Getting into Your Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) Program: An Admissions Guide

Want to start working in the physical therapy field quickly? Learn what it takes to get into a physical therapy assistant program and earn your credentials in as little as two years.

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Written By

James Mielke

- Bio

James Mielke is a freelance writer currently based in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to higher education topics, other areas of research and writing include food history, cooking, dining, and golf. James has a history degree from Belmont University and is an unapologetic fan of the Grateful Dead.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2021
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for physical therapy assistants is projected to grow by 32% between 2020-2030. With a median salary of nearly $50,000 annually, earning a physical therapy assistant (PTA) associate degree allows graduates to enter a rapidly growing field bolstered by competitive wages. So, what’s the first step in jumpstarting this your new medical career?

With so many available education programs, it’s key to understand what it takes to get into the one you’re eyeing. While all schools and programs will have slightly different entry requirements, learning the standard admissions criteria at the outset can help save you time and money. Learn what it takes to earn an acceptance letter for the PTA program you’re interested in and get information on admissions types, financial requirements, transfer credits, and more.

General Admissions Requirements

The nuances of the college admission process certainly vary between schools, but before you gain entrance into a PTA program, you’ll first need to apply to the school that offers your program of interest. Once enrolled at a college or university, you’ll then apply for admission into their PTA program. Often competitive, PTA programs consider GPA, standardized test scores, and experience working in healthcare environments. Continue reading as we take a closer look at what you can expect throughout the admission process.

Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Programs

In the upcoming section, we highlight some essential general information you’ll need to know when beginning your journey towards a PTA degree. In addition to standard community college requirements, we also review financial information and help identify potential prerequisites. Keep reading to learn more.

Community College Requirements

As community colleges are primarily designed to expand access to higher education, standard admission requirements don’t require much more than a high school diploma or GED. Students applying to a community college typically submit academic transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, and supply the institution with a fully completed application.

In addition to standard application materials, prospective students also submit proof of residency and complete a placement test to determine which general education courses are appropriate for the student. Once admitted, students meet with counselors to register for classes and set up payment arrangements. Before classes start, most schools require new students to attend a mandatory orientation.

Lining Up the Finances

While community college doesn’t come with the price tag associated with private four-year universities, that doesn’t mean that they’re cheap. Even though higher education is often a vital investment of both time and money, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to cut costs. In addition to your application, you’ll complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application determines your eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.

But it doesn’t end there. An extensive list of scholarships is available for students from every conceivable background, academic interest, and academic performance level. Additionally, many schools offer various scholarship opportunities. When applying to schools, reach out to their financial aid departments to find ways to fund your education.

Identifying Your Prerequisites

For general admission into a community college, the requirements and prerequisites are relatively minimal. Traditionally, students interested in pursuing a PTA degree must first gain admission into their school of choice, and standard prerequisites include a high school diploma or proof of GED. Additionally, schools may require the submission of SAT or ACT scores—at some schools, students can take a placement test in place of SAT or ACT scores.

As schools increasingly utilize digital platforms for both classes and administrative functions, they often strongly suggest that students have consistent access to both a computer and a reliable internet connection. Keep reading as we discuss admission information specific to physical therapy assistant programs below.

Physical Therapy Assistant Program Admissions Requirements

If you plan on beginning your physical therapy career by earning a PTA degree, it’s worth recognizing that there can be two levels of the admission process that you’ll encounter. First is gaining admission into the larger school, whether it’s a community college or university. Secondly, many physical therapy programs have their own admission process that requires a separate application. Additionally, admission into a program may hinge upon completing various prerequisites and meeting GPA requirements.

Continue reading as we spotlight the various elements you can expect when applying to PTA programs.

Requirements for an Associate in Physical Therapy Assisting

While admission requirements can vary between programs, there are common information, materials, and standards that are relatively common across the board. From applications to prerequisite courses, in this next section, we look at application specifics you can expect.

Completed Application Form

Submitting a clear, clean, and precise application that’s entirely completed is critical to the admission process. While you won’t garner any special attention from submitting a properly completed application, omitting required information can often question an applicant’s ability to follow instructions. Once your application is completed, double and triple-check for any mistakes or omissions.

Minimum GPA

While minimum GPA requirements aren’t necessarily a component when gaining admission into a community college or associate degree program, many PTA programs maintain minimum GPA requirements for programmatic admission. Specific GPA requirements can vary between schools, so reach out to prospective programs for their particular admission guidelines.

College Entrance Exams

While standardized test scores can be a barometer for future academic success, SAT or ACT scores only make up part of admission decisions. At Louisville’s Jefferson County Community College, composite ACT scores only make up 10% of the final metrics used to make admission decisions. As a result, other elements like GPA and work experience often carry more weight.

Prerequisite Courses

Prerequisite coursework often plays a significant role in gaining admission into a PTA program. Your performance in the early stages of your degree lets physical therapy instructors know you’re serious about earning a PTA degree.

An associate degree comprises both general education and major coursework, and your performance in classes such as college algebra, human anatomy, and psychology can be your ticket into a PTA program. Before gaining admission, many programs require about 12 credits of coursework with a minimum GPA between 2.5-3.0. We’ve highlighted some standard classes below.

  • College Writing
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • College Algebra
  • Oral Communications
  • American History

Other Things to Think About

Tackling the entirety of the admission process can feel daunting. As a result, breaking the application down into digestible sections can make the process more manageable. In addition to GPA requirements, prerequisites, and a completed application, other elements should also be considered. Before you make a final decision and enroll, potential transfer credits and accreditation can also influence your decision. Keep reading to learn why.

Transfer Credits

Transferring credits between institutions is often complicated, and prospective students should always submit their applications with accompanying academic transcripts. For students with prior college experience, transfer credits may help knock out general education requirements and prerequisites. Losing those courses due to a transfer can be frustrating if you’ve spent the time, energy, and money to earn college credits. If you have potential transfer credits, be sure to discuss the transfer process with an admission counselor.

Some elements of the transfer process can be streamlined and relatively painless if you’re transferring within a state college or university system. That said, when transferring between two unassociated schools, the transition might not be so seamless. Generally, you can expect general education coursework to find academic equivalents between schools, and transferring major requirements between PTA programs may prove more difficult. Best practice: open a dialogue with prospective schools and ask questions about the transfer process.

Accreditation

A school’s accreditation status should rest top of mind when deciding on which school you’ll attend. As a solid rule, schools that earn regional accreditation provide students with the best possible academic resources. In short, regional accreditation means that a particular school has successfully completed a peer-reviewed process that verifies the academic quality, student resources, financial stability, and models best practices in higher education.

For regional accreditation, accrediting entities vary based on a school’s location. Names you’ll likely encounter include the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. To find information about a prospective school’s accreditation status, you can search the database of postsecondary institutions.

In addition to a school’s accreditation, physical therapy programs also meet rigorous standards through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). CAPTE is the only accrediting body for physical therapist assistant education programs recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This group ensures that you get your money’s worth from a PTA program.

Resources

One of the most influential physical therapy professional organizations, the APTA also offers a wide variety of services for students, including scholarships, financial management, and engagement opportunities.

The sole accrediting agency for physical therapy assistant programs, on this site, students can access a list of all accredited PTA programs.

Home to over 16,000 followers, this Facebook page offers an online meeting place for PTA professionals and students. This active group commonly posts about the job market, PTA industry concerns, and entertaining content.

Physiopedia offers students a vast catalog of information covering all-things physical therapy and clinical practice. Along with a user-friendly layout, PTA students can also download an equally intuitive app.

Pocket Prep’s physical therapy assistant study app offers six quiz types for on-the-go studying. Questions are designed to prepare students for their National Physical Therapy-PTA exam and boast over 600 questions in cardiovascular, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems.

Over 10,000 strong, this is the largest PTA group active on LinkedIn. This is a practical resource for networking, industry news, and job opportunities.

This page offers an aggregate of dozens of scholarships reserved for physical therapy students.

Study Stack plays home to an extensive menu of digital flashcards for PTA students. Popular topics include physical signs of disease, therapeutic exercises, orthotic gait problems, and phases of tissue healing.

With over 43,000 subscribers, this YouTube page was established by board-certified physical therapists. Popular videos cover topics including exercise instruction and brace fitting.