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Online Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) Degree Programs & Schools

Although physical therapy assistant (PTA) programs aren't offered completely online, several schools throughout the United States offer primarily-online programs. Learn what PTA programs involve and what to expect after graduation.

Schools with Online Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Although online physical therapy assistant (PTA) programs are not nearly as common as on-campus programs, they are available at several schools throughout the United States. The schools listed below offer hybrid PTA programs that can be completed in as few as 18 months. Some schools have cohort programs, where students progress through the program together at one pace, while other schools offer some flexibility to individual students.

School Name Location Program Tuition Rate Per Credit (2019-2020, in-state) Credits Required Total Tuition Cost
Jefferson State Community College Birmingham, AL Associate of Applied Science: Physical Therapist Assistant $162 69 credits $11,178
Rasmussen College Campuses in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin Associate of Science/Associate of Applied Science - Physical Therapist Assistant (depending on state) $310 93* credits $28,830
Whatcom Community College Bellingham, WA Associate in Science - Physical Therapist Assistant $116.26 for 1-10 credits, $54.58 each add'l credit 111 credits $1,271.76 (per 12-hour semester)
San Juan College Farmington, NM Physical Therapist Assistant, Associate of Applied Science $49 74 to 78 credits $3,626 to $3,822

*Rasmussen offers Flex Choice to students, which allows them to waive some of the required curricula by passing knowledge assessments.
All tuition and program information is sourced from the respective school websites.

Overview of Online Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Online physical therapy programs usually consist of online courses, on-campus lab experiences and clinical practicums in physical therapy care settings. Online PTA programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete and lead to an associate's degree; either an Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Many of these programs run in a cohort model, which means that students take courses in a specific order and progress through the program with their peers. Because of the format, cohort programs only accept students and begin every few years. Other programs allow students to begin at one or two points each year, and may allow part-time study, full-time study, or the ability to switch between the two.

Common Courses

Online physical therapy assistant programs usually have both general and program-specific coursework. General coursework typically includes classes in composition, mathematics, communications and other school or state required subject areas. Common program-specific courses that are included in physical therapy assistant programs include those listed below.

  • Medical Terminology - In this course, students learn how to effectively communicate in medical roles using the appropriate word roots, suffixes and prefixes. Other topics covered include using various word parts to construct or deconstruct medical terms, proper spelling and pronunciation.
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology - Students develop a basic understanding of the human body, cell biology, basic chemistry and bodily tissues. Topics covered include skeletal, nervous, muscular and other body systems and students often complete various lab exercises.
  • Intro to Psychology - This class introduces students to theories and concepts of psychology as well as notable discoveries, terminology and practices. Students will also review human psychological development, emotion, behaviors and therapies.
  • Foundations of Physical Therapy - Students review the fundamentals of physical therapy practice and the roles of those working within the field. Other topics covered often include ethical and regulatory implications as well as patient safety.
  • Physical Therapy Practices - These courses may be separated by patient age or group, or by specific areas of the human body. They provide an in-depth understanding of how to effectively provide therapy to patients as well as how to identify risk factors.
  • Kinesiology - Students learn more about human anatomy and the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Other topics covered may include forces and biomechanics, prime movers and insertions.

Practical Requirements

Online physical therapy assistant programs have two types of practical requirements: laboratory exercises and clinical practicums.

Laboratory Requirements

The number of laboratory hours required for online physical therapy assistant programs varies. Many programs cluster laboratory hours together so that students complete a large number of lab hours over the course of two to three days. These sessions are usually offered on weekends so that students who do not live nearby can stay near the school and shorten their commute. Depending on their program, students may attend sessions a few times per semester during the whole program or during the second year.

Clinical Practicum Requirements

Clinical practicum requirements also vary by program but may include 70 to more than 120 hours. Practicum hours involve students working under supervision, applying the knowledge they've learned in various physical therapy settings. In some programs, students can complete their hours part-time over an extended period while other programs require students to complete the hours through 40-hour practicum weeks. While not all programs are able to, some allow students to complete their practicum hours at sites that are near the students.

Accreditation

There are two types of accreditation that may be necessary for online physical therapy assistant students: institutional and programmatic.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation applies to an entire school and shows that the school has met several quality criteria set by the accrediting agency. Accrediting agencies are either regional or national; regional accreditation is typically preferred because it often represents a higher quality and credits can transfer to other schools easier. Credits earned at a nationally accredited institution can typically only transfer to another nationally accredited institution. Aside from quality, institutional accreditation is extremely important because students cannot obtain federal aid unless they enroll at an accredited school.

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation also represents quality, but specifically applies to a program. Physical therapy assistant programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Graduates of an accredited program are often more adequately prepared for their roles as physical therapy assistants. In addition, graduating from an accredited program is typically required for obtaining a license as a physical therapy assistant.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online PTA programs

There are numerous types of financial aid that online physical therapy assistant students can qualify for. Students should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. The FAFSA is free and shows some of the aid that students can qualify for. In addition, students can often use state career and educational sites to find supplemental aid options (including many scholarships).

Work-Study

Work-study programs are offered by some employers as well as the government. Government/federal work-study is available at partnering schools, and involves students working part-time while they are in their programs. Students can often work in positions that are applicable to their major and are able to earn part or all of their program costs.

Student Loans

Student loans are available through the government and through private lenders. Private loans should be used as a last resort due to variable interest rates, qualification criteria and lack of flexibility. Federal loans are income-based and have interest rates set by the government. In addition, federal loans don't require payments while students are in school and usually offer extremely flexible repayment plans (up to 30 years).

Loan Forgiveness & Repayment

Graduates who work for nonprofit or government employers may qualify to have their student loans forgiven after making regular, qualifying payments for 10 years. In addition, many employers offer student loan repayment to employees as sign-on bonuses as well as career duration or advancement bonuses.

Scholarships

There are countless scholarships available to students, some of which are based on factors such as financial need, program, academic performance and student characteristics. Some of the scholarships available to online physical therapy assistant students are listed below.

  • PIF/Lifeline Scholarship - Four $1,000 awards are given to adult students who currently work with disabled patients or those with brain illnesses, who are pursuing fields such as physical therapy and rehabilitation.
  • Illinois Hospital Research & Educational Foundation Scholarship - Students pursuing a hospital-related program, such as physical therapy assisting, who live in Illinois can qualify to earn $1,000 or more.
  • Mary McMillan Scholarship - This $3,000 to $5,000 scholarship is awarded to students with superior academic performance who have been nominated by their school and are enrolled in an accredited physical therapist or assistant program.
  • Dr. Alvin & Monica Saake Foundation Fund - Hawaii students majoring in areas such as physical therapy or kinesiology who are studying full time can earn one of several awards of varying amounts.
  • AMBUCS Scholarships for Therapists - Students enrolled in accredited programs in physical therapy, speech therapy or a similar field can qualify to earn $500 through this merit-based scholarship.
  • Intercollegiate Academic Clinical Coordinators Council Scholarship - One award of $1,000 is given to physical therapy or assistant student that has already completed at least six weeks of their program.
  • Ben Glo Foundation Inc. Scholarship - One student enrolled full-time in a medical, science or mathematical field is awarded up to $1,200; students must demonstrate financial need.
  • Michael Moody Fitness - $1,500 is awarded to one student who shows outstanding leadership and participation in school and work activities and is pursuing a program/career in fitness and health-related fields.
  • Physical Therapy Scholarship - $1,000 is awarded to a student enrolled in an accredited physical therapy, occupational therapy or physical therapy assistant program.
  • Paulina L. Sorg Scholarship - Several awards of varying amounts are given to students in physical therapy and nursing programs based on merit.
  • Robanna Fund - Students pursuing medical-related programs can earn one of several merit-based awards, with the amounts varying by the student.
  • Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program - Several awards of varying amounts (up to $2,500) are given to students enrolled in healthcare programs, including physical therapy. Recipients agree to work at least 1 year in an underserved area of California after graduation.
  • Nurse.org Healthcare Leaders Scholarship - One award is given to students pursuing a healthcare-related field. Students are required to submit an essay of 600 or more words with their application.
  • Healthcare Leaders Scholarship - $1,000 is awarded to one student who is enrolled in a medical program (such as physical therapy or nursing).
  • Occupational/Physical Therapy Scholarship - Several $1,000 scholarships are awarded to students who are pursuing programs in occupational or physical therapy and have financial need.
  • Annual Senior Care Innovation Scholarship - Five $1,000 scholarships are awarded to students who intend to work with senior populations after graduation and are enrolled in programs such as physical therapy or occupational therapy.

License Requirements for Physical Therapist Assistants

To qualify for licensure, physical therapist assistants must first complete a qualifying associate's degree program. Most states require students to graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Within these programs, students not only learn through didactic coursework, but they also practice skills in laboratory and clinical settings.

After graduation students need to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapy assistants as well as any state-specific examinations (such as laws applicable to the field). After obtaining licensure, physical therapy assistants are required to earn continuing education credits in order to maintain licensure. The number and type of credits required vary by state but may include working a specific number of hours over the course of two years, for example.

Physical Therapist Assistant Responsibilities and Outlook

Physical therapist assistants work directly under the direction of physical therapists providing direct care to patients. Their duties can include observing patients, treating patients (for example, massaging), providing patient education and assisting patients with exercises. They use various therapies as directed by physical therapists and report and update patient results.

The table below summarizes the employment, pay and outlook of physical therapist assistants based on industry. All occupational data is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Industry % of PTAs (2018) Median Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Nursing Care Facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 10% $66,440 6%
Home Healthcare Services 8% $62,340 78%
Offices of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists, and Audiologists 45% $56,760 35%
Hospitals; State, Local and Private 23% $56,180 8%
Offices of Physicians 5% $54,360 12%

Career Advancement

Physical therapy assistants can advance to a variety of different roles, whether or not they pursue additional education.

  • Physical Therapists - PTAs can apply their prior education and work experience to physical therapist roles. They'll need to complete a PTA to PT program (or combination of programs) in order to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Physical therapists had a median annual salary of $87,930 in 2018 and are expected to have a 22% job growth from 2018 to 2028.
  • Medical and Health Services Managers - PTAs can advance to administrative roles without additional education, although those who do complete administrative courses or programs may have more opportunities for advancement. In 2018, the median salary for medical and health services managers was $99,730 and jobs in the field are expected to grow 18% from 2018 to 2028.
  • Postsecondary Teachers - PTAs who earn a master's degree can often teach in their field of study at community colleges, and those who earn a doctoral degree can also teach at universities. Postsecondary health specialties teachers had a median salary of $97,370 in 2018 and are expected to have job growth of 23% between 2018 and 2028.