The United States is home to some of the best physical therapy (PT) schools in the world.
The requirements to become a physical therapist vary from country to country. Generally speaking, however, physical therapists need secondary or post-secondary education and training in areas that include anatomy, biology, kinesiology, physical fitness and even psychology.
Whether you’re a foreign national or U.S. citizen who intends on practicing physical therapy in the U.S., you can find a top-notch education at many of these institutions. In this article, we share a detailed overview of the top five PT schools and as well as a list of the other top-ranking PT programs in the country.
The top 5 physical therapy schools in the United States
The University of Southern California Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy
The University of Southern California earns the title of the best PT school in the nation. Located in sunny Los Angeles, California, USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy was established in 1954 and is considered a pioneer program for physical therapists.
The program has been ranked the top program by U.S. News & World Report since 2004. A recognized center of excellence for physical therapy research, USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy offers a wide range of degree programs, including:
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Master of Science in Biokinesiology
- Master of Science in Biokinesiology with Sports Science Emphasis
- PhD Program in Biokinesiology
The University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Therapy
Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburg’s Department of Physical Therapy is one of the nation’s oldest and most highly-regarded and ranked PT education programs. U.S. News & World Report regularly ranks Pitt PT as one of the top graduate schools for PT in the nation.
Pitt PT offers a variety of programs in the science of physical therapy, including:
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
- Doctor of Physical Therapy – PhD in Bioengineering
- Master of Science in Physical Therapy
- PhD in Rehabilitation Science
Washington University School of Medicine
Located in St. Louis, Missouri, the Washington University School of Medicine combines exceptional education, advanced research and top-notch clinical care to prepare aspiring physical therapists with the knowledge and experience they need to excel in their field.
The Program in Physical Therapy was founded in 1942 as a six-month program with the goal of training physical therapists to treat World War II soldiers who were injured in combat. Over time, the program has advanced exponentially, and now it’s one of the best physical therapy programs in the United States.
Washington University School of Medicine now offers a wide range of degree programs for students who wish to become professional physical therapists. Options include:
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
- PhD in Movement Science
- Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
- Movement System Clinical Fellowship
The Program in Physical Therapy at Washington University in St. Louis uses a “movement-based approach to physical therapy,” which focuses on the body’s movement mechanisms and exercise physiology. Their objective is to train physical therapists that can effectively improve the lives of their patients through effective movement techniques.
University of Delaware Department of Physical Therapy
The University of Delaware’s Department of Physical Therapy (UDPT) has also received outstanding recognition. In 2017, their physical therapy program was named the top graduate program in the U.S. in the U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best Graduate Schools.
This program focuses on teaching students evidence-based physical therapy methods. All graduate students enrolled in UD’s physical therapy program work in the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic, a part of the STAR Health Science Complex.
Here, students have the opportunity to advance and practice their skills as they work with patients under the direct supervision of board-certified clinicians in the Sports and Orthopedic Division and the Neurological and Older Adult Division. During clinical rotations, students, researchers and physical therapists devise and utilize advanced treatment programs for real patients.
UDPT aims to enhance the practices used by physical therapists to improve patient care and outcome. There are several departments within the University of Delaware’s Department of Physical Therapy, including:
- Behavioral Health and Nutrition
- Kinesiology and Applied Physiology
- Medical Laboratory Sciences
- School of Nursing
- Physical Therapy
- Communication Sciences and Disorders
University of Iowa Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science
A part of the Carver College of Medicine, the University of Iowa’s Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science offers a “multi-level educational department” and takes a comprehensive approach to teaching the prospective physical therapists and experienced health care providers and clinicians the science of PT.
The physical therapy degree programs offered at the University of Iowa’s Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences are among the best in the nation. The school offers three main degree programs, which include:
- Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). An entry-level professional clinical program, students acquire advanced knowledge and skills that aim to prepare them to practice PT. Upon completing the doctor of physical therapy program, students have the opportunity to take a national physical therapy licensure examination.
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). This doctoral program prepares aspiring physical therapists for a career in research, teaching and scholarship that focuses on Rehabilitation Science. All those enrolled in this program must also conduct research while being guided by a mentor.
- Combined DPT/PhD. Through this program, students earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy and their Doctor of Philosophy degrees. By completing this program, individuals will receive the knowledge and experience that’s needed to obtain a career in clinical and translation rehabilitation research.
- Master of Arts (MA). The MA program provides students with the foundational knowledge that’s needed to establish a career in research and scholarship in Rehabilitation Science.
While the requirements for these programs vary, students must successfully obtain a bachelor's degree prior to admission.
Top 100 physical therapy schools in the United States
While the above-mentioned schools are considered the best physical therapy schools in the U.S., they aren’t the only options available to aspiring physical therapists.
The schools listed below offer various degree programs that are founded in the science of physical therapy. Whether you choose one of the top five school or one of the following schools, you can be sure that you will receive the knowledge and experience that’s needed to prepare you for a successful career as a physical therapist.
Top physical therapy schools in the U.S.
- Arcadia University
- Armstrong Atlantic State University
- Belmont University
- Boston University
- California State University-Northridge
- Chapman University
- Clarkson University
- College of St. Scholastica
- Columbia University
- Creighton University
- Des Moines University
- Drexel University
- Duke University
- East Carolina University
- Eastern Washington University
- Elon University
- Emory University
- Grand Valley State University
- Indiana University-Indianapolis
- Ithaca College
- Marquette University
- Marymount University
- Mayo School of Health Related Sciences
- Medical College of Georgia
- Medical University of South Carolina
- MGH Institute of Health Professions
- New York University
- Northeastern University
- Northern Arizona University
- Northwestern University
- Ohio State University
- Ohio University
- Old Dominion University
- Pacific University
- Regis University
- Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
- Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-Camden/UMDNJ
- Sacred Heart University
- Samuel Merritt University
- Simmons College
- Springfield College
- St. Ambrose University
- St. Catharine University
- St. Louis University
- Stony Brook University-SUNY
- SUNY Downstate Medical Center
- SUNY Upstate Medical Center
- Temple University
- Texas State University-San Marcos
- Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
- Texas Woman’s University
- The Sage Colleges
- Thomas Jefferson University
- U.S. Army-Baylor University
- University of Alabama-Birmingham
- University of Buffalo-SUNY
- University of California-San Francisco
- University of Central Arkansas
- University of Colorado-Denver
- University of Connecticut
- University of Evansville
- University of Florida
- University of Georgia-Atlanta
- University of Illinois-Chicago
- University of Indianapolis
- University of Kansas Medical Center
- University of Maryland-Baltimore
- University of Massachusetts-Lowell
- University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Newark
- University of Miami
- University of Michigan-Flint
- University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
- University of Missouri
- University of Montana-Missoula
- University of Nebraska Medical Center
- University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
- University of North Dakota
- University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
- University of Pennsylvania-Slippery Rock
- University of Puget Sound
- University of Rhode Island
- University of South Carolina
- University of South Florida
- University of Tennessee Health Science Center
- University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
- University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio
- University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center-Dallas
- University of Utah
- University of Vermont
- University of Washington
- University of Wisconsin-La Crosses
- University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- West Virginia University
The prerequisite requirements to gain entry into any of the aforementioned physical therapy schools vary from institution to institution as well as from program to program.
To find out what the prerequisite requirements for your program of interest, visit their website or contact the school’s admissions office directly.
How to study physical therapy in the U.S.
If you’re a foreign national interested in attending any physical therapy school in the United States, in addition to meeting the necessary prerequisite requirements, you must also successfully obtain the necessary visa.
The United States government offers three types of visas for foreign students:
- F-1 Academic Student Visa
- M-1 Vocational Student Visa
- J-1 Student and Exchange Visitor Visa
To study physical therapy in the United States, international students need to obtain an F-1 Academic student visa. This visa allows foreign nationals to enter the country as a full-time student, take classes, and complete a program of study at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school or other academic institution.
To obtain an F-1 visa, physical therapists must be enrolled in a course of study or program that will result in a degree. Additionally, the school you are seeking to attend must be authorized to accept foreign students by the U.S. government. You must meet all other necessary requirements and file the F-1 visa application and all necessary supporting documentation with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.