Education & Training
To work as a physical therapist, you typically need to:
- have a high school diploma or GED;
- have a bachelor's degree;
- have a master's degree or higher in physical therapy;
- complete an internship; and
- have a license.
Education after high school
Two degrees are available in physical therapy -- master's or doctoral (DPT). The field is moving toward phasing out the master's degree and making the doctorate the standard. However, currently either the master's degree or doctorate will prepare you to work as a physical therapist. You do not need to complete a master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral program. While admissions requirements vary, one of the main requirements for either type of program is a bachelor's degree.
Physical therapy programs take about three years to complete. You take basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics. You also take specialized courses in topics such as biomechanics, exam techniques, and therapy procedures. In addition, you receive supervised clinical experience working with patients.
Many undergraduate majors prepare you for graduate study in physical therapy. Regardless of your major, be sure to take courses in anatomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and humanities.
The military does not provide the initial training for physical therapists. However, it can provide work experience.
Related Programs (Current training programs available)
Fields of Study (What to study to prepare for this career)
Click on any of the Fields of Study listed below to find out more about preparing for this career.
- Athletic Training
- Exercise Physiology
- Exercise Science and Kinesiotherapy
- Massage Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Orthotic and Prosthetic Therapies
- Osteopathic Medicine
- Physical Therapy
- Recreation Therapy
Level of Education
The table below lists the level of education attained by a subset of workers in this occupation. The workers surveyed were between age 25 and 44.
|Education level attained||Percentage of workers in this occupation*|
|Less than high school diploma||0|
|High school diploma or equivalent||1|
|Some college, no degree||2|
|Doctoral (Ph.D.) or professional degree||15|
* National data for physical therapists (SOC 29-1123).
Helpful High School Courses
In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Physical therapists need a strong background in science and math. If possible, take math through Trigonometry and science through Physics.
You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.
Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this occupation include:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Computer Applications
- Health Education
- Introduction to Health Care
The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.
You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.
Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career.
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.