how to become a physical therapist

how to become a physical therapist: As a physical therapist, you’ll help others improve their quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education. Physical therapists examine patients and help them get started on a treatment plan as they work toward physical recovery following an ailment or health condition. If you’re interested in a high-paying, in-demand healthcare job focused on patient care, then you might consider becoming a physical therapist.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of open positions for physical therapists is projected to grow by 17 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. This guide will cover everything you need to do to become a physical therapist, including educational requirements, gaining licensure, and various career paths.

1. Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

To become a physical therapist, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. The first step is to earn your bachelor’s degree. Your bachelor’s degree does not need to be in physical therapy, but many students choose a related health field, such as biology, chemistry, or physiology.

Alternatively, you could enter a “3+3 program,” which allows you to complete three years of undergraduate work and then enter a three-year DPT program. This option reduces the time spent in school to six years instead of the seven it typically takes to complete a bachelor’s and DPT program. If you are sure you want to be a physical therapist, this may be the most efficient option.

2. Choose a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program

Admission Requirements

After earning a bachelor’s degree, apply for a CAPTE-accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy program. These programs typically last three years and cover topics including biology, anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, and pharmacology.

When applying to a DPT program, most will require specific prerequisite courses. Common prerequisites include anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and statistics. You will also likely need to meet a minimum GPA requirement, have a satisfactory GRE score, and have some experience in a physical therapy setting, either as a volunteer or paid position.


Choose a DPT program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to ensure it meets the standards for a quality education program. The CAPTE is recognized by the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Accreditation assures the quality of education that you receive.


The cost of a DPT program varies depending on factors such as the location and whether it is a private or public institution. According to the CAPTE, the median total cost of a program is $66,714 for public in-state programs, $115,858 for out-of-state programs, and $114,128 for private programs. Additional costs may include background check fees, activity fees, textbooks, and professional liability insurance. Consider housing and transportation costs during the program as well.

Program Structure

DPT programs are structured in two phases: classroom education (didactic) and lab study and clinical education. Physical therapy students spend about 80 percent of the program on didactic curriculum and lab study and an average of 27.5 weeks in clinical experience. Besides the core subjects, courses include behavioral sciences, communication, ethics and values, management sciences, finance, sociology, and clinical reasoning.

3. Graduate and Pass the NPTE

The DPT program prepares you for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is required to obtain your physical therapy license. The NPTE measures basic entry-level competence after graduation from an accredited program.

4. Pass Your State’s Licensure Exam

To practice in a state, you must pass a state licensure exam to receive your physical therapist license. You need to pass both the NPTE and a state exam to practice legally in many states. Ensure you check your state’s requirements to ensure that you’ve met all of them before pursuing your license.

5. Complete a Residency or Earn Board Certification (Optional)

Many physical therapists choose to complete residency training or earn board certification to enhance their training and credibility with patients. A clinical residency can advance your preparation as a provider of patient care services in a specific area of clinical practice. Physical therapists can get board certified through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

6. Apply for Physical Therapy Jobs

With your degree and license, you can now apply for physical therapy jobs or choose to open your own practice. Physical therapists work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, athletic training centers, and schools.

Faisal Rehman
Faisal Rehman

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