Physical Therapist Education: Degrees and Requirements

The best way to approach your education as a physical therapist is to consider what your professional goals are. That, specifically, will define what degrees you will need to obtain and what requirements you will need to meet in order to practice in your chosen specialization or area of the field.

In order to practice as a licensed physical therapist you need to obtain a Graduate Degree. This comes in two forms. The first is the Master’s Degree, but if you are looking to get an immediate professional boost for your career you may want to consider taking a DPT (Doctorate of Physical Therapy) instead. Most physical therapy schools offer both options, and both cover the basic courses you will need to study in order to properly train to be a physical therapist: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the Physical Sciences. Below, we’re provided information on both degree types.

Master’s Degree

To qualify for a Master’s Degree in physical therapy you must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher in both Biology and Science. You will also, in most cases, need to meet the following requirements:

  • Pass the Graduate Records Exam (GRE)
  • Provide appropriate letters of recommendation
  • Complete a required essay, subject and content determined by the program to which you are applying
  • Pass an admission interview

You may also need to complete other requirements, determined by the nature and type of program you are applying to – though other factors also affect possible requirements – of which there are two:

Direct Entry Master of Physical Therapy

Designed specifically for students who have not studied physical therapy before taking their Graduate Degree, this program allows students who have completed an Undergraduate Degree in an alternate, though related, field to undertake their study of physical therapy. Consisting of both theoretical and practical courses, this degree typically takes 2 to 3 years to complete.

Transitional Master of Physical Therapy

This form of Graduate Degree is designed for students who have taken their Undergraduate Degree in physical therapy. Instituted when the determination was made that an Undergraduate Degree in physical therapy was no longer sufficient training to warrant holding a license to practice physical therapy, this degree program allows practicing physical therapists to gain the higher, now required, degree level without sacrificing their previously earned degrees and qualifications.

Doctorate of Physical Therapy

Like the Master’s Degree, the DPT takes approximately 2 to 3 years to complete, and covers both academic and practical coursework. There are two types of DPT degrees.

Direct Entry Doctor of Physical Therapy


This program is designed for students who are coming to their Graduate physical therapy degree having taken an Undergraduate Degree in a different course of study. This program generally takes 3 years.

Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy

As with the Transitional Master of Physical Therapy, this course was designed for practitioners who needed to upgrade their degrees once the determination was made that an Undergraduate Degree in physical therapy was no longer sufficient training to warrant holding a license to practice physical therapy. This program generally takes 2 years to complete.

Though the two Graduate Degree types are the same in most respects, the DPT carries more weight with most clinical institutions and potential employers. If you’re unsure what program is best for you, you should visit the APTA database at http://www.apta.org. The APTA’s website boasts a wealth of information on degree programs, types, and information on various educational institutions specializing in physical therapy.