Its no secret that physical therapy school costs are going up. In fact, all graduate programs are increasing tuition at a ridiculous rate.
In this article, I will discuss:
- What is driving the increase in physical therapy school costs;
- The options you have to deal with it; and
- What the actual cost of physical therapy school is.
Why Does Physical Therapy School Cost So Much & Who Is To Blame?
There are two major players that take most of the blame for higher physical therapy school costs. The APTA and DPT programs.
Below, I dive into why they are not to blame.
Physical therapists bring up a number of reasons why the APTA is to blame. However, I’m going to focus on the one that I hear most often.
When it comes to the APTA, the specific blame I hear the most for the rise in physical therapy school cost is associated with the 2020 vision statement.
In short, the vision statement made it a requirement that all programs offer a Doctorate instead of a masters degree.
The reason people blame the vision for the increase in physical therapy education cost is the added time to get the Doctorate. For those that are not aware, the DPT typically takes 36 months to complete whereas the masters typically took 24 months. This longer time period is then blamed for the dramatic increase in costs.
Why This Is False
Yes, more months of school increases costs. However, vision 2020 is not the reason for the increase in physical therapy school cost.
The facts are when you compare the increase in costs for the overall program relative to other graduate and Doctorate programs, the increase is relatively the same across the board. For example, if you compared the increased cost of the DPT vs the MOT/OTD, PAs, SLP, NP, etc… you’d see similar cost increases.
If the change from a masters to a doctorate was to blame we would see that physical therapy school cost outpaced other graduate/doctorate programs.
In addition, its naïve to think that programs would be cheaper simply because it took less time to complete the degree. Instead, it is my opinion that the programs would still charge the same amount. I explain this opinion in a section further down.
The DPT programs are also not to be blamed for the increase in physical therapy school costs. The Chairs of the programs are powerless against the rise in tuition prices.
This is why over 150 DPT programs have reached out to FitBUX to ask for help. They know they can’t do anything about the cost of the program. However, they want to provide students with the knowledge on how they can tackle the student loans post-graduation.
Actual Costs Of The Programs
Yes, the cost of the programs have grown and again I’ll touch on this more later. However, people get confused and blame the DPT when its not 100% to blame.
Most get upset about the cost because they relate the cost to the amount of student loans they have. However, most of the debt is to cover cost of living.
Cost of living expenses are going to be incurred regardless of if you go to school or not. In addition, cost of living is a symptom of the economy and other government policies. Therefore, you should be upset about the cost of living going up. However, the blame is often misplaced and is associated with the DPT.
Why Are PT School Costs Going Up
There are many reasons. However, I’m going to focus on the two that are the main culprit in my opinion.
Back in 2010, the Government uncapped the amount of Direct Grad Plus loans you can get for grad school.
One of the driving reasons was to redistribute the burden of the student loan industry to grad students. I explain this in more detail in this podcast but I’ll summarize below.
Graduate students have the lowest default rate on student loans. This occurs because they have the most stable well-paying jobs. The members of government that championed these policies were very vocal about having grad students “subsidize” undergrads.
On top of this, Direct Grad Plus loans charge over 4% in origination fees. So in the past, if you borrowed 50k you would be charged about 2k in fees.
Its now common for us to see DPTs with over 100k in Plus loans. At 100k, that is $4k in origination fees.
Plus, nobody pays that fee out of pocket. It is wrapped into the loans. Therefore, in my example you are paying interest on 4k instead of 2k.
Notice I said universities NOT the programs. There is a big difference.
I’ve worked for a university so I understand the pressure department heads are under to increase revenue by all means necessary. This includes non-profit and private universities.
Its also horrible policies. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “We don’t really need xyz but if we don’t spend it our budget gets cut next year.” That is a horrible policy.
Again, its not a policy put in place by the physical therapy program. Its policies put in place by universities and politicians. It makes me sick when I go to universities and brand new buildings are 50% – 75% empty!
Every program chair we’ve worked with makes similar statements to me followed up with a similar question.
“Cost are ridiculous but its completely out of our hands. The most we can do is fight for tuition freezes which we might get for a year or two but then are told it needs to increase. We are fighting a losing battle. What do I think they can do to make the cost of physical therapy school more affordable?”
So please, know your professors and programs are doing everything they can. Unfortunately, it is out of their control.
How To Deal With Physical Therapy School Costs
You can’t control tuition and you largely can’t control cost of living. You can only try to minimize it.
Therefore, your first step is to minimize costs. However, that will most likely not be enough.
You need to develop a plan and I’m not referring to after you graduate. I’m talking about now!
You should build out a plan to see what is realistic. Doing so will allow you to know what financial options you have post-graduation.
From there, you can begin doing your research on various PT settings such as how much they pay. Once you know that information, you can begin to position your career while you are in school.
I can’t tell you how many new grads we talk to that don’t do this. Then they graduate and choose the setting they want to work in. However, it doesn’t allow them to achieve their financial goals. Therefore, when it comes to money they put their head in the sand and hope for the best.
If you know what your options are before you graduate, you can maximize both your career and your finances post-graduation.
To help you get started, FitBUX built a special financial planning technology for students that is free to use. We rolled this out earlier than we anticipated because the APTA asked us to. I hope all of you take advantage of it.
Physical Therapy School Costs
The average physical therapy school cost is $97,000. The 75th percentile is $122,000 and the 25th percentile is $70,000. This is strictly the cost and doesn’t include cost of living.
Most finance tuition and cost of living with student loans. Therefore, the average debt on FitBUX for PT school is $154,000
The list below contains the various DPT programs throughout the country. It is ordered from least expensive to most expensive. I only included in-state tuition…
Get The Help You Deserve
You’ve busted your but to become a DPT. If you find yourself lost in this whole financial game or you’re a student that wants to get help, you are not alone.
We know it’s a burden for young professionals which is why we built our financial planning technology for Young Professionals. It focuses on what you care about, i.e. paying off student loans, family planning, home buying, etc…
We also made it free to use. All you have to do is become a free member of FitBUX. You can do so by visiting Fitbux.com, clicking Join Now, and building your profile. From there you have access to our free technology and can schedule calls with our FitBUX Coaches.
By Joseph Reinke, CFA