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Top Physical Therapy Schools in the United States

Physical therapists use therapeutic techniques and equipment to treat patients suffering from injuries or chronic issues. They often also specialize in areas such as sports therapy or orthopedics and can help patients recover from surgery.

Physical therapists must master certain sciences, including biomechanics and physiology, and complete a bachelor’s degree before pursuing a doctorate-level physical therapy program and earning a DPT. Below, you’ll find the top schools for physical therapy.

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1. Rice University

Located in Houston, Texas, the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University offers a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and exercise physiology, during which students take courses such as human physiology, sports injury, motor learning and exercise physiology.

Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and reviews, Rice University ranks at the top for best colleges for physical therapy in the United States. The acceptance rate is 11 percent with an SAT range of 1460 to 1570. According to Niche, tuition at Rice costs an average of $19,215 per year after financial aid.

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2. University of Southern California

A highly rated private university, USC is located in the heart of Los Angeles. The USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy offers both master’s and doctoral programs.

The physical therapy PhD program is ranked among the top in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. It offers a blend of online and on-campus learning to support individual student needs and goals. Over six semesters and two summer terms, students learn about musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and neurological disorders and complete clinic rotations in state-of-the-art teaching hospitals and laboratories.

USC admissions are competitive, with an overall admissions rate of 11 percent. The average net tuition costs are $37,759 per year. Deferred payment plans can be an option, or talk to Student Financial Services about the USC Payment Plan which enables students to pay tuition in monthly installments.

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3. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor is a large public university located in Ann Arbor. Its highly successful DPT program boasts a 100 percent graduation and employment rate.

During the program, students gain knowledge and hands-on skills by working in community service activities and a pro bono student-run physical therapy clinic. Students complete 120 credit hours of coursework in areas such as biomechanics, medical and surgical conditions, geriatrics and examination and practice. Studies can be completed over three years, or students can opt for part-time studies to balance personal and professional obligations.

Acceptance rates are competitive at 26 percent, and the average tuition cost after grants and scholarships is $17,832 per year.

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4. University of Virginia

Located in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia is a public university offering a master’s program in exercise science. It’s ranked fourth for best colleges for kinesiology and physical therapy in the United States.

Over two years, students take courses such as exercise physiology, exercise principles for health and chronic disease and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. Following graduation, students are prepared to pursue clinic or research careers or apply for a DPT program elsewhere.

The University of Virginia costs about $19,043 per year in tuition and fees after financial aid. The acceptance rate is 26 percent, and students typically have an SAT score between 1320 and 1510.

5. University of Miami

Ranked fifth for best colleges for kinesiology and physical therapy in the United States, the University of Miami’s Department of Physical Therapy offers a DPT program over 36 months. Students complete 107 credits in courses such as human gait and locomotion, prosthetics and orthotics, neurorehabilitation, and management of the spine.

University of Miami’s overall acceptance rate is 33 percent, and the DPT program has a 97.5 percent graduation rate and 100 percent employment rate. The average yearly net tuition is $31,726.

6. University of Delaware

The University of Delaware offers a full-time, 2.5-year DPT program as well as other postgraduate and physical therapy programs. Students participate in courses such as evaluation techniques, clinical neurosciences, electrotherapy, and rehabilitation. They also get hands-on experience working at on-site physical therapy clinics.

The DPT program has a 96 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of graduates have passed the licensing examination. The university’s acceptance rate is 71 percent, and the average net tuition cost per year is $19,747. Tuition rates for the DPT program average at $1,250 per credit hour.

7. University of Pittsburgh

Offered over a seven-term curriculum, the University of Pittsburgh’s DPT program is delivered in either a traditional on-campus or hybrid remote learning format. Core areas of study include cardiopulmonary, integumentary, neuromuscular, and musculoskeletal systems, which students learn through classroom learning and clinical placements.

Admissions to the University of Pittsburgh is somewhat selective with an acceptance rate of 64 percent. Students generally have an SAT score between 1250 and 1420. The net tuition average cost per year is $22,346.

8. University of Iowa

The University of Iowa’s DPT program consistently ranks high among physical therapy programs in the United States. The program delivers baccalaureate degree study and clinical experiences over 2.5 years.

Course content includes health promotion and wellness, professional issues and ethics, pediatric physical therapy, and faculty-supervised group research projects. Students also have the option to pursue both a DPT and research-based physical therapy doctorate.

The university has an overall acceptance rate of 84 percent, but only 48 students are enrolled in the DPT program every July. The net tuition is $17,452, and they offer around 120 scholarships for students each year.

9. Duke University

The U.S. News & World Report ranked Duke University’s DPT program seventh among 244 other programs. Students complete two years of full-time courses on topics including pain science, adaptive technologies, and cultural determinants of health. Clinical education also provides students with the opportunity to develop clinical and patient care skills under practitioner supervision.

Duke is notoriously exclusive, with an acceptance rate of only eight percent. DPT students, however, have a 100 percent rate for graduation, licensure pass and employment. The average net cost per year is $26,932, but the DPT program tuition is $38,000 per year before financial aid.

10. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis ties for first on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the best DPT programs. Students complete a combination of classroom and clinical learning over two years and eight months of full-time training.

The university’s program focuses on four distinct phases, including learning as a professional, promoting health through movement, optimizing movement, and practicing as a professional. Students complete specific courses in orthopedic and neurology medicine, exercise physiology, professional development, and clinical skills.

Admission is selective, with an acceptance rate of 16 percent. Net tuition is $27,233 per year, but the DPT program tuition is $21,602 per academic semester as of 2021.

11. University of Florida

Located in Gainesville, the University of Florida offers a DPT program endorsed by the American Physical Therapy Association. Over eight semesters of study, students complete full-time clinical internships and part-time integrated clinical experiences.

The curriculum first establishes a strong background in biological, kinesiological and behavioral science. Then, it builds into evidence-based, logical, and collaborative training.

The University of Florida’s Department of Physical Therapy is ranked seventh on Niche and 6th on the U.S. News & World Report. The university has a competitive admissions acceptance rate of 31 percent, and annual tuition and fees are $22,721.

12. Boston University

Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences offers a three-year, full-time DPT program with 44 weeks of clinical experience. The curriculum covers topics such as the neurological system, musculoskeletal system, pediatrics and health promotion and wellness.

The average net tuition at Boston University is $29,154 per year, but the estimated tuition cost for the DPT program is $61,050 per year before financial aid. Approximately 20 percent of applicants are admitted to Boston University, and the average SAT score of students ranges from 1310 to 1500.

13. Northern Arizona University

Northern Arizona University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy is a nationally ranked program designed for students looking for an accelerated program. With a 100 percent graduation rate, students can look forward to completing the program in 2.5 years with 98 credit hours on one of their two campuses – Flagstaff Mountain or Phoenix Biomedical.

During the 28 months of study, students will take classes on clinical anatomy, therapeutic exercise, and neurophysiological therapeutics, among other areas of specialization. Students can also participate in a clinical internship to round out their experience. 

Tuition for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program varies by campus, but the estimated total cost of the program is $55,639, or around $9,125 per semester before grants and scholarships.

Why Become a Physical Therapist?

There are a number of reasons students may be interested in becoming a physical therapist. Many are interested in helping athletes, while some may want a career that provides a flexible schedule and the ability to travel.

Here are just a few other reasons:

  • Variety of Practice Settings: Physical therapists aren’t just limited to a clinic, or a small town. 
  • Hands-on Patient Recovery: From chronic pain to minor injuries, physical therapists work directly with patients to improve their day-to-day life.
  • Job Growth: The BLS is estimating a 21 percent job increase between 2020 and 2030.

While there are many good reasons someone would consider a career in physical therapy, salary is often something to consider. While the median salary for physical therapists is $91,010, some therapists make as much as $106,060.

Physical Therapy Grants and Scholarships

Pursuing post-secondary education for physical therapy can be expensive. To help cut down on costs, prospective students can apply for grants and scholarships, giving them the freedom to focus on their studies rather than stressing over funds.

To help, some physical therapy grants worth considering are:

  • Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) Grants: FPTR offers multiple grants to fund physical therapy research. The amount offered from each grant ranges between $40,000 and $100,000.
  • NATA Research & Education Foundation Research Grant Programs: NATA offers funding to foundation members that wish to pursue a masters or doctoral degree through their research grant programs. Each program provides funding for one year to the amount of $1,000 for masters students and $2,500 for doctoral students.
  • NSCA Foundation Grants: NSCA provides money towards research on strength and conditioning across all levels of education. Grants start at $7,500 and go up to $30,000.

Some scholarships that you should look into are:

  • HIE Help Center Scholarship for Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapy Students: Awards $1,000 to an undergraduate or graduate student pursuing a degree in physical, occupational, or speech therapy.
  • Challenge Scholarship: Awards $2,000 towards tuition costs for NSCA members pursuing undergraduate or graduate studies in a strength and conditioning-related field.
  • Minority Scholarship Award: Awards $5,000 to minority physical therapy students and $3,000 to minority physical therapist assistant students that are in their final year of study.

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