What Are the Different Types of Physical Therapy Degree Programs?

Helen Akers

Physical therapy degree programs are available at multiple levels, with some programs resulting in the completion of two degrees at once. The common types of physical therapy degrees include associate's, bachelor's, master's, and certificate degrees. Online diplomas and degrees are additional options for professionals who want to earn more advanced credentials while continuing to gain work experience. Most of the degree programs or certificates, regardless of level, can take at least two years to finish.

There are various types of physical therapy degrees.
There are various types of physical therapy degrees.

Those seeking to enter the field without any prior education might pursue an associate's degree. It is one of the types of physical therapy degree programs that can help students acquire basic knowledge about the practice, including concepts related to science and medicine. Internship experiences are often part of many physical therapy degree programs, even at the associate's level, due to the high intensity of hands-on experience that is required in the job. Associate's degrees in physical therapy also include courses related to general knowledge, such as history and cultural studies.

Physical therapy degree programs often educate students in both general knowledge and physical therapy courses.
Physical therapy degree programs often educate students in both general knowledge and physical therapy courses.

Bachelor's degrees are the next level of education for aspiring physical therapists. Options to complete a bachelor's and a master's in the discipline may be available, depending upon the college or university. These types of physical therapy degree programs tend to educate students in both general knowledge and physical therapy courses. One of the advantages to obtaining a bachelor's over an associate's is the ability to qualify for a wider range of positions with potential employers.

Physical therapists in all US states must be licensed.
Physical therapists in all US states must be licensed.

Advanced degree options may come in the form of a master's degree, master's certificate, or doctorate. With these types of physical therapy degrees, individuals focus specifically on topics and courses related to the practice. Many of these programs offer courses that help get a student ready for a professional license exam that may be required in order to obtain employment in certain geographical areas. At an advanced level, concentration in a specific area of physical therapy tends to be common, such as sport injury rehabilitation.

Some physical therapists may specialize in geriatrics.
Some physical therapists may specialize in geriatrics.

Online physical therapy degree programs are often targeted towards individuals who are already working as therapists. Specialized knowledge in a certain aspect of sports medicine or injury recovery may be needed. These degree types are also well suited for those who already have a bachelor's or master's degree and are seeking more advanced credentials, such as a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Sometimes labeled as transitional or post-professional programs, these degrees may be largely self-designed and allow a practicing therapist to further develop his expertise.

Many practitioners earn a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or physical education before continuing on to graduate school.
Many practitioners earn a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or physical education before continuing on to graduate school.

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