There are dozens of accredited physical therapy assistant schools in California. Associate’s degrees are available at universities, colleges, institutes, and academies in many parts of the state.
Upon graduation, a student must take exams to qualify for a license to practice in the state. There are no work experience or on-the-job training requirements, other than the clinical rotations and practicums that school programs provide.
The job prospects are excellent for PTAs in the Golden State, where facilities already employ more than 6,000 practitioners.
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This agency’s purpose is to “protect the public from the incompetent, unprofessional, and criminal practice of physical therapy.”
The seven-member board includes four licensed PTs and three public members, who serve no more than two four-year terms. The governor appoints all of them except two of the public members, which the Senate Rules Committee and the speaker of the state Assembly choose. All members receive ethics training every two years. An executive officer acts as the administrator.
The board licenses PTs and PTAs, verifies practitioners’ education and training, investigates complaints, and disciplines those who violate regulations.
Those with a high school diploma or a GED need to apply for admission at a postsecondary institution that the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) recognizes. The school must offer a PTA program that has the state board’s approval.
Students earn either an Associate of Applied Science (AAS), a professional degree; or an Associate of Science (AS), an academic degree that generally transfers to more advanced healthcare degrees. Either type of diploma qualifies a graduate to be licensed and employed as a PTA in California.
The programs at most schools consist of four or five semesters that require two years or less to complete. In classrooms and labs, students take courses concerning human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and behavioral science. Elective classes vary, giving students opportunities to pursue their areas of interest.
The state board recognizes only PTA education programs that provide at least 500 hours of direct clinical practice. Students work with licensed professionals in hospitals, clinics, and other settings to gain hands-on experience.
Many PTAs continue their education to earn bachelor’s degrees, which makes them eligible for higher positions and better salaries. They also may secure teaching jobs. Some employers reimburse PTAs for a portion or all of their tuition fees.
To become a physical therapy assistant in California, a graduate with an associate’s degree must apply for state licensure from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The agency determines whether an applicant is eligible to take two required tests: the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and the California Law Examination (CLE).
Approved students register for the NPTE through Prometric, which operates testing centers in San Francisco, San Diego, Anaheim, Diamond Bar, Culver City, and Camarillo.
The NPTE Candidate Handbook outlines how to prepare for the test, and describes some of the 200 questions.
There is a fairly large fee to take the exam, which assesses students’ knowledge of physical therapy, data collection, diseases and conditions that affect treatment, interventions, equipment and devices, therapeutic modalities, safety and protection, professional responsibilities, and research.
The CLE, which imposes registration and scheduling fees, is a multiple-choice test that takes one hour to complete. It covers the state board’s rules and regulations, as well as the Physical Therapy Practice Act.
The FSBPT sends exam results to the state board, which has up to 45 days to inform students whether they passed. The board reviews applicants’ education, training, and test scores to determine if they qualify for licensure.
We selected the schools below based on the programs that they offer, accreditation, student population, graduation rate and reputation.
View our Ranking Methodology to learn more about how we rank schools.
Formally known as the CLC School of Nursing and Allied Health, this private nonprofit institution’s main campus is in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys. It also has campuses in Hawthorne and Anaheim.
The AAS program in PTA accepts only about 10 students, less than a third of those who apply, each year. Among the pre-admission requirements are 48 hours of observation in two PT facilities, a two-week online introductory class, orientation meetings on campus, and CPR training.
In recent years, all of the program’s graduates have secured employment in the field within a year.
Carrington has 19 colleges in five Western states. Four of the sites, including the one in Pleasant Hill, offer PTA associate’s degrees. The campus is two hours, via public transit, northeast of San Francisco.
The 77-credit-hour program takes less than two years to complete. In addition to the usual coursework, students must pass classes in Computer Literacy, English Writing and Composition, College Algebra, Physics (with a lab), Introduction to Psychology, Introduction to Sociology, Interpersonal Communication, and Massage Therapy (with a lab).
The curriculum includes three clinical rotations.
The acronym in this vocational training and career advising school’s name stands for Community Based Education and Development. The campus is in Los Angeles.
The AAS program involves a 20-month curriculum with 107 quarter credit hours. Five terms of classes, labs, and three clinical experiences total 1,750 clock hours. Students may take some classes online.
The school boasts “state-of-the-art classrooms and labs,” and “a large network of clinical externship sites.” Program start dates are in March, July, and October.
California is one of the six states where this company offers AAS degree programs in PTA. There are campuses in San Diego, Garden Grove, and North Hollywood.
According to the school, the San Diego campus features “spacious classrooms, a learning resource center, labs, and a career/student services center.”
The curriculum covers therapeutic exercises; activities of daily living; and functional, mobility, and ambulation training. Students complete the program in as little as 20 months.
Enrollees here study for 20 months to earn PTA associate of occupational science degrees.
The 58,000-square-foot facility on the Orange County campus has “modern classrooms and well-equipped labs, including technologically advanced simulation, industry-standard equipment, and more,” according to the school.
Some classes feature “interdisciplinary instruction” by professors in related programs, as well as clinical professionals from outside the college. There are two required practicums totaling 600 clinical hours. The second one involves full-time work for 10 weeks in two rehabilitation settings.
The AS degree on this San Mateo campus requires two years to finish.
Before enrolling, students must take 36 weeks of general education and related science courses which include Reading and Writing Composition, Oral Communication, and either Introduction to Psychology (with a lab) or Lifespan Psychology.
Technical coursework, labs, and real-world training make up the ensuing 44 weeks (four quarters) of study. There are three clinical rotations, with students choosing from a variety of settings in the San Francisco Bay area.
Students in the AS program on this school’s Irvine campus experience “innovative learning with virtual reality, telemedicine, and synthetic cadavers” in the Therapy Skills Lab.
A prerequisite is to have spent at least 20 hours as an employee or volunteer in a PT facility. The curriculum consists of 122 quarter credit hours that take 23-24 months to complete. Some classes are available online.
During the fifth and final term, students take part in a pair of six-week clinical experiences that entail working 40 hours per week.
This public community college, in Visalia, offers a four-semester AS program that enrolls 26 students each fall. There are three clinical rotations that provide 680 hours of practical experience. Prerequisite classes are Human Anatomy and Human Physiology classes.
The degree is not designed for transfer, but the courses may apply to other degrees. This is not a pre-physical therapy degree. An applicant must have a California driver’s license and vehicle insurance.
This community college’s campus in Fremont offers a 54.5-unit AS program that takes two years to finish.
Prerequisite courses are English, Anatomy & Physiology, and Introduction to Physical Therapy. Classes are limited to 24 students a year. If more than that qualify, the school holds a lottery to make the final selections.
Students take part in two clinical practicums and an internship at PT facilities in the Bay area. All of the school’s PTA graduates have passed the licensure exam in recent years, and the employment rate exceeds 90 percent.
Another public community college, this school is in the Los Angeles County city of Norwalk.
The AS program lasts four semesters over two years. Between 300 and 350 students apply for admission each year, and only 32 win acceptance. Selection is based on work experience, as well as grades in general education courses and science- and medical-related classes.
In addition to the GE requirements (English, Intermediate Algebra, and Reading),, prerequisites include Freshman Composition, Medical Terminology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Public Speaking. Incoming students also must have CPR certification.
This public community college offers a two-year AS program with four semesters plus one summer session. The curriculum consists of 70-76 semester hours. About 175 students apply for the program each year, with 30 being accepted.
Prerequisite courses are Introduction to PTA (an eight-week, online course); Anatomy & Physiology; and College Composition. Incoming students must have CPR certification and first-aid training. General education requirements include Psychology, Sociology, and Nutrition.
There is one full-time, three-week clinical practicum and two full-time, six-week clinical affiliations. The school has contracts with more than 700 medical facilities.
This public community college in Clairemont, just outside San Diego, has a two-year AS program. The 60-unit curriculum includes three clinical practicums in which students work 525 hours in acute care, outpatient, and rehabilitation facilities.
Prerequisite courses are Anatomy, Physiology, Intermediate Algebra and Geometry, and Interpersonal Communication. Students also must pass reading and writing assessments. The PTA program courses are not transferable to more advanced degree programs.
The school accepts as many as 30 students for the program each year. Nearly all the graduates pass the licensure exam and secure employment.
Among the typical core courses that the state’s PTA schools require are Anatomy and Physiology, Introduction to PT, Medical Terminology, PT Techniques, Pathology, Pathopsychology, Kinesiology, Therapeutic Exercise, Orthopedic Exercise and Rehabilitation, Management of Orthopedic and Neurologic Conditions, and Laws and Ethics.
In addition, students generally have to take general education classes in English, math, science, humanities, social sciences, and perhaps other areas of study. Some schools allow this requirement to be satisfied before the first PTA term begins. Programs also feature as many as three clinical rotations and/or practicums.
Many schools have stringent entrance requirements and competitive admission procedures. Some of them mandate that an applicant have a certain number of hours’ experience working, volunteering, or observing at a PT facility. There also may be prerequisite courses. An incoming student usually must take a physical exam, undergo a criminal background check, obtain liability insurance, pass a drug screen, and be current with immunizations.
The median pay for a PTA in this state is about $64,000 a year, or more than $30.50 per hour; higher than the national averages of about $58,000 and nearly $28.
The top 10 percent of California earners make about $82,000 annually, or almost $40 per hour; slightly better than the national rates of about $79,500 and more than $38. Salaries and wages for those in the bottom 10 percent are nearly $32,500 and $16 in the state, compared with about $36,000 and more than $17 nationally.
The most PTA jobs are found in Riverside, Santa Ana, and San Diego. The metropolitan areas with the highest average salaries are Oxnard, San Francisco, and San Diego.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerOneStop