Top 10 Physical Therapy Schools

DPT student performing anterior knee drawer test on volunteer in practicum lab.

All U.S. physical therapy graduate schools now offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, with over 200 DPT programs available nationwide, to meet the newly reformed standards for PT education.

Recent PT Education Reform

In order to keep their accreditation, by 2015 (no later than 2017) all U.S. PT programs were required to offer only the DPT degree. A goal met 2 years in advance. In 2000, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) released a statement envisioning that all physical therapists would have attained the DPT designation by 2020.

In all honesty, this particular goal was too far-reaching and has since been archived as a non-active APTA document. While PTs that don’t have the DPT degree aren’t required to get it, DPT is the entry-level education for future PTs.

Top Ranked DPT Programs

To provide a closer look into the DPT curriculum, we’ve profiled the top ten physical therapy graduate schools based on rankings in the 2016 U.S. News Best Grad Schools report (the most recently published U.S. News rankings as of 2017). Also, please note, these rankings are quite subjective and should be seen as examples of what DPT school consists of and how curricula varies between schools. Compared to the 2013 PT school rankings, a few programs have shifted spots – but all have remained in the top 10. Furthermore, some programs are tied for rank.

University of Southern California (#1)

USC DPT program length: 3 years

The Doctor of Physical Therapy program at USC has an average graduation rate of 94%. The program also has an Ultimate Pass Rate of 100% for the licensure exam.

For those that already hold a degree in Physical Therapy and currently are working in the field are eligible to apply in a 1-year Clinical Residency Program in Orthopedic, Neurologic, or Sports Physical Therapy.

The USC PT residency program is designed to help physical therapists who are pursing specialized areas of practice.

It is intended to help the resident to pass the Clinical Specialist Examination in Orthopedic, Neurologic, or Sports Physical Therapy.

USC also offers a Clinical Education Program that gives the students the chance to apply their knowledge in practical use. The program has three elements:

  1. DPT-I This is for the first year students and each student will complete a 2 week practicum in the middle of the second semester and complete a 6-week summer affiliation at the end of their first year.
  2. DPT-II this is for the second year students and each student will complete a 2-week practicum in the middle of the first semester, a 2-week practicum in the second semester, and a 6-week summer affiliation prior to their summer courses.
  3. DPT-III This is for third year students and includes two 16-week clerkships, one full-time and one part-time in addition to taking Integrated Patient Management Seminars.

University of Delaware (#1)

U of Delaware DPT program length: 2.5 years

The DPT program has an average graduation rate of 96 %. 100 percent of the students who have graduated from the program passed their licensing exam on the first attempt.

The DPT program includes seven clinical internships, and students will participate in 4 full-time internships and 3 part-time semester long clinical internships. The program offers specialized internships in sports medicine, clinical instruction, and module learning.

The program offers a special clinical internship at their Physical Therapy outpatient facilities, of which there are two on campus. Students are able to get hands on experience in one of the following specialties are:

  • Orthopedics
  • Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Instructor
  • Neurologic and Older Adult
  • Pediatric Rehabilitation

DPT students at the University of Delaware also have the opportunity to enter into the Ph.D. training program, which will run alongside the DPT program. Graduates would receive the DPT and a Ph.D. in Biomechanics and Movement Sciences (BIOMS).

University of Pittsburgh (#1)

Pitt DPT program length: 3 years

The program has an average first time pass rate of 95 % for the licensing exam.

The final year of the program includes a yearlong clinical internship that is integrated with the University of Medical Center and its affiliate the Centers for Rehab Services. Placements are offered in a variety of clinical offices. Students receive a monthly scholarship to help offset tuition costs during the one-year internship. Students will also complete part-time and full-time affiliations during the three-year program.

The University of Pittsburgh also offers a MS in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences with an emphasis in Neuromuscular and Musculoskeletal Physical Therapy. This program is designed to follow the DPT program.

Washington University in St. Louis (#1)

Washington University DPT program length: 3 years

This DPT program has an average graduation rate of 95 %. Their ultimate pass rate is 98 %.

Students will have 125 hours of part-time clinical experience during the first two semesters. At the end of both the 2nd and 3rd semester, students will complete an 8-week full-time clinical internship. After the 4th academic semester student will have a 10-week internship followed by a 12-week internship.

While it is not required, students are given the opportunity to participate in ongoing faculty research, and to work as research assistants and summer research assistants.

Students can apply for the Pre-Doctoral Research Training program that has limited availability; the program requires a one-year commitment on a faculty guided research project as well as requiring that students participate in interprofessional seminars. This program is intended to lead to a Masters of Science degree in clinical research – tuition support and stipends are available.

Emory University (#5)

Emory DPT program length: 35 months

The average graduation rate for this program is 96 % and the ultimate pass rate for the license exam is 100 %.

The part-time clinical experience are 2 weeks each, beginning in the 3rd semester and continuing through the 5th semester. The 6th and 7th semesters will include three full-time clinical experiences of 10-weeks each.

Students must take elective courses in an area of their choosing: some of the options include: Business Management, Manual and Manipulative Therapy, Pilates for Rehabilitation, Nutrition, Spanish for Physical Therapist, Tai Chi, Directed Study, Advanced Anatomy, Spinal Orthopedic, Advanced Extremities, Strength and Conditioning, Advanced Pediatrics, Sports Physical Therapy, Interfacing Engineering Technology, Stroke Rehabilitation, Service Learning and Preceptorships.

Emory offers a joint DPT-MBA degree. This program includes two years in the DPT program with a long-term clinical affiliation and the third year will be in the business school.

Emory also offers a dual degree program, the DPT-MPH degree. This is a four-year program.

Northwestern University (#6)

Northwestern DPT program length: 3 years

The program has a 98 % average graduation rate. The ultimate pass rate for the licensing exam is 100 % with a 99.3 % average first time pass rate.

Students complete 6 weeks of clinical experience in the first year of the program and 6 weeks in the second year. The third year of the program has two clinical experiences at 13 weeks each.

All program students will participate in the Synthesis Project that will extend throughout their curriculum.

The University also offers a 7-year combined DPT-PhD program.

University of Iowa (#6)

University of Iowa DPT program length: 2.5 years

The average graduation rate for this program is 95.3 % and the first time licensing exam pass rate is 100 %.

The program includes 37 weeks of full-time clinical experience. Clinical experience is general and will involve placement in a variety of settings. For student wanting to be certified as a specialist, they do offer that as well.

This DPT program offers formal certification as a clinical specialist upon completion of the clinical experience and passing the specialist examination. Clinical specialty areas are in orthopedics, geriatrics, sports, neurological, pediatric, cardiopulmonary, clinical electrophysiological, and women’s health.

The University of Iowa has a combined DPT and PhD track that is a 7-year program.

MGH Institute of Health Professions (#8)

MGH DPT program length: 3 years

The average graduation rate is 90 % in the three-year program and an average of 95 % graduating within 150 % of the normal program time.

During the fall and spring semesters during the first two years at the program, students will be working in the clinic one half-day per week. In the summer after the first year and in the winter of the second year students will have two, 10-week long full-time clinical experiences. The program also has a one-year long, full-time paid internship in the final year.

The Institute does have a post-professional one-year residency program that students who have completed the DPT program can apply for.

MGH also offers an advanced course in orthopedic physical therapy. This is a lab-based course and provides 120 hours of coursework.

Baylor University (#8)

Baylor DPT program length: 27 months

This program has an average graduation rate of 97 %. The ultimate pass rate for the license exam is 100 % and the average first time pass rate is 97 %.

Students will have an 8-week clinical affiliation in the fall of their first year. After completion of the didactic phase of instruction, students will have a year-long clinical internship.

This program is a military-based program, through the U.S. Army. Tuition and fees are paid for and student will receive a salary while they are attending school in addition to receiving free medical and dental coverage. Upon graduation, students will serve as commissioned officers and physical therapists.

This program requires an 81-month active duty service obligation; the 27 months that it will take to complete the program counts towards the 81-month obligation. Air Force requires a 5-year obligation starting at your time of graduation.

University of Miami (#10)

U of Miami DPT program length: 3 years

The average first time pass rate for the licensing exam is 96 %.

There are a total of 32 weeks of clinical internships. At the end of the second year the first internship, the 8-week internship occurs. The remaining weeks of internship will be in the third year as three separate internships.

This program offers 25 elective courses to choose from in specialty areas such as private practice management, wellness, sports physical therapy, recreational activities for the disables, women’s health, complementary therapies to name a few.

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