Physical Therapist Assistant with a child patient

How to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant

Educational Requirements, Certifications, Daily Responsibilities, and Salary

Physical Therapist Assistant with a child patient

Many children worldwide deal with disabilities or injuries that affect their ability to participate in school. Fortunately, there’s an entire field of physical therapy dedicated to helping these students stay engaged in the classroom. School physical therapist assistants work with children who may have physical or neurological limitations and ensure they can continue to receive a quality education. Becoming a school-based PTA is a rewarding way to make a living, which is why we recently featured this career on our top 8 PTA jobs list.

Our career guide will give you all the details about how to become a school physical therapist assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect during most days on the job. You’ll also learn how much you could make as a school PTA and how long it usually takes to launch your new career.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA but still curious about other jobs, you can explore the other options on our list of the top 8 physical therapist assistant careers.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

School physical therapist assistants treat children who may have difficulty navigating the school environment safely and independently or whose limitations prevent them from fully participating in classes or other activities. School PTAs provide care primarily focused on facilitating learning, making their careers one of the more unique fields in physical therapy.

School Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a School Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

Under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, school PTAs care for children who may have trouble moving around campus, sitting comfortably in their classrooms, or participating in physical education activities. They may assist their supervising PTs with evaluations, help students build strength and motor skills, or educate parents or teachers on how to continue each child’s progress at home and in the classroom.

School Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

School PTAs may perform their duties in dedicated therapy facilities, gyms, playgrounds, or even the classroom. Depending on their patients’ ages and the conditions disrupting their learning, school PTAs and supervising physical therapists may provide direct or indirect therapeutic interventions.

Direct interventions involve working with students in group or individual settings to build their strength and motor skills or outfitting them with adaptive equipment to move around safely. During indirect interventions, school physical therapists and their PTAs observe students and consult with teachers and parents to recommend strategies that help each student succeed.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Some of the daily responsibilities of school physical therapist assistants include:

  • Assisting supervising PTs with student evaluations
  • Monitoring and recording students’ progress over time
  • Guiding students through exercises to build strength and motor skills
  • Showing students how to use adaptive equipment
  • Teaching parents and educators how to support students with unique physical needs

Other physical therapist assistant duties may include preparing and maintaining equipment and light administrative work like scheduling appointments or responding to emails.

Physical Therapist assists a child patient

School Physical Therapist Assistant Hours & Schedule

School PTA jobs are available part-time or full-time, though the majority of PTAs work full-time, 40-hour workweeks. School physical therapist assistants most frequently work during standard school or business hours, so it’s a good career choice for those who prefer a predictable schedule with few late nights.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

School PTAs should enjoy working with children and be able to communicate well with them. You’ll also benefit from polished interpersonal skills while consulting with teachers or dealing with concerned parents. Like all PTA careers, school physical therapist assistants need a certain degree of physical stamina. You’ll be spending a good portion of each day on your feet, and you’ll need the strength and stability to provide safe support to students as they test their balance or learn to use adaptive equipment.

Why is School a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

For people who love working with children, becoming a school physical therapist assistant is a rewarding way to earn a living. Few causes are nobler than ensuring every child has access to an education. Spending your career helping kids with physical or neurological challenges adapt to their circumstances while continuing their education means you’re making the world a better place every time you come to work.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Schooling, Training, & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Be a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

To become a school PTA, you’ll need to complete a physical therapist assistant associate’s degree program from an accredited college or university. Most associate’s degree programs require two full years in school, but enrolling in an accelerated degree program could earn your PTA degree in as little as 21 months.

How Long Does It Take to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

Like any other long-term goal, becoming a school PTA can feel more manageable when broken down into a series of smaller steps. People who work full-time jobs while taking PTA classes part-time may take longer to complete their degree than PTA students taking a full course load.

Our step-by-step guide breaks down what it takes to become a school physical therapist assistant:

1. Enroll in a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Degree Program

The first step toward becoming a school physical therapist assistant is enrolling in a PTA program at an accredited college or university. PTA jobs are accessible for almost anyone willing to study hard, apply themselves, and put in the work to further their education.

To qualify for the PTA degree program at Provo College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and a reliable Internet connection. Some PTA programs may also require completing background checks or drug screenings.

2. Earn Your Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree

Like many associate’s degree programs, your physical therapist assistant education will include general-education requirements like math, English, science, and psychology. While not directly related to treating patients, all these courses help you become a better problem-solver, critical thinker, and communicator.

The bulk of your PTA degree program will focus on building the fundamentals of physical therapy and patient care. You’ll learn about the human body, how it moves, heals, and recovers, and some of the conditions affecting the students you treat. Expect to take courses covering kinesiology, pharmacology, orthopedics, and human anatomy. You’ll also take classes dedicated to pediatric physical therapy, which will be particularly important for a career as a school PTA.

During the final stage of your physical therapist assistant education, you’ll perform supervised therapy work with actual patients in a clinical setting. This will build on the extensive hands-on training you’ll receive as part of your PTA program and provide you with valuable real-world experience.

When deciding where to attend school for your physical therapist assistant degree, consider colleges offering additional benefits like career counseling and job-placement services. Getting your PTA education from an institution that can help you find your first job can be the fastest way to start your new career once you’ve earned your degree.

Close up of a student writing on an exam

3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

Before earning your PTA license and beginning your career as a school physical therapist assistant, you’ll need to pass the PTA version of the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Passing this exam demonstrates your ability to care for patients safely and effectively, including the pediatric patients you’ll work with as a school PTA. The exam is a multiple-choice test with around 200 questions. You’ll have approximately four hours to complete the exam.

Taking a practice exam before you take the real NPTE is recommended for anyone who wants to prepare thoroughly for test day. You can find practice exams through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (the same organization that administers the NPTE). The Practice Exam and Assessment Tool—or PEAT for short—will give you an idea of what to expect during the exam. PEAT also provides real-time feedback, which can help identify any topics or skills you might need to review before taking the exam.

Not everyone passes the NPTE on their first attempt, including those who eventually become successful PTAs. You can retake the exam if you come up short of the required passing score on your first try. However, be advised that you can only take the test up to three times in any given 12-month period. If you want to begin your new PTA career as quickly as possible, it’s worth the time investment it takes to master the material and pass on your first try.

4. Get Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

Once you’ve passed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in whichever state you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, transferring your scores and gaining licensure in different states is usually simple. This flexibility allows you to take your PTA career to the school of your choice or to seek out the highest-paying PTA jobs anywhere in the country. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy can help you determine each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Different states have varying requirements for maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require occasional completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

5. Gain Work Experience and Earn Additional Certifications

While you’ll receive some instruction in pediatric physical therapy as part of your PTA program, many of the most successful school PTAs seek additional training and certifications to further their skills in caring for young patients. The American Physical Therapy Association offers several advanced proficiency pathways for PTAs, including a specialization in pediatrics that will come in handy for school physical therapist assistants seeking the best PTA jobs.

Once you’ve earned an advanced certification from the APTA, it’s valid for ten years, so many PTAs find them to be worthwhile investments in their long-term career prospects.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

The cost of earning a physical therapist assistant associate’s degree varies significantly between institutions and according to your financial situation. When comparing the cost of college, be sure to ask how much you can expect to spend on lab fees, books, and other materials. Some colleges will include all these as part of a flat-rate pricing structure per credit hour, saving you money in the long run.

Wherever you’re pursuing your PTA education, inquire about financial aid programs that can make college significantly more affordable. Many colleges have dedicated financial-aid staff to help you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal and state grants, plus loans and institutional aid.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical therapist assistants throughout the United States earn an average annual salary* of about $61,000, which is about $29 per hour. PTA salaries among the top 25% of earners start at over $75,000. The highest-paid PTAs with salaries in the top 10% can expect to bring in $80,000 per year or more.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary* data specifically for school physical therapist assistants, PTAs who earn advanced certifications and build extensive career experience tend to earn the highest salaries. And as long as there are children with physical limitations, we’ll need school PTAs—the BLS estimates overall employment of physical therapist assistants and aides should grow an impressive 24% in the next 10 years.

African-American boy trains with a PTA

Ready to Start Your Career as a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

For people with a passion for education who want to help students succeed without being educators themselves, becoming a school PTA could be a great career choice. You’ll be directly involved in helping students with health challenges receive an education while creating a more welcoming and inclusive learning environment for everyone.

Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program at Provo College, and get started on the road to an exciting and fulfilling new PTA career today!