Physical Therapist Assistant Degree: Requirements and Tuition


Physical Therapist Assistant Degree

Physical Therapist Assistants Work with Patients Under the Guidance of a Physical Therapist

Physical therapist assistants work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist to provide treatment for people with injuries or illnesses. Because PTAs must work under the direction of a physical therapist, they are not qualified to make diagnoses. However, they can instruct patients in exercises and techniques to help improve mobility and manage pain.

The PTA is responsible for carrying out a plan of care, developed by the physical therapist, which includes performing procedures such as applying modalities that may include heat, cold, electricity and ultrasound; wound dressings; assistive/adaptive equipment; therapeutic procedures promoting wellness; therapeutic massage; and deep heating agents like paraffin bath. Physical therapists may also delegate certain tasks to a PTA that are within their scope of practice but require more time than the physical therapist has available.

What Do Physical Therapist Assistants Do?

Physical therapist assistants help patients regain mobility, recover from injuries and prevent future injuries. These professionals work with patients under the direction of a physical therapist to assist in the development of treatment plans.

Specifically, a PTA will develop work plans for patients that outline exercises and equipment that can help patients improve their range of motion or ability to walk or balance. PTAs also talk with patients about how to avoid future injury, such as through weight management or stretching.

How Much Do Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

While the median salary for a PTA is $57,430, there are several factors that can affect the amount of money you make. For example, those in the top 10 percent of PTAs earn more than $79,860 while those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $40,350. These discrepancies often depend on where physical therapist assistants live and work. For instance, PTAs in California make an average salary of $69,880 annually while PTAs in Texas earn an average salary of $49,950 per year.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

What you will do

As a physical therapist assistant, you will assist a licensed physical therapist in providing physical therapy treatments to patients. You will:

  • Prepare and maintain treatment areas, work areas and equipment

  • Plan, prepare and carry out individually designed programs of physical treatment to maintain, improve or restore physical functioning, alleviate pain and/or prevent physical dysfunction in patients

  • Implement selected components of patient care plans as established by a supervising therapist

  • Instruct, motivate and assist patients with performing exercises and functional activities such as transfers (from bed to chair), walking, standing or use of adaptive equipment for mobility within the treatment area per the plan of care established by the supervising therapist and perform other tasks in accordance with state laws

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A PTA degree can open the door to an entry-level healthcare career.

The physical therapy profession requires qualified, confident assistants to assist in the treatment of injured patients. A physical therapist assistant uses their knowledge of anatomy and physiology to apply this treatment with the goal of restoring function and improving mobility.

Being a PTA has its challenges, but the rewards are significant, especially when you consider the career outlook for this healthcare job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment opportunities will increase by 18%—or 1,099,000 new jobs—between 2014 and 2024 as a result of population growth, increased use of health care services by older people and retirees, regulatory requirements that mandate more physical therapy services in hospitals and nursing homes, and an aging baby boomer population.

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How to become one: Step-by-step career guide

Step 1. High school

As a high school student, it’s important to take health and science classes like biology, anatomy and physiology. If you’re interested in becoming a nurse but aren’t sure if you want to spend your life caring for patients, it can be helpful to volunteer in a hospital or at an urgent care clinic. You can also get ahead in your nursing education by taking introductory classes at a community college or online courses at universities that offer them.

If you don’t have enough time to volunteer or go to school during high school, consider getting a job as a nursing assistant or working in the medical unit of your local hospital.

Step 2. Bachelor’s degree

A bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, is the minimum educational requirement for most nursing positions. These programs are typically four years long and include both liberal arts and science courses, like anatomy and physiology, as well as nursing-specific coursework. The program also includes supervised clinical practice opportunities.

Step 3. Licensure and certification

This step is to get a bachelor’s degree of nursing. The steps are:

  • Go to college/university

  • Do undergraduate degree in nursing

  • Graduate with a bachelors degree in nursing

Step 4. Lifelong learning and development

Once you’re a registered nurse, it’s important to continue learning and growing your skills. Nurses keep up with ongoing trends in the field by reading journals and other publications that are relevant to their specialty. They also stay informed about industry best practices and technological advances. Nurses have several professional organizations that they can join, which is a good way to network with colleagues. To grow your expertise, nurses typically pursue continuing education courses or pursue a master’s degree in nursing or another area of specialization.

Step 5. Other factors that can impact your career as a registered nurse

There are some extra items that are important for you to be aware of as you progress in your career as a registered nurse. First, you need to make sure that your nursing license is kept up-to-date. Each state has different requirements when it comes to maintaining a valid nursing license, but all licenses must be renewed every few years. In most states, renewal includes taking continuing education classes in order to keep up with new medical techniques and information.

In addition, it’s important to stay on top of trends in the nursing profession. Things like technology and the way that healthcare is organized change the job description of nurses regularly, so it’s wise to stay informed about what’s happening around you as a nurse so that you can adjust your own work style accordingly. Finally, if at any point during your career as a nurse you decide that the job isn’t right for you anymore, there are plenty of ways that you can use your nursing skills in other careers!

Registered nurses are in high demand, and their salaries are competitive. For more info about nursing careers, check out the nursing resource center at Robert Half Healthcare.

Registered nurses are in high demand and their salaries are competitive. For more information about nursing careers, check out the Nursing Resource Center at Robert Half Healthcare.

Universities offering Physical Therapist Assistant Degree

Onondaga Community College

Onondaga Community College is located in Syracuse, NY.

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The PTA program at Onondaga Community College lasts 1 year and 11 months. It’s a full-time program that offers a certificate of completion.

Tuition and fees for the PTA program at Onondaga Community College are approximately $13,000 per year, with books and supplies costing around $1,600. For out-of-state students like yourself, the estimated cost of tuition alone is $16,000. Students who enroll in fewer than 12 credit hours, however, may see an increase in their per-credit costs; the exact amount can be found on the school website.

Onondaga Community College has a student body of 13,350 students; you’ll definitely enjoy being part of such a large community! The PTA program itself has around 50 graduates every year (a bit smaller than other programs).

If you decide to apply to this school’s physical therapist assistant associate degree program—or any other schools from our list—you’ll need to meet some general prerequisites too: you must submit official transcripts from all colleges attended (and possibly high school or GED transcript too); you may need specific prerequisite courses like anatomy & physiology I & II; and you will likely have to submit an essay or personal statement about why you want to become a physical therapy assistant as well as letters of recommendation from professionals familiar with your work ethic (teachers/professors are ideal)

University of Alaska Anchorage

The Physical Therapist Assistant program is designed to prepare students who have a desire to enter the field of physical therapy, but are not sure if they’ll enjoy it. It’s a good idea for an individual who already has some general interest in the field or knows what they want from their career choice.

The degree is offered by University of Alaska Anchorage, which is a public university located in Anchorage, Alaska.

Pima Medical Institute – Tucson

  • Pima Medical Institute – Tucson is a private, for-profit institution.

  • Located in Tucson, AZ.

  • Offers a Physical Therapist Assistant degree program.

  • Job placement rate: 88%.

Northern Virginia Community College

NVCC offers a physical therapist assistant program that is accredited by CAPTE, which stands for the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The PTA program requires students to complete a two-year associate’s degree or 71-credit hours. This includes six credits of clinical experience.

The curriculum at Northern Virginia Community College teaches students about fundamental principles of physical therapy, anatomy and physiology, therapeutic exercise, legal and ethical issues, and how to work with patients with disabilities or injuries. Students also focus on providing rehabilitative care to individuals who have had strokes or spinal cord injuries. Courses also cover medical conditions such as arthritis, chronic respiratory problems, obesity, and diabetes. Students take classes in pharmacology as well as psychology. Students gain hands-on training in a clinical setting where they can assist patients under the supervision of an occupational therapist or physical therapist. After graduation from the physical therapy assistant program at NVCC, students are eligible to apply for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Passing this exam is required for employment as a PTA in the state of Virginia.

Central Virginia Community College

  • Degree: Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

  • Program length: 2 years

  • Program cost: $8,849

  • Program URL:

Cypress College

Cypress, CA

The Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program is part of the Health Sciences Division at Cypress College and is offered by the North Orange County Community College District. A two-year associate in science degree is awarded to students who qualify for and successfully complete this program. The program begins each fall, and all classes are taught on campus.

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Unitech Training Academy – Lafayette

There are many colleges and universities offering physical therapist assistant degree programs. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits the majority of the programs. You can use their website to find an accredited program near you.

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Arapahoe Community College

Arapahoe Community College, located in Littleton, Colorado, offers a physical therapist assistant degree program. This public school was founded in 1965 and provides an affordable option for students to earn a degree in this field. Students may also be eligible for federal student aid or work study during their enrollment at the school. The program is designed to provide students with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that they will need as they enter the workforce as physical therapist assistants.

Arapahoe Community College’s physical therapist assistant degree program has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Graduates of the program are eligible to take the national licensure examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).

Brookdale Community College

Brookdale Community College is a public school in Lincroft, New Jersey with about 13,980 students enrolled. This large institution offers an Associate’s degree program in Physical Therapist Assistant for students to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in their career. Students enrolled at Brookdale Community College are offered the opportunity to complete this degree program at their own pace and accessibility.

Brookdale Community College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. To check out more information on this program, check out our guide to Brookdale Community College!

Houston Community College

  • Programs Offered: Associate in Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant

  • Cost of Attendance: $6,387 (in-district residents), $7,817 (out-of-district residents), $13,512 (out-of-state residents)

  • Class Size: N/A

  • Job Placement Rates: 100%

  • Accreditation*: Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)

Find the physical therapist assistant degree program that’s right for you.

Finding the right PTA program can be tricky. Choosing your program requires care and research. Here are a few things to look for when choosing your PTA program:

  • Accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) must accredit any physical therapist assistant degree you choose. CAPTE ensures that your education provides the knowledge and skills you need to become a successful physical therapist assistant.

  • Convenience of location. Find a PTA program close to home or work, so that it’s easy for you to attend class each day. Some programs offer online classes, which allow students from anywhere in the country to enroll in their courses without attending class on campus everyday.

  • Budgeting considerations. Compare tuition rates of different programs and determine how much you can afford to pay per semester or quarter. An out-of-state public school may charge more than an in-state public school or private school, but some private schools are also more expensive than many public ones as well. Check with each school’s financial aid office about grants, loans and scholarships that may help cover tuition expenses or living costs while you’re in school too—and make sure they award financial aid only after determining that your FAFSA EFC is less than the cost of attendance at their institution; don’t assume they’ll do this automatically!

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