Tips on Researching PTA Programs & Finding the Best Fit For You
In many physical therapy clinics, patients spend more time with physical therapist assistants than they do with their physical therapist. Great PTAs can be the difference between an awesome patient experience and one that feels a little impersonal and underwhelming.
If you’re considering a career as a physical therapist assistant, finding the right PTA program can set you up for success in school and in your career. Format, cost, and curriculum can vary widely between different programs, and so can other extras like student services or included materials.
To help you make a better-informed decision on where to attend PTA school, let’s take a look at a few things to keep in mind when researching and comparing physical therapist assistant programs.
Looking for more details about what it takes to become a PTA? Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.
Understand the Role of a Physical Therapist Assistant
Before committing to a PTA program, it’s important to understand what it’s like to be a physical therapist assistant. PTAs work under the direction of a physical therapist and provide hands-on treatment to help patients recover from injuries, surgeries, and illnesses. They also work with patients with disabilities or chronic conditions to help them live more active, fulfilling, and independent lives.
Physical therapist assistants often guide patients through warm-up and cool-down activities before and after therapy sessions. They also help implement exercise and mobility routines as determined by a PT’s treatment plan. PTAs may also provide manual therapy like massage and stretching or use various medical devices to promote healing and/or manage inflammation.
To learn more about a career as a PTA, check out our detailed article about a day in the life of a physical therapist assistant.
Research Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Programs
When a program is accredited, it means it’s been evaluated and approved by an organization dedicated to upholding educational standards for physical therapy assistants. Be absolutely certain you’re choosing a physical therapist assistant program that’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). CAPTE is the premier accrediting organization for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants—it’s recognized by both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
All U.S. states and territories require PTAs to be licensed, and you’ll need to graduate from an accredited PTA program to qualify for the certification exam. Choosing an accredited program helps minimize any roadblocks when earning your license and ensures you’ve been adequately trained to provide safe and effective patient care.
Compare Physical Therapist Assistant Program Curriculum
Any accredited PTA program should cover the essentials of physical therapist assistant training—including anatomy, medical terminology, and applied kinesiology. However, some programs are more effective than others in helping students truly master the material.
Many people learn best by doing instead of just seeing or hearing. Look for PTA programs that include hands-on training courses and clinical rotations as part of the curriculum. Gaining experience with real patients—while being supervised by an experienced provider—can help you build the confidence and communication skills you need to excel as a physical therapist assistant.
If there’s a particular area of physical therapy that interests you—geriatrics, pediatrics, neurology, or acute care, for example—it’s worth looking into how deep each program goes into your area of interest. You may need to complete additional training to specialize in a certain area as a physical therapist assistant, but establishing a good foundation while you’re still in school can put you on the right track to landing your dream job.
Consider Program Length and Format
The length and format of the physical therapist assistant program you choose will depend on your schedule, goals, and life circumstances. For people with full-time jobs or other responsibilities like parenting or caregiving, a part-time program might be ideal, though it will take longer to graduate.
Full-time programs are the best choice for people who want to start their new career as quickly as possible. The course load is more intensive, but you can also finish school faster. PTA degrees are associate degrees, which often take two full years to complete. Some schools, like Provo College, offer accelerated programs that enable graduation as quickly as 21 months.
Choosing the best format for your learning style is also important. Online classes have become popular because they allow people to learn on their own schedule, though they also require some discipline to stay on track. In a hands-on field like physical therapy assisting, there are also limits to how much you can learn from in front of a screen.
Hybrid or blended programs that combine online and in-person learning offer an excellent balance of flexibility and structure that’s a happy medium for many people. You’ll be able to complete some courses entirely on your own terms and also have some guidance with learning the practical hands-on skills that physical therapist assistants need to be successful.
Assess Faculty Qualifications and Support
For a career like physical therapy assisting, you want to learn from people who have experience in the field. When weighing different PTA programs, be sure to ask about the instructors who will be leading your training. How much experience do they have working with physical therapy patients? What level of education have they received? Do they have a history of helping students succeed in online formats as well as in person?
Just as important as the faculty’s experience and qualifications are the extra support services available to students. Some programs don’t offer much help outside the classroom, while others have resources in place to help students with tutoring, preparing for licensure exams, and even landing their first job as a physical therapist assistant.
Make sure you understand all the available student services and whether you’ll still have access to them after you graduate. Doing this research can help you make a decision on where to earn your degree and also help you perform better in school once you’re there!
Explore Program Resources and Facilities
Even if you’ll be opting for an online or hybrid program, it’s still a good idea to visit the campus and check things out. Appearances certainly aren’t everything, but they can give you a general idea of how much a school prioritizes the student experience.
Pay attention to things like the age of the equipment in classrooms and lab facilities. Ask about the types of learning technology they use. Do they have innovative tools like virtual simulation labs that help students learn more effectively? Does the campus feel modern, vibrant, and alive? Or does it seem like it hasn’t been updated since bell bottoms and sailboat-sized collars were in style?
The newest and flashiest school isn’t necessarily the best one. Still, it’s important to assess where your tuition money is being spent. It’s a good sign if the institution is investing in resources and facilities that improve students’ quality of life and their ability to succeed.
Research Program Costs and Financial Aid Options
When comparing the costs of different physical therapist assistant programs, remember to research what’s included with your tuition and any expenses you may be expected to cover out of pocket.
Costs like textbooks, lab fees, and other learning materials can add up to thousands of dollars per semester if they’re not part of your tuition, so be sure you have a clear understanding of what’s included. Colleges that provide textbooks and other essential supplies could save you money over time, so it’s always a good idea to look into the details beyond the first tuition number you see.
If you need help paying for PTA school, you have options—you don’t have to be pursuing a four-year degree to qualify for financial aid! Most physical therapist assistant colleges will have financial aid offices to help students figure out a plan to finance their education.
Anyone attending college for any type of degree should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s the first step in determining your eligibility for various types of financial aid, including federal student loans or grants.
You can also look into grants and scholarships on your own. Unlike student loans, these don’t have to be repaid as long as you stay in school. Grants and scholarships are available for people with certain achievements or backgrounds and can be based on merit, financial need, or a combination of the two.
While scholarships or grants may not cover the entire cost of your education, it’s possible to receive more than one at a time, which can really add up! School counselors and financial-aid offices are a great resource for finding scholarships. You can also find them through community and professional organizations or the Department of Education website for your state. Career OneStop (affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor) is another helpful resource.
Unfortunately, there are some scholarship scams out there, so be wary of suspicious websites or anything that sounds too good to be true. If there’s any doubt, it’s always a good idea to contact your chosen school to see if something is legitimate.
Research Program Reputation and Graduate Outcomes
A school’s reputation is something that can influence an employer’s hiring decisions when you’re looking for jobs as a physical therapist assistant. Naturally, physical therapists will prefer to hire PTAs from programs with a history of producing quality graduates because they want their patients to be in good hands!
It’s always wise to look into any school’s reputation and past history a bit. Check on the achievements of their faculty and alumni and any professional awards or honors they may have received. Try to find any former students or employees within your social circle and see what they have to say about the program. You can also ask physical therapists in the area about their opinion of the PTA programs you’re considering.
The results a physical therapist assistant program gets for its students are every bit as important as the school’s reputation. When weighing different PTA programs, remember to ask about outcomes for graduates. What’s their overall graduation rate? How many people find jobs within a year of graduating? How many pass their licensing exam on the first try?
Choosing a physical therapist assistant program that’s strong in all these areas can help you succeed in school and beyond. While you’ll still have to do the work to earn your degree and build your career, finding a school with a great reputation and a history of successful students can provide some useful advantages along the way.
Provo College Physical Therapist Assistant Program
The physical therapist assistant program at Provo College is made to help anyone with a passion for healing prepare for a successful career. You’ll learn from experienced instructors who have treated all types of patients and who can help you build the skills you’ll need to take your PTA career in whatever direction you choose.
Thanks to an accelerated program that makes it possible to complete your training within 21 months, Provo College is a great choice for people looking for a faster way to a fresh start. With a blended format that combines online and in-person learning, it’s the ideal blend of flexibility, structure, and hands-on instruction to set students up for success.
At Provo College, you’ll have a dedicated student services team available to support you throughout your education. Whether it means tutoring help or connecting you with community resources, our faculty and staff want to see students thriving in all aspects of life. Provo College students also have access to a career services team that can help with finding job leads and scheduling interviews—even after you’ve graduated and started your career.
Choosing a physical therapist assistant program is a big decision. To keep your thoughts organized, it can be helpful to make a list of the pros and cons of each of your top choices. Pick the program you think is the best fit for your lifestyle and learning style, and the most likely to help you perform well in school while accommodating your other priorities.
A successful career begins with a successful education, so giving your choice of PTA program the attention it deserves will put you in a position to be at your best. Whether you attend Provo College or pursue your PTA education somewhere else, stay focused on the end goal, and before you know it, you’ll be on your way to an exciting and in-demand career!