Physical Therapy Assistant Programs: Learn About PTA Schools & Classes

Learn about Physical Therapy Assistant Programs and compare curriculum, costs and coursework as well as accredited physical therapy assistant schools.
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PTA Programs and Schools

This page is updated and maintains a full list of CAPTE accredited physical therapy assistant programs in the U.S. (Currently 360+ Schools)

Any questions you have about PTA programs are answered here and include resources to help you plan your schooling and connect with accredited PT assistant schools nearby.

 

The best accredited PTA programsCurrently, there are 360+ CAPTE Accredited PTA programs in the U.S. to choose from. With so many options, a prospective PTA student may struggle to find the best match for their needs. Although the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) does not rank PTA programs, quality of education is assured by CAPTE accreditation of the available physical therapy assistant programs.

It is currently required in all states, except for Colorado and Hawaii, to graduate from an accredited PTA program in order to sit for the physical therapist assistant licensure exam called the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).

PTA School Courses and Curriculum

The table below contains a list of some of the general physical therapy assistant school courses you will take in any associates of physical therapy assisting program.

PTA Course NameOffered Online?CreditsLecture HoursLab HoursClass Description
Introduction to PTAYes110Required for PTA majors and can be taken by anyone interested in a PTA career. Offers a health care system overview along with specific roles of physical therapist and rehabilitation professionals. Some topics covered are medical terminology, communication skills, and medical documentation.
KinesiologyYes330Also open to anyone interested in PT and required for physical therapist assistant majors. Intro to concepts such as forces, levers, biomechanics, and locomotion. Some topics covered are insertions, origins, innervations, and actions of the prime movers of the musculoskeletal system.
Therapeutic MeasurementMaybe Partially212Goes more in depth on medical documentation. Discusses bony landmarks, measurement of joint range of motion, muscle length and muscle strength. Students will practice with eachother to develop their skills.
Pathology for PTAsYes330Overview of the essential nature of physical diseases and their abnormalities of structure and functional traits.
Therapeutic ExerciseMaybe Partially212Learn about physical therapy treatment interventions and patient goals using them. Material covered includes performing an initial PT patient evaluation, stretching, range of motion movements, joint mobilization, strenthening, aerobic exercise, and exercise parameters/progression. Focuses on clinical decision making for selecting exercises for different patient scenarios.
Motor DevelopmentYes110Intro to human motor development and developmental milestones.Material will discuss congenital, genetic, and acquired disorders with an emphasis on functional and structural abnormalities impacting human motor development.
PTA TechniquesMaybe Partially432Discusses proper patient care and handling such as positioning, transporting, bed mobility, vital signs, gait, massage, transfers, aspetic techniques, wound care, edema management, and cardiac physical therapy for the chest. Students will develop skills practicing with each other.
Physical AgentsMaybe Partially433Learn about therapeutic modalities and physical agents in a PT practice. Develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills through lecture and lab activities using heat, electrical stimulation, cold, hydrotherapy, traction, and more for therapeutic interventions.
PTA Therapy ClinicMaybe Partially333Study therapy interventions treating conditions related to traumatic brain injuries, amputations, cerebral vascular accidents, spinal cord injury, joint replacement, neurological issues, and cardiac diseases. Focuses on activities promoting optimized functional results for patients and develops decisino making skills through lab work with ssistive devices, prosthetics, and orthotics.
Orthopedics in PTAMaybe Partially222Learn about orthopedic conditions and the underlying pathology. Focuses on PT interventions used to rehab specific ortho conditions. This course is typically optional and considered an elective.
PTA Clinical Education INo300160 clinical hours are required for your online PTA degree, they will take place working 40 hours per week for 4 weeks in a supervised clinical setting. Your interactions will be observed and you will learn professional communication and development while refining your skills and time management.
PTA SeminarYes330Extension of the intro to PTA and goes more in depth on our healthcare system and the specific roles of different medical professionals. You will learn more medical terminology, medical documentation, psychosocial aspects for disabled, professional growth, communication, and evidence based practice.
PTA Clinical Education IINo4005 additional weeks of supervised clinical experience for 40 hours per week (200 clinical hours typically). Students will continue applying and practicing skills learned in class and labs learning to become an integral part of the PT clinic or department.
PTA Professional DevelopmentMaybe Partially330This PTA class discusses learning and communication styles, teaching, developing presentation skills, and other professional tools you will use in your career. Additionally you will observe prosthetic fabrication and witness PT in a rehab setting to better understand how to effectively education patients.
PTA Clinical Education IIINo500Your final clinical experience is usually about 6 weeks at 40 hours a week for 240 hours and you will be allowed to practice all procedures and techniques that you’ve learned in your program. You will be expected to perform as any other physical therapist assistant and will also conduct a presentation to your colleagues.


Comparing PTA Programs

As mentioned before, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the accrediting agency for schools offering physical therapy assistant programs. You must attend an accredited PTA program so that you can obtain your license to perform PTA work in all states.

We offer a complete database of accredited PTA programs that you can use to learn more about each of the accredited PTA programs available in your state. Keep in mind that only some of these programs offer online PTA courses, here is a list of physical therapist asst schools online.

Although researching physical therapy assistant schooling is the first step, once you have found a few schools of interest, speaking with advisers and students as well as visiting the programs is very valuable for making your final decision. You can learn a lot about the program to see if it will be the best one for you to meet your educational goals and individual student needs.

Factors to Consider for PTA Programs

There are several things to consider when comparing physical therapist assistant programs. Here is a list of some of the most important factors to keep in mind as you search for your PTA program:

  • College size
  • Pass rates of the licensure exam
  • Classroom and lab facilities
  • Curriculum and Program Structure
  • School expenses and opportunities for financial aid
  • Location and campus setting
  • Faculty quality (cohesiveness, composition, and how long have they worked together?)
  • Available extracurricular activities
  • Student body demographics
  • Distance from your home
  • PTA program’s entering class
  • Employability – the rate of employment for graduates
  • School admission requirements
  • Opportunities for clinical education and training
 

As you consider these factors, it can be helpful to survey current students as well as recent graduates of the programs of interest. Also, interviewing employers who have hired these graduates can give you more insight to each program’s strengths and weaknesses.


How Long is Physical Therapy Assistant School?

Physical therapy assisting school consists of a 2-year associates degree program alongside 16 weeks of clinical training.

The coursework and clinical training can all be completed in 2 years, making the graduate eligible to take the National Exam (NPTE) to obtain their PTA license to begin legally working in the profession.

Most licensed physical therapist assistants complete their 16 weeks of clinical work during the last semesters of their associate’s degree program. So, this will not be additional time required after the 2-year program is complete.
 
 

Also, students can prepare for the National Exam during their final semester and take it upon completion so that they do not have to wait longer to obtain their PTA license.

How Long Are Online PTA Programs?

There are also online PTA Programs that offer an associate’s degree in physical therapy assisting. So, you may be wondering how long is a PTA program online?

Online PTA degree programs result in the same degree earned at a local campus and require the same amount of time, credits, courses, and clinical work.

However, you can generally take the coursework at whatever pace you desire and create your study schedule to fit in with your work schedule and other time obligations.


How Much Do PTA Programs Cost?

It is important to know the cost of physical therapy assisting school. Tuition and fees will vary regionally and also change depending on whether you are attending in-state vs out-of-state. Of course, private school will also be more expensive than public school

The 2008 Survey by the APTA shows a mean annual tuition and fees of:

The most up to date and accurate information on the cost of PTA programs will come directly from the school. It is best to contact programs of interest and as them what their tuition costs will be for a PTA degree.
 

In addition to tuition and fees, bear in mind the following school expenses you will likely incur:

  • Monthly mortgage or rent payment
  • Grocery bill
  • Textbooks
  • Other school supplies/lab equipment
  • Clothes/Scrubs
  • Gas or transportation costs
  • School and other activity fees (sports games etc.)


Is PTA School Hard?

Many prospective students ask us, “How hard is PTA school?”

Generally speaking, PTA school is a good challenge but most students should be able to complete it. Students with an aptitude in the sciences and/or interest in the human body should excel in their PTA program. However, anyone with a good work ethic and study habits will perform well.

Interviewing Tips: How to dress for medical interviews

During your education, you will begin interviewing for clinical positions and also for full-time work after graduation. It can be confusing knowing how to present yourself in medical interviews, but these tips will help.

  • Don’t wear scrubs to your interviews
  • Dress professionally in business casual/professional clothing (depending on the job position)
  • Make sure your hygiene is proper and hair is fixed. Also, double-check that buttons and zippers are all done properly
  • Makeup and perfume are good but do not overdo them as you will likely be in a small room during the interview
  • Professional shoes are important, for women, this can be short heels or flats and for men, this can be a black or brown leather dress shoe
  • Both men and women should choose neutral color blouses and shirts
  • A pants suit or professional skirt is suitable for women while a business suit is best for men. Some positions may only require slacks and a tie for a man but a suit is never going to be a bad choice.

Tips to make PTA school easier

Everyone approaches learning and studying differently. Below are some tips to help make PTA school easier.

  • Don’t get behind on your reading assignments
  • If the professor recommends a resource, always use it
  • Participate as much as possible in class and group work
  • Network and foster relationships with students, professors, and faculty
  • Get help from career advisors when the time comes
  • Make a daily schedule and try to stick to it

Physical Therapy Assistant Requirements

Learn the education and schooling requirements to become a PTA, such as the type of degree required, PTA program length, tuition and fees, time spent in a classroom vs a clinical, state license requirements, and some general course requirements.

Program LengthAvg TuitionClassroom %Clinical %
2 years / 5 semesters$7,81675%25%
 

Physical Therapy Assistant Education Requirements

As you plan out your education needed to become a physical therapist assistant it is important to be aware of the degree requirements. The good news for PTAs is that they don’t have to spend 4 years in college to obtain their degree. Instead, they must attend an accredited college and earn a Physical Therapist Assistant, Associate Degree which can be completed in 2 years or 5 semesters.

There are currently 360+ physical therapy assistant programs nationwide that offer associate degrees. Most of these degree programs consist of general education courses, physical therapy courses, and clinical education.

Physical Therapy Assistant Schooling Requirements

It is a good idea to know generally which courses you will take to obtain your PTA degree.

Physical therapy assistant curriculum primarily consists of:

Physical Therapy Assistant Requirements for Education

  • anatomy & physiology
  • biomechanics
  • exercise physiology
  • kinesiology
  • clinical pathology
  • neuroscience
  • communication
  • behavioral sciences

Included in this curriculum, as is included with many other allied healthcare careers, are Ethics/Values, CPR and basic lifesaving first aid skills.

Approximately 75% of the physical therapy curriculum is taught in classroom and lab study and the remaining 25% consist of clinical education. On average, a PT student spends 16 weeks in full-time clinical education experience.

Physical Therapist Aides vs Assistants

If you are interested in becoming an assistant but do not have the funds, time, or some other means to pursue the required education, then you should consider becoming a physical therapy aide. A PT aide is not required to complete an associate’s degree but will perform a very similar job function compared to a PT assistant.

Physical therapist aides work in the same environment as physical therapy assistants. Aides work under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants while assisting the patients with their physical therapy exercises and treatments.

Aides should be physically fit, enough to be able to bend, kneel, and lift. Aides will also need to utilize strong communication and social skills while interacting with patients and other office staff. Additionally, good organizational skills for carrying our administrative office tasks are important.

Physical therapy aides are employed with several diverse tasks including aiding patients in movements, assisting them in and out of the therapy area of the clinic, and offering other patient aid. Aides also perform clerical work, monitor client progress, and set up equipment for therapy.

As you can see, physical therapy aides must have a unique combination of skills including physical strength to aid patients, as well as sensitivity to offer their assistance compassionately to clients.

Physical Therapy Aide Requirements

As I mentioned before, those not interested in obtaining a physical therapy assistant associate degree, can still meet the requirements to work as a PT Aide. There is not a required license or certification to become a physical therapy aide.

Aides do not have college degree requirements, although a high school diploma is typically a job requirement for this position. Volunteering to help disabled in a clinic or hospital will surely improve your resume, enhance your skills, and ensure that you have a passion and interest in working in the physical therapy field for a long term career.

The majority of PT clinics and offices that hire aides offer on the job training to make sure their aides qualify. Training for PT aides can last anywhere from 3 months to 1 year of working with experienced employees who will teach the trainee things like:

  • Properly cleaning the therapy areas
  • Keeping equipment organized
  • Setting up and taking down of PT equipment
  • Accessing, editing, and monitoring patient information
  • Properly assisting patients in and out of therapy areas
  • Performing clerical tasks properly
  • Proper patient record keeping

Although not required, taking some physical therapy courses or physical fitness courses would be a great way to get an edge on your competitors applying for the same job as a physical therapy aide. In fact, there are physical therapy aide programs that you can attend, and successful completion of one of these programs would give you a certificate that would greatly increase your marketability for a career as an aide.

Planning for Physical Therapy Assistant Requirements

As you plan your career in physical therapy you have decisions to make regarding your education to make sure you complete the physical therapy assistant requirements. Alternatively, you can get started in your career as a PT aide and receive on the job training, without having to obtain an associate degree. Aides always have the option to go back to school to advance their careers and become a physical therapist assistant (PTA) or a physical therapist (PT).

So, research some of the available physical therapy assistant schools online and local PTA programs available. If you decide to bypass working as an Aide, to go for the required PTA associate degree, then keep in mind that with an online program you will still be required to complete the clinical portion of the degree offline, in a local PT clinic.

Ready to Find a Local PTA Program?

To get started you can use our free PTA Program matching tool by answering a couple questions about what you’re looking for to see a list of programs that match your criteria. Or you can find accredited PTA programs in your state.

To start comparing PTA programs, just click the blue find schools button.


Can I Study Online?

Yes, there are physical therapist assistant programs taught online through distance learning. However, you’ll be required to complete your clinical training in person.

Find Online Programs: We update a complete list of available online PTA programs with additional resources and information to help you understand everything you need to know about getting your PTA degree online on this page.

Footnote: For additional information on the accreditation process, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) has more information on accredited PTA programs.

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