The transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) is a degree born out of necessity, and one that will, effectively, only exist for a few more years. In the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Vision 2020, the association calls for all physical therapists to be doctorate holders, and by that point, all entry-level PT programs (slated for licensure as practicing physical therapists) will be DPT programs. Changes in professional standards naturally call for changes in educational standards – and that's how we get the tDPT.
Why get a Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy Online?
That doesn't mean that licensed PTs who don't have a doctoral degree will no longer be physical therapists – their degree and license will still be recognized – but it does mean that they will be less competitive on the job market, when all new PTs will be holding a doctorate. So working PTs are increasingly looking to complete their credentials in a convenient way that doesn't interrupt their career.
To accommodate the change, colleges and universities have been revising their entry-level physical therapy programs to doctorates, and offering the transitional DPT as a stop-gap. With the tDPT, working physical therapists with a bachelor's or master's degree earn the remaining credits they need to become Doctors of Physical Therapy, building on their existing knowledge and experience.
Because the students who would need the tDPT are experience professionals already working in their field, usually for a number of years, the Doctor of Physical Therapy is a natural choice for online doctoral education. With the increased presence and acceptance of online Ph.D. programs throughout the U.S., prestigious institutions and many state schools are now offering online degrees with more frequency. The doctoral degree in Physical Therapy has become one of the most popular online doctoral degrees offered throughout the country, because students need only add to their current knowledge – not start from scratch. That also often makes online doctorates cheaper in the long run.
Physical Therapy Program Accreditation and Our Ranking
The highest and most trusted national accreditation for physical therapy programs comes from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), a wing of the American Physical Therapy Association. This accreditation is not necessary for physical therapy degree programs; it is, rather, a mark of exceptionally high quality in instruction that meets APTA professional standards, taught by qualified experts.
All programs in the Most Affordable Online DPT Programs are regionally accredited, while many are also CAPTE accredited.
Programs are arranged in order of affordability, from lowest annual tuition cost to highest (in-state tuition as reported by IPEDS).
1. Winston-Salem State University
One of the foremost historically black universities in America, Winston-Salem State University is a major public research institution and a central part of higher education in North Carolina's Triad region. Founded in 1892 as a teacher's college for black teachers in NC's segregated school system, WSSU has grown into one of the South's key educators for black professionals, educators, and researchers. WSSU is ranked one of the top regional universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized as a force for social mobility.
Winston-Salem State's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) is designed for working professionals in the field, practicing with either a bachelor's or master's degree. For professionals who want to teach physical therapy in a college setting, or practice as independent physical therapists, the DPT is the right choice. WSSU's transitional program prepares physical therapists for the next stage of certification, and is available in a fully online format, with monthly online meetings. WSSU has become well-known for its online programs in recent years, thanks to its high quality and support.
2. University of Montana – Missoula, MT
The University of Montana is Big Sky Country's flagship public research university, and has been the leading institution for professional study since Montana became a state in 1889. With one of the lowest, least dense populations in the US, Montana doesn't have, or need, many universities, so UM (and Montana State) does most of the heavy lifting, especially in health professions. The College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences houses UM's schools of pharmacy, physical therapy, public health, and more, and is crucial to Montana's health care system.
The University of Montana Transitional DPT program is designed in partnership with Rehab Essentials to provide working physical therapists the means to bridge the gap between their professional training and a doctorate in physical therapy. Applicants can have a bachelor's or master's in physical therapy, and may be working clinicians or educators. All coursework is fully online, and students can complete their work around their current schedules. Low tuition costs and a world-class faculty add to the appeal of UM's online DPT program.
3. Texas Woman's University
Texas Woman's University is one of the foremost names in health sciences, a national leader in areas ranging from nursing and administration to physical and occupational therapy. Dating back to 1901, TWU was founded to bring liberal arts and science study to the women of Texas, and its value was quickly evident. TWU became the first nursing program in Texas to be nationally accredited, as well as the first to establish a doctorate in nursing, and today TWU is not only the largest nursing program, but the largest public, primarily-female university in the US.
TWU's PhD in Physical Therapy is one of only six programs in the US, and the only one in Texas, to offer a PT PhD. Unlike the DPT, the Physical Therapy PhD is designed specifically for physical therapists who want to move into academic and research roles, rather than advanced practice. Students gain a deeper understanding of the scientific foundations of physical therapy, and deepen their research and teaching skills. The PT PhD is presented in a hybrid format, with low-residency on-site courses (usually 1-3 weekend meetings per semester) and fully online courses. With TWU's public university tuition costs, it's an investment in your future, and the future of physical therapy.
4. Texas Tech University
While Texas originally planned a branch of Texas A&M University for West Texas, by the time Texas Tech University was founded in 1923, it was clear that the region had grown enough to need its own university. Over the course of the 20th century, Texas Tech grew into a critical part of life and work in West Texas, becoming a top-tier public research university with an endowment of nearly $2 billion. Texas Tech is especially central to health care in the region, with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center making Texas Tech the state's only university with an integrated medical school on the same campus as its undergraduate program, providing a strong continuity in research and learning at all levels.
Texas Tech's Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program brings licensed physical therapists up to speed with the current standards for entry-level doctor of physical therapy, in a convenient format that allows working professionals to continue practicing. The program is 27 credits for students with a Master's degree, and 33 credits for those who have a bachelor's. With all coursework online, and all classes taught each year, students can easily complete their degree in less than two years. Texas Tech is one of the Southwest's leaders in health sciences, making their transitional doctor of physical therapy online program a serious bargain.
5. Florida Gulf Coast University
The second-youngest member of the State University System of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University has already earned a strong reputation in just over two decades. Though FGCU was founded in 1991, delays kept students from entering until 1997, but since then, Florida Gulf Coast has never slowed down. With more than 14,000 students and millions of dollars in research grants, FGCU is ranked in the top tier of regional universities for the South, and its reputation in business, engineering, and health sciences is growing by leaps and bounds.
FGCU's Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program, offered by the Marieb College of Health & Human Services, is a distance-learning program for working physical therapists. Designed to prepare licensed PTs for independent practice and research, the online tDPT program is open to students who have a bachelor's or master's degree from a CAPTE-accredited program, and who have a Florida PT license. Graduates will be prepared both for clinical practice, and to work as independent researchers, from a convenient online DPT program.
6. Alabama State University
Alabama State University is a nationally-recognized historically black university in Montgomery, AL. Originally founded in 1867 as the Lincoln Normal School, ASU's original purpose was educating black teachers for Alabama's segregated schools, but today, ASU provides professional and academic education for nearly 6000 students. ASU's College of Health Sciences is an especially important force for educating African-American health professionals, with state of the art facilities including rehabilitation labs and the Laboratory for the Analysis of Human Motion.
ASU's Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program allows working physical therapy professionals to update and complete their credentials for a DPT in a convenience online format. Unlike other programs, ASU's tDPT has tracks for certificate holders as well as bachelor's and master's holders, giving a wider range of opportunity for applicants. ASU's physical therapy program is interdisciplinary, state-of-the-art, and staffed by highly qualified, experience faculty – just the kind of role that graduates can qualify for after earning their DPT.
7. University of South Dakota
South Dakota's oldest university, founded well before the Dakota Territory was split into two states, the University of South Dakota is the state's flagship and quite possibly the most important institution in the region. USD is home to South Dakota's only accredited business school, law school, and medical school, and is crucial to professional education in all fields. USD's School of Health Sciences provides education for South Dakota's nurses, paramedics, social workers, and, of course, occupational and physical therapists.
University of South Dakota's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is South Dakota's first online doctorate degree. This 5 semester, 25 credit hour, online professional degree is designed to parallel the American Physical Therapy Association's Preferred Curricular Model for the Transitional Clinical Doctoral Program and Learner, as well as their Transitional Clinical Doctorate Competencies Document. Low graduate tuition and full accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) give students confidence that their online DPT program will give them a great leg up on their career.
8. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
The first public research university is still one of the nation's models for the highest quality of higher education – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Known as one of the original Public Ivies (a public university with the reputation and quality of the Ivy League), UNC has long been ranked one of the top national public research universities, typically in the top 10 among public institutions. UNC is particularly crucial in medicine and health sciences, especially since the 1952 establishment of UNC Health Care, one of the nation's research hospitals.
UNC-CH's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program provides a convenient way forward for licensed physical therapists who are seeking additional knowledge in their field. The program encourages Physical Therapists who hope to teach in their field to apply, using a part-time, web and distance-based format to allow PT professionals to remain in clinical practice. Graduates are expected to continue their clinical practice, while also qualifying to take on leadership and educational positions, public advocacy, and research roles. Few transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online programs have the foundation and reputation of UNC.
9. University of Michigan – Flint
The University of Michigan-Flint began in 1956, when the post-war boom in WWII veterans seeking higher education on the GI Bill funds demonstrated demand in the industrial area of Flint. Originally a senior college, offering degree completion programs for the region's junior college graduates, UM-Flint quickly became a 4-year university and a major force in educating professionals in Central Michigan. Since the decline of the region's automotive industry, UM-Flint has been instrumental in preparing workers for new roles in areas like business, human services, and health science.
UM-Flint's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program seeks to prepare working PT professionals to teach, do research, and to be mentors in their field. There are also four different emphases in the program: Specialization/Advanced Practice in Orthopedics, Neurology, Pediatrics, or Geriatrics. As a part-time distance program, UM-Flint's CAPTE-accredited online tDPT program allows PTs to continue putting their learning into practice. Meanwhile, personalized mentorship from UM-Flint's top-notch faculty, and access to the facilities of all UM branches (Flint, Dearborn, and Ann Arbor) make this online Doctor of Physical Therapy an exceptional opportunity.
10. The College of St. Scholastica
A private Catholic college in the Benedictine tradition, the College of St. Scholastica has long been ranked one of the top regional colleges in the Midwest. CSS was established as a college in 1912, but dates back to an older academy founded by the Benedictine sisters led by Mother Scholastica Kerst. Though it is still named a college, CSS offers a comprehensive set of bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees while maintaining the low student:faculty ratio (14:1) and strong academic support of a liberal arts college.
CSS's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is one of the nation's most in-depth and well-designed, perfectly balanced for the working PT professional to catch up to the requirements of the APTA's Vision 2020. This fully online, condensed program is just 16 credits made up of 6 courses, and can be completed in just 2 years. Around a quarter of CSS's online students have trained in foreign countries, so the CSS program is designed to fully prepare students for the most recent requirements in physical therapy. The College of St. Scholastica's DPT program is a model of excellence in physical therapy education.
11. Wayne State University
Wayne State University came about by a slow accumulation of institutions, the oldest (the Detroit College of Medicine) starting in 1868. As the Detroit Teacher's College, the Detroit Junior College, the Detroit College of Pharmacy, and other independent institutions joined forces, Wayne State developed into the Detroit metropolitan area's most comprehensive university. Today, Wayne State is Michigan's only public urban research university, with the highest level of Carnegie Foundation research classification, and consistent rankings as one of the region's top universities.
Wayne State's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is 10 semesters of full time work, which can be completed in around three and a half years. The entire 24 credit program can be completed online, except for one 2-day lab experience on campus (bachelor's holders will take 30 credits). The online DPT program is designed to add to the knowledge of working clinical professionals, especially in areas like diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, and research, which are not typically part of lower-level PT programs. Affordable tuition and a strong regional reputation add to the potential of Wayne State's online Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
12. Dominican College – Orangeburg, NY
Dominican College had a small start, founded in 1952 to educate teachers in the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt order, but within fifteen years Dominican had become a coed college. Today, with just under 2000 students, Dominican College is a respected regional undergraduate and master's-level college. Dominican is known for its health and human services programs, especially in areas like social work, special education, nursing, and occupational and physical therapy. Dominican is committed to the highest quality of education, including regional accreditation and special accreditation for many program.
The CAPTE-accredited Dominican College transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is designed to let working, licensed physical therapists reach the highest level of education. Student can count their professional experience toward their degree, and Dominica's 16-credit program is fully online, allowing working physical therapists to put their learning to immediate use. The program can be completed in as little as 18 months, up to three years, giving working professionals the flexibility to complete the degree around their current schedules. Dominican's reputation in physical therapy is sound, making their transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy a trusted degree.
13. University of the Incarnate Word – San Antonio, TX
The University of the Incarnate Word was founded as a small women's college in 1881. The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the religious order that opened the school, had some to San Antonio, TX, to provide service as nurses during a cholera epidemic. That spirit has remained at the heart of UIW, putting service to the community at the heart of the university's education. UIW reached much greater prominence after it began offering programs for nontraditional students with its Adult Degree Completion Program in 1995. Today, UIW is ranked one of the top regional universities in the west, known for their programs in business and health sciences.
UIW's online Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program is designed for active, licensed physical therapy practitioners, giving current professionals the skills and knowledge to meet the APTE's newest standards. The online DPT program is built on UIW's mission of holistic education and service, with an emphasis on integrating theory and practice for a fully-rounded clinical professional. The 26-credit program uses fully online courses for the flexibility and convenience working professionals need, and can be completed in just two years of part-time study. Applicants for the transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program must have a current PT license and at least one year of professional experience.
14. Shenandoah University – Winchester, VA
A United Methodist-affiliated institution, Shenandoah University dates back to the 1875 Shenandoah Seminary, and for a century and a half it has been the leading private liberal arts college of the Shenandoah Valley. Shenandoah University is known for its excellent student support and mentorship, with a low student:faculty ratio (11:1); in addition, more than 90% of Shenandoah's faculty have a terminal degree in their field. Shenandoah is particularly known for human-centered fields, including nursing, pharmacy, human development, and occupational and physical therapy.
Shenandoah University's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program is intended to help currently licensed, working physical therapists earn the credits necessary to complete their doctoral training. For a student with a master's degree, the program is 16 credits; 20 for a student with a bachelor's. Applicants can be licensed PTs anywhere in the US, or foreign physical therapists who have been working in the US for at least 6 months. This convenient program is fully online, except for two brief weekend sessions that must be completed on-campus. Shenandoah's tuition is reasonable for a liberal arts college, and its online Doctor of Physical Therapy program is a proven success.
15. Utica College
Originally a branch campus of Syracuse University, Utica College began in 1946, when Utica, NY's thriving manufacturing base and the return of WWII veterans with the GI Bill brought about a wave of demand for higher education. Becoming a fully independent college in 1995, Utica College continues to serve the Utica-Rome metropolitan region, providing professional and technical education as the old factory system has declined. Today, Utica remains essential to the region as a leading health science educator, especially in occupational and physical therapy.
Utica College's online post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy program is dedicated to meeting the goals of the APTE's Vision 2020. Designed for current, working physical therapists, the online DPT is taught by experienced practitioners for the most useful and up-to-date training. Most of the Physical Therapy degree is taken online, while there is one mandatory on campus residency. This CAPTE-accredited program prepares PTs for advanced clinical practice, administration, education, consulting, and more, increasing graduates' job market value significantly.
16. Northeastern University
One of the most recognizable names in higher education – even in Boston, MA, a city flush with world-class universities – Northeastern University has been dedicated to practical, useful education from the very start. Founded in 1889 as an evening college program in the YMCA, Northeastern is today a top-tier, private R1 research university known for programs ranging from law to engineering to health sciences. With more than 25,000 students, Northeastern is particularly known as a pioneer in cooperative education, building relationships with industry partners throughout New England and the Northeast.
Northeastern University's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program provides practicing physical therapists with a cutting-edge, interdisciplinary education. Northeastern's fully online program mixed humanities and sciences for various courses in differential diagnosis and medical screening, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, nutrition, and motor control. To prepare students for research roles, the tDPT also focuses deeply on case analysis and statistical research. Northeastern's online tDPT is accredited by the CAPTE and carries one of the most trusted names in higher education.
17. A.T. Still University of Health Sciences – Kirksville, MO
Founded in 1892 as the first osteopathic medical school, A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (named for its founder and the creator of osteopathy) is a historic institution and remains one of the leading healthcare educators in the Midwest. ATSU is strictly a graduate school and medical school, with no undergraduate programs, and its focus, as from its beginning, is on osteopathic medicine, dentistry, and healthcare management. With more than 3000 students and more than 30 graduate programs, ATSU is regularly ranked among the nation's top medical schools.
ATSU's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is a uniquely customizable approach to the post-professional DPT degree, tailored for the particular clinical needs and professional desires of each student. The curriculum is based on one-on-one assessments by ATSU faculty, and scheduled for maximum convenience. Every 6 weeks, 13 courses are offered the ATSU's Arizona School of Health Sciences, and students can choose to take one or two courses at a time, depending on the demands of the work and home schedules. For flexibility and quality, ATSU's online Doctor of Physical Therapy is impressive.
18. Andrews University – Berrien Springs, MI
The first and flagship Seventh-Day Adventist university, Andrews University dates back to 1874, when it was founded by the Adventist Church in Battle Creek, MI (in an intriguing bit of trivia, when the college moved to Berrien Springs, the old Battle Creek College was taken over by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg – co-inventor of corn flakes). Today, Andrews is Michigan's largest evangelical Christian university, and is recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the nation, as well as having one of the highest proportions of international students.
Andrews University's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program prepares active PT practitioners for the APTE's upcoming change in standards. Designed for convenience, the entire tDPT program is fully online, using accelerated courses and independent study to help busy professionals work around their current schedule. The 35-credit program can be completed in just two years, and students can earn competency credits by submitting a portfolio outlining their experience.
19. University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) – St. Augustine, FL
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences is a unique institution, a graduate school dedicated to practical, applicable education in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing. While USAHS was founded in 1979, it dates back to the first continuing education courses offered by Dr. Stanley Paris for physical therapists in Georgia. USAHS remains one of the nation's most influential institutions in physical and occupational therapy, and is organized as a private B-Corp – a corporation dedicated to social improvement and responsibility.
USAHS's Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program is designed around the Flex format, which combines the best of hybrid and online teaching formats for intensive, valuable instruction. While more than half of all coursework is online, students attend bi-weekly on-campus labs, held on weekends for the convenience of working physical therapists. Students also take three clinical internships, which must be full-time, to develop their hands-on patient skills. The Flex DPT is offered on all of USAHS's campuses: St. Augustine, San Marcos, TX, and Austin, TX.
20. Arcadia University – Glenside, PA
Arcadia University has been a trusted regional institution since 1853, when it was founded as a woman's college, and today it stands as one of the top-ranked regional colleges in the North. Located in Glenside, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, Arcadia is known for its excellent student support, including a 10:1 student:faculty ratio and small class sizes; it has also long been recognized for the highest rate of study-abroad participation. Arcadia's College of Health Sciences is one of the best in the North, and the Doctor of Physical Therapy program in particular has been ranked one of the best in the US by U.S. News & World Report.
Arcadia's transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy online program is built for convenience and flexibility, geared toward the needs of working professionals in physical therapy. For that reason, Arcadia's curriculum is one of the most adaptable out there; courses are 2-credit and fully online, and there is no set course sequence, so any class can be taken at any time. Students can start the program in any semester, and can earn a waiver for up to 6 credits (three classes) for experience by submitting a portfolio. Arcadia's wide network of alumni and partners, as well as a strong reputation, give graduates a secure place on the job market, making the Arcadia Doctor of Physical Therapy a top-notch program.
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