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Physical therapists are trained in techniques to restore proper function to the human body. They often work with accident victims, the disabled, those who have dealt with serious surgery, individuals with chronic conditions such as arthritis, and people who suffer from chronic pain. A physical therapist might work with a young and able-bodied athlete in the morning, and then work with an elderly victim of stroke in the afternoon. The job of a physical therapist is as varied as the people she treats.

The outlook for physical therapy careers is quite promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physical therapists is expected increase by 30 percent through 2018, or much faster than the average for all occupations. This excellent job growth means your master's degree in physical therapy could go to work for you immediately upon graduation.

Physical therapists traditionally worked in a hospital setting; however, physical therapy is now in high demand in other places, such as natural healing clinics, orthopedic centers, rehabilitation centers, private offices, and more. A master's degree in health in physical therapy opens the door to many new career opportunities within the profession, not to mention the higher paycheck that a master's degree can command.

A Guide to the Master's Degree in Physical Therapy

Several years ago, the track to a physical therapy career included a four-year bachelor's degree. But with new advances in technology and a deeper understanding of how the human body works, the American Physical Therapy Association began recommending a master's degree as the industry standard.

A common master's degree for physical therapists is the MPT or Master of Physical Therapy. Currently, a master's degree is the sign of excellence in the field; however, a doctoral degree in physical therapy may be required for some positions.

Specializing with Your Master's Degree

A master's degree in physical therapy can help you move into an area of specialization, which allows you to target your skills and knowledge toward patients who suffer from one particular problem. The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes these specializations:

  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  • Clinical electrophysiology
  • Geriatric
  • Neurological
  • Orthopedic
  • Pediatric
  • Sports
  • Women's health

    How to Apply for the Master's Degree in Physical Therapy

    Earning an MPT generally requires a three-year commitment and some serious study time, so it is not a decision that is entered into lightly. When you decide to earn a master's degree online, you show colleagues, supervisors, and potential employers that you are serious about taking your career in a new direction.

    Where to begin? Start with the application process.

    Step One: Find the Right Master's in Physical Therapy Program

    Are you overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential MPT programs? You can begin to compare them all by focusing on a few absolutes when it comes to making that final decision. Consider these factors when you are narrowing down that big list:

    Accept Only Accredited Master's Degree Programs

    Accreditation takes into account many aspects of a degree program, including the thoroughness of the curriculum, the expertise of the faculty, and the reputation of the program. The same rules of accreditation apply whether you choose to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar school or opt to earn a master's degree online.

    If a master's program does not have accreditation, you run the risk of being unable to obtain federal financial aid, being unable to transfer credits to another school, and encountering employers who do not recognize your degree. Accreditation is a must have for any degree program to make it on your list.

    Resources

    • U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. Department of Education Web site offers a continuously updated database of all accredited programs and institutions.
    • Accrediting Bodies. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is the only accrediting body in the field that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. If you have questions about whether a degree program is accredited, you can find the answer there.
    • WorldWideLearn.com. A wealth of information on accreditation, as well as the names of many reputable, accredited schools, can be found on WorldWideLearn.com.

    Choose Your Format: Online, Campus, or Both

    Not long ago, all college classes were taught in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom. Today, the options are wide and varied. Online learning is growing in popularity, especially among busy adults. Hybrid education is also becoming a hot new catchphrase. Which one is right for you?

    • Online Learning: Learning via the virtual classroom is becoming a popular way to keep up with work and family obligations while pursuing the degree that can take you to the next level.
    • Campus Setting: Taking courses on-campus is good for those who learn best in a traditional setting with direct instruction. A campus degree program might also offer an advantage in terms of facilities.
    • Hybrid Education: Hybrid learning is a mixture of virtual classes and classroom time. Hybrid learning means you can earn a master's degree online by taking most of your courses via computer, but also meet with the instructor for hands-on work and testing.

    Resources

    • School Web sites. A great deal of information can be found by simply clicking around on a school's Web site. One of your first stops when evaluating a prospective school should be their online program information.
    • WorldWideLearn.com provides information on a wide range of schools offering campus-based or online physical therapy degrees. You can gain information about a large number of programs quickly by browsing these listings.

    Study the Academic Programs

    You know the program is accredited. You know which learning format you need. Now it's time to buckle down and look at the programs themselves.

    • Faculty expertise. A degree program is only as good as the people who teach it. So take a look at the instructors listed at the school you are considering for your MPT. Are any of the faculty names familiar? Has the degree program attracted the cream of the crop?
    • Facilities. You should have ample opportunity for academic research, so make certain your potential schools offer just that. If you opt to earn your master's in physical therapy online, look at the virtual libraries, discussion boards, and the like. A traditional classroom might offer more obvious facilities, but online programs may help you make arrangements for an internship or lab experience in your area.
    • Specialization and Options. If you choose to specialize in a certain area of physical therapy, such as pediatrics or orthopedics, make sure the schools on your list are strong in that speciality.
    • Curriculum requirements. Can you meet all the expectations of the curriculum? If you're not sure, speak to an admissions counselor for clarification of what is necessary.

    Resources

    • WorldWideLearn.com. Get a wealth of information on the schools of your choice by visiting WorldWideLearn.com. You can learn about a variety of schools that might meet your needs.
    • School Web sites. Head back to the degree program Web site and this time, focus only on academics. What is available to you? What can you bring to the table that will fit well with what the master's degree program has to offer?
    • Academic journals. When you see a master's degree program in physical therapy being profiled or reviewed in an academic journal, pay close attention. Note which schools have faculty publishing in areas that interest you.

    Evaluate the Quality of the Degree Program

    Quality matters, but how do you determine which degree program has the highest quality of all those on your list? Consider these factors:

    • History. Ask questions about how long the degree program has been around. When did it first win accreditation? How many classes have graduated since then? Are there any special historical points that might make the degree program more appealing to you?
    • Reputation. Make no mistake: reputation matters. So pay attention to word of mouth. What are former students and instructors saying? Is it mostly good, or are there red flags flying everywhere?
    • Graduation and placement rate. The graduation rate can tell you a great deal about the degree program. An unusually large number of drop-outs is a red flag. The principle is much the same when evaluating placement rates.
    • Career support. Every physical therapist might need career support at some point. What does the degree program offer, and for how long does it offer the assistance?

    Resources

    • U.S News and World Report. The annual rankings of the best graduate schools include physical therapy degree programs. Are any of these high-ranking schools on your shortlist?
    • Statistics. Request information about the MPT degree program from the admissions office. Ask for current statistics, student demographics, and the like.
    • Online search. Read blogs, discussion board postings, online news articles, and other virtual information concerning the physical therapy degree programs you are most interested in. What do others have to say?
    • Faculty and peers. Discuss your options with faculty and talk to your peers about their experiences. What is the bottom line on the schools you have on your shortlist? Their insights can help you make the tough decisions.

    Step Two: Apply to Master's Degree Programs in Physical Therapy

    Now that you have gone through the difficult yet methodical process of narrowing down your master's degree program options, it's time to consider what is required of you in order to be admitted to the master's in physical therapy program.

    Prerequisites

    • Degree. In order to enter the master's in physical education program, you must already hold a bachelor's degree in physical therapy or a closely related field.
    • Testing. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required for those entering most MPT programs. Other testing might be required by a particular master's program.

    Application Must Haves

    • Academic transcripts. Your full academic transcript is required with your master's degree program application. Be sure to track down all of them, perhaps even your high school transcripts, depending upon what the application requests.
    • Letters of recommendation. One or more letters of recommendation from a colleague, co-worker, former teacher, or supervisor go a long way toward describing your personality, attitude, and ability to complete the master's in physical therapy program.
    • Personal statements. Many applications ask for personal statements explaining why you have chosen the physical therapy career path, and more importantly, why you have chosen that particular school.
    • Work experience. Keep a concise record of your work experience, such as an updated resume, to supplement your degree program application.

    Don't forget to check into the basics of financial aid before you send out the applications. Have a rough estimate of what you can afford, and gather all the information you might need to pursue financial aid as soon as you have the acceptance letter. WorldWideLearn.com offers in-depth information on financial aid if you need to learn more.

    Step Three: Prepare for the Master's in Physical Therapy Program

    Lay the foundation of your career by preparing for the physical therapy field, long before you send out those applications to a master's degree program. Here's how you can begin:

    • Join professional organizations. Joining a professional organization can give you greater insights into the field of physical therapy. In the United States, the American Physical Therapy Association is the standard for professional membership. The World Confederation for Physical Therapy is the only international professional organization for physical therapists.
    • Attend conferences. Get to know your colleagues by attending conferences. In addition to great networking opportunities, attending a conference gives you the chance to learn about cutting-edge research and technology.
    • Subscribe to journals. The Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association is the basic standard in the field, but there are numerous journals dedicated to specializations in physical therapy, such as the Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal.

    Master's Degree in Physical Therapy: What's Next?

    When you earn your master's in physical therapy, you are rising to the top of your profession with an eye toward making even more of your current career. With your master's degree in hand, you can opt for positions that might have been out of your reach in the past, and your newfound expertise enables you to help even more people in the course of your work.

    Sources

    • Clinical Specialization in Physical Therapy: American Physical Therapy Association
    • Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
    • Current Physical Therapy Students. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
    • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education
    • Online Health Degrees in Physical Therapy, WorldWideLearn.com
    • Physical Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
    • Rankings, Physical Therapy, U.S. News and World Report
    • World Confederation of Physical Therapy

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