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Associates Degree in Physical Therapy: Program Overviews

Learn about degree programs in physical therapy at the 2-year level, which prepare students for careers as physical therapy assistants (PTAs). Explore the prerequisites and coursework for these programs, as well as employment outlook statistics for PTAs.

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Essential Information

Physical therapy is a demanding field that requires students to complete a master's degree program; therefore, there are no associate's degree programs available for aspiring physical therapists. However, students interested in becoming physical therapy assistants might consider enrolling in an Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program.

A physical therapist assistant works under the direct supervision of a physical therapist to administer treatments and oversee therapies for individuals suffering from mobility-limiting injuries and disabilities. Two-year degree programs in the field often include both classroom lectures and clinical experiences to help students build the knowledge and skills necessary to work with such patients in a professional healthcare setting. Practicing physical therapy assistants must have earned licenses by passing a national examination.

Education Prerequisites

Students entering physical therapist assistant associate's degree programs are expected to have completed advanced high school or introductory college-level courses in biology, chemistry and English. A high school diploma or its equivalent are also mandatory.

Program Coursework

Before learning specific tasks suited to the role of a physical therapist assistant, students first know the basics of human anatomy, medical terminology and healthcare science. Clinical experiences in such a program teach students how to communicate one-on-one with patients, work under the supervision of physical therapists, perform basic therapeutic exercises and handle real-world problems that might arise in a clinical environment.

This program typically includes 4-5 semesters, the first few of which are taken up with theory and science and the second few of which are taken up with clinical and laboratory experience. These courses often explore:

  • Health science laboratory
  • Human anatomy
  • Physical therapy fundamentals
  • Clinical physical therapy assistance
  • Disabilities procedures
  • Kinesiology
  • Physical therapy modalities
  • Pathophysiology
  • Musculoskeletal conditions

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Health practitioners, hospitals, nursing home facilities and other healthcare organizations employed roughly 114,400 physical therapy assistants and aides, combined, in the United States in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual salary for assistants was about $52,160, and the top-paying states for the profession were Texas, Ohio and Florida as of 2012 (www.bls.gov).

Certification and Continuing Education

The majority of states require that physical therapist assistants gain licensure by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam. To qualify for the exam, individuals must complete an associate's degree program in physical therapy accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. While physical therapist assistants cannot become physical therapists without earning a master's degree in the field, they can advance to administrative and teaching roles by working their way up through a physical therapy department.

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Top Schools for Physical Therapy

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  • School locations:
    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Informatics and Illustration
      • Medical Residency Programs
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Dental
      • Medical and Health Preparatory Sciences
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • Pennsylvania (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Pennsylvania include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: First Professional Certificate, Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Dental
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Ethics and Bioethics
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Mental Health Services
      • Nursing Professions
      • Public Health and Safety
      • Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Sciences
  • School locations:
    • Rhode Island (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Brown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Ethics and Bioethics
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • North Carolina (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Duke University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Nursing Professions
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions
        • Physical Therapy
  • School locations:
    • Indiana (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Notre Dame include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical and Health Preparatory Sciences
  • School locations:
    • Columbia (D.C.) (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Georgetown University include:
      • Graduate: First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Nursing Professions
      • Optometric and Ophthalmic Services
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • Tennessee (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Vanderbilt University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Communication Disorders Sciences
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Nursing Professions
      • Public Health and Safety
  • School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Communication Disorders Sciences
      • Dental
      • Health and Fitness
      • Medical Administrative Services
      • Medical Diagnostic and Treatment Professions
      • Medical Residency Programs
      • Mental Health Services
      • Nursing Professions
      • Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration
      • Public Health and Safety
      • Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Professions
        • Occupational Therapy
        • Physical Therapy
        • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor
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  • School locations:
    • New York (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Cornell University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Medical and Health Professions
      • Medical Administrative Services
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