Physical Therapy Programs in California

There are many great options for earning a doctor of physical therapy degree in California. From hybrid options that combine on campus and online experiences to campuses across the state, there are different types of programs out there so that you can find one that meets your needs best. This page will help you learn more about what DPT programs you will find in California and how you can choose which ones you want to apply to.

University of Southern California (USC)

USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy


Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)

With USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, aspiring physical therapists can earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in an innovative hybrid format. Bachelor’s required.

  • Full-time, three-year program 
  • 44 weeks of rich, varied clinical experiences 
  • Regular visits to USC for on-campus, skill-building immersions


Online or On Campus DPT Programs – Which is Right for Me?

Before reviewing information on California doctor of physical therapy programs, a good first question to ask yourself is whether you want to enroll in an on campus or online program, as this will have an effect on which schools you will want to look at.

To be clear, there are currently no fully online doctor of physical therapy programs in existence. Any programs with online components are hybrid, meaning that you will complete much of the program online but will be required to go to campus at least a couple of times per semester, depending on the program. What is great about this program format is that you can complete most of your degree in the comfort of your own home, while still getting the opportunity to meet your peers and professors in real life and form strong relationships with them. 

When you look at hybrid programs, you will want to consider the format of the online component. Some programs will offer all of the online courses in a synchronous format where live virtual classes are attended, while others may include asynchronous coursework that is done on one’s own time. Synchronous coursework makes for an engaging online experience and also provides more opportunities to speak with classmates, while asynchronous coursework allows more flexibility in terms of when it is viewed or completed (so long as you adhere to due dates).

On campus programs do not offer the same flexibility of being able to complete much of the program at home, but are great for those who want an on campus experience for the entirety of the program. There are also more on campus programs to choose from, so you can apply to a variety of schools. 

How Long Will a DPT Program Take?

Another question you will want to ask yourself is how long the commitment to earning your doctor of physical therapy program will last. Most DPT programs are on a specific cohort schedule, meaning that you take certain courses each semester and do not have control over course load or what classes you take when. However, you at least have a bit of flexibility in choosing a program that takes an appropriate length of time for you. Many of the on campus DPT programs in California take three years to complete. If you are in the Stockton area, West Coast University has a program that can be completed in two years. Hybrid programs can take anywhere from two to four years to complete.

Online (Hybrid) DPT Programs in California

The following are examples of hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy programs. Be sure to check with the school to see if they are authorized to operate in your state. University of Southern California and University of St. Augustine both have a campus presence in California, making traveling for on campus requirements an in-state task.

On Campus DPT Programs in California

The following DPT programs have campuses located right in California. There are campuses all over the state – from University of Southern California and CSU Long Beach in the Los Angeles area, to San Francisco State University in the north. With on campus programs, you will want to choose one that is either already near where you are living or in a place you are willing to move to in order to complete your degree.

Tips on How to Become a Physical Therapist in California

To become a physical therapist in the State of California, you should follow these general steps:

Earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

In order to be licensed as a physical therapist in the US, you must earn a doctorate in physical therapy. These programs often take about 3-4 years, and are sometimes offered in a 3 and 3 format that allows you to complete your bachelors and doctorate in a 6 year timeframe.

Applying to Programs

To complete your physical therapy degree, you must first be accepted into a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredited physical therapy program. For most schools, the application is submitted through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). Application requirements vary by school, but be prepared to submit application fees, academic transcripts, any required observation hours, references, GRE scores, and additional supplemental materials. You should check in advance to see if the schools you are interested in require observation hours or GRE scores, as these are things you will need to prepare for well in advance. Also make sure that you apply to schools that accept your GPA.

Completing a DPT Program

Once accepted into a program, you will be able to earn your degree in about 3 years time, sometimes more or less. You should expect your DPT program to consist of 80% classroom/coursework requirements and 20% clinical education. Coursework will cover a wide range of sciences (including but not limited to biology, cellular history, kinesiology, and pharmacology), as well as ethics, evidence based practice, and business subjects to help prepare you for the potential opportunity to manage your own practice/business. Some hands-on work will be on campus in the form of labs, but there will also be clinical experience requirements where you will work in a physical therapy setting. The final and longest clinical experience averages about 27.5 weeks, but this will vary by school.

Get Approval to Sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and Pass

You must take the NPTE to become certified as a PT. You cannot take the exam unless you have approval from both your state and the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).

  • Approval from the FSBPT requires registering online, paying an exam fee, meeting degree requirements, complying with test security requirements, and having state approval
  • Approval from California requires submitting an application to the Physical Therapy Board of California (PTBC), which is done while you submit your application to the FSBPT

If you earned your PT education in a foreign country, make sure to check with the above organizations to see what additional requirements you may need to meet.

Pass the California Law Examination (CLE)

California requires aspiring PTs to pass this additional exam regarding laws physical therapists practicing in California will need to know.

Get Licensed

Once you pass your exams, the PTBC will issue you your license! You will now be able to work as a licensed physical therapist.

Last Updated 5/15/2020