Jul 31, 2023
Physical therapists work closely with individuals of all ages to help them recover from injuries or illnesses by enhancing their movement and managing pain. Although some practicing physical therapists possess a master’s degree, aspiring physical therapists who aim to obtain a license must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Opting to earn a DPT degree online allows you to continue working and building your physical therapy skill set and experience while gaining the necessary expertise to embark on a career as a physical therapist.
The future is bright for physical therapists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 18% projected job growth for physical therapists from 2019 to 2029. This is much faster than average for all occupations. Much of that growth is due to baby boomers who are more active at an advanced age, prevalent chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes that can lead to physical problems, and a higher demand for rehabilitative care after heart attacks, strokes, or other medical events.
But where should I get that education? Which online program is right for me? How much will it cost? How long will it take?
This guide will address these questions and more. Pursuing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree online can help you enter the rapidly growing healthcare field or advance your career from a PT assistant or aide to a licensed physical therapist. With an online DPT degree, you can gain the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve the career you aspire to.
Best Online DPT Programs for 2023
When selecting the ideal online DPT program for you, consider a program that caters to your educational requirements, personal schedule, and career objectives. We have thoroughly evaluated online DPT programs and taken into account various factors that are likely essential to you, such as accreditation, tuition, class size, and flexibility. Below are top-tier schools that provide an excellent representation of the best programs available and can offer insight into what you can expect from such programs.
The University of Southern California hosts a doctorate of physical therapy with flexible learning options. Students can choose the on-campus or hybrid option. For the hybrid option, the amount of time a student spends on campus is customizable. Some students decide to take a mixture of on-campus and online courses, commuting to and from campus on a weekly basis. Other learners take almost all their classes online, combined with a campus immersion experience every semester and in-person clinical training in the student's community. Because of this flexibility, it is possible to complete this degree outside of California. No matter which option a student chooses, the curriculum consists of foundational physical therapy courses, more advanced courses, and campus immersion experiences. Students also complete multiple clinical rotations during the third year of their degree, which can help them decide what type of physical therapy job they wish to pursue after graduating.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Credits: 130
- Length: 3 years
- Cost: $1,626/credit
- Mode: Hybrid or Fully Online
- Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission
Working clinicians who want to get their physical therapy doctorate should consider the program from the College of Saint Scholastica. It's one of the fastest programs in the country, giving those who already have experience in the field the ability to get their DPT in one to two years. The curriculum consists of six courses: pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, health care policy, differential diagnosis, evidence-based practice, and clinical experience. All classes are offered online in a flexible format, which suits many work schedules. To enroll in the program, applicants need to have a previous degree in physio or physical therapy. Often, successful applicants also have work experience and are employed in the field while getting their DPT. This makes it easier to get the clinical hours needed for licensure in some states, since the program doesn't require or facilitate clinical rotations.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Credits: 16
- Length: 1-2 years
- Cost: $775/credit
- Mode: Online
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Baylor University offers a comprehensive, two-year DPT program. The curriculum includes foundational courses which can be taken online, blended courses with an in-person lab component and an online didactic component, and in-person clinical rotations. The rotations occur in the final year of the program and can take place at an approved site near the student or near campus. Course subjects include human anatomy, clinical research, and pediatric physical therapy. There is no option for electives, as all courses are predetermined by the program. The program has a flat fee per trimester, which is currently $18,334.00, or about $763 per credit. Successful applicants should possess a bachelor's degree in a related subject and successful completion of prerequisite courses. Submission of GRE scores is also required to apply.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Credits: 127
- Length: 2 years
- Cost: $763/credit
- Mode: Hybrid
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Arcadia University offers a transitional DPT program for those who already work in the field or for international students who hold an equivalent degree in their country but need to be credentialed in the United States. Coursework consists of 18 credits of foundational and more advanced courses. Students with master's or previous graduate experience can waive up to six credits, shortening the length of the degree. All classes are held online and they combine asynchronous videos and weekly synchronous class times. The asynchronous portion provides students with more control over when and how they learn while the weekly live sessions provide a touchpoint to ask faculty any questions. Successful applicants need proof of graduation from an accredited physical therapy program or proof of an equivalent degree in another country.
Doctorate of Physical Therapy
- Credits: 18-22
- Length: 2 years
- Cost: $815/credit
- Mode: Online
- Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
Utica University hosts a transitional DPT program designed for licensed physical therapists who already have a bachelor's and master's degree but would like to expand their education and career opportunities with a doctorate. Because students already have significant experience in the field, this DPT program is one of the fastest available, with students graduating in as little as sixteen months. Along with foundational coursework, students can choose electives in areas such as sports and fitness, pediatric care, geriatric care, orthopedics, and spinal rehabilitation. For added flexibility, all courses are online with live class sessions to answer any questions and asynchronous class portions students can complete whenever it works for their specific schedule. This program also counts as continuing education credits for those looking to renew their PT license.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Credits: 18-19
- Length: 16 months
- Cost: $785/credit
- Mode: Online
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Highlighting Another Top Online DPT Program
Tufts University School of Medicine
The accelerated, hybrid education model of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Tufts University uses a blend of face-to-face live class sessions, virtual learning strategies, and blended immersive events on campus to prepare students for their path after graduation. Completion of the two-year program requires a service-learning project and interprofessional educational activities with other programs in the Tufts School of Medicine. The program meets the licensure requirements for physical therapists in all 50 states.
- Students can opt for clinical training lasting 31 weeks at three different sites nationwide or can opt for a 23-week internship option.
- Tuition is charged by the semester rather than by the credit. The cost is $18,334 per semester. Technology and other fees are also charged.
Benefits of Earning Your DPT Online
Choosing to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree online provides several benefits that extend beyond potential time and cost savings. The flexibility offered by online programs can be a significant advantage, as well as the opportunity to personalize your degree. Let’s take a look at a few of the benefits of earning your DPT online:
Potentially lower cost.
In addition to the lack of a commute, which is an automatic money-saver, there’s also the fact that many schools charge a flat rate for online students or allow students to take courses at the in-state rate, no matter where they live. This can cut thousands on the cost of tuition. In addition, you may save on supplies like textbooks, which may be online, and parking or gym fees, since as an online student, you aren’t using those services.
Convenience for busy schedules.
Many programs can be completed in three years, but some schools allow you to extend you program if necessary. Perhaps you want to take one class at a time or attend part-time. However, keep in mind that some programs cap how many years you can be in the program, so make sure all your requirements are done by the time dictated by the school and/or program.
Online learning can be a valuable opportunity for individuals seeking to expand their career prospects but lack the time to attend traditional in-person classes. As online learning continues to grow in popularity, you will have more choices among schools offering the DPT degree. However, it is essential to comprehend the reality of how online education works.
Types of Online DPT Programs
Professions like physical therapy demand a significant amount of hands-on work, and as a result, the doctoral program in physical therapy will necessitate some hands-on training. This is true even if you are enrolled in “fully online” courses. The amount of hands-on training required and where it can be conducted varies depending on the program. Therefore, it is critical to research the programs that interest you to determine if their requirements align with your busy schedule. Here are the two types of online programs you might encounter:
Timeline: Doctorate of Physical Therapy Online
In general, a full-time student can complete the DPT degree online in approximately three years. Some programs offer fast-track options, where accelerated coursework leads to the DPT in two years. Conversely, there is also the option of taking classes at a slower pace, completing them one at a time, and essentially attending school part-time. Part-time study can extend the program to four years or more, depending on the program’s policies. It is important to note that not all programs permit part-time study. Here is a typical timeline for a three-year program:
Each online DPT program is different; one might have certain requirements that another doesn’t, and one might offer electives that you can’t find at other schools. It’s important to study each program’s curriculum to ensure it meets your career goals. If you’re not sure, talk to an academic advisor at the school to ensure you’re getting exactly what you need from your education.
Online DPT Learning Outcomes
No matter which online DPT program you choose, there will be some elements that are the same in all programs. Physical therapists who hold the doctor of physical therapy degree must have a highly specialized base of knowledge and skills, and each DPT program is dedicated to ensuring students have those important elements upon graduation. While each program might have a different structure, different course names, and even different requirements for how you get your clinical hours, the learning outcomes will be similar across the board. Here are some of the crucial learning outcomes you should expect to receive in a DPT program.
Written and oral communication is absolutely critical for any healthcare professional, but it can be especially pertinent for physical therapists, who must instruct their patients on the best way to perform exercises and continue care at home. This might take the form of writing out instructions, drawing pictures, explaining complicated concepts in simple language, and more.
Informed decision making.
When faced with a new patient, a physical therapist will need to look at the patient’s history, their current situation, what they can handle in the form of exercise and movement, and make informed decisions based on the information they have.
Professional and ethical behavior.
This is an essential learning objective of any healthcare profession, and it’s emphasized in the DPT program also. The standards of professional and ethical behavior include interactions, behavior, and communications with patients, staff, other PTs, and other in the healthcare profession.
Critical thinking and reasoning.
What if a certain exercise regimen isn’t working? What if a patient suddenly takes a turn for the worse? Critical thinking about the exercises and movements a patient is doing, and reasoning about their situation in the clinic, hospital rehabilitation facility, or even at home, can help you create new paths for them that will result in improvement.
Strong collaborative relationship skills.
Physical therapists work closely with patients, but they also work with care teams consisting of doctors, nurses, therapists of all kinds, family members, and others who might care for the patient. It’s important to be able to collaborate across many areas in order to ensure the best outcome for the patient.
Specialization in Physical Therapy: Where Should You Devote Your Energy?
Physical therapy can be useful for patients of all ages, from older folks who have suffered illness or injury to newborns who need help working with their large motor skills well before they are able to even roll over. Such a wide range of patients with a large variety of needs means that physical therapists can specialize in what interests them. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties recognizes 10 specialty areas in physical therapy, including:
Accreditation & Online DPT Programs
When seeking out the best DPT program, either online or on campus, it’s important to look at the accreditation status of the school or program. Accreditation means the school or program has been evaluated by an independent accrediting body and found to meet the high standards of a quality education.
There are two main types of accreditation: regional and programmatic. Regional accreditation is earned by a school as a whole. Most school websites will make their accreditation status clear, but if you’re uncertain whether a school has earned accreditation, you can find out for sure through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. While the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t directly accredit schools, it does oversee the accrediting bodies responsible for accreditation at the institutional level.
Programmatic accreditation, also called professional accreditation, focuses on the program itself. When choosing an accredited online doctor in physical therapy program, it’s important to make sure it has earned accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This helps ensure your DPT program meets the standards necessary for your degree to be taken seriously in your field.
Applying to a DPT Program Online
When applying to a doctoral program, you’ll see certain things across applications, no matter the subject. Most schools will ask for your GPA from previous college work, letters of recommendation, a written essay or personal statement, and more. When it comes to earning the doctor of physical therapy online, your program might require you to use the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). This allows you to use one application process to apply to several physical therapy programs at once. Some schools will look for certain points in that application, including:
Tuition & Fees
Pursuing a DPT program can be a significant financial investment. However, online learning may save you some money. This is because tuition may be offered at a flat rate for online students, or you may be eligible to pay in-state tuition, which can be significantly lower than out-of-state tuition fees. Moreover, practical considerations such as the absence of commuting expenses, parking fees, and facility fees can also result in savings. However, it is essential to note that online learning requires up-to-date technology, including a laptop and a reliable internet connection, which can entail additional expenses.
Let’s take a look at some tuition figures you might encounter when seeking your doctor of physical therapy online program.
Note: Keep in mind that the “sticker price” of tuition is not necessarily the bottom line. There are ways to bring that number down, including scholarships, grants, fellowships, tuition reimbursement programs, employer reimbursement, and more. Because there are so many potential ways to change that bottom line, never hesitate to reach out to a financial aid advisor and learn about the options available for your particular situation. You can also check out our guide to scholarships and grants to see what’s available and how to apply.
Salaries for Doctorate of PT Earners
If you’re a PT assistant thinking of earning your DPT, you’ll want to see these numbers. Physical therapists with a DPT made an average of $71,176, according to Payscale.com, while PT assistants made a bit over $50,000 on average per year. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a potential higher salary for physical therapists of up to $124,740 for top earners. While it’s important to remember that earning a degree is not a guarantee for a specific job title or salary, PayScale reports the following salaries and job titles for professionals who have earned the doctorate in physical therapy.