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Study Physiotherapy Courses in USA

Nov 11, 2022

Study Physiotherapy in the USA: Top Colleges, Fees, Admission Requirements, Licensure, Scholarships, and Jobs for International Students

Physiotherapy (PT) also known as physical therapy is an allied health profession that helps ill and injured patients manage their pain and mobility. With the increasing demand for required rehabilitative services for aging baby boomers, the demand for physiotherapists is also growing in the USA, making it a viable career option. Students interested in entering the American physiotherapy sector can do so by obtaining a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which takes 2.3 to 3 years to complete.

After the completion of the DPT degree students are required to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to gain their license to practice as a physiotherapist in the USA. Let’s take a closer look at physiotherapy programs in the USA, including the top universities, costs, admission requirements, licensure, scholarships, and job opportunities for international students.

Note: Both physiotherapy and physical therapy are used interchangeably in the USA.

Overview of Physiotherapy Education in the USA

The table below contains highlights of physiotherapy courses in the USA. 

Entry-level degree  Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
Average tuition fees for DPT program 27,246 to 73,634 USD*/year
Duration of DPT courses 2.3 to 3 years 
Accrediting body for physiotherapy courses Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
Centralized application service  Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)
Licensing body Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT)
Licensing exam National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
Average salary for physiotherapists 95,620 USD*/year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Average salary for physiotherapy assistants 49,180 USD*/year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Top Physiotherapy Colleges in the USA

The physiotherapy curriculum in the USA is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Therefore, students should check if the college they are applying to has accreditation from CAPTE or not. The following is a list of top physiotherapy colleges in the USA offering DPT and other sequential courses in the field. 

University Name US News Ranking (Physical Therapy) Duration of DPT Degree Tuition Fees (USD*/year) DPT Dual Degrees/Sequential Courses
University of Delaware 1 2.5 years 38,750 DPT/MS in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science 
University of Pittsburgh 1 2.3 years 49,287 DPT/PhD in Bioengineering, MS in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, 
Washington University in St. Louis 1 2.5 years  43,204 NA
Northwestern University 4 3 years 51,633 DPT/MPH, and DPT/PhD
University of Iowa 4 2.5 years 34,646 DPT/PhD
University of Southern California 4 3 years  73,634 NA
Duke University 7 3 years  38,000 NA
Emory University 8 3 years  27,246 DPT/PhD, DPT-MPH, DPT-MBA, and DPT/MA-Bioethics Dual Degree
Creighton University 9 3 years  38,040 NA
MGH Institute of Health Professions 9 3 years  42,300 NA

Physiotherapy courses and admission requirements in the USA

The entry-level education for physiotherapy in the USA is a DPT degree which can be of 2.3 to 3 years duration. Around 80% of the DPT curriculum is made up of classroom and lab work, with clinical education accounting for the other 20%. PT students spend an average of 27.5 weeks in their final clinical experience. Students who wish to enter DPT are required to have a bachelor’s degree in science, health, or sports (either BS or BA). Almost all American physiotherapy universities ask students to complete specific prerequisite courses from the US accredited colleges with a grade of C (2.0) or higher in

  • Biology with lab
  • Chemistry with lab
  • Physics with lab
  • Anatomy and Physiology with lab
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Statistics
  • General Psychology or Abnormal Psychology
  • English composition

Some colleges also offer dual-degree options with DPT courses to allow prospective  physiotherapists to specialize in two different courses simultaneously such as 

  • DPT/PhD 
  • DPT-MPH 

Students can also continue their studies with a residency or fellowship program after completing their DPT course and licensure. Clinical residency programs and fellowships are both post-graduate physiotherapy programs that incorporate specialized training, coursework, and clinical experience (2,000 clock hours) in a certain discipline. Upon completion of the specialization, students can apply for board certification through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). The following are the ten areas of specialization in physiotherapy:

  1. Cardiovascular and Pulmonary 
  2. Clinical Electrophysiology 
  3. Geriatrics 
  4. Neurology 
  5. Oncology
  6. Orthopedics 
  7. Pediatrics 
  8. Sports 
  9. Wound Management
  10. Women’s Health

Students who do not want to spend years obtaining a DPT degree (four years for a bachelor’s degree plus 2.5 to 3 years for a DPT degree) but still want to work in the field of physiotherapy can become physiotherapy assistants. They usually require an associate’s degree from an accredited program and a license or certification to practice. 

Each physiotherapy university in the USA has established its own admission standards for DPT courses; for example, some universities want students to have taken the GRE, while others do not. Although DPT course admission requirements differ by university, the following is a list of some of the most common DPT course admission requirements for international students who wish to study in the USA:

  • A bachelor’s degree (BS or BA) from a US college or an internationally recognized equivalent with a GPA of at least 3.0 on a scale of 4.0
  • Majors in prerequisite courses from an accredited college with a grade of C or higher
  • GRE test score (if applicable)
  • Physiotherapy experience hours (paid or volunteer)
  • Official transcripts evaluated by the World Education Services (WES)
  • Three letters of recommendation (two from licensed physiotherapists)
  • Resume
  • Student visa
  • Personal statement
  • Personal interview
  • English proficiency test scores (IELTS 6.0 and above and TOEFL 90 and above)
  • A copy of the bank statement showing adequate funds for at least one academic year of tuition
  • A photocopy of the passport

Physiotherapy course fees and cost of living in the USA

Studying in the USA is extremely expensive, especially for medical-related fields where costs often on the higher end. Students therefore should budget their studies and expenses to have a pleasant college experience. Depending on the type of university and the length of the course, DPT tuition fees might range from 27,246 to 73,634 USD*/year. Some colleges offer a DPT program that lasts 2.3 to 2.5 years rather than the typical 3 years. This allows students to spend less on their education and enter the job sooner. 

Aside from tuition, students can effectively budget their living costs by making the appropriate choices. The cost of living in the USA for international students can be broken down into the following categories

Expenses  Cost in USD*/year
Rent 10,800 to 24,000
Food  3,000 to 9,000
Transportation  1,500
Books and other supplies  1,200 to 1,500
Personal expenses  5,000
Health insurance  4,000 to 6,000

Physiotherapy course application process in the USA

International students can apply to one or more physiotherapy schools in the USA using the PTCAS application service provided by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). The fee for the PTCAS application is 155 USD*. Some universities in the USA also ask for a secondary application in addition to the PTCAS application. The following is the procedure for applying to physiotherapy programs in the USA:

  • Fill out the application completely, including basic information, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, WES evaluated transcripts, and courses
  • Enter the names of the respective physiotherapy colleges 
  • Pay the application fee and submit the application
  • The application is delivered to the different physiotherapy colleges after it has been verified by PTCAS
  • Colleges examine applications and choose students based on academic performance, employment experience, and other preset criteria
  • Selected candidates are sent a letter of acceptance
  • Pay the fees upon selection and apply for a student visa upon confirmation of admission
  • Fly to the USA to perform other administrative formalities and arrange for accommodation before the start of the academic year

Since gaining admission to a DPT degree in the USA is highly competitive, students can apply through Gyanberry counseling and admission services to avoid losing a seat at their preferred college. 

Physiotherapy licensure requirements for international students in the USA

Only licensed physiotherapists are allowed to practice as physiotherapists in the USA. Therefore, upon completion of their DPT course, students should fetch their licenses to practice. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) is responsible for regulating physiotherapist licensure in the USA. Students must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by FSBPT to become a licensed physiotherapist (or physical therapist assistant) in the USA. Licensed physiotherapists must then continue their studies to reach and maintain the requirements.

The USA also allows international DPT graduates from other counties to practice and work in the USA provided they have the permission and license to do so. They should have their educational credentials reviewed as part of the licensure process. Some might be asked to take additional courses or engage in other professional development activities. After an applicant’s credentials have been approved and all of the needed application paperwork has been submitted, they will be able to take the NPTE to obtain their license. 

Physiotherapy scholarships for international students

There are several scholarship options for international students wishing to study a DPT course in the USA. Almost all the universities offering DPT courses offer some form of scholarship or bursary to new students who have an excellent academic record or for students who are financially challenged. International students are not offered loan options and federal aid by physiotherapy colleges. They can try to cut down on their tuition costs by applying to various scholarships and nurseries awarded by the following organizations:

  • The Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship 
  • The Civil Society Leadership Awards 
  • The American Association of University Women
  • Contact scholarships for Mexican students 
  • Foreign Fulbright Student Program
  • ColFuturo scholarships for Colombian students
  • The Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program
  • MPOWER Financing scholarships for international and DACA students
  • The P.E.O. International Peace Scholarship for female international students 

Students can learn more about these scholarships and determine whether they meet the eligibility requirements by visiting the eduPass official website. Some other reliable sources that provide a database of scholarships for international students are

  • The College Board 
  • International Student
  • Fastweb
  • Buddy4Study 
  • Edukasyon

Job opportunities for international students 

According to the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics, physiotherapy jobs are expected to increase at a rate of 28% by 2026, making it a promising field of work for years to come. Physiotherapists in the USA can practice in a wide range of settings like

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools and education centers
  • Sports training and fitness centers
  • Nursing and extended care facilities
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Patient homes

Physiotherapists can also specialize in one or more of the following areas to further their careers:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS)
  • Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)
  • Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
  • Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)
  • Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS)
  • Oncology Specialist 
  • Women’s Health Specialist (WCS)
  • Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)
  • Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS)
  • Wound Management Specialist

Certification in a specialty area highlights a physiotherapist’s experience in that field, increases credentials, and opens doors to new work opportunities. Students who have a taste for independence and entrepreneurship can also start their private practice as licensed physiotherapists. 

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A white coat ceremony is held for physiotherapy students (including nursing and occupational therapy) to celebrate the end of their classroom study and the start of their clinical rotations with real patients. The ceremony, which takes place at the end of the fourth semester, awards pupils with a short white coat.

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is responsible for accrediting physiotherapy courses in the USA.

Yes, a physiotherapy student must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to gain their licensure to practice in the USA. 

Many universities in the USA ask for GRE scores (50th percentile and above) to offer admission to their DPT courses. 

No, physiotherapy and sports and rehabilitation therapy degrees are related but not the same degrees. Physiotherapists work with patients of all types who need mobility expansion, whereas sports and rehabilitation therapists work with athletes and sports professionals to prevent injuries and recover from them. 

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