Physical therapists facilitate recovery and prevention in patients struck by debilitating injuries and illness. To practice with a license, a professional physical therapist needs a graduate degree. Beginning in 2018, the required degree will be the DPT, or Doctor of Physical Therapy, a three-year professional doctorate. Physical therapy (PT) students should attend a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
PT education is highly variable. There are garden-variety programs that churn out graduates without much fanfare. And there are the nation’s best physical therapy schools, offering top-notch research opportunities and clinical experiences that prepare students for the most competitive job markets. Here are the top graduate programs for launching a successful and satisfying career in physical therapy, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report. Each of these schools is fully accredited.
1. University of Southern California
A top-ranked national university in Los Angeles, California, the University of Southern California (USC) is a private school in one of the largest cities in America. It’s just two miles from downtown Los Angeles, an area with abundant post-graduate venues and above-average salaries for PTs. The Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy offers sought-after studies in areas like kinesiology and sports medicine. USC requires more clinical hours than most other PT schools. A large number of students apply for admission to the DPT program each year, driving a selective acceptance rate around 8 percent. USC is one of the most expensive schools; the total cost of attendance is about $187,000.
2. University of Delaware
In the small town of Newark, a mile south of the tripoint where Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania meet, the University of Delaware (UD) is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the U.S. It is a wealthy, research-intensive public school with an extra-large endowment. Kiplinger has called Delaware a great value for in-state and out-of-state students, who pay about $19,000 and $27,000 a year, respectively. UD hosts the top outpatient PT clinic in the state, and has highly-published faculty in the areas of kinesiology and exercise science. The University of Delaware seeks applicants with more than 100 hours of observation in a physical therapy work setting.
3. University of Pittsburgh
The Pennsylvania-based public University of Pittsburgh (UP) is a good choice for a comprehensive yet fast-paced education in physical therapy. Located in the large multicultural city of Pittsburgh, the Department of Physical Therapy has a small student-faculty ratio, high graduation rates, and diverse clinical experience and research opportunities. The University of Pittsburgh’s DPT requires three times as many clinical experience hours as most other programs on this list. To help students meet these benchmarks, the school partners with the distinguished UP Medical Center and its Centers for Rehab Services, with specialty clinics in areas like sports medicine and neurologic physical therapy.
4. Washington University at St. Louis
A private, non-profit option in Missouri, Washington University at St. Louis (WUSTL) is number 14 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top national universities. The School of Medicine hosts the Program in Physical Therapy, which offers the DPT and a Ph.D. in Movement Science. Washington University at St. Louis students have ready access to the BJC Health Care System and its two teaching hospitals. Full-time faculty are respected leaders in the APTA. The DPT costs up to $150,000 for in-state and out-of-state students. Admissions requires a bachelor’s degree. While clinical observation is not required for admission, WUSTL recommends 150 to 200 hours.
5. U.S. Army–Baylor University
Located at the Fort Sam Houston base in San Antonio, Texas, the joint U.S. Army–Baylor University Doctoral Program in Physical Therapy is for students who plan to enlist in the armed services with their enrollment. Once a prospective therapist begins the Doctoral Program, they are committed to nearly 7 year of active-duty military service, counting the 2+ years of doctoral training. It’s one of the shortest PT curricula around. The Program features guaranteed post-graduation job placement, $40k+ salaries and benefits for students. The military pays all tuition and fees. One hundred clinical observation hours are required for admission. Admissions does not use the PTCAS system.
6. University of Iowa
A public school in mid-sized Iowa City in eastern Iowa, the University of Iowa is considered a ‘Public Ivy’ due to its academic rigor, research facilities, and extensive clinical opportunities for DPT students. The second-highest ranking public school for Physical Therapy, the University of Iowa’s Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science is an integral part of its internationally recognized Carver College of Medicine. There is a DPT and Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science on offer. Students enjoy a 100 percent first-time pass rate of the national licensure exam.
7. Emory University
A private research school in the Southern city of Atlanta, Georgia, Emory University is known for its strong liberal arts emphasis, academic excellence, and well-rounded professional training. The Division of Physical Therapy in Emory’s renowned School of Medicine has a small student-to-faculty ratio of 1:8, lengthy clinical curriculum, and noteworthy focus on international health. Despite the University’s large student body, the Division limits class sizes to preserve individualized attention. Emory is one of the few schools in the nation offering dual-degree programs for DPTs. Possible combos include the DPT-MBA and DPT-Master of Public Health (MPH).
8. MGH Institute of Health Professions
The MGH Institute of Health Professions (MGHIHP) is a small, private graduate school in Boston, Massachusetts with special focus on professional medical training. Located in the West End neighborhood of Boston, MGH was founded by the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital. It is known for providing Physical Therapy students with a vast and unique array of clinical practice opportunities. The School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences on the Boston campus features state-of-the-art rehab and simulation laboratory spaces, plus pro-bono rehab centers for student training. MGHIHP offers the only paid, one-year clinical internship in the U.S. Its tuition is fairly high at $36,000 a year.
9. Northwestern University
Based in small-town Evanston, a few miles north of Chicago, Northwestern University in Illinois is a highly-regarded private research institution and boasts one of the highest endowments in the nation. Northwestern University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine is the oldest PT school in the country. As part of the Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, the program reflects the larger institution’s vibrant student life and longtime heritage as a research powerhouse. Most of Northwestern’s DPT candidates generate research that is selected for presentation at national physical therapy association and scientific society conferences.
10. University of Miami
The University of Miami is found in the Coral Gables suburb of Miami, a global city with a humming economy. In Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, called UHealth, the Department of Physical Therapy has a small program with a low student-faculty ratio of 1:5. The Department offers the DPT and a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy. Students here make use facilities like the University of Miami Hospital and Kendall Professional Building. Student-friendly clinics in Miami’s healthcare network treat patients through a range of specialties, including sports, manual, cardiopulmonary, osteoporosis, and lymphedema rehabilitation. Miami’s admissions are relatively open at 40 percent.