Best Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Our higher education experts at BestColleges have ranked the best online associate in physical therapy assistant programs. Read on to learn what it takes to earn a physical therapy assistant associate degree; discover the salary potential and career outlook for this field to find your potential path forward today.

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by Tessa Cooper

Published on December 10, 2021 · Updated on April 25, 2022

Edited by Rebecca Long
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Physical therapy assistants help patients redevelop their mobility and improve their fitness levels. These professionals aid patients in their physical progress and make a positive difference in their lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 59% of physical therapy assistants and aides work in the offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists or audiologists. Twenty-one percent work in hospitals.

An associate in physical therapy assistant typically takes learners two years to earn. Some online programs allow students to work at their own pace. This undergraduate degree prepares students to immediately enter the workforce. Other graduates pursue a bachelor's degree and license. A doctor of physical therapy is the terminal degree for this field.

In this guide, we discuss the job outlook and typical salary range for this profession. Discover the top online schools that offer physical therapy assistant associate degree programs.

What Can I Expect From an Online Associate in a Physical Therapy Assistant Program?

Associate in physical therapy assistant programs often feature a mix of course formats. Some classes follow a traditional lecture-based format with online or in-person course discussions, tests, and essays. Other classes require students to participate in hands-on clinical learning at an office or hospital so they can connect theory to practice. These experiential courses also offer learners the chance to form valuable professional connections. Even online programs may include this in-person component.

Throughout their studies, physical therapy assistant students learn how to work with patients. They also become familiar with the protocol for following care plans designed by physical therapists.

Students learn basic physical therapy exercises and graduate with an understanding of how to prevent exercise-related injuries. The coursework also covers topics like anatomy, physiology, and healthcare privacy laws.

Certain programs allow students to select a concentration. For example, people who want to work with athletes may choose a sports medicine specialization. Learners should read through course descriptions before selecting a program as certain ones may align better with specific career goals.

In the next section, we highlight five common courses for this major. Keep in mind not every school offers these exact courses.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Program?

Anatomy and Physiology

In this course, students learn about the structures in the human body and their functions. Learners read medical journals and write essays interpreting their findings. This class often requires a lab component, which may take place in person.

Therapeutic Procedures

This class introduces students to patient care activities. Students learn how to safely assist patients in therapy. They also practice common physical therapy exercises. Part of the course focuses on emergency care, such as wound management.

Kinesiology

A kinesiology class covers the relationship between lifestyle choices and health. The curriculum often covers how diet and exercise impact the human body. The classwork also teaches students how to care for and prevent athletic injuries.

Therapeutic Exercises and Neurologic Conditions

In this class, students learn therapeutic exercises to help patients with impaired neurological function. They learn how to guide movements in arms, legs, and hands. In an online format, students must find volunteers to help them learn exercises.

Professionalism in the Physical Therapy Profession

This course teaches students to hone their interpersonal communication skills. In this class, they also practice professional behavior in a clinical setting. The curriculum also covers the psychology of disability and health field privacy laws.

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What Are Admission Requirements for an Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Program?

Applying for an online associate in physical therapy assistant takes time. For starters, learners must gather materials. Most programs require students to fill out an online application form and submit recommendation letters. Schools also usually require official high school transcripts and college transcripts for transfer students. Certain applications also ask prospective students to complete an essay component and submit their resume.

Generally, colleges and universities also require ACT or SAT scores. However, some schools have waived this requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants should also fill out the FAFSA, which determines need-based scholarship allocation.

In addition, most schools set GPA and test score requirements for admission. For this reason, applicants should apply to several schools to keep options open. Community colleges often offer associate degrees and have open enrollment policies.

What Can I Do With an Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Degree?

An online associate in physical therapy assistant can prepare students for medical assistant roles. For example, physical therapy assistants and occupational therapy assistants complete similar tasks. So, graduates may qualify for both types of positions. Other jobs may require extra certifications and training. For example, dental assistants may need to supplement their physical therapy degree with more classes.

Graduates can also switch to more administrative roles within the medical field. For example, they may work as office assistants for physical therapy offices.

Fortunately, the need for qualified medical assistants should increase in the coming years. In the following section, we outline five career paths graduates of this program often pursue. We discuss the common job responsibilities and average salary potential.

See where an associate in physical therapy assistant can take you. Learn more about careers in healthcare.

Career Paths

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

These professionals assist physical therapists. They help them increase patient mobility through exercises. They also set up equipment and observe patients during and after therapy. In addition, these assistants perform basic maintenance tasks as needed. This may include changing sheets and transporting patients. The BLS projects positions for these professionals to increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030, a much higher growth rate than the national average of 8% across all occupations during the same period.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $49,970


Medical Assistants

Medical assistants provide clerical support for medical offices. They handle behind-the-scenes tasks like stocking supplies. They may also prepare blood samples for labs and measure a patient's vital signs. The BLS projects positions for this occupation will grow much faster than average, with 18% growth between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $35,850


Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

These professionals assist with daily care activities for patients. For example, nursing assistants help patients with tasks like eating and bathing. They ensure a clean environment and take patient vitals and temperatures. The BLS projects positions for nursing assistants and orderlies will grow 8% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $30,830


Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients practice daily tasks. For example, they may help an individual with a disability practice feeding themself. They set up equipment and communicate with physical therapists and nurses. The BLS projects positions for these professionals will grow much faster than average at 34% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $60,950


Dental Assistants

These medical assistants work in dental offices. They sanitize dental equipment, ensure patient comfort, and organize tools. These professionals also process dental X-rays with help from dentists and dental hygienists. The BLS projects the need for dental assistants will increase by 11% between 2020 and 2030.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $41,180


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Continuing Education

To succeed in this profession, physical therapy assistants must commit to lifelong learning. Doctors and researchers constantly make new discoveries that impact the best practices in this field.

After finishing an associate in physical therapy assistant, graduates may further their education. Becoming a doctor of physical therapy can give professionals access to new opportunities with higher pay. A doctoral program in physical therapy takes three years of study to complete. Graduates must then earn their license. Each state sets its own licensure requirements.

Professionals can pursue continuing education in other ways. For example, they can join a professional organization. The American Physical Therapy Association is one such group in this field. This organization allows individuals to network and keep up with industry standards. They provide members with webinars, conferences, and informative newsletters.

How Do I Choose an Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Program?

Cost

When selecting a school, learners should consider the cost. Contact a school to learn the true cost of tuition and student activity fees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public institutions charged an average of $18,383 during the 2018-2019 academic year. Students paid an average of $42,306 per year to attend private nonprofit institutions during the same period.

Program Format

A program's format may influence a learner's success. For example, students who need more accountability should pursue a synchronous online program. Synchronous classes are live and occur at set times. Students who prefer more flexibility might thrive in an asynchronous program, which allows learners to study on their own schedule. Students who want to graduate fast should choose an accelerated format.

Location

Students who pursue a virtual associate in physical therapy assistant should still consider location. Even online programs sometimes feature limited in-person requirements like labs. Schools may let students complete such requirements in their home state, but they may request that students travel to campus. Additionally, programs prepare students for licensure in specific states. Learners should consider where they wish to practice when selecting a program.

Accreditation

Most employers only view degrees from accredited schools as legitimate. The Department of Education oversees third-party accrediting agencies. These agencies evaluate schools to ensure their programs of study meet rigorous standards. To find a program or school's accreditation status, use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Student Support

Student support also matters when selecting a school. Colleges and universities offer varying levels of services. For example, some schools provide free tutoring centers or online help desks for technical issues. Some schools may even connect learners with mentorships, internships, and networking opportunities via an alumni network.

Best Accredited Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

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Best Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

  1. San Juan College
    Location

    Farmington, NM

    Tuition

    $5796

    SJC offers an associate in physical therapy assistant program that blends online coursework with on-campus labs in Farmington, New Mexico. Students must complete these labs once per semester for five semesters. The program holds accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and includes courses in medical terminology, clinical kinesiology, and principles of rehabilitation.

    All students also complete clinical externships in the field. Applicants must submit official transcripts and complete prerequisite coursework.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost-per-Credit: $52 (in state); $164 (out of state)
    • Program Length: 36-42 months
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 65-69 credits
    • Instruction Style: N/A
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Public
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Is an associate degree in physical therapy assistant worth it?

Many people find an online associate program in physical therapy assistant worth it. Graduates often find jobs that allow them to better the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and injuries. Many physical therapy assistants find their work emotionally and financially rewarding. It takes several more years of education and a license to become a physical therapist.

PayScale reports that physical therapy assistants earned an average annual salary of $51,340 in December 2021. Earning an online degree can save learners money, leading to less student debt and more disposable income.

How fast can I get an associate in physical therapy assistant degree online?

It only takes two years to earn an online associate in physical therapy assistant. Yet, it can take part-time learners longer. Some accelerated programs only take 1.5 years to complete. Thanks to the flexibility of online programs, learners can often study at their own pace.

Physical therapy assistants may practice with a certificate in most states. However, physical therapists need further education and a license. Students with associate degrees in physical therapy assistants may earn their bachelor's degrees in two years. Earning a doctor in physical therapy is an additional three-year commitment.

Is an online associate degree in physical therapy assistant credible?

To determine a program's credibility, learners should research its accreditation status. Schools can earn regional or national accreditation. Most graduate programs and employers view regional accreditation as more prestigious. However, many respected community colleges earn national accreditation.

Agencies that grant regional accreditation only oversee schools in a certain area. Agencies that grant national accreditation oversee schools all across America. Specific disciplines of study can also earn programmatic accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is the accrediting body for most physical therapy programs. Other factors that indicate credibility include graduation rates and job placement rates.

How much money can I make with an associate in physical therapy assistant?

PayScale reports that physical therapy assistants earned an average annual salary of $51,340 in December 2021. However, the earning potential increases as these professionals gain more experience. Physical therapy assistants with less than one year of experience earn about $23 per hour. At the same time, professionals with more than 20 years of experience earn a little over $30 per hour.

The exact salary also varies depending on factors like a professional's location and employer. For example, nonprofit hospitals usually pay less than private healthcare facilities. Additionally, employers in larger cities may pay more than those in rural communities.

Is an associate degree in physical therapy assistant in demand?

According to the BLS, the need for physical therapy assistants will increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030. During the same period, the need for physical therapists will increase by 21%. The average job outlook across all occupations over the next decade is only 8%. As the population ages, hospitals and rehab facilities may hire even more physical therapists.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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