Recruiter's Inbox

December 15, 2010

Explore future earning potential before deciding on a degree program


Corrected version

Q: I want to go back to school to study physical therapy; currently, I have only a high-school diploma. I've been looking at associate degree and bachelor's degree programs. How do I figure out what salary I'd be making after I graduate and calculate it against the cost of a two- or four-year degree program? -- BN, Woodinville

Kristen says: One of Seattle’s largest industries is health care, and Harborview Medical Center is recognized as one of the top physical and occupational therapy programs in the country. To determine your long-term success in this field, you need to evaluate whether you are looking to work as a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or a fully licensed physical therapist. You can get a two-year associate degree to become a PTA. To be a physical therapist, you will need to study for your doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). (There are a few master's degree programs still available as well, but these are being phased out.) Applicants to the three-year DPT program will also first require a bachelor's degree to meet the necessary prerequisites. The American Physical Therapy Association has a helpful rundown of the different educational options.

You need to figure out if you want to work in a clinic, specialty practice or a hospital setting. Most hospitals will publish general salary ranges in the job descriptions on their websites. You can also set up informational appointments with the career center of the schools you are targeting to learn more about the career outlook for each program, and what they have seen in terms of salary ranges. Also ask them what percentage of their graduates find employment within the first three, six, nine and 12 months of graduation.

You can also use salary calculators such as or These online tools aggregate industry information from around the country and allow you to put in variables to create a general idea of the wages earned in the different settings by geographic region. The Federal Bureau of Labor and Industries also produces an annual guide to jobs by industry, with descriptions of jobs, educational and certification requirements, salary medians and national growth outlooks. You can find information on health care jobs by discipline on the Federal Bureau and Labor and Industries website.

Health care is one of the industries that is currently growing, in part because the baby boomer generation is aging and needing more medical care. Physical therapy is a great career choice for the next five to 10 years. Good luck!

Editor's note: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that a candidate pursuing physical therapy as a discipline could pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The bachelor’s degree program for physical therapy is no longer available, and the master’s degree program is being phased out in favor of a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). The story has been updated to reflect these changes.

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Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a recruiter, resume consultant, and employment expert based in the greater Seattle area.

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