What to Expect from an Online Physical Therapy Degree

There are a variety of opportunities in the field of physical therapy to assist disabled, injured, or chronically ill patients and to improve their health and daily lives. Physical therapists work with patients to increase their mobility and decrease pain, while occupational therapists identify ways to reduce risks in patient environments and provide strategies to ease everyday tasks.

With baby boomers aging and more disabled patients choosing to live independently, the need for qualified professionals in the field of physical therapy is on the rise. Physical therapy degrees are available across all levels, but doctorate degree programs are the most common (they are required for practicing physical therapists). Other specialists can obtain employment with lower degrees, and many are opting to earn their physical therapy degree online.

As a physical therapist, you will work closely with patients experiencing pain and discomfort, so you must be compassionate and caring. You should be physically strong, so you can bend, stand on your feet, and move almost constantly as you demonstrate exercises and assist your patients. Good communication and listening skills are necessary, along with a keen attention to detail.

If you’re interested in helping others through the rewarding field of physical therapy, read on. Our guide offers details on jobs options in physical therapy, and the online physical therapy degrees you’ll need to reach your career goals.

Meet our expert

Read More

Vivian Eisenstadt M.A.P.T. Physical Therapy

“Keep yourself in good physical shape and mental shape, as physical therapists’ bodies take a lot of pounding and emotional pressure as well.”

Online Physical Therapy Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Bachelor's N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Master's $22,577 6.56% 2 years $65,496 $77,977 1.8%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Online physical therapy degrees are a popular option for students seeking to start or advance careers in the physical therapy field. While an associate degree can jumpstart a career as a physical therapist assistant, many choose to pursue advanced degrees. A doctorate is required of physical therapists, and dual degree programs exist to reach this career level in less time. Unemployment rates in the physical therapy field are extremely low, and job opportunities continue to rise because of an aging population and continuous need to care for those with disabilities and chronic diseases.

Online Physical Therapy Degrees

/

Online Associate’s Degree in Physical Therapy

A physical therapy degree at the associate level provides entry into the field as a physical therapist assistant (physical therapist aides can typically gain employment with a high school diploma, but have less responsibility). Earning an associate degree and gaining employment is valuable toward determining whether the field is the right fit. If it is, the foundation toward earning higher degrees and continuing a career path is already laid. This degree level offers a variety of physical therapy degree online programs.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Physical Therapist Assistant Techniques, Therapeutic Exercise, Administrative Procedures, Anatomy, and Rehabilitation

  • COMMON MAJORS

    There are no majors at this degree level, but the degree is typically an associate in applied science – physical therapist assistant

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $42,980 per year

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    Between 2014 and 2024, the demand for physical therapist assistants and aides is expected to grow by 40%. This is due to an aging population and health maintenance for those with chronic diseases.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy

Earning a physical therapy bachelor’s degree online assists with career advancement for physical therapist assistants by providing managerial opportunities. In addition, this degree is required for employment as recreational therapists. There are fewer bachelor’s degree programs available than other degree levels, as higher degrees are required for employment as a physical therapist. Some institutions offer dual degree programs that result in earning both bachelor of science and doctor of physical therapy degrees.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Pharmacology, Advanced Orthopedic, Nutrition Science, Biology for Health Studies, and Exercise Physiology

  • COMMON MAJORS

    BS degrees are awarded in physical therapist assistant, health studies, and biology majors

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Recreational Therapists

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $45,890 per year

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    The job market for recreational therapists will increase by 12% between 2014 and 2024 as a result of the aging baby boomer population.

Online Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy

Pursuing a master’s in physical therapy online is vital to securing employment as educators, researchers, and occupational therapists. It also prepares students for leadership roles such as business owners in the physical therapy field. Like bachelor’s degree programs, options for this degree level are limited. Many opt to advance to the doctorate level in this field, so dual degree physical therapy degree programs resulting in graduates holding both master’s and doctorates are more common.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Gross Anatomy, Integrated Assessment Skills, Anatomy and Cell Biology Neuroscience for Rehabilitation Sciences, Business and Entrepreneurship in Physical Therapy, and Physical Therapy in Acute Care Settings

  • COMMON MAJORS

    This degree doesn’t require majors, but is awarded as a master of physical therapy (MPT)

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Occupational Therapists

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $80,150 annually

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    The job market for occupational therapists is expected to increase by 27% between 2014 and 2024, as the need to improve the daily lives of individuals with disabilities and chronic conditions grows.

Online Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy

A physical therapy degree at the doctorate level has swiftly become the most popular degree in the field. It is required for employment as a physical therapist, so many are pursuing it via dual degree programs with lower degree levels (either bachelor’s or master’s). Alternatively, students advance to the doctor of physical therapy program after earning a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or a related field. Earning an online physical therapy degree for a doctorate is becoming more common, and there are many programs available.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Differential Diagnosis and Medical Screening, Motor Control, Diagnostic Imaging, Prevention and Wellness, and Clinical Decision Making

  • COMMON MAJORS

    DPT (doctor of physical therapy)

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Physical Therapist

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $84,020 per year

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    Employment opportunities for physical therapists will grow 34% between 2014 and 2024, as baby boomers age and those with chronic conditions and diseases require care.

Online Physical Therapy Choose Your Career

Average Physical Therapy Salaries

$45,890
$42,980
$80,150
$84,020

Recreational Therapists

Salary: $45,890
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
12% 18,600 Bachelor's Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

Recreational therapists assist individuals with illnesses or disabilities by planning and executing treatment plans and programs. These can include social outings, arts and crafts, sports, music, water/swimming exercises, and more. Recreational therapists also provide their patients with strategies for reducing stress and improving independence. These therapists have natural leadership skills, are excellent listeners and communicators, and are sincerely compassionate and caring individuals. Patience and understanding are also important qualities in this role. Earning a physical therapy bachelor’s degree online will advance career entry.

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Salary: $42,980
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
40% 128,700 Associates State license

Physical therapist assistants and aides work closely with physical therapists. They provide some direct care to patients, including certain exercises, stretching, and massage techniques, along with reporting of patient progress to physical therapists. They also set up equipment, move patients to and from therapy areas, clean, and schedule appointments. Successful physical therapist assistants and aides have empathy for others, are good communicators, and are physically strong (due to the position’s demand for constant physical activity). Many choose to pursue a physical therapy degree online to enter this profession.

Occupational Therapists

Salary: $80,150
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
27% 114,600 Masters Board certified

Occupational therapists assist disabled, elderly, or injured patients with improving their daily lives. This can include recommending removal of objects that pose fall risks for elderly patients, teaching others how to use wheelchairs, or making a disabled child’s classroom more accessible. Patient and home evaluations, treatment plan development, caregiver/family education, and hands-on patient assistance are required. Occupational therapists are patient, flexible, compassionate, and have excellent communication and writing skills. A master’s in physical therapy online will provide the education necessary for this career path.

Physical Therapist

Salary: $84,020
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
34% 210,900 Doctorate Licensed by state

Physical therapists are compassionate, resourceful, and active individuals. They work to improve the health and well-being of their patients, whether due to an injury, medical incident (like a stroke), or debilitating disease. Physical therapists must diagnose their patients, develop treatment plans, and improve mobility with exercises, stretching, massage, and/or equipment. They evaluate their patients throughout their recoveries, adjust treatment plans as needed, and communicate regularly with patients and their families. Physical therapy degrees at the required doctorate level for this position are available 100% online.

Online Physical Therapy Degree in Action

Vivian Eisenstadt M.A.P.T. Physical Therapy

Vivian Eisenstadt is an orthopedic and sports physical therapist working at Vivie Therapy in LA. She earned her master’s in physical therapy and an orthopedic specialization from Touro College in New York.

When and why did you begin pursuing a career in physical therapy?

I was an athlete. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life when I hit college, so I became a phys. ed major. My athletic training instructor took us on a class trip to an outpatient orthopedic Physical Therapy Center and the lightbulb went off. I went back to school and went straight to the HR office to find out what courses to take for pre-PT and that was that.

What were the most important skills you gained or built upon while earning your master's degree?

I was told "know your anatomy" and you can figure everything out, so I really worked on my knowledge of the muscles, where they are located, where the pain radiate from trigger points and which nerves innervate different muscles and parts of the skin (dermatomes and myotomes).

What's the most rewarding part of a career like this? And the most challenging?

Rewarding -- getting people out of pain and back to their lives. Most challenging -- working with the insurance system and payment issues. People don't have good insurance any more, and believe that because they pay insurance that physical therapy should be free. You don't think about that with a personal trainer or cosmetologist, but because physical therapy is under the medical umbrella, people don't want to pay for it.

What type of person is a good fit to become a physical therapist?

[They should be] empathetic; patient; good with figuring out causes and not symptoms; loving; caring; did I mention patient?

What advice would you give to students considering earning a degree in physical therapy?

Do something because it lights you up and the money will come. Don't go into physical therapy because you just want the money. You have to love what you do. Keep yourself in good physical shape and mental shape, as physical therapists' bodies take a lot of pounding and emotional pressure as well.

Online Physical Therapy Professional Requirements

State Licensure

State licensure is required in all 50 states for physical therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapist assistants. This entails passing the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Additional licensing requirements vary by state and can include a law exam and criminal background check. Continuing education is required to retain state licensure.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

5.5 hours

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam is required for occupational therapists nationwide to refer to themselves as “Occupational Therapist, Registered.” Eligibility for the exam includes a degree from an accredited college program and fieldwork. Continuing education is necessary to retain certification.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

4 hours

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist

The National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification administers an exam that results in a designation of Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. A combination of education, work or internship experience, and the exam is required. Certification is available in five practice areas. To maintain certification, continuing education is necessary.

Is it required?

Varies by state

How long will it take?

Maximum 3 hours