Physical Therapist Assistant & PT Aide Schools

As uncomfortable as physical therapy can be for post-operative patients, the occupational independence they gain from it is well worth the effort. Physical therapy is the treatment of injuries, disorders, and other issues by using non-surgical methods, such as massage, heat treatment, exercises, assistive equipment (such as walkers), and more. Accordingly, PTAs and PT aides may work with patients of all ages and abilities. Some of their patients may recover from work-related or sports injuries, while others may have a neurological disorder that impacts movement.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the addition of almost 45,000 physical therapist assistant (PTA) and physical therapy aide (PT aide) jobs between 2020 and 2030. Jobs in physical therapy assistance are predicted to grow by over 32 percent as the Baby Boomer generation in the United States ages and requires rehabilitation for post-surgery recovery for hip and shoulder replacements and other common age-related ailments.

PTAs and PT aides typically work in an office, clinic, hospital, skilled nursing facility, or home health setting. Depending on the setting, some PTAs and PT aides may work in an environment that specializes in certain patient groups, such as children or athletes. Those interested in this field should demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, as they commonly interact one-on-one with patients, as well as compassion and attention to detail. Many PTAs and PT aides are on their feet for most of the day, so they should have dexterity and physical stamina.

PTAs and PT aides perform different functions to ensure quality care is provided to patients. PTAs have more education and licensing requirements than physical therapist aides. Working under the supervision and direction of a physical therapist, PTAs work to provide treatment, rehabilitation, and preventive care to people of all ages.

They work closely with patients, monitoring and reporting their status and progress to the physical therapist throughout their treatment. Care and treatment options may include exercises, hands-on therapy, and assistive equipment. Recovery plans range from short- to long-term care depending on the injury or illness.

All PTAs must obtain a high school diploma or GED and complete an associate’s degree from a PTA program accredited through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Coursework typically includes clinical pathology, biology, anatomy, physiology, and ethics and 15-30 weeks of supervised clinical education to obtain hands-on experience.

Alternatively, PT aides perform indirect patient care by performing clerical duties, setting and cleaning up treatment areas, and moving patients. They gain experience through on-the-job training and are not required to get licensed or certified. PT aides typically have a high school diploma or GED. Working as a PT aide can be a stepping stone toward becoming a physical therapist or PTA.

Read on to discover how to become a PTA, including education and licensure requirements, or pursue a career as a PT aide.

Fast Facts Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Physical Therapy Aide (PT Aide)
Projected Jobs Created 25,600 8,300
Projected Job Growth: 2021 to 2031 26% 19%
Low Salary: 10th Percentile $37,280 $22,140
Average Salary (Median) $61,180 $29,200
High Salary: 90th Percentile $80,170 $37,920
Entry-Level EDU Associate’s Degree High School Diploma/GED
Sources BLS (2022)

SELECT * FROM `mts_online_offline_data` WHERE `page_url` = '/physical-therapist-assistant' AND ( `table_type` = 'Offline' OR `table_type` = 'BOTH (Online + Offline)' ) ORDER BY `grads` DESC

Degree & Certification Programs in Physical Therapy Assistance

PT Aides

It takes an average of several months to become a PT aide for those who already have a high school diploma or GED. This includes the time to apply for jobs and receive any on-the-job training. There are no licensing or certification requirements. Depending on age and prior education, those without a high school diploma or GED may take up to four years to complete their diploma or pass their GED examinations.

PTAs

PTAs need an associate’s degree from a physical therapist assistant program accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)’s Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These two-year programs accept applications annually and provide coursework in physical therapy, general education, and clinical education. Depending on the school, the number of accepted students may range from 12 to 50 or more.

Admissions requirements are determined by individual schools, as there is no centralized application for PTA programs. Some schools may have a more selective admissions process and require a competitive, point-based process.

Those applying to a PTA program should always check with admissions offices for further information about requirements. However, most schools require one or more of the following:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Minimum cumulative GPA
  • Completion of prerequisite coursework in science, math, and English
  • Submittal of personal statement or essay
  • Recommendations from past employers or teachers
  • Documented proof of observation of a clinical setting
  • Immunizations

Roughly three-fourths of two-year PTA degree programs take place in a lab or classroom, where students may also pursue additional certifications such as first aid skills. The remaining fourth of the curriculum is focused on clinical hours, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Students in PTA programs spend an average of 16 weeks gaining full-time, hands-on experience. Degree programs for PTAs do not offer specializations. Accordingly, those interested in gaining experience within a specific industry, such as skilled nursing facilities or sports, will want to select a degree program with curriculum and clinical education opportunities that fit that area.

Here’s a featured list of accredited programs that train students to become licensed PTAs.

Miami Dade College

Miami Dade College has one of the longest-running PTA programs in the US and was the first to graduate a class of physical therapy assistants in 1969. Located in Miami, Florida offers a two-year associate’s degree that PTA students can complete in five semesters.

Notable for its focus on technology, Miami Dade College uses an online learning management system, Blackboard, so that students may rewatch on-campus lectures and access resources such as guides to laboratory skills. This 74-credit program features a service-learning component, where students gain clinical experience while also serving the local community.

  • Location: Multiple campuses in Florida
  • Duration: 2.25 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $8,789

Cerritos College

Located in Cerritos, California, Cerritos College offers an associate’s degree that prospective PTAs can complete in two years. With a focus on preparing students for licensure, over two-thirds of graduates pass their licensure exam on the first try.

Courses include therapeutic exercise, aging and integumentary management, soft tissue interventions, and prosthetics and orthotics for allied health professionals. The program begins every fall semester and can be completed in two academic years.

  • Location: Cerritos, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $10,206 per year

Northland Community & Technical College

Located in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, provides a 74-credit associate of applied science (AAS) degree that positions students for immediate entry into working as a PTA. This program provides a diverse curriculum that includes additional courses in medical coding, interpersonal skills, public speaking, and more.

To apply, students must take and pass the TEAS V for Allied Health Exam, hold current CPR certification, complete all courses with a grade of “C” or higher, have an educational background in the sciences, complete the health screening & immunization requirements, and a criminal background check for clinical experiences.

  • Location: East Grand Forks, MN
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $15,631 total

Baker College – College of Health Science

With campuses throughout Michigan, Baker College’s College of Health Science offers an associate’s PTA degree that takes two years to complete. Providing coursework in areas such as human anatomy and physiology, psychology, communication, patient assessment, and pediatric management, the 78-credit program notably includes three clinical placements.

The program is offered on-campus, but general education and prerequisite coursework is available at the Muskegon, Owosso, and Royal Oak campuses and online.

  • Location: Multiple campuses in Michigan
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $435 per credit

Austin Community College

Located outside of Austin in Round Rock, Texas, Austin Community College offers a two-year physical therapy assistant program. Students in this program learn from award-winning faculty who teach students how to improve mobility with exercises, techniques, and patient tracking.

Courses include human growth and development, rehabilitation techniques, management of neurological disorders, and clinical hours. Graduates from this program have a 100 percent pass rate on the licensure exam and a 94 percent job placement rate.

  • Location: Round Rock, TX
  • Duration: Four semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $85-$353 per credit (depending on residency)

Mohave Community College

With campuses in Bullhead City, Kingman, Lake Havasu City, and North Mohave, Mohave Community College offers a two-year degree. This two-year associate’s degree program prepares students for the PTA licensing exam and work with patients of all ages who are suffering from a variety of ailments. Courses include rehabilitation of special populations, physical therapy seminars, and clinical practicum.

  • Location: Multiple campuses in Arizona
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $81-$283.50 per credit (depending on residency)

Hybrid and Online Physical Therapist Assistant & Aide Programs

PT Aides

Since PTAs are not required to obtain further post-secondary education or maintain any licenses or certifications, there are very few online programs available. Some community colleges offer hybrid programs which require a high school diploma or GED for admission.

Bucks County Community College

Located in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Bucks County Community College offers a hybrid physical therapy aide program at its Newtown Campus. This is a 50-hour program that prepares graduates for physical therapy aide careers. Students learn roles and responsibilities, applied human anatomy and physiology, pathology, biomechanics, and medical terminology. Special topic courses include total hip replacement, amputee support, and traumatic brain injury. Courses are offered in the evenings

  • Location: Newtown, PA
  • Duration: 50 hours; approximately 2.5 months
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,405 total

PTAs

While there are no fully online PTA degree programs due to the need for in-person labs and clinical experiences, there are a number of hybrid options available. The programs profiled below offer a hybrid delivery for those looking to pursue a career as a PTA.

Jefferson State Community College

With locations throughout Alabama, Jefferson State Community College offers a two-year hybrid associate of applied science for PTAs looking to maximize flexibility while furthering their career. Students complete lecture courses online and then travel to the Shelby-Hoover campus in Birmingham, Alabama to complete laboratory courses, network with other students, and participate in clinical experiences.

First-year coursework is dedicated to prerequisites and the second year focuses on professional courses. This program prepares graduates for the National Physical Therapy Assistants Board Exam.

  • Location: Multiple campuses in Alabama
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $166 per credit (residents); $291 per credit (non-residents)

San Juan College

Based in Farmington, New Mexico, San Juan Colleges offers a two-year hybrid PTA program that provides online course delivery and in-person clinical experiences. Students then attend on-campus labs once a semester, allowing those already working or with familial responsibilities to set a schedule that works for them. Courses include therapeutic exercise, clinical externships, and pathophysiology.

  • Location: Farmington, NM
  • Duration: 3.25 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $56 per credit hour (residents); $178 per credit hour (non-residents)

NorthWest Arkansas Community College

Located in Bentonville, Arkansas, NorthWest Arkansas Community College offers a physical therapy assistant program in a traditional and hybrid format. In the hybrid program, students must travel to the NWACC campus every three to four weeks for a three-day intensive lab.

Courses are offered online and students are expected to manage their studying workloads. The traditional and hybrid programs offer the same requirements for service learning, didactic and clinical skills, testing procedures, and clinical internship hours.

  • Location: Bentonville, AR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $79-$215 per credit (depending on residency)

Provo College

Provo College in Provo, Utah offers a 21-month hybrid PTA program. Some classes are available online or in a blended format for convenience and student safety. The curriculum includes 76 hours semester credit hours in general psychology, medical terminology, therapeutic procedures, and applied kinesiology.

Applicants to this program must submit a negative drug screening test, complete an online education virtual orientation, and have internet and computer access.

  • Location: Provo, UT
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $15,219 per year

Whatcom Community College

Located near Seattle in Bellingham, Washington, Whatcom Community College offers an associate of science degree for PTAs. This program is offered full-time on-campus and part-time in an online-hybrid format. Students in this program can expect to spend 20 to 30 hours per week on coursework and homework.

An in-person laboratory course is offered monthly at Pierce College in South Puget Sound. Courses in this program include applied anatomy and clinical kinesiology, clinical neurology, and ethical issues in physical therapy.

  • Location: Bellingham, WA
  • Duration: 2.25 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
  • Tuition: $122.05 per credit (residents); $305.12 per credit (non-residents)

Core & Elective Courses in Physical Therapy Assistance

PT Aides

While PT aides are not required to obtain any certifications or licenses, they can expect on-the-job training to prepare them for the following responsibilities:

  • Preparing treatment areas for patient use, including setting and cleaning up
  • Cleaning treatment areas and moving equipment to maintain functionality
  • Assist with patient intake and other clerical duties
  • Working with physical therapists and PTAs to observe and document patient progress and responses
  • Coordinating with physicians’ offices and hospital personnel
  • Transporting patients to and from treatment areas

Note that allowed job functions for PT aides may vary by state. Working as a PT aide is a common stepping stone into a career as a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant.

PTAs

While programs may differ by college and state, the two-year PTA program prepares students for the following responsibilities:

  • Observing patient status and progress before, during, and post-treatment
  • Noting and reporting patient status to the physical therapist
  • Helping patients do specific exercises and provide treatment as part of their plan of care
  • Providing patient care using manual treatments, such as stretching and massage
  • Using supportive equipment and devices, such as exercise balls, to help patients
  • Working with the patient and their friends and family on post-care activities and options

Below are some common PTA courses that an accredited program may offer:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Clinical pathology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Communication
  • Ethics and values

These courses are completed alongside clinical observations and rotations so students gain hands-on experience. Clinical experience typically accounts for 25 percent of each program. As PTAs undergo different education and training than physical therapists, it is not considered a stepping stone to becoming a physical therapist.

Accreditation of Physical Therapist Assistant Programs

PTA programs are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), which is recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Graduation from a CAPTE-accredited program is required to apply for state licensure to work as a physical therapist assistant. Note that licensure requirements differ by state.

According to the BLS, there are no accreditation requirements that apply to PT aides.

Career Outlook & Salary - Physical Therapist Assistants & Aides

As one of the country’s fastest-growing careers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) predicted the addition of 33,900 nationally for PTAs and PT aides between 2021 and 2031—a 24 percent increase. PTAs and PT aides typically work in offices, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, or home healthcare settings that provide one-on-one care. An estimated 44,900 new positions will be needed in the same decade.

PT Aides

PT aides earn annual average salaries of $30,370 (BLS May 2021). PT aides working in local government had the highest annual salary at $43,630, followed by those working in the amusement and recreation industries, who had an annual salary of $45,480. Other industries include nursing care facilities ($42,260); home health services ($36,950), and colleges, universities, and professional schools ($36,230).

In May 2021, the BLS reported the following annual salary data for PT aides:

  • 10th percentile: $22,140
  • 25th percentile: $24,240
  • 50th percentile (median): $29,200
  • 75th percentile: $35,320
  • 90th percentile: $37,920
According to the BLS, the highest paying states for PT aides are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Maine.

PTAs

In May 2021, the BLS reported that PTAs earned average annual salaries of $60,740. Note the average annual salary differs by industry. PTAs working in home health have the highest average salary at $7,130, whereas those working in outpatient care centers had the lowest average salary at $65,790. Average salaries in other settings include nursing care facilities ($69,890); retirement and assisted living facilities ($69,530); and management of companies and enterprises ($66,540).

In May 2021, the BLS reported the following annual salary data for PTAs:

  • 10th percentile: $37,280
  • 25th percentile: $48,670
  • 50th percentile (median): $61,180
  • 75th percentile: $75,870
  • 90th percentile: $80,170

According to the same report, the highest paying states for PTAs are California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Texas, and Connecticut.

Career Facts Physical Therapist Assistants Physical Therapy Aides
Related Careers Occupational therapy assistant, psychiatric technician, nursing assistant Medical assistant, nursing orderly, pharmacy technician
Common Job Titles PTAs, Assistant PT Aide, Aide
Technology & Equipment Treatment tables, ultrasound, resistance bands, electrical muscle stimulation, exercise bikes and balls, wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, bandages, strength and dexterity testers, scales, vital signs monitors, sensory evaluators, medical software, word processing software Treatment tables, wheelchairs, crutches, walkers, medical software, word processing software, cleaning supplies

Licensing & Certification for Physical Therapist Assistants

Each state and territory in the United States requires PTAs to get licensed in the state they want to practice in. Those seeking licensure should apply and graduate from a CAPTE-accredited PTA degree program. PTAs must also pass the National Physical Therapy Assistants Exam, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Additional requirements may include a background check, a jurisprudence exam on state laws and practices, and proof of minimum age (typically 18). In addition, some states may require PTAs to take a certain number of continuing education courses or maintain certification in specific life skills, such as CPR. Always check with the appropriate state board for specific licensing requirements.

PT aides are not required to get licensed or maintain any certifications. However, some employers may prefer candidates to hold CPR and Basic First Aid certifications.

Bree Nicolello
Bree Nicolello Writer

Bree is an urban planner and freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She has worked on land use and housing policy issues throughout the Pacific Northwest. She previously led Run Oregon Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Oregonians run for office and apply to boards and commissions. When not writing, she is lovingly tending to her cast iron pans.