Online Master’s Programs in Physical Therapy

Earning a master's degree in physical therapy can provide graduates with several job opportunities after graduation. Many students pursuing master's degrees in this discipline move on to doctoral programs, which train them to work as certified physical therapists. The master's program provides an excellent base of knowledge for students to comfortably transition into the most advanced physical therapy programs available.

In the following guide, degree-seekers can review everything they need to know about pursuing online master's degrees in physical therapy before settling on a program. Students can explore potential program courses, what exams and final projects they might encounter, specialization offerings, career opportunities in the field, salary data, accreditation details, field-specific scholarship opportunities, and professional organizations.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Physical Therapy Program?

Through physical therapy master's programs, degree-seekers develop the specialized skills and knowledge they need to thrive in the industry after graduation. These programs explore the various disciplines of physical therapy, including pediatrics and geriatrics. This equips learners to work with patients across the lifespan and prepares them to pursue careers that best align with their specific interests and skills.

Learners also focus on understanding how to provide individualized care to their patients, thoroughly reviewing each case to derive the most effective treatment plans possible.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master’s in Physical Therapy Program?

Motor Control in Pediatrics

In the motor control in pediatrics course, degree-seekers review human development and growth in pediatrics, focusing on the changes in sensory, physical, cognitive, motor, language, and psychosocial skills that affect functional movement. Students learn to work with children of all ages, including infants, children, and adolescents with developmental problems or disabilities.

Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Treatment

During the orthopedic and rehabilitation treatment course, learners explore the medical, surgical, and diagnostic methods used to make management decisions. The course allows degree-seekers to focus on the decision-making processes physical therapists face for each patient.

Motor Control and Behavior

Motor control and behavior courses explore the motor control concepts and motor learning needed for functional movement and balance for developing adults. Learners in this course review how to apply a variety of useful techniques across pathologic populations.

Systems Physiology for Physical Therapists

During the systems physiology for physical therapists course, degree-seekers review typical physiological mechanisms and principles. They work to understand disease pathophysiology and how various diseases function. Course topics include immunity, endocrine, neuromusculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal physiology.

Medical Screening for Physical Therapists

The medical screening for physical therapists course allows learners to explore the basic techniques used in medical history recording and physical examinations. These techniques lead to medical diagnoses, which subsequently may require physical therapy referrals.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Before degree-seekers can complete their programs, they must satisfy requirements for capstones, theses, or exams. Many physical therapy programs require students to fulfill a capstone component, in which they conduct research on a specific concept using the skills and knowledge developed in their program and produce a final project. Thesis requirements push students to conduct original research on a particular concept and explain their findings in a written essay.

Some programs allow degree-seekers to choose between a capstone format and a thesis option, while others require just one or the other. Other programs might not require a thesis or capstone, but instead mandate that learners complete a comprehensive final examination.

What Specializations Are Available in a Master’s in Physical Therapy Program?

Specializations allow physical therapy students to better align their degrees with their personal interests and career goals. These concentrations often focus on actual career opportunities in the field, preparing students with specific sets of skills to achieve professional success in their chosen area of specialization.

Sports Medicine

Degree-seekers who focus their physical therapy master's degrees on sports medicine explore how to care for injured athletes, coordinating care plans and exercises to help them rebuild their strength.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy courses teach students how to help injured or disabled patients navigate through daily activities.

Pediatrics

Physical therapy students who specialize their degrees in pediatrics learn to work with children and adolescents, providing unique and specialized care plans for specific age groups.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Physical Therapy Degree?

Working as a physical therapist requires a doctoral degree, but a master's degree in physical therapy can qualify graduates for a variety of career opportunities across industries, including roles as directors, aides, and assistants.

Rehabilitation Director

Rehabilitation directors lead teams in rehabilitation departments. They monitor financial affairs, hiring and maintenance, and other management tasks. They sometimes connect with patients and their families, as well.

Physical Therapy Director

In charge of ensuring physical therapy clients receive the quality of care they deserve, physical therapy directors ensure that all staff members abide by local, state, and federal regulations and company policies.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists work with individuals on speech and language difficulties and swallowing issues. They come up with effective plans to treat and manage these challenges.

Physical Therapist Aide

Physical therapist aides work closely with physical therapists. They provide care for patients across a variety of healthcare environments, including nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices.

Certified Nurse Assistant

Certified nurse assistants help their patients exercise and walk. They also perform grooming tasks and help patients bathe. These professionals observe their patients' conditions, regularly checking their vital signs and reporting changes to professional staff members.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Physical Therapy?

Across the physical therapy field, professionals can pursue a variety of high-paying career opportunities. Master's degrees in physical therapy allow professionals to translate their careers across a variety of fields. Consequently, job opportunities and earning potential vary greatly. Some careers feature median annual salaries of around $50,000 a year, while others approach $100,000, depending on the area of focus.

Physical Therapist Assistant

Responsible for observing patients before, during, and after their physical therapy sessions, physical therapist assistants treat patients through a variety of techniques, including stretching and massaging. These assistants help patients complete exercises as part of their comprehensive care. They also work to educate patients and their families about how to carry on after completing treatment.

Median Annual Salary: $48,090

Job Growth (2018-2028): 26%

Athletic Trainer

In charge of creating rehabilitation programs to provide care for injured athletes, athletic trainers use injury-preventative and protective devices including braces, bandages, and tape. These trainers recognize injuries and provide first aid and emergency care. They also plan programs to prevent future injuries and illnesses for athletes. These professionals may carry out administrative tasks, including writing injury reports and keeping records throughout treatment programs.

Median Annual Salary: $47,510

Job Growth (2018-2028): 19%

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists review their patients' medical histories, asking them questions and observing them to evaluate their conditions and therapy needs moving forward. These therapists help their disabled patients perform tasks such as getting dressed. They also educate their patients' family members and employers on how to provide the best care and accommodations for the patient.

Median Annual Salary: $84,270

Job Growth (2018-2028): 18%

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants review their patients' medical histories. They interpret diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and x-rays, to diagnose injuries and illnesses. These assistants work with patients and their families to answer questions about how to maintain health and wellbeing. They may also participate in outreach programs, teaching organizations and communities how to manage diseases and illnesses.

Median Annual Salary: $108,610

Job Growth (2018-2028): 31%

Recreational Therapist

In charge of reviewing their patients' needs through observation and medical testing, recreational therapists provide recreation-based treatment programs for disabled individuals and patients who have injuries or illnesses. These therapists help their patients develop the social skills they need to become independent. They work with their patients through therapeutic activities such as games, exercise, and community outings.

Median Annual Salary: $47,860

Job Growth (2018-2028): 7%

Online Master’s in Physical Therapy Program Accreditation

Before enrolling in a master's in physical therapy online program, degree-seekers should understand the three main types of accreditation: regional, national, and programmatic. Regionally accredited institutions are often considered more prestigious than nationally accredited colleges and universities, mainly because credits from regionally accredited institutions transfer more easily than those from nationally accredited schools. Both regional and national accreditation apply to every program offered by the accredited school.

Programmatic accreditation, or specialized accreditation, applies to specific degree programs. Physical therapy students should seek programmatic accreditation from the Commision on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

How to Pay for a Master’s in Physical Therapy Degree

Earning a master's in physical therapy online can cost degree-seekers a lot of money — often more than they can afford without financial assistance. Learners can explore a variety of ways to pay for their master's degree, including tuition discounts, federal student aid opportunities, graduate assistantships, and physical therapy scholarships.

Techniques for Financing a Master’s in Physical Therapy

Tuition Discounts

Students who enroll in online master's degrees in physical therapy can often take advantage of tuition discounts. Universities typically charge higher tuition rates for out-of-state students, but online students may qualify to pay in-state rates regardless of where they live.

FAFSA

The FAFSA allows degree-seekers to determine the types and amount of aid for which they qualify. The FAFSA encompasses both student loan opportunities and grant possibilities.

Graduate Assistantships

Some colleges and universities highlight graduate assistantship programs, which allow learners to teach or conduct research in exchange for financial aid. Students can speak with an academic advisor to learn more about these types of opportunities.

Scholarships for Master’s in Physical Therapy Students

APTA Outstanding Physical Therapy Student Awards

Who Can Apply: Available to physical therapy students demonstrating significant accomplishments across the profession, the APTA Outstanding Physical Therapy Student Awards require applicants to hold good academic standing.

Amount: Varies

See Scholarship
IHS Health Professions Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: This scholarship provides tuition assistance to Alaska Native and American Indian graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in full-time health profession programs, including physical therapy. The IHS Health Professions Scholarship Program requires applicants to hold a 2.0 minimum GPA.

Amount: Varies

See Scholarship
Katherine H. Dilley Scholarship Fund

Who Can Apply: The Arizona State Society Daughters of the American Revolution Fund provides the Katherine H. Dilley Scholarship Fund to graduate and undergraduate students pursuing occupational therapy or physical therapy at any four-year institution in Arizona.

Amount: $1,000

See Scholarship
Mary McMillan Scholarship Award

Who Can Apply: Available to graduate students within one year of completing a CAPTE-accredited physical therapy program, the Mary McMillan Scholarship Award requires applicants to demonstrate extraordinary academic performance.

Amount: $5,000

See Scholarship
National AMBUCS Scholarship Program for Therapists

Who Can Apply: Providing annual awards for junior- and senior-level undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in physical therapy, the National AMBUCS Scholarship Program for Therapists requires applicants to demonstrate financial need and hold good academic standing.

Amount: $1,500

See Scholarship

Professional Organizations and Resources

Graduates of physical therapy master's programs can join a variety of professional organizations in the field or take advantage of other online professional resources. These organizations and resources allow physical therapy students and professionals to expand their knowledge and skills.

Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy

  • One of the fastest-growing sections under the American Physical Therapy Association, ANPT represents one of 18 specialty areas in the association.


Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy

  • A nonprofit organization focused on providing information and research tools to parents of disabled children, APPT highlights innovative treatments for pediatric physical therapy.


American Council of Academic Physical Therapy

  • Comprising members from physical therapy academic institutions and educational programs across the United States, ACAPT works to develop standards for academic aspects of physical therapy.


American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.

  • Functioning as a national professional association representing the field of occupational therapy, AOTA advocates for occupational therapy students and practitioners.


American Physical Therapy Association

  • An individual membership professional organization, APTA serves more than 100,000 members, including physical therapy students, physical therapy assistants, and physical therapists.


The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

  • FSBPT provides and administers the National Physical Therapy Examination, which every physical therapist and physical therapy assistant must pass to gain licensure.


MedBridge

  • Offering a variety of courses that help learners expand their skills and knowledge in a variety of areas across the physical therapy discipline, MedBridge provides extensive information for users.


PhysioRoom

  • PhysioRoom is a website that provides a large supply of physiotherapy supplies, injury projects, and rehabilitation equipment for physical therapists.


Student Assembly of the American Physical Therapy Association

  • Encompassing student members of APTA, this assembly focuses specifically on student issues in the field.


World Confederation for Physical Therapy

  • An international organization for physical therapy, WCPT represents over 450,000 physical therapists around the world.