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Access steps, information on the process, and resource documents for institutions considering developing a physical therapy education program.

Steps to Develop an Education Program

The rules governing the development of an education program for the preparation of physical therapists or physical therapist assistants are delineated in the Accreditation Handbook. These rules change periodically; it is the institution's responsibility to ensure that it is working from the most current set of rules.

In order to begin the preaccreditation process and establish a Candidacy Review Cycle, institutions MUST provide the required evidence delineated in Part 7.8 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure. This evidence includes, but is not limited to:

  • Evidence that the institution is an institution of higher education with degree granting authority, or has an executed formal agreement with an institution of higher education with degree granting authority.
  • The institution has, or has applied for, state approval to offer the program/degree.
  • The institution has been deemed by its accrediting agency to be in compliance with all institutional accreditation requirements.
  • The institution has, or has applied for, approval to develop/offer a physical therapy education program/degree from its institutional accrediting agency.
  • Evidence that the institution is financially viable as defined by the most recent USDE Financial Responsibility Composite score, if applicable, above zero.
  • The institution/program has conducted an assessment that examines the need for a new program and includes, at a minimum, all information requested in the document, Conducting and Writing a Needs Assessment.

Notification of Program Director Employment, the next step in the pre-accreditation process is official, i.e., on institutional letterhead notification that a full-time program director has been employed (not just hired) to develop and implement the program no later than 18 months prior to the due date for the Reconfirmation of Intent.*

*NOTE: Determination by staff that a program has met requirements for establishing and/or maintaining a Review Cycle, i.e., the Notification of Intent, Program Director Employment, and Second Full-Time Core Faculty Employment, does not mean that the program meets, or is making satisfactory progress toward compliance with, any one or more of the relevant Standards and Elements; such a decision is the purview of CAPTE.

There are two Candidacy Review Cycles per year, which dictate:

  • The submission deadlines of Applications for Candidacy (June 1 and Dec. 1)
  • The timeline for review of AFCs by the Commission (at the spring and fall meetings of CAPTE’s Central Panel)
  • The earliest acceptable date for matriculation of students

A maximum of six applications are reviewed by CAPTE per Candidacy Cycle.

Assignment to a Candidacy Cycle and acceptance of Applications for Candidacy will be based on the receipt date of the Developing Program Information Form. Developing Program Information Forms indicating the program’s intent to submit in a Cycle that has already met the cap will be rescheduled to the next available Review Cycle and planned student admission must be delayed accordingly. [See the Rules of Practice and Procedure, Part 7, for a detailed description of Candidacy Cycles and timelines.] To view scheduled and available candidacy review cycles, access here: Candidacy Review Cycle Availability. Please be aware that review cycles are confirmed as required documentation is received/approved and this chart will be updated accordingly.

Institutions may not matriculate students into a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant program until Candidate for Accreditation status is granted by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The rules governing this process are delineated in Part 7 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure found in the Accreditation Handbook. Institutions seeking to develop a PT or PTA program must submit an AFC that meets eligibility requirements established by CAPTE, as delineated in Part 7 of the Rules. Determination by staff that an AFC is eligible for further review does not mean that the program meets, or is making satisfactory progress toward compliance with, any one or more of the relevant standards/elements; such a decision is the purview of CAPTE.

The AFC is a detailed, comprehensive report that describes progress toward and the potential for achieving compliance with the Standards and Required Elements. In order to develop an AFC, programs must follow the instructions and forms identified and provided by Accreditation Department staff after the program has established a Candidacy Review Cycle. To achieve Candidate for Accreditation status, CAPTE must be provided with sufficient evidence in the AFC that demonstrates readiness to matriculate students at the time of submission.

Program start dates must take into consideration that initial accreditation decisions are made by CAPTE only during their regularly scheduled meetings (fall and spring). The related on-site visit for initial accreditation decisions must occur no later than 10 weeks prior to the CAPTE meeting. Exceptions to this requirement will not be considered by CAPTE. Since state licensing laws require graduates to be from CAPTE accredited programs, it is not advisable to have students graduate from a program prior to the program achieving accreditation. Although CAPTE has the ability for its decisions to be retroactive to a date prior to graduation, not all states will accept retroactive accreditation. In addition, graduation prior to accreditation delays the ability of students to take the licensing exam and, therefore, begin employment.

Resource Documents

Accreditation Handbook
Institutions interested in developing a PT or PTA education program are advised to carefully review the Accreditation Handbook and monitor it for updates. The Accreditation Handbook provides the Rules of Practice and Procedure by which CAPTE operates; it includes:

  • Procedures for Achievement of and Maintenance of Candidate for Accreditation (includes decision Cycle timelines) (Part 7)
  • Procedures for Achievement of and Maintenance of Accreditation (Part 8)
  • Substantive Change Rules (Part 9)
  • Program Fees (Part 16)

Documents Related to Standards and Required Elements

Cheat Sheets


CAPTE's Accreditation Department holds two types of workshops two times a year: Developing Program Workshops and Self-study Workshops. Developing programs are required to send at least two individuals (the program director and an appropriate institutional administrator) to a Developing Program Workshop PRIOR to the submission of the Application for Candidacy. Program directors and administrators are strongly encouraged to attend the workshop early in the development process.

APTA Curriculum Resources for Educators

Access other resources to facilitate academic program curriculum development, review and enhancement are available to PT and PTA Educators.