Best Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

We've ranked the best online doctorate in physical therapy programs. Compare schools by cost, convenience, and academic quality.

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by Staff Writers

Updated June 3, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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Physical therapists need a doctorate to become licensed and practice as physical therapists. Doctoral programs must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), and licensure candidates must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Programs typically take three years to complete. It may be possible for full-time students to complete the program in a shorter time. Part-time students, especially those working full time, may find that it takes them an extra year or two to complete their program.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists earn a median salary of $91,010. BLS projects that the number of physical therapist job openings will grow by 21% between 2020 and 2030. That's much faster than the national average and means that physical therapists can expect good job opportunities in the future.

According to a CAPTE study, tuition for a doctorate in physical therapy costs an average of $18,989 per year for in-state students at public schools and $37,448 annually at private schools. Online programs can be very convenient, but they aren't always cheaper. The good news is that financial aid is available for most programs.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program?

An online doctorate in physical therapy is perfect for students who wish to become physical therapists. Students who need to work while they study or prefer a specialization that isn't offered through a nearby program benefit significantly from the flexibility that online learning provides.

Some programs are aimed at physical therapists who are already practicing, while others are directed toward college graduates who wish to become physical therapists. Applicants should make sure to choose a program that is suited to them.

Degree requirements vary among programs. Most programs require students to attend online lectures and complete assignments and tests. Most programs include core courses and then allow students to select a specialization. Some programs place a greater emphasis on practical experience, while others may require some sort of capstone project or dissertation.

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Popular Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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

Courses differ widely among colleges and according to specialization. It's important for students to ensure that the program they choose offers courses that match their desired specialization.

Below are several courses students may encounter during an online doctorate in physical therapy program.

Diagnostic Imaging

During this course, physical therapists are introduced to the clinical interpretation of various medical imaging techniques. These techniques may include magnetic resonance imaging, computerized tomography, and plain film radiography.

Pharmacology

In this course, students delve into advanced concepts of pharmacologic management of patients and learn to identify drugs commonly taken by patients and their side effects.

Research Methods and Statistical Analysis

This course provides an introduction to statistical methods and their applications in the life sciences. Students may also explore the significance and relevance of research and analysis in physical therapy.

Medical Screening and Nutrition

This course equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to screen patients and make sound clinical judgments, including providing appropriate referrals. Degree-seekers examine the role that nutrition plays in promoting health. Coursework may emphasize clinical applications in the treatment of medical and eating disorders.

Motor Control

This course typically covers advanced topics in motor control and learning. Students explore how to apply current research to clinical practice across various settings.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program?

Admission requirements vary from program to program. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers a great guide to all possible requirements. Generally, prospective students must have completed certain undergraduate courses at accredited colleges. Most programs also maintain a minimum GPA cutoff.

The graduate admissions process can be a bit tricky. Applicants who have a good idea of what to expect before they start often find it less complicated and stressful. Some programs may require a criminal record check and physical therapy work or volunteer experience, along with a sound academic record.

Application

The college application process can prove time-consuming. Some colleges use college application systems that allow prospective students to streamline the process and apply to multiple schools with one set of documents. The APTA's Centralized Application Service allows students to apply to a variety of doctorate in physical therapy programs using a centralized application system.

Test Scores

Students applying for a doctorate in physical therapy typically need to take an entrance exam. Applicants are usually required to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Most programs maintain minimum GRE score requirements.

Letters of Recommendation

Many programs require letters of recommendation. Some doctoral programs in physical therapy may require up to four letters of recommendation. You can ask former professors or professional supervisors for recommendations. Make sure to ask them for letters several months in advance so that they have adequate time to write.

Resume and Work Experience

Applicants may need to submit a resume when applying for a program. This resume typically includes previous work experience, with a particular focus on physical therapy and volunteer experience.

Essays

Some programs may conduct interviews or require graduate application essays as part of the admissions process. These essays should give the admissions department a better idea of who the applicant is, what is important to them, and how their goals and values might match the school's.

Official Transcripts

Doctorate in physical therapy programs can be quite specific when it comes to which courses and credits they recognize. Applicants usually need to submit official transcripts to prove which courses they have completed. Some colleges may also consider life and work experience when assessing applicants.

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

Career Outlook

Physical therapists practicing in the United States must hold a doctorate in physical therapy. Almost all graduates end up working as physical therapists. There are many areas that physical therapists can choose to specialize in, and most learners begin this specialization during their doctoral studies.

According to the BLS, physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $91,010 as of May 2020. Sports medicine specialists and cardiovascular or pulmonary specialists can expect to earn the highest salaries.

Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 21% job growth for physical therapists. This rate is much faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations (8%) during that period.

See where a doctorate in physical therapy can take you. Learn more about physical therapy careers.

Career Paths

Graduates who hold a doctorate in physical therapy are typically employed as physical therapists, but may choose to specialize in a variety of disciplines. Some average and median salaries for specialized physical therapists may seem low, but these professionals can expect to see their salaries rise as they gain more experience.

Sports Clinical Specialist

Sports clinical specialists typically work with athletes. They treat injuries and provide preventative care to help athletes avoid becoming injured.

Average Annual Salary: $72,220 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

Pediatric Specialist

Pediatric specialists work specifically with babies and children. Physical therapists who specialize in pediatrics need a broad understanding of childhood development and should expect to encounter children with developmental delays and special needs.

Average Annual Salary: $67,000 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

Neurological Specialist

Neurological specialist physical therapists work with patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury or have other neurological conditions like cerebral palsy or cystic fibrosis.

Average Annual Salary: $72,350 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

Geriatric Specialist

Geriatric specialist physical therapists work with the elderly. They may encounter patients with Alzheimer's, cancer, arthritis, or osteoporosis.

Median Annual Salary: $91,010 (BLS, as of May 2020)

Cardiovascular/Pulmonary Specialist

Cardiovascular and pulmonary specialist physical therapists treat patients with heart or lung conditions. These patients may be recovering from surgery or have health problems like bronchitis, hypertension, or chronic heart disease.

Average Annual Salary: $85,110 (Payscale, as of Dec. 2021)

Physical Therapy Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

After completing their doctorate in physical therapy, prospective physical therapists must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Graduates need to earn their doctorate and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam to become licensed as physical therapists.

Graduates of doctorate in physical therapy programs don't typically pursue additional degrees unless they wish to become more specialized. They do, however, need to keep up their professional development and may be required to attend courses from time to time.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program?

Cost

A CAPTE study found that tuition for a doctorate in physical therapy costs an average of $18,989 per year for in-state students at public schools and $37,448 annually at private schools. More expensive programs aren't always higher quality, so it's important to carefully research program costs before choosing.

Online programs can be cheaper, but this isn't always the case. Choosing an online program can help save on transportation and moving costs, but there might be other costs to online learning that students need to consider before making their choice.

Program Format

Students should consider how much flexibility they need and choose a program with a delivery method that best suits their schedule. Asynchronous courses offer high levels of flexibility, as they do not require set class times, but they can have drawbacks, including less interaction with peers and professors.

Location

Most online doctorate in physical therapy programs maintain some sort of practical component or on-campus requirement. Prospective students should prioritize choosing programs that align with their chosen specialization. For some learners, this may mean occasionally traveling, while for others, it may involve relocating to be closer to the college even though the program is online.

Accreditation

It is essential to choose an accredited program when selecting an online doctorate in physical therapy. Physical therapists who complete programs that are not CAPTE-accredited are not eligible to be registered as physical therapists in any state.

Student Support

It's important to choose a program that offers student support. Student support influences both academic and future professional success. Student services can include tutoring, counseling, and internship placements.

Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

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Best Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
    Location

    Lubbock, TX

    At the heart of Texas, TTUHSC is one of the leading health science colleges in the United States. It offers a hybrid doctorate in physical therapy program that incorporates web-based coursework and weekend on-campus sessions with both lectures and laboratory experiences.

    Courses in the program cover orthopedic surgical management, advanced clinical practice, the neuroscience of pain, and orthopedic physical therapy screening.

    Admission requirements include completion of a bachelor's degree and prerequisite courses like general biology, anatomy, general physics, chemistry, and statistics.

    Students also must show a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and GRE results, as well as at least 100 observation hours with a licensed physical therapist.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost: $40,870 per year (in-state); $89,730 per year (out-of-state)
    • Program Length: 3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: Unspecified
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Based in Los Angeles, USC offers an online doctorate in physical therapy program. The program incorporates online coursework and hands-on, immersive training. The course takes three years to complete on a full-time basis. Additionally, course completion requires 44 weeks of clinical experience in the student's local community.

    Admission requirements include at least a "C" in biological sciences, chemistry, anatomy, physics, and physiology, as well as minimum cumulative and science GPAs of 3.0. GRE scores are also required. A minimum of 150 hours of clinical experience is recommended but not required.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost: $69,748 per year for the first two years; $42,140 for year three
    • Program Length: 3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: Unspecified
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Location

    Chapel Hill, NC

    Tuition

    $11649

    The first public university in the United States, UNC-Chapel Hill offers an online doctorate in physical therapy program. The 30-credit program is based on clinical practice, clinical foundation, and specialty practice modules. It also combines distance learning with ongoing clinical application.

    A bachelor's degree in physical therapy is a prerequisite with a minimum overall GPA of 3.0. Students will also have to submit their GRE results.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost: $9,201 per semester (in-state, full load); $18,064 per semester (out-of-state, full load)
    • Program Length: 1-3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 30
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Public
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Northeastern University
    Location

    Boston, MA

    Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern offers online, international extension, and on-campus doctorate of physical therapy programs. The online doctorate of physical therapy program is a 35-credit program aimed at licensed physical therapists with master's or bachelor's degrees.

    Students can choose between different concentrations depending on their areas of expertise. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree or higher with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to be accepted into the program.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $785 per credit
    • Program Length: 1-3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 35
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: New England Commission on Higher Education
  • The College of Saint Scholastica
    Location

    Duluth, MN

    The College of St. Scholastica is a top college in Duluth, Minnesota. It offers an online doctorate of physical therapy program that emphasizes equipping students with theoretical knowledge to advance their practice.

    The program is 100% online and caters to out-of-state and international students. It comprises 16 credits covering six classes. Successful applicants will have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a related field with a minimum of 3.0 GPA and submit GRE scores.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $750 per credit
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 16 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Shenandoah University
    Location

    Winchester, VA

    Founded in 1875, Shenandoah University is a private liberal arts college located in Winchester, Virginia. The school offers an online transitional doctor of physical therapy program that gives students an option between three tracks.

    Track one is aimed at master's graduates and offers accelerated degree completion, while tracks two and three are for students with only a bachelor's degree and take longer to complete.

    Students must show GRE test scores and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.8 on prior courses to gain admission.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $633 per credit
    • Program Length: 1-3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 16-20 credits depending on track
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Winston-Salem State University
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Tuition

    $11142

    WSSU is a public university founded in 1892 and located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It offers an online transitional doctorate of physiotherapy program for professionals who have graduated with a master's or bachelor's degree.

    The program comprises 24 credits which must be completed over three years. To enroll in the program, students require a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA, 120 credits of prior education, and GRE scores. Students with a prior master's degree may receive 6 credits of recognized prior education.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $186 per credit (in-state); $672 per credit (out-of-state)
    • Program Length: 1-3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: Unspecified
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Utica College
    Location

    Utica, NY

    Based in Utica, New York, UC serves a student body of over 5,000 and offers over 100 courses, including more than 20 online programs.

    UC's doctor of physical therapy program is an 18-19 credit offering depending on the student's chosen practicum. It takes a minimum of 18 months for students to complete the program if attending on a full-time basis. The program can take up to three years in a hybrid format.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $785 per credit
    • Program Length: 18 months-3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 18-19 credits
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • University of Michigan-Flint
    Location

    Flint, MI

    Tuition

    $12519

    UM-Flint is a public institution serving close to 50,000 students and is one of three University of Michigan locations. UM-Flint offers a doctorate in physical therapy online and on campus. The online program requires a minimum of 24 credits to complete and takes about two years.

    All coursework is completed online, although some hands-on clinical and lab work is required. Out-of-state students should visit the state authorization page to find out if the online program is available in their state.

    The enrollment requirements for this program include a 3.0 GPA for prerequisite courses and an overall 3.0 GPA. All students must also submit GRE scores.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $762 per credit (in-state); $1,138 per credit (out-of-state)
    • Program Length: 2 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 24
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • A T Still University of Health Sciences
    Location

    Kirksville, MO

    Based in Kirksville, Missouri, ATSU offers a professional doctor of physical therapy program online. The requirements for enrollment in this program include a minimum overall GPA of 2.8 and GRE results.

    This program consists of a flexible schedule that includes a rotating slate of classes that a student can select from and complete one at a time. This arrangement ensures learners are able to schedule their classes around their other commitments. Students can also take two classes at a time to accelerate program completion.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $546 per credit
    • Program Length: 3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: Unspecified
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Physical Therapy Programs

Is a doctorate in physical therapy worth it?

A doctorate in physical therapy is worth it for students wanting to become physical therapists, as this degree is a prerequisite for the career. Physical therapists must have a doctorate in physical therapy to be licensed in every state. Physical therapists generally make high salaries, and the BLS projects 21% job growth for the field between 2020 and 2030.

What can I do with a doctorate in physical therapy?

You should earn a doctorate in physical therapy if you want to become a licensed physical therapist, which is the primary career option for degree-holders. However, you can pursue various specialties within the field, including neurology, sports clinical, and geriatric.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in physical therapy online?

It typically takes three years to complete a doctorate in physical therapy. Some programs allow students to complete the course in two years. Some learners, especially those who are working full time and studying part time, find that it takes 4-5 years to complete their doctorate.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in physical therapy?

According to the BLS, physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $91,010 as of May 2020. The top 10% of earners in the field made a median annual wage of more than $126,780, while the lowest 10% made less than $63,530. Salary potential is closely linked to experience as well as employer and specialization.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a doctorate in physical therapy?

Physical therapists can specialize in certain high-paying areas of physical therapy. Sports medicine specialists and cardiovascular or pulmonary specialists can expect to earn the highest salaries.

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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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