There are 18 accredited physical therapy schools in Pennsylvania, with campuses in big cities and small towns. They include public and private institutions of various sizes. Students earn associate’s degrees that qualify them to apply for certification and licensure.
No work experience or on-the-job training, other than the clinical experiences that schools provide, is necessary to practice physical therapy.
The future is promising for PTAs in the Keystone State. Government officials have projected that there will be 720 annual job openings in the field during the decade ending in 2026. The future for physical therapy assistants is looking bright in other states as well.
This panel regulates physical therapy in the state. It determines the qualifications necessary for a PTA program graduate to receive a license.
The officials issue and renew licenses. They ensure that applicants meet certification and licensure criteria concerning education, training, testing, and other considerations.
The board also suspends and revokes the licenses of practitioners who violate laws or regulations. This involves conducting investigations and holding hearings.
To become a physical therapy assistant in this state, the first requirement is to earn a high school diploma or GED. Students must then graduate from an accredited postsecondary school that offers a PTA program which the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education recognizes.
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 education programs. Either type of diploma allows a graduate to pursue licensure and employment.
The programs at most schools consist of four or five semesters that require two years or less to complete. In some cases, incoming students must complete certain prerequisite classes before enrolling.
Instruction takes place in classrooms and labs. The required coursework includes general education and technical classes. Curricula also feature clinical rotations and practicums that provide practical experience.
The state board mandates that PTAs renew their licenses every other year. This entails receiving at least 30 contact hours of continuing education in the field — including four hours identifying and responding to emergency health conditions, and two hours in a PTA law or ethics class.
Graduates must receive certification from the state board that they are eligible for licensure. This requires passing a state exam covering Pennsylvania laws and regulations, and posting an acceptable score on the National Physical Therapy Examinations (NPTE).
To register for the NPTE, a student needs to contact the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) to reserve a seat at one of many Prometric Testing Centers across the state. The FSBPT reports exam results to the state board, which then decides whether to issue a license.
The NPTE is a multiple-choice, computer-administered test containing four sections with 50 questions each. Scores range from 200 to 800, with 600 as the minimum to pass. The exam 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.
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not require prospective PTAs to take a jurisprudence exam.
This private school in Scranton has ranked 10th on Forbes’ list of the best two-year trade schools in the country. It offers a 69-credit-hour AS program.
Prerequisites for admission are a 900 SAT score; 3.0 grade-point average; 15 hours of observation in a PT facility; and college classes in Algebra, English, and Biology. In addition to the usual coursework, students must take Public Speaking, Microcomputer, English Composition 1, and Introduction to Statistics.
The program features 10 areas of specialization, and includes three clinical experiences that provide 88 hours of practical experience.
CPC, with a history dating to 1881, has a 70-credit-hour AAS program that takes 18 months to complete. Students may attend daytime classes on the Summerdale campus or evening courses at Lancaster Center.
Prerequisite college classes are Biology, Chemistry or Physics, and Algebra, plus another math course. Incoming students must have 20 hours’ experience observing at two PT facilities.
Core courses include English Composition I and a math elective. There are two seven-week clinical internships during the final summer term. A student may go on to earn a bachelor of science in applied health studies degree at CPC.
The two-year, five-semester AS program here is available on the school’s campuses in DuBois, Fayette, Hazleton, Mont Alo, and Shenango. Incoming students must have 10-20 hours’ experience volunteering or observing at three PT facilities.
The 70-credit-hour program includes general education classes in Writing and Speaking, U.S. or International Cultures, arts, humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences.
In addition to the typical core courses, students must take classes in Rhetoric and Composition, and Clinical Reasoning. The curriculum includes three full-time 15-week clinical practicums in differing settings.
This Catholic school in Erie offers a 71-credit AS program. Three clinical experiences provide 640 hours of real-world training.
Among the prerequisites for admission are CPR certification, 20 hours of observation at a PT facility, and either a 900 SAT score or a 20 on the ACT. Those with lower test scores take a placement exam. They may need to enroll in English, math, research and writing, and statistics preparatory classes.
In the school’s PTA Lab, students learn how to use hydrotherapy tanks, treatment and mat tables, parallel bars, wall pulleys, and elastic resistance.
Founded in 1915, this institution was the first Pennsylvania school authorized to award associate’s degrees. The 65-credit-hour PTA program has a part-time option with evening classes. As many as 30 general education credits from another school may be transferable.
An incoming student must have an SAT score of 900. The school “strongly recommends” 20 or more hours of employment, volunteering, or observing at a PT facility. Placement exams rate applicants’ English and reading skills to determine whether pre-admission classes are necessary.
The program boasts 100 percent graduation and employment rates.
Graduates of the five-semester PTA program at this private school in Scranton receive AS degrees.
Seventy-two credit hours include the typical core courses, in addition to Organization and Administration of Physical Therapy. Students get 720 hours of experience during three clinical affiliations.
The program accepts only 18 applicants per cohort. Military veterans qualify for five bonus points in the admissions rating system. Applicants must have 20 hours’ experience observing in two PT settings; and take prerequisite college-level courses in biology, physics, chemistry, or anatomy and physiology.
A private, Catholic liberal arts school in Cresson, MAC traces its roots to 1853. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the college 33rd among postsecondary institutions in the northern part of the country.
Applicants must have spent 16 hours observing in a PT facility. Thirty students are accepted for the 69-credit-hour AS program. They take the usual core courses, plus Communication I and II, Rhetoric I and II, Informational Literacy, Introduction to Electronic Medical Records, and a religious studies class.
The program includes 250 hours of training in PT facilities.
This highly rated school is in the small town of Butler, 35 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Among the admissions requirements is at least 20 hours as an employee or volunteer at a PT facility, “preferably in two different settings.” The 70-credit-hour AAS program’s core courses include Intermediate Algebra, Physical Wellness, Health Science, College Writing, Speech, and Patient-Practitioner Interaction.
Students take part in three clinical rotations at area PT sites.
Located in Schnecksville, LCCC awards more associate’s degrees than any other postsecondary institution in the Allentown region.
The four-semester AAS program involves 62.5 credit hours, including at least three hours per week in labs plus two clinical practices. In addition to the common core courses, students must take classes in Research and Composition, Fundamentals of Physics, Introduction to Literature, and Introduction to Sociology.
A placement test determines whether an incoming student needs to enroll in prerequisite English, math, or reading courses.
This school ranks in the top 10 nationally among institutions of its kind regarding the number of health-program graduates.
PTA students pursue AS degrees on the Boyd campus in Monroeville, 11 miles east of Pittsburgh. The four-semester curriculum consists of 67-69 credit hours, with 450 clock hours in classrooms and 715 hours of clinical experience.
A program applicant must pass a test to receive a biology waiver, or take a class in either General Biology I or Introduction to Biological Science. Core courses include English Composition I and II, Introduction to Psychology, Human Growth & Development, and Oral Communication.
Also known as Penn College or Penn Tech, this public school has operated in Williamsport for more than a century.
The 69-credit AAS program, launched in 2018, consists of four semesters plus two summer sessions. Besides the typical required courses, students must take classes in Information, Technology, and Society; Interpersonal Communication; and Orthopedics and Sports. There are two clinical rotations.
Program applicants are required to have completed a total of 20 hours observing at two PT facilities. The school accepts the 20 students who post the highest scores in pre-admission math, science, English, and reading courses.
This is a public school in the small town of California, part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Cal U among the best colleges in the Northeast.
The five-semester, 71-credit AAS program enrolls 26 students — those with the highest grade-point averages in pre-technical courses. Among the required classes are either Introduction to Gerontology or Principles of Sociology; PT Across the Lifespan; and Pharmacology and Imaging.
Two other core courses — Anatomy & Physiology and Intervention in Cardiopulmonary Impairments — take place in classrooms and the Cadaver Lab. There are open lab hours, with professors giving “one-on-one instruction.”
The core curricula at PTA schools in this state are basically the same, with some exceptions. All the programs feature two or three clinical experiences at PT facilities.
A student can expect being required to take courses in Anatomy and Physiology, Medical Terminology, Patient Care, PT Procedures, Therapeutic Exercise, Pathopsychology, Kinesiology, Orthopedic Interventions, Neurological Conditions, Musculoskeletal Interventions, Rehabilitation, General Psychology, and English Composition. The specific names of these classes vary.
In addition, most programs mandate general education courses in English, math, science, humanities, and social sciences.
Due to highly competitive admissions policies, these schools accept a minority of their applicants. A student’s previous grades and test scores, as well as real-world experience and training, are key factors. Some schools mandate a certain number of hours as an employee, volunteer, or observer at a PT facility.
Common entrance requirements include a minimum high school grade-point average, letters of recommendation, essays, a physical exam and drug screening, immunizations, a criminal background check, malpractice insurance, and an on-campus interview. Some schools want incoming students to have CPR certification.
The average PTA in this state has a salary of more than $52,300 (or an hourly wage of over $26), less than the national median of about $57,500 a year (or nearly $28 per hour).
The top 10 percent of earners make more than $70,600 (or about $40 per hour) in Pennsylvania, compared with about $79,500 (or over $38) nationally. For the bottom 10 percent, the pay is about $35,000 (or $17) in the state; $36,000 (or more than $17) nationwide.
The number of PTA positions in Pennsylvania will increase from 4,570 in 2016 to 5,740 in 2026, according to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That would be a job-growth rate of 26 percent, below the national median of 31 percent but still better than in most other professions.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerOneStop