September 21, 2023
Aspiring physical therapists often ask how long their schooling will take. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the length of education required for physical therapy students, the curriculum and clinical hours required, earning potential, job outlook, and tips for thriving during the educational process. Prospective physical therapists will gain a clear understanding of the timeline and requirements for completing their education in this rewarding career field.


Aspiring physical therapists often find themselves unsure about what the path to becoming a physical therapist entails. One of the most common questions they ask is how long it takes to complete their schooling. Understanding the length of education can help prospective physical therapists make informed decisions about their career path and educational goals. In this article, we will explore the length of education required for physical therapy students and provide a comprehensive guide to the education process.

The Path to Becoming a Physical Therapist: Understanding the Length of Your Education

Physical therapy is a healthcare profession that involves using various physical methods and techniques to help people improve their movement, manage pain, and prevent disability. Physical therapists work with patients of all ages and backgrounds, including those with injuries, illnesses, disabilities, or other health conditions. To become a licensed physical therapist, you need to complete specific educational requirements and obtain a license to practice.

The educational requirements for becoming a physical therapist include obtaining a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited physical therapy program. A DPT degree typically takes three years to complete. However, before enrolling in a DPT program, you must first earn a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. This typically takes four years to complete, bringing the total length of physical therapy education to seven years.

Understanding the length of education is essential for prospective physical therapists because it allows them to plan and prepare for their studies, including the time and financial commitment required.

From Bachelor’s Degree to Clinical Experience: Navigating the Years of Schooling for Physical Therapists

The path to becoming a physical therapist is a long and challenging one. It requires a significant investment of time, effort, and money. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of the educational pathway for prospective physical therapists:

Undergraduate degree requirements

Before enrolling in physical therapy school, you must first obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Most physical therapy programs do not require a specific major, but some programs have specific course prerequisites that must be met before you can enroll. These prerequisites typically include a certain number of courses in science, math, and social sciences. Undergraduate coursework typically takes four years, but this can vary depending on the institution and individual circumstances.

Prerequisites for physical therapy school

Once you have completed your undergraduate degree, you must meet the prerequisites required by the physical therapy school you plan to attend. Prerequisites typically include coursework in subjects such as biology, anatomy, physiology, physics, and psychology. It can take an additional year or more to complete these prerequisites depending on the student’s individual circumstances.

Length of physical therapy school programs

The length of time required to complete a DPT program can vary between institutions, but the standard length of time for most accredited programs is three years. During this time, students take in-depth coursework covering topics such as movement science, neuroscience, orthopedics, and physical therapy interventions. Students also participate in extensive clinical experience, including hands-on practical work with real patients.

Clinical experience requirements

One of the unique requirements for becoming a licensed physical therapist is the amount of clinical experience required. For physical therapy students, this typically involves participating in supervised clinical rotations covering a full range of physical therapy practices, such as outpatient clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and home health care settings. The number of clinical hours required can vary depending on the institution, but it typically ranges between 1,000 and 1,500 hours. Clinical rotations can take place throughout the entire physical therapy program, or they may be concentrated in the final year.

Is Physical Therapy School Worth the Time and Effort? A Comprehensive Look at the Education Requirements

Completing a physical therapy program is a significant investment of time, effort, and money. However, it can also be a rewarding career choice. Here are a few reasons why:

The earning potential for physical therapists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $89,440 in May 2020. This earning potential can increase based on factors such as experience, education, and location.

The job outlook for physical therapists

The demand for physical therapists is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of physical therapists will increase by 18 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Potential career opportunities

Physical therapy is a versatile field with many potential career paths. Physical therapists often work in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, and sports facilities. They may also choose to specialize in a particular area of physical therapy, such as sports therapy, pediatrics, or geriatrics.

Personal rewards of the job

Physical therapy is a patient-centered profession that offers the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives. Physical therapists work with patients to help them recover from injuries, manage pain, improve mobility, and achieve their health goals. This can be a rewarding experience both personally and professionally.

Breaking Down the Curriculum: A Guide to Understanding the Classes and Clinical Hours Required for Physical Therapy School

To become a licensed physical therapist, students must complete a rigorous curriculum that covers a wide range of topics in physical therapy. Here is a basic outline of the classes and clinical hours required for physical therapy school:

Anatomy and physiology coursework

Physical therapists must understand the human body’s anatomy and physiology to treat patients effectively. This coursework typically includes in-depth study of the musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems. Students must also learn about human development and aging and how these factors impact physical therapy treatment plans.

Hands-on training in physical therapy treatments

Physical therapy school includes extensive hands-on training to develop students’ skills in physical therapy treatments. This includes learning techniques such as range of motion exercises, manual therapy, and therapeutic exercise. Students also learn to use specialized equipment such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and paraffin heat therapy.

Clinical experience requirements

Physical therapy school requires students to complete a substantial amount of supervised clinical experience. These clinical rotations allow students to work with real patients in a variety of practice settings and develop their practical skills. Clinical rotations typically cover a range of physical therapy treatments and can include acute care, orthopedics, neurology, pediatric, and geriatrics.

Tips for Surviving (and Thriving!) in the Lengthy Process of Becoming a Physical Therapist

Surviving and thriving in physical therapy school requires dedication, perseverance, and a bit of strategic planning. Here are a few tips for aspiring physical therapists:

Time management strategies

One of the keys to success in physical therapy school is effective time management. Students must learn to balance coursework, clinical rotations, and personal responsibilities while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This can involve creating a study schedule, prioritizing assignments, and learning how to say no to distractions.

Building a support network

Physical therapy school can be challenging, both academically and emotionally. Building a support network of classmates, professors, and mentors can help students stay motivated and focused. This can include joining online groups, participating in campus activities, and seeking out mentorship opportunities.

Prioritizing self-care

Physical therapy students must learn to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. This means taking time to exercise, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and engage in stress-reducing activities such as yoga or meditation.

Aspiring Physical Therapists, Take Note: What You Need to Know About the Timeline for Completing Your Education

Understanding the timeline for completing your education as a physical therapist can help you plan and prepare for the challenges you will face. Here is a comprehensive timeline for aspiring physical therapists:

Year 1-4: Complete a Bachelor’s degree

  1. Complete a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, fulfilling the prerequisites for a physical therapy program.

Year 5: Complete prerequisites for physical therapy school

  1. Complete the course prerequisites required by the physical therapy program you plan to attend.

Year 6-8: Complete DPT program and clinical experience requirements

  1. Enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program and complete the required coursework.
  2. Participate in supervised clinical rotations to gain practical experience.
  3. Complete a capstone project or thesis as required by your program.


In conclusion, becoming a physical therapist requires a significant amount of time and effort. Prospective physical therapists need to complete a Bachelor’s degree, meet prerequisites, and earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. This process typically takes seven years of education and includes substantial clinical experience requirements. Despite the challenges, physical therapy can be a rewarding career choice with a promising job outlook and earning potential. If you aspire to become a physical therapist, understanding the length and requirements of your education can help you navigate the process and achieve your career goals.

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