Undergraduate Physical Therapy Degree Programs

Read about differences between associate's and bachelor's degree programs in physical therapy. Examine prerequisites, program requirements and prospective careers.

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Essential Information

Aspiring physical therapy workers can earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in the field. Associate's degree programs prepare students to enter the job market as physical therapist assistants, while pre-physical therapy bachelor's programs prepare students to enter graduate study, which is required for licensure as a physical therapist.

Both options - which are open to high school graduates - include classroom learning, along with significant laboratory training. Some of the study areas include pathology, kinesiology, physics and genetics.


Physical Therapy Assistant Associate of Applied Science

A 2-year physical therapy assistant Associate of Applied Science program is designed to prepare students to enter the job market as a physical therapy assistant, working with licensed physical therapists to provide patient care. Students learn techniques - such as hydrotherapy, traction and massage - to help alleviate the physical pain that patients experience. In addition to applying these physical therapy techniques, students gain hands-on experience in learning to help patients increase their mobility by using canes, wheelchairs, crutches and other aids.

Education Prerequisites

Some schools may require students to complete general education and foundation courses before being fully admitted into a program. Once admitted into a program, students will complete the professional courses required for the degree.

Course Topics

Many of the classes in an undergraduate physical therapy program have a laboratory component, which provides students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field of physical therapy assisting. Programs may also include an internship or clinical rotation. The professional or core courses will cover topics including:

  • Patient care
  • Musculoskeletal therapy
  • Massage
  • Neuromuscular therapy
  • Kinesiology
  • Pathology
  • Rehabilitation techniques

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were around 67,400 physical therapy assistant jobs in 2010 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected a 46% job growth in the field from 2010-2020. As of May 2010, the BLS reported that physical therapy assistants took home a median annual wage of $49,690.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of an Associate of Applied Science program in physical therapy are ready to enter the job market upon graduation, with no further education required. Most states - according to the BLS - require some type of registration for physical therapy assistants.


Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy

A Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy program is designed to prepare students to continue their education into a physical therapy graduate program. These pre-professional programs provide coursework and training related to advanced theories and concepts in physical therapy. Upon completing a program, students will be expected to understand disease prevention, health promotion, professional communication methods and statistical analysis. Students will have learned how to work as part of a healthcare team and provide basic patient care.

Course Topics

Most courses in a bachelor's program in physical therapy are focused on scientific topics. Laboratory courses that provide hands-on experience help students to learn about topics like the human body and how it moves. Topics covered in a program include:

  • Psychology
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Microbiology
  • Genetics
  • Nutrition
  • Research methods
  • Athletic injury care
  • Exercise physiology

Popular Career Options

The Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy is not designed to prepare students to enter into a career as a physical therapist upon graduation. Instead, it is designed to prepare students for entry into a graduate program in physical therapy. However, students may wish to begin working in the field while continuing their education. Possible job options include:

  • Physical therapy assistant
  • Physical therapy aide
  • Nurse aide

Continuing Education Information

Most students who earn a bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy enroll in a physical therapy graduate program in order to become a physical therapist. According to the BLS, physical therapists are required to hold a graduate degree and meet state regulations, such as testing.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics