10 Best Physical Therapy Schools in California

Physical therapists are a key part of the healthcare system. They help rehabilitate patients who have been injured while playing sports, doing work-related activities, or as a result of car accidents.

They work in a plethora of settings, including outpatient clinics, schools, hospices, and private homes.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, as of 2016 there were 200 colleges and universities in the United States that provided Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees.

Of those 200 schools, there are many options in the state of California! Read on for our list of ten of the top physical therapy schools in California (Some are public, while others are private).

Most of these schools provide Doctorate programs. Others offer undergraduate degrees to prepare students for advanced studies. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list.

1. California State University, East Bay  – Public University

Address: 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd, Hayward, CA 94542

Acceptance rate: 74%

Graduation rate: 74%

Avg cost after aid:  $12K

California State University, East Bay offers a degree in Therapeutic Studies, which is a prerequisite program for Physical Therapy schools. Students must take 115 credits in classes such as Animal Biology, Human Physiology and Anatomy, Biomechanics, Sports Psychology, and exhibit. performance requirements in sports such as swimming and other fitness activities.

Reviews of this school are generally good. Students love the professors and the fact that they push them to do research and study hard. California State University, East Bay is mainly a commuter school, making it a good choice for local people who wish to pursue a career in physical therapy.

Here’s a link for more details [PDF file]

2. California State University, Fresno – Public University

Address: 5241 N Maple Ave, Fresno, CA 93740

Acceptance rate: 59%

Graduation rate: 58%

Avg cost after aid:  $5,872

California State University, Fresno offers a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. Students must take several prerequisite classes and receive a bachelor’s degree with an overall grade point average of 3.0 before enrolling in this program.

The curriculum requires a variety of science and exercises classes. Students have the added educational benefit of working at one of the two on-site clinics while taking classes.

Student reviews of this campus include how much they love the cultural diversity as well as the diversity in classes and majors. They say that campus culture and a plethora of student clubs makes it a fun and engaging place to be.

Here is a link to the official site.

3. California State University, Long Beach – Public University

Address: 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840

Acceptance rate: 28%

Graduation rate: 67%

Avg cost after aid:  $9,423

California State University, Long Beach offers a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Students must take 115 credits in courses such as Pharmacology, Anatomy, Biomech Principles, and do a 6-week clinical practice. This program takes at least 3 years to finish.

Students at this campus highlight the professors’ open door policy, the resident life activities, and the general overall friendly atmosphere as strengths of attending the Long Beach campus.

Here is a link to the official site.

4. California State University, Northridge – Public University

Address: 18111 Nordhoff St, Northridge, CA 91330

Acceptance rate: 58%

Graduation rate: 50%

Avg cost after aid:  $5,703

California State University, Northridge offers a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. It is a three year program in which students must take classes in sciences such as Biology, Physics, Psychology, etc.

Although the Northridge campus is large and competitive, they offer many degrees and courses that are advantageous to any student, including classes in Financial Literacy and Cooking 101. They also offer tutoring and counselors to support every student enrolled at the university, giving it a small community feel.

Here is a link to the official site.

5. California State University, Sacramento – Public University

Address: 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819

Acceptance rate: 68%

Graduation rate: 46%

Avg cost after aid:  $9,733

California State University, Sacramento offers a  Doctorate of Physical Therapy. The curriculum includes classes in Human Anatomy, Statistics, Kinesiology, and Exercise Physiology. Students are also required to complete 36 weeks of internships in a variety of settings. Other benefits of attending this school include simulation labs which help students experience emergencies first-hand.

As a mostly commuter school, adult and graduate-level students fit right in on campus. Student reviews of the school praise the variety of quiet study areas and facilities including computers and wifi access. Students who take their studies seriously will find a place to work on this campus.

Here is a link to the official site.

6. Chapman University – Private University in Orange, California

Address: 1 University Dr, Orange, CA 92866

Acceptance rate: 57%

Graduation rate: 79%

Avg cost after aid:  $39k

Chapman University also offers a  Doctorate of Physical Therapy. This is a 125 credit program with courses in such things as  Functional Human Anatomy and Cultural Diversity and Psychology in Healthcare. Students are required to perform at least 40 weeks of clinical practice.

Benefits of this school include its size (much smaller than California State University campuses, with only 6,500 undergrad students), its welcoming atmosphere, and its Christian values.

Here is a link to the official site.

7. Point Loma Nazarene University – Private Christian liberal Arts College With Pre-Physical Therapy Program

Address:  3900 Lomaland Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

Acceptance rate: 76%

Graduation rate: 75%

Avg cost after aid:  $31k

Point Loma Nazarene University offers only a BA in Pre-physical therapy. Students take classes in exercise science and athletic training, which will equip them for admission into Physical Therapy programs at other schools.

Since this school only offers a Bachelor’s degree in pre-physical therapy, students can benefit from the small campus feel and supportive learning environment before transferring to a doctorate program at a larger university, such as one of California State University’s campuses. Point Loma Nazarene University also provides a private, Christian education, for students who are looking for Christian community.

Here is a link to the official site.

8. San Francisco State University – Public university in San Francisco

Address: 1600 Holloway Ave, San Francisco, CA 94132

Acceptance rate: 70%

Graduation rate: 51%

Avg cost after aid:  $34k

San Francisco State University offers a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. This is a three year degree which includes at least 30 weeks of clinical practice and courses in anatomy and clinical health.

In order to graduate from this program, students must write an evidence-based review of a current critical problem. Students also need to present their paper to staff and fellow students. This challenging requirement, combined with a rigorous curriculum, makes it one of the best schools of studying physical therapy.

Here is a link to the official site.

9. St. Mary’s College of California

Address: 1928 St Mary’s Rd, Moraga, CA 94575

Acceptance rate: 82%

Graduation rate: 73%

Avg cost after aid:  $34k

St. Mary’s offers a private, Catholic school educational setting. St. Mary’s College of California does not have a Doctorate-level program. However, they do offer a Health Service Major in Physical Therapy that will prepare students to pursue a Masters or Doctorate in Physical Therapy from another university. Students must take numerous classes in science, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, as well as Human Anatomy and Physiology.

Like the other schools on this list that only provide a Bachelor’s degree, St, Mary’s provides students with a good foundation for continuing on to advanced studies in physical therapy. Other advantages of attending this school include a plethora of student clubs and activities, including various athletic teams, social justice, and community service organizations, intramural teams, and on-campus jobs.

Here is a link to the official site.

10. University of Southern California – Oldest Private Research University in California

Address: Los Angeles, CA 90007

Acceptance rate: 16%

Graduation rate: 92%

Avg cost after aid:  $30k

University of Southern California offers a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

It is a 3-year program that includes many science-related classes, including Cellular and Systems Physiology, Principles of Disease, Neuro-Pathology, Physical Therapy, and others.

Students must take prerequisites such as Chemistry and  Psychology as well as do a minimum of 150 hours of clinical experience in a setting where physical therapy services are performed.

The University of Southern California has appeared #1 on the U.S. News and World Report list of best physical therapy programs. They have a reputation for being one of the best research and educational environments for physical therapy in the country.

Here’s a link to the official site.

More Details You Should Know Before Apply

Since each state regulates their own physical therapy certification, students who graduate from a university in California should refer to the guidelines set by the Physical Therapy Board of California.

Guidelines are slightly different depending on which level you are applying for: Physical Therapy, Physical Therapist Assistant, or Electromyography Certification.

Procedures also differ if you have a degree from a university not in California.

A basic outline of certification procedures includes the following steps:

  • School creates your Federation account and send you your log-in information
  • Student completes the profile to access exams and services
  • School validates graduation (This can happen as early as 90 days before your graduation
  • Student applies for NPTE and CAL-LAW through the federation
  • The Physical Therapy Board of California grants the student examination eligibility within three business days
  • Student receives an Authorization to Test letter via email
  • Student schedules examination location for the NPTE and location and date for the CAL-LAW
  • The Physical Therapy Board of California notifies student of status via email and grants license applicant status, if applies
  • Student takes care of any application deficiencies
  • Student takes examination
  • The Federation sends examination scores to PTBC and makes them available to students online
  • The Physical Therapy Board of California grants the license

Becoming a physical therapist requires years of education, clinical training, and testing, but it is a very rewarding career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a physical therapist in 2018 made an average of $87,930 per year. As noted before, physical therapists work in a variety of settings with people of all ages and backgrounds, which makes it a good career for anyone who loves working with the public.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also expects the number of jobs to grow 22% by 2028, making it a rapidly-growing career choice. They credit the baby boomer population for the need for more physical therapists. As this large segment of our population grows older, more physical therapists will be needed to help rehabilitate baby boomers who have strokes, or who suffer from mobility issues due to chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes. California ranks low on the list when it comes to the number of physical therapists in the state, so it seems to be a good state in which to get certification, based on this projected need.

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