How Long Do You Have to Go to School to Be a Physical Therapist's Assistant?

Physical therapist assistants work with all types of patients, including children.

Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of a physical therapist. They work with patients who require exercise and therapy to help strengthen muscles, regain mobility or manage pain. Physical therapist assistants generally earn an associate degree, but requirements vary based on each state’s regulations to be licensed in any type of physical therapy occupation.


Physical therapist assistants should consider attending a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Earning an associate degree requires about two years of full-time studies to complete. Coursework includes human anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, orthopedic treatment and general coursework in humanities and health care ethics. Some educational programs also offer cardiovascular resuscitation certification, because employers and state governing agencies require this credential.

State Governing Agencies

All states, with the exception of Hawaii, require physical therapy assistants to obtain a license to practice professionally. After completing an accredited education program, states generally require passing the national licensure exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states require additional written or practical exams. To sit for the exam, applicants must pay a fee and submit an application. Most state applications require passing a criminal background check, along with transcripts of education and cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification.

Continuing Education

Although only about two years of education can lead to becoming a physical therapist assistant, many states require additional coursework to maintain a license. Check with your state’s regulatory board to find out how many hours of coursework is required to maintain a license. Generally states require about 20 hours of coursework within a few years. Coursework should be completed through an accredited educational program.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 46 percent growth for physical therapy assistant jobs between 2010 and 2020. The growth for this occupation is expected based on a large aging population during that time frame as baby boomers retire. Advances in medical technology will allow the elderly to live longer and recover from medical ailments, allowing them to have more active lifestyles. The need for physical therapy will increase the need for physical therapist assistants’ to help in thriving physical therapy businesses.

2016 Salary Information for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants and aides earned a median annual salary of $45,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physical therapist assistants and aides earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,950, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $53,510, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 140,300 people were employed in the U.S. as physical therapist assistants and aides.

the nest