PTA to PT Bridge Programs: Exploring Your Options as a PTA

For physical therapist assistants (PTAs) interested in advancing their career, one potential path is transitioning to become a physical therapist (PT) through a bridge program. PT bridge programs allow PTAs to leverage their existing knowledge and skills to transition into a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore key considerations for PTAs including:

  • Overview of bridge program options
  • Comparing PTA vs. PT roles
  • Prerequisites and admission requirements
  • Financing your DPT bridge program
  • The value of your PTA experience
  • Pros and cons of bridge programs

Let’s start by understanding bridge programs and whether they may be a good fit for your career goals.

What Are PTA to PT Bridge Programs?

PTA to PT bridge programs are specialized DPT programs designed for licensed physical therapist assistants They “bridge” the gap by applying PTA education and clinical experience toward meeting DPT prerequisites and curriculum requirements.

There are currently only three accredited bridge programs in the United States

  • University of Findlay in Findlay, OH
  • Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, WI
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, TX

These 3-year programs allow PTAs to transition into the role of physical therapist without starting completely over. PTAs can potentially receive credit for prior coursework and clinical hours completed in their PTA program.

Bridge programs integrate PTA knowledge as you build advanced clinical skills in areas like differential diagnosis, evidence-based practice, and patient management. You’ll still need to complete core DPT coursework and clinical rotations.

How Do the Roles of PTA vs. PT Compare?

Before committing to a bridge program, it’s important to understand the key differences between PTA and PT roles:


  • PTA: 2-year associate degree
  • PT: 3-year doctorate degree


  • PTA: Works under PT supervision to provide interventions in the PT plan of care
  • PT: Performs initial evaluations, diagnoses conditions, develops treatment plan, discharges patients

Scope of Practice

  • PTA: Provides interventions delegated by the supervising PT
  • PT: Broader scope including examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and interventions

Career Advancement

  • PTA: Specialist certification (e.g., orthopedics), post-professional bridging programs
  • PT: Specialist certification, residencies, teaching, management roles

As a PT, you’ll have an expanded scope of practice and greater responsibility for clinical decision-making. Bridge programs prepare you for this autonomous PT role.

What Are the Prerequisites for PTA Bridge Programs?

PTA bridge programs require you to already be a licensed PTA with work experience. Additional prerequisites may include:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Minimum GPA (e.g. 2.5 or 3.0)
  • GRE scores
  • Completion of any outstanding PT program prerequisites like physiology, anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, statistics, etc.
  • PT observation or work hours
  • Essay, references, interview

Prerequisites vary by program, so connect with your schools of interest to create a customized plan. Having a bachelor’s degree prior to applying is preferred.

Some prerequisites like GRE exams or observation hours may be waived for PTAs with strong academic and clinical records.

How Do You Get Admitted to a PTA Bridge Program?

The PTA bridge program admissions process typically involves:

  1. Review admissions requirements: Check for any outstanding prerequisites based on the bridge program curriculum.

  2. Complete bachelor’s degree: Earn your bachelor’s degree, if you don’t already have one, along with any remaining prerequisites.

  3. Take GRE: If required, prepare for and take the GRE graduate school entrance exam.

  4. Gain PT observation hours: If needed, obtain observation hours under one or more licensed PTs.

  5. Submit application materials: Follow instructions to submit transcripts, test scores, essay, references, application form, and application fee.

  6. Interview: If invited, interview with the bridge program admissions committee.

Admission is competitive, so focus on presenting the strongest application possible. Highlight your PTA knowledge, clinical skills, experience, and commitment to becoming a PT.

What Are the Costs of PTA Bridge Programs?

Bridge programs allow PTAs to transition to a DPT degree efficiently. However, the cost is similar to a 3-year DPT program. Expect to pay:

  • $80,000 to $120,000 in total tuition depending on in-state vs. out-of-state tuition rates

  • $500 to $1,000 for prerequisite courses like science labs or bachelor’s classes

  • $200 for GRE exam registration plus costs of study materials and prep courses

  • $50 to $100 per school application

Additional costs include textbooks, living expenses, and lost PTA wages while back in school. Make sure to explore all financing options:

  • Employer education benefits – Check if your employer offers tuition reimbursement

  • Scholarships and grants – Apply for PTA scholarships and general graduate funding

  • Federal student loans – File the FAFSA to access federal loans with income-based repayment

  • Private student loans – Supplement with private loans as needed

Creating a budget and utilizing all possible funding sources is key to making bridge programs affordable.

How Does Your PTA Experience Inform Your PT Education?

As a PTA turned DPT student, you have a unique advantage. PTAs enter bridge programs with developed clinical skills that PT students lack:

  • Patient handling – Utilizing transfers, assistive devices, and guarding techniques

  • Modalities – Proficiency administering interventions like electrical stimulation, ultrasound, traction

  • Assessments – Familiarity performing components like range of motion, strength testing

  • Documentation – Experience with standards like ISO, SOAP, procedural coding

  • Communication – Practiced professional communication with patients, families and care providers

This clinical foundation allows you to focus more on developing PT-specific skills in diagnosis, examination, evidence-based practice, patient management, and autonomy.

Your experiences also make you an invaluable resource for other students. PTAs provide insight into the PTA role and scope, treatment team dynamics, and practical application of skills.

What Are the Pros and Cons of PTA Bridge Programs?

Here are some key pros and cons to weigh if considering a bridge program:


  • Shorter path to a DPT by leveraging PTA coursework
  • Smaller time and cost investment vs. starting a DPT from scratch
  • Ability to maintain licensure and work between PTA and PT roles
  • Higher earning potential as a licensed PT
  • Expanded professional opportunities, scope of practice, and autonomy as a PT
  • Increased demand and job security for PTs


  • Significant expense of graduate tuition and lost wages
  • Competitive admissions process with no guarantee of acceptance
  • Challenging doctoral-level coursework even with a PTA background
  • Potential need to relocate for access to one of few bridge programs
  • Delayed entry into the PT workforce due to additional schooling
  • Juggling roles between student and parent/spouse/employee

Overall, bridge programs offer an accelerated path to advance your career as a PT. But they require commitment to 3 intensive years of doctoral study.

Is a PTA Bridge Program Right for You?

If you’re a driven PTA interested in becoming a PT, a bridge program can help you reach your goal efficiently. These programs integrate your existing expertise to streamline the transition.

However, bridge programs enable the role expansion, not expedite it. You still must complete rigorous DPT training to gain the knowledge and clinical decision-making required of PTs.

Before applying, thoughtfully assess your motivations, resources, and readiness for doctoral study. If you desire the challenge of advanced practice, bridge programs can propel you forward. With hard work, you can leverage your PTA background to attain success as a physical therapist.

pta to pt bridge program

Our Weekend PTA to DPT Bridge Program prepares graduates to:

  • Practice as professional therapists
  • Work as generalist practitioners
  • Display a dedication to self-motivated, life-long learning

Weekend PTA to DPT Bridge Program Highlights​As working professionals, we integrate many classroom experiences into your clinical practice to help with the application of the material and to give you time to practice your newly acquired DPT skills.

  • This is the first Bridge program was developed in 1994 and graduated the first class in 1997.
  • Our program is designed for the working PTA by offering a weekend format.​
  • As working professionals, we integrate your time in the clinic as part of your educational experience.
  • Our students bring a variety of experiences ranging from 1-35 years as practicing PTA professionals, working in a variety of settings across 47 different states.​
  • Our program offers small community cohort sizes of no more than 36 students.​
  • There is a strong emphasis on clinical experiential learning. We have contracts with over 2,000 clinical sites across the United States after the end of the didactic phase of the program​

We attract students from all states, practice environments and years of experience, which creates an enriching learning experience.


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