complete this online program in two years. UM-Flint accepts up to six transfer credits.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 89%

The first public university in the United States, UNC-Chapel Hill serves more than 30,000 students. Students may choose from more than 230 graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs.

UNC-Chapel Hill's transitional doctorate in physical therapy requires 30 credits in three core modules: clinical foundation, clinical practice, and specialty practice. The online doctoral degree in physical therapy offers a fall start date. The program culminates in a capstone project of each student's own design.

Most students take 6-8 credits per semester, with the entire program spanning four semesters, plus one summer term. Applicants must demonstrate evidence of an academic background in physical therapy (preferably through a master's degree) and hold current physical therapy licensure.

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 92%

Based in Los Angeles, USC serves more than 48,500 students. Learners can choose from dozens of graduate, undergraduate, and certificate programs, including more than 100 available online.

USC offers a full-time online doctoral degree in physical therapy that uses a hybrid delivery method, blending online coursework with 44 weeks of clinical experience. Coursework explores topics like therapeutic exercise, neuroanatomy, and clinical exercise physiology.

The program culminates in a terminal clinical experience with academic integration. USC offers one start date for the online DPT in June of each year. USC charges a set tuition rate regardless of residency.

USC's online physical therapy program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Utica College

Utica, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

Located in Utica, New York, UC serves more than 5,000 students. Students may choose from nearly 100 programs, including more than 20 online offerings.

UC's online transitional doctor of physical therapy suits licensed, practicing physical therapists seeking additional post-professional education and experience. The 19-credit program takes 18 months to complete online. Coursework explores topics such as prevention and wellness, diagnostic imaging, and global health care issues, culminating in a practicum requirement.

Applicants must hold a regionally accredited bachelor's or master's degree in physical therapy and either valid physical therapy licensure or proof of eligibility for licensure. UC accepts applications on a rolling basis throughout the year and admits students into the online program in any semester.

Winston-Salem State University

Winston-Salem, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Located in North Carolina, WSSU oversees a transitional doctorate in physical therapy program that targets individuals who already hold a bachelor's or master's in physical therapy and are currently practicing in the field. Participants can complete the program entirely online.

The 24-credit program includes courses on various subjects, including clinical decision-making in physical therapy, differential diagnosis, and pharmacology for physical therapists. Students typically complete coursework over the course of four consecutive semesters, although they have up to three years to graduate.

Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited postsecondary institution and submit official college transcripts and a copy of their current physical therapy state license.

Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program Overview

An online doctoral degree in physical therapy prepares degree-seekers for licensure by offering rigorous courses and clinical experiences for learners to apply new knowledge and skills in a professional setting. Licensure requirements vary slightly by state, so make sure to compare prospective out-of-state programs to your state's licensure requirements.

In class, students analyze dozens of topics, such as radiology, statistics, and research methods. Programs often have degree-seekers take courses in a predetermined sequence that leads to a capstone project. Capstone requirements can include writing a scholarly essay for publication in a research journal. Read on for more about typical courses in the following section.

Lastly, physical therapists do not need to earn additional degrees to practice. However, licensure renewal requires completing professional development or continuing education courses. Each state has a specialized website concerning the licensure renewal process and relevant deadlines.

Common Doctorate in Physical Therapy Degree Courses

Pharmacology

This course explores the relationship between physical therapy and medication. Degree-seekers research the most common drugs, along with those drugs' short- and long-term effects on the human body. Most online doctoral degrees in physical therapy require one or more prerequisites in the biological sciences before students can take this course.

Educational Theory and Practices

Physical therapists require honed teaching and interpersonal skills to work with patients effectively. Course topics include teaching strategies in clinical settings. Educational theory topics also prepare degree-seekers for careers in academia, as doctorates qualify graduates for tenure-track positions at colleges and universities.

Issues in Diverse Populations and Settings

Physical therapists often work with patients from different cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Learning more about diverse populations and settings trains degree-seekers to overcome language barriers and misconceptions that can cause distrust and negative patient outcomes. Students apply the course's lessons in rural, suburban, and urban clinical placements.

Agricultural and Food Management

Students who take this business-oriented class explore the economic and operational principles related to areas like farming, food manufacturing, ranching, and packing and shipping. They develop skills in information management, financial analysis, and firm-level goal setting. This course may also cover the functions of domestic and international agricultural/food markets, with an emphasis on supply chains and marketing strategies.

Clinical Education

Online doctoral degrees in physical therapy require multiple clinical placements in different medical environments. Advisors assist degree-seekers in finding appropriate placements in their local communities. At a clinical site, learners apply patient management techniques to evaluate, examine, and diagnose a patient's disability under a licensed physical therapist's supervision.

Civic Engagement

This short course emphasizes the role physical therapists play in society and how they can have a positive relationship with the community. Course topics include how to express social responsibility and become a reflective practitioner. This class complements topics that students analyze through diverse populations and settings coursework.

Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor's Degree

    You should possess a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy. Online doctoral programs may ask you to satisfy specific undergraduate prerequisites in the natural and physical sciences. Additionally, some schools offer a 3+3 program wherein you can earn a bachelor's and a doctorate in just six years.

  • GRE Scores

    A graduate admission exam, the GRE takes over three hours to complete. Two 20-question multiple-choice sections assess your verbal and quantitative reasoning skills. The final two sections ask you to write an essay wherein you analyze an issue and an argument. The GRE does not ask questions on physical therapy topics.

  • Observational Experience

    Observational experience refers to observing licensed physical therapists at a job site. As with many admission requirements, you can gain an admission counselor's attention by going above and beyond. You do so by attaining observational experience hours well above the minimum and observing multiple physical therapists in different settings.

  • Interview

    Top programs use an interview to understand your potential in a way that test scores and grades cannot convey. Expect your interview to take place over the phone or a videoconferencing application. In addition to researching common interview questions, do not forget to dress professionally on interview day.

  • Recommendation Letters

    Like the interview, recommendation letters provide another excellent opportunity for an online doctoral degree program to see you as a person rather than a set of numbers. Ask 2-3 professors -- preferably those whose courses covered physical therapy -- for a recommendation. Make sure to give them at least two weeks to write you a letter.


Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Career Paths

Once you earn an online doctoral degree in physical therapy, you can apply for a state-issued license. You must possess this license to work with patients in an unsupervised setting. Application requirements vary by state, and many states maintain reciprocity agreements that allow you to start a career in a new state without having to complete additional training.

Even though a doctorate is a terminal degree, you still start your career journey with an entry-level physical therapist position. Employers use a numerical system to signify entry-level and managerial positions. As a result, you should look for "physical therapist I" job openings. Lastly, upward mobility requires taking professional development courses and renewing your license.

Related Careers

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a physical therapist do?

A physical therapist helps people with injuries or disabilities regain mobility and lessen pain. Typical job duties include diagnosing conditions, evaluating patient progress, referring patients to other medical professionals, and educating patients about the recovery process.

What is the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists and physical therapists share many similar job responsibilities. However, occupational therapists focus on recovery that makes daily work and life tasks possible. They also work with employers to ensure that employees with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations.

Is a physical therapy degree hard?

An online doctoral degree in physical therapy can present numerous academic and personal challenges, depending on the student. If you think that balancing work, family, and school might make earning a degree difficult, research success tips from current students.

How much does a physical therapist make?

In the United States, physical therapists earned a median salary of $89,440 in 2019. Entry-level physical therapists earn less. Other factors that influence salary include professional certifications and the state where you work. Large metropolitan areas often feature the best salaries.

How long do you go to school to become a physical therapist?

Most physical therapy programs take three years of full-time enrollment. This doctoral program takes less time to complete than other terminal degrees because it does not require a dissertation or defense.

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Additional Reading and Resources

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