With more health professionals recognizing the importance of physical therapy, many practices and clinics rely on the skills of trained physical therapy assistants. Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) work under the supervision of a physical therapist and assist patients with their daily activities and exercises. They help monitor patient progress, communicate important information to patient’s families, and use techniques like therapeutic massage.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy assistants earn a median salary of $59,770. The highest 10% of PTAs earn a reported $82,470. The BLS also projects that PTAs will encounter a growth rate of 29% between 2019 and 2029, which is considered much faster than average.
Online physical therapy assistant programs make it easy to get your foot in the door. In just two years, you can gain the skills you need to start work in a physical therapy office. And while you can take a lot of your coursework online, you should expect to participate in a certain number of in-person clinical hours.
Discover which schools made our list for 2021 and find the online PTA program that’s right for you.
Best Physical Therapy Assistant Programs Online: 2021
The right online PTA program for any student is the one that best aligns with his or her particular needs, such as work and family obligations, as well as things like ultimate career goals and study preferences. To help begin your school search, we’ve compiled a list of what we believe to be the best physical therapy assistant programs online, based on a number of factors that any program should meet, including comprehensiveness of curriculum, affordability, convenience and flexibility, and more. Review and compare these standout online PTA programs for 2021.
|#||School Name||Type||Cost||Online Programs||More Details||School Information||Online Students||Academic Counseling||Career Placement||Students w/Institutional Aid||Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry||Accreditation|
|1||San Juan CollegeFarmington, NM||Public||$||2|
San Juan College’s Physical Therapist Assistant Associate of Applied Science degree program prepares students for entry-level PTA positions helping patients recover from surgeries, illnesses, and injuries in a range of practice settings. This online program is considered part-time and requires two years (six semesters) to complete. The curriculum features online coursework. However, students must travel to SJC’s Farmington, New Mexico campus to complete lab requirements. Five visits of nine to 16 days each (including weekends) are required, one in each of five consecutive semesters. Additionally, students must complete three (one 4-week and two 7-week) full-time externships at program-approved PT facilities, typically in the student’s local area. Graduates are eligible to sit for the National Physical Examination (NPTE) administered by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Physical Therapist Assistant AAS
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|2||Siena Heights UniversityAdrian, MI||Private, Not-for-Profit||$$$$||1|
Siena Heights University offers a unique “inverted” degree program that allows individuals with a previously-earned physical therapist assistant associate degree to earn a Siena Heights Bachelor of Applied Science degree by applying their associate degree general education and major-specific course credits to their Siena Heights bachelor’s degree. Each student develops his or her individualized course of study with the help of SHU faculty and staff. Students earn the BAS degree by completing additional liberal arts classes and other courses that correspond to their future personal interests and professional goals. A minimum of 30 credit hours must be completed through SHU. All coursework for the BAS degree is completed 100% online.
Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS)
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|3||Pima Medical Institute-TucsonTucson, AZ||#N/A||N/A||1|
Pima Medical Institute in Tucson, Arizona offers a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (BSPTA) completion program designed to allow current physical therapist assistants with a previously-obtained PTA associate degree to earn their bachelor’s degree through 100% online study. Students complete 54 credit hours of PTA-specific and other healthcare-related courses in a range of subjects that include medical terminology, healthcare management, pathophysiology, research methods, and more. The program culminates with a professional capstone project. An additional 66 credit hours earned in the student’s associate degree program are transferred in to make up the remaining credits needed to earn the BS degree.
BS in Physical Therapist Assistant (BSPTA)
|AccreditationAccrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools|
Why Enroll in an Online PTA Program?
Online physical therapy assistant programs have a number of important advantages over the traditional on-campus format. Three of the biggest are:
- Decreased Cost
Tuition costs and program fees for physical therapy assistant programs online are oftentimes less than for their on-campus counterparts, although in a few cases they may be more. Regardless, students are likely to enjoy decreased costs overall when studying online, saving money on travel to and from campus (gas, parking fees, etc.) and other items, like paying for a babysitter.
- Personal Pace
Most programs allow students to access their online classes at times of their own convenience and complete coursework at their own pace.
- No Commute
Along with the cost savings in gas and wear on your vehicle, studying online means no commuting to campus, freeing up time better spent on more important things – like your family and friends.
What to Look for in an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Program
In addition to the elements discussed above, any online PTA program you consider should meet the following foundational qualifications:
The Ins-and-Outs of Online PTA Programs
Online college degree programs are nothing new. They’ve been around now for more than two decades. Nevertheless, earning a degree through distance learning is still a brand new experience to anyone who hasn’t done if before. If that’s you, then it’s crucial to your academic success that you gain a solid understanding of the online education process – as well as the specific requirements of any online PTA program you’re considering – before you sign up. Here are some of the details:
Paying for an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Program
Going after a college degree, even an associate degree, can be expensive. In fact, cost is often the biggest barrier faced by prospective students. Fortunately, PTA students have access to the same financial aid options as anyone else:
Visit EduMed’s Pay Less for Education: How to Take Charge of Your Financial Aid for more on student financial aid opportunities.
Getting Licensed After Your Online PTA Program
As mentioned earlier, you can’t practice as a physical therapist assistant in the U.S. without a license. Licensure of PTAs is handled by regulatory agencies in each individual state, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Specific licensure requirements and procedures vary by jurisdiction, but all mandate that applicants pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to be licensed. Other requirements may include such items as a criminal background check, CPR certification, and payment of a license application processing fee. Some states additionally require applicants to be at least 18 years of age. Also, licensure is good only within the jurisdiction that issues it, so PTAs who work in more than one state, or are planning to move to a new state, must obtain the proper license for that jurisdiction before starting practice. PTA students are advised to become familiar with the licensure process in their jurisdiction as early as possible.
What You’ll Learn in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs Online
Working as a PTA requires a surprisingly broad foundation of knowledge and hands-on skills, all of which will be covered in any quality PTA degree program. Didactic PTA core coursework – typically presented online – will include study in a number of relevant subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, clinical pathology, communication, ethics, neuroscience, and more. Hands-on skills are those that PTA students develop during the in-person components of their degree program (labs, clinicals, practicums, internships) while working directly with patients under the direction of instructors, doctors, and practicing physical therapists.
Below is look at some of the most important qualities and skills students develop in their PTA degree programs. Keep in mind that these skills are meant to ensure competence in professional practice, but more immediately, they prepare the student for passing the NPTE.
Knowledge Gained through Online Coursework
Skills Learned During Hands-on Training
Career Growth, Salary & Outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants
You’ve taken a look at what physical therapist assistants do and it sounds like something you might be interested in. You’ve got a pretty clear idea of what you need to do in terms of education, training, and licensure to get a PTA career going. But what can you expect from your PTA career once you’re in it? A great source of career information for PTAs – or any other career, for that matter – is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And according to the BLS, the job market and expected career growth for PTAs moving forward is quite encouraging, with an estimated increase in PTA employment of 29% between 2019 and 2029. That’s excellent, especially when compared to the expected job growth for healthcare occupations overall (15%).
How Much Do Physical Therapist Assistants Make?
How much any individual earns as a PTA will depend on a number of factors, including geographic location, the type of facility in which they’re employed, and length of time in practice. The tables below offer an earnings snapshot for PTAs in the U.S. using the most recent (May 2020) BLS statistics.
National Wage Estimates: Mean PTA hourly and annual wage estimates by percentile:
Estimated Wages by Industry: Mean PTA hourly and annual wage estimates in the industries with the five highest levels of PTA employment (ranked by employment level):
|Industry||Hourly Wage||Annual Wage|
|Offices of Other Health Practitioners||$27.02||$56,210|
|General Medical and Surgical Hospitals||$26.50||$55,120|
|Nursing Care Facilities||$31.40||$65,320|
|Home Health Care Services||$31.06||$64,600|
Estimated Wages by State: Mean PTA hourly and annual wage estimates for the five states with the highest PTA employment (ranked by employment level):
|State||Hourly Wage||Annual Wage|
What Are the Career Advancement Opportunities for PTAs?
According to the APTA, the vast majority of working physical therapist assistants remain with that career choice within the field of physical therapy, moving up in the profession (and earning more money) by pursuing advanced knowledge and skills in a variety of specialized interests, such as administration and management, education, clinical work, and others. Some choose to obtain the APTA’s PTS Advanced Proficiency Pathways (APP) credential to evidence their advanced professional knowledge and skills. Earning the APP credential requires completion of a series of APTA courses, area-specific proficiency knowledge and skills checks, and mentored clinical experiences with skills checks.
A small percentage (approximately 10%) of PTAs will return to school to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and become physical therapists. PTs review patients’ medical histories, diagnose patients’ physical movements and functions, and evaluate patient progress. They further provide many of the same hands-on therapies as PTAs and supervise PTA treatment of patients. PTs typically earn substantially more than PTAs, with the BLS estimating a mean annual wage of $91,010 for physical therapists nationally.
Learn more about advancing your PTA career with an online Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
Career advancement as a PTA may also mean a change in practice setting, geographic location, or practice focus: