Investing in an academic degree or professional training sets you up for a successful career. However, now more than ever, it’s important to weigh the costs and benefits of this investment. Plan for your academic future by identifying upfront costs, determining how to fund your education and calculating the return on your investment (both in salary and job satisfaction).
If you’re considering a career as a physical therapist (PT), you need to know how much PT school is—let’s take a look at the costs and compare them to the benefits.
What Degree Do You Need to Become a PT?
Entering the profession as a PT requires a doctoral degree. Otherwise, you might pursue undergraduate or master’s level training that prepares you for a career as a PT aide or assistant, or potentially for a non-practicing career in PT administration or management.
To become a practicing physical therapist, you’ll need to complete a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program at an accredited university.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a DPT Degree?
While it’s impossible to come up with a single price tag for obtaining your DPT degree, there are many factors to consider. These include the type of school you choose, your residency status, specific school fees and the program mix. Then there are ancillary housing, book and lifestyle costs specific to the city you live in.
However, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) publishes aggregate data that helps answer the question, “How much does physical therapy school cost?”1 Per CAPTE’s 2021 fact sheet, the ranges for annual tuition and total program costs for public in-state, public out-of-state, and private schools are as follows:
- Public in-state: Annual tuition ranges from $4,232 to $91,842 | Total cost ranges from $24,758-$120,743
- Public out-of-state: Annual tuition ranges from $10,578 to $122,200 | Total cost ranges from $32,606 to $217,728
- Private: Annual tuition ranges from $22,985 to $122,550 | Total cost ranges from $47,223 to $194,516
The total costs above include the average cost of books, student and lab fees and miscellaneous required expenses, but do not include room and board.
A DPT program requires significant in-person and hands-on study—therefore it’s not a degree that should be completed exclusively online.
There are programs that allow you to continue to work by restructuring clinical hours and in-person courses to weekends, such as our Flex Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. You may want to live near campus, or consider the additional costs of:
- Room and board
How to Fund a DPT
You don’t always need to pay the full costs up front. Most students can mix and match funding sources, although not all programs are eligible for government grants and scholarships. Depending on the PT school you choose, you may be able to leverage:
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans
- Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans
- Federal Work Study Programs
- Private Alternative Loans
- Scholarships and benefits
- Leadership and Community Service or Outstanding Academic Achievement scholarships
That said, when you’re considering DPT programs, review the school’s specific financial support options—most schools have dedicated financial aid offices to help you identify and apply for aid.
How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?
In addition to factoring in how much is physical therapy school, you’ll also want to consider how much you’ll be making as a PT. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of PT jobs will increase by 17% between now and 2031, resulting in about 15,400 job openings per year.2 This is quite high compared to the 5% average projected growth rate for all occupations during that same timeframe.
National Median Salary
In 2021, the median annual salary for PTs in the United States was $95,620.2 Years of experience and seniority are factors as well.
Average Salaries by Location
Salaries vary by both city and state and are adjusted based on the desirability of a city as well as if the setting is urban or rural.
Average PT salaries in the top-paying states are as follows:
- Nevada: Average annual salary $104,2105
- California: Average annual salary $103,5105
- Connecticut: Average annual salary $101,1805
- Delaware: Average annual salary $100,4905
- New Jersey: Average annual salary $99,5305
Nine of the top ten paying metropolitan areas are in either California or Nevada, with salaries ranging from $109,650 to $123,190.
Consider the cost of living if you’re searching for jobs based on average salaries. You may find that you’ll earn a better disposable income in a low-cost city or state with a lower wage. There are cost of living calculators that can help you understand how far a projected salary will serve you.
Average Salaries by Practice Setting
In addition to geographic location, what is your ideal industry or work environment? Oftentimes, you can increase your wage by working within a specialty hospital.3
In addition to completing a residency program or fellowship in an advanced clinical area, per the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), you can also obtain a board-certification in 10 specialty areas:2
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Women’s health
- Wound management
To further increase your earning potential, apply for top-paying PT positions in:6
- Outpatient care centers: Annual mean wage of $111,410
- Home healthcare services: Annual mean wage of $105,510
- Child day care services: Annual mean wage of $102,050
- Local government (excluding schools and hospitals): Annual mean wage of $101,290
- Nursing care facilities: Annual mean wage of $100,760
Additional PT roles include becoming a travel physical therapist, working within physical therapy management, policymaking, or education, or starting your own physical therapy practice.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Physical Therapist?
An important part of your investment is program time—how long will you spend studying physical therapy?
Most doctoral PT programs take about three to four years to complete, though it will vary depending on individual progress. Becoming a physical therapist requires these steps:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree and complete relevant pre-physical therapy courses
- Review university admission requirements including taking the GRE and meeting all prerequisite requirements
- Graduate from an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program
- Pass a state exam and obtain a license to practice
That said, if you didn’t earn a bachelor’s degree that aligns with a physical therapy career, such as exercise science, biology, psychology or kinesiology, you may need to take a few preparatory courses. Prerequisite courses often include6:
- Anatomy with lab
- Physiology with lab
- Biology (basic and advanced)
- General chemistry with labs (basic and advanced)
- General physics with labs (basic and advanced)
If you follow the most common path of first completing a four-year undergraduate degree, the DPT program typically takes about three to four years. However, there are multiple routes through University of St. Augustine to become a physical therapist, which either add or subtract time:
- Residential DPT – Students will complete 131 credit hours over 8 trimesters, which takes roughly 2.7 years.
- FLEX DPT – Students will complete 131 credit hours over 12 timesters, which takes roughly 4 years.
Start Your Physical Therapy Journey Today
Earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from the largest PT school in the United States.* At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), you’ll join a cohort of peers who study under the mentorship of expert faculty practitioners.
Our program provides high-tech tools to help you learn the intricacies of anatomy, and hands-on preparation for clinical practice with a wide range of patients, and state-of-the-art simulation centers. DPT coursework will also prepare you for advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking.
Select from a Residential program (blended didactic courses plus in-person weekday labs) or Flex format (online courses plus in-person weekend labs).
We’re here to answer your physical therapy-related questions, whether you’re wondering how much PT school is or where physical therapists can work.
*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). “2021 Physical Therapist Education Programs Fact Sheet,”Aggregate Program Data, last modified 2021. https://www.capteonline.org/globalassets/capte-docs/aggregate-data/2021-2022-aggregate-pt-program-and-salary-data.pdf
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Physical Therapists,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified September 2022, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm
- PayScale, “Average Physical Therapist (PT) Salary,” last modified October 2022, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Physical_Therapist_(PT)/Salary
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “29-1123 Physical Therapist,” Occupational Employment and Wages, last modified May 2021, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
- American Physical Therapy Association, “Specialist Certification,” last modified 2022, https://www.apta.org/your-career/career-advancement/specialist-certification
- Veronica Wickline, “How to Become a Physical Therapist: Steps to Take from High School,” CollegeVine, last modified November 2019, https://blog.collegevine.com/how-to-become-a-physical-therapist-steps-to-take-from-high-school/