September 28, 2023
Ready to embark on a career in physical therapy? Learn about the educational requirements, timeline, and challenges involved in becoming a licensed physical therapist with this comprehensive guide. Discover pre-requisite courses, clinical experiences, and helpful tips to help you navigate this rewarding career path.


Physical therapy, or physiotherapy, is a field of healthcare that involves the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of medical conditions, injuries, or illnesses that affect movement and functional ability. The practice of physical therapy aims to help individuals regain or improve their physical functions and promote overall wellness. For those interested in pursuing a career as a physical therapist, it’s essential to understand the educational journey involved in achieving this goal. In this article, we’ll be exploring how long it takes to become a physical therapist.

The Journey to Becoming a Physical Therapist: A Look at the Length of Schooling

Before we dive into the specifics of how long it takes to become a licensed physical therapist, it’s important to define what physical therapy is and what the educational requirements for the field are.

Definition of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a medical specialty that focuses on the treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disorders. This field uses non-invasive techniques such as therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, and patient education to help individuals regain or improve their physical functions. Physical therapy can treat a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain, postoperative rehabilitation, and sports injuries.

The Educational Requirements for Physical Therapy

To become a licensed physical therapist, one must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited educational institution and pass the national licensure examination. In addition to the academic requirements, potential physical therapy students must also have a strong background in science, including courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, physics, and chemistry.

The Length of Schooling for Physical Therapists

Physical therapy schooling typically takes at least seven years to complete, including undergraduate studies. However, the length of schooling can vary depending on factors such as the type of physical therapy program and the individual’s academic progress.

From Classroom to Clinic: Understanding the Educational Requirements for Physical Therapists

Now that we’ve laid out the general requirements for physical therapy, let’s take a closer look at what’s involved in the educational journey to becoming a licensed practitioner.

Pre-Requisite Courses for Physical Therapy School

Before applying to physical therapy programs, students must have a solid foundation in science and healthcare. Students typically take a variety of pre-requisite courses during their undergraduate studies, including biology, anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, and psychology.

The Different Types of Physical Therapy Programs

There are two primary types of physical therapy programs: direct-entry and bridge programs. Direct-entry programs are designed for students who have no prior experience in the field of physical therapy and wish to earn a DPT degree from scratch. Bridge programs, on the other hand, are for licensed physical therapist assistants who want to earn a DPT.

Clinical Experience and Internships

While in school, physical therapy students must complete a certain number of hours of clinical experience. This experience involves working directly with patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. Students will have several opportunities to gain clinical experience throughout their schooling, including internships and fellowships.

Breaking Down the Years: A Guide to Navigating the Education of Physical Therapy

Now that we’ve established the educational requirements for physical therapists, let’s take a closer look at what you can expect during this journey.

The Curriculum of Physical Therapy Programs

Physical therapy curricula vary depending on the institution and the type of program. However, most programs cover core subjects such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pharmacology, and pathology.

The Average Timeline of Physical Therapy School

Physical therapy school typically takes at least seven years, including undergraduate studies. Here’s a general timeline:

  • Pre-requisite courses: 2 years
  • Physical therapy program: 3 years
  • Clinical internships: 1 year or more

General Information on Coursework

Physical therapy students can expect to take a variety of courses during their schooling, including:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Rehabilitation Techniques
  • Professional Ethics and Conduct

The Pathway to Patient Care: How Long Does it Take to Become a Physical Therapist?

Now, let’s take a closer look at how long it takes to become a licensed physical therapist.

A Detailed Look at The Years of Schooling Needed to Become a Physical Therapist

It can take at least seven years to become a licensed physical therapist. Here’s a breakdown of the timeline:

  • Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (4 years)
  • Step 2: Complete Pre-Requisite Courses (2 years)
  • Step 3: Earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree (3 years)
  • Step 4: Complete Clinical Internships (Varies)
  • Step 5: Pass the National Licensure Exam (NPTE)

Hours of Operation in Physical Therapy Schools

Physical therapy students typically attend classes during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. However, some programs may have evening or weekend classes to accommodate students’ schedules.

Clinical Experiences in Physical Therapy Schools

Clinical internships are an essential component of physical therapy schooling. During these internships, students gain hands-on experience working with patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. The number of hours required for clinical internships varies depending on the program, but it can be anywhere from 800 to 1,500 hours.

The Realities of Studying Physical Therapy: How Much Time Do You Really Need?

While the length of time it takes to become a licensed physical therapist can seem daunting, with the right mindset and time management skills, it’s an achievable goal.

Balancing Coursework with Other Commitments

Physical therapy school can be demanding, not just academically, but also emotionally and physically. It’s crucial to find a balance between coursework, clinical internships, and other commitments, such as work or family.

Time Management Skills

Time management skills are essential for success in physical therapy school. Students should create a schedule that allows them to complete assignments, attend classes, and gain clinical experience without sacrificing their mental and physical health.

Academic Support Resources

Physical therapy schools offer a range of academic support resources to help students succeed. These resources may include tutoring, career counseling, and mental health services.

What to Expect When Studying for a Degree in Physical Therapy: A Timeline

If you’re considering pursuing a degree in physical therapy, here’s a general timeline of what you can expect.

General Class Timeline

During undergrad studies, students take pre-requisite courses in science and healthcare. Then, students begin a three-year DPT program, during which they take courses in anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, pharmacology, rehabilitation techniques, and more.

The Timeline for Clinical Experiences

Physical therapy students must complete a certain number of clinical internships, which can vary depending on the program. These internships usually occur during the last year of the DPT program.

The Timeline for Licensure Exams

After completing all the educational requirements and gaining clinical experience, individuals must then pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to become a licensed physical therapist.

The Long Haul: A Comprehensive Guide to the Educational Journey of Physical Therapy

Preparing, applying, and financing a degree in physical therapy is no small feat, but with the right mindset, support, and resources, it’s achievable.

Preparing for Physical Therapy Schools

Before applying to physical therapy programs, make sure you have a strong science and healthcare foundation. Research various programs to find one that meets your needs and interests.

Applying and Financing a Degree in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy school can be expensive, so it’s crucial to plan early and explore financial aid options, such as scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Helpful Tips and Resources to Aid in the Journey

The most important thing is to stay motivated and focused. Find a support system, whether that’s family, friends, or mentors, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Utilize academic and counseling services to help you navigate the challenges along the way.


Becoming a licensed physical therapist involves years of education, clinical experience, and hard work, but it’s an achievable goal for those who are passionate about helping patients improve their physical function and overall wellbeing. By understanding the educational requirements, timeline, and how to balance academics with other commitments, individuals can take their first steps towards this rewarding career.

Final Thoughts on the Journey to Becoming a Physical Therapist:

It’s not an easy journey, but with dedication, focus, and support, becoming a licensed physical therapist is an achievable goal. Keep an open mind and take advantage of all the academic and personal resources available to you to help you on your journey.

Call to Action:

If you’re interested in becoming a physical therapist, start by researching programs that fit your needs and interests. Talk to professors, mentors, and other healthcare professionals to get a better understanding of what it takes to become a licensed practitioner.

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