No matter how you slice it, PT School is expensive. There are ways to cut costs, however, without compromising on the quality of your education. By staying local, snagging in-state tuition, or even relocating to a cheaper city, you can save yourself thousands of dollars on DPT tuition each year. Finding a cheap school is worth its research; I’ll even share a few PT schools in NJ that qualify.
Why You Should Look for Cheap PT Schools in NJ
Have you ever been browsing a university website and noticed a ranking number, brandished on the home page, boasting how that university compares to others? Although such figures look convincing, they won’t necessarily make you a good physical therapist.
Rather, your career will be shaped by coursework, clinical rotations, and your diligent efforts studying for the NPTE. Once you have your license, where you went to school won’t make a difference. CAPTE ensures that every accredited DPT program sufficiently equips physical therapists for the workplace. So instead of basing a school choice on prestige or notoriety, base it on something that will affect your life far more: cost.
It’s no secret that most PTs graduate with over $116k of school debt. And while such massive loans are common for medical professionals, the starting salary of a physician is higher than that of an entry-level PT.
You’ll pay your debt off much faster if it’s proportional to your income, ideally 1:1. For New Jersey, the low end of PT starting salaries averages $70,000 annually, which is better than most areas of the US. Despite this healthy wage, DPT programs in NJ cost far more than $70k. Even with scholarships, it’ll be hard to keep costs down and avoid debt.
Not only does where you go to school matter to your bottom line, but where you live makes a difference as well. Before selecting a school for its price, be sure to factor in variable living expenses such as rent and health insurance. With major metropolises such as Philadelphia and NYC nearby, New Jersey’s cost of living ranges widely. So try to keep location in mind as you shop.
If you’re a resident of New Jersey, you’re eligible for in-state tuition at any one of these schools.
4 Affordable PT schools in NJ
|Rutgers – North campus
|Rutgers – South campus
4 Most Affordable PT Schools in NJ
Newark PT Schools
Newark is the most populous city in New Jersey and employs the state’s largest economy for numerous industries, including healthcare. You’ll have quick access to the New York metropolis; traffic permitting, you can travel to the Big Apple in just 30 minutes via Newark’s Penn Station and multiple bus and railway lines. Besides ground transportation, Newark is a primary hub for air traffic as well, with the Newark Liberty International Airport – the second-busiest airport in the NYC metro area.
But there are quieter areas of Newark also. Just 15 minutes outside of the city center is diminutive Union, a township originally settled as Connecticut Farms. Today Union is home to two notable destinations: the nation’s largest Home Depot store and Kean University.
As the first school on this list, Kean U offers residents the lowest DPT tuition among PT schools in NJ: $84,177. This relatively low price doesn’t skimp on quality, however; DPT candidates receive 9 semesters of schooling, including 129 credits of coursework and 42 weeks – that’s 240 hours – of clinical experience. Such an immersive, comprehensive approach to education seems to be paying off: 100% of their most recent graduating class was employed within 6 months of completing their DPT.
As with each school on this list, however, your budget for Kean U needs to incorporate living expenses, which varies widely throughout the city. Most Kean students pay roughly $1,000 each month for rent. The university offers graduate housing options that can cut costs further (read: roommates).
Compared to nearby New York, living in Newark is 50% less expensive. So even though there are lower tuition rates across the Passaic River, you’ll pay less overall in Newark.
If you like Newark’s vibrancy but prefer a university with more of a household name, Rutgers might be for you. Despite its renown, Rutgers has a relatively affordable DPT program at just $85,250 total. The three-year program includes 110 credit hours of coursework and clinical rotations in four long-term stints. Unlike Kean, Rutgers is in the heart of Newark, with close access to a vast hospital network. The icing on the cake? The NPTE first-time pass rate for Rutgers DPT students is a hair shy of 100%.
In terms of living expenses, you could go for the shared on-campus housing Rutgers offers for doctoral students. Otherwise, monthly rent for 1-bedroom apartments in the heart of Newark ranges from $1100-$2000, depending on your commute. As a safe bet, budget $30k for Newark living expenses each year on top of your program cost.
Maybe you like Rutgers, but when it comes to NYC, you can’t get far enough away. No fear; Rutgers also has a DPT program at its Blackwood campus in north Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Camden is well-serviced by bus, rail, and ferry, so no matter which route you take, Philly is just a short ride away. However, the cost of living in Camden is roughly 20% lower than in Philly; you can budget $850 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment. It’s also cheaper to live in Camden than in Newark, if you’re deciding between the two locales.
The DPT program at Rutgers Camden offers the same curriculum as the Newark campus. Both programs are highly reputed across the state of NJ, contributing to several humanitarian efforts such as a pro-bono student-run PT clinic in Newark and a migrant worker screening program in Blackwood. The physical therapy program at Rutgers has been accredited for over 40 years, and this year Rutgers will include an occupational therapy degree.
Atlantic City is a historically indulgent island resort off the coast of New Jersey, riddled with casinos, luxury hotels, and beachfront. In 1969, long after its heyday, Atlantic City became the interim site for Stockton University when the school broke ground just 15 minutes northwest in the mainland’s small town of Galloway.
Although it can’t claim Monopoly fame as Atlantic City does, Galloway features its own mainland charm: wineries, a wildlife refuge, and a particularly noteworthy golf course. Although Stockton University now has locations all over southern New Jersey, its main campus is the home of Stockton’s DPT program.
The three-year DPT program at Stockton encompasses 111 credit hours of integrated coursework. Students apply their clinical skills at two on-campus hospitals throughout the program, and perform three full-time clinical rotations regionally. In 2019, all DPT candidates passed the NPTE within the first try, and 100% were employed shortly thereafter.
The program cost at Stockton totals $92,241. This is higher than the other schools on this list, but it’s still considerably lower than the majority of DPT programs in New Jersey. (For context: private schools, of which NJ has dozens, will charge $130k+ for a full-time DPT.)
Despite the ritzy facade, living near Atlantic City won’t break the bank; in fact, the cost of living is slightly below the US average. You’ll be an hour from Philly, two hours from NYC, and minutes from the coast. Plus, the Galloway campus sits in the Pinelands National Reserve, so even if the beach isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the outdoors. For budgeting reasons, give yourself an extra $25k for living expenses each year in the Atlantic City area. Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment runs about $800-$1000 per month.
How to Find Cheap PT Schools in NJ
Depending on your housing situation, you should factor roughly $60 – $85k+ for living expenses on top of your DPT’s total program cost. Keep in mind that the tuition estimates listed above reflect only the base rate, without any school fees (another $5k – $20k) or mandatory health insurance, which ranges from $2400 – $4500 each year.
If you’re willing to relocate, you could save even more money on tuition and living expenses. For instance, some of the schools on this list offer out-of-state tuition rates far below Kean U’s $84k. To really milk this saving, you could move to one of these states a year in advance, establish residency, then snag the dirt-cheap tuition. Some universities will watch out for this, though, so check residency eligibility requirements ahead of time.
Or, consider attending a regional private university that doesn’t discriminate in-state tuition from out-of-state tuition. For instance, neighboring Pennsylvania has two private universities with affordable DPT programs, Chatham near Pittsburg and Neumann outside of Philadelphia. It might be inconvenient to relocate for school, but cutting down your overall debt will make the move worthwhile.
Sorting through PT school data
As a rule, university websites function to paint a pretty picture of their programs while obscuring the ugly cost of attendance. Finding the bottom line is particularly elusive for a DPT, which is usually one of the smallest programs offered at the university. To figure it out, you’ll need a calculator as well as ample patience for converting credit hours, semesters, and years into the variable dollar figures on tuition schedules. Further complicating the matter, a DPT program often incurs a higher per-credit-hour fee than the standard graduate rate, as well as other departmental fees. In addition, be careful to distinguish one-time fees from annual fees.
Prospective applicants must weed through the wordy web-pages to find a low-cost, high-value school worth saving for. Remember, it’s your clinical experience, license, and working knowledge of physical therapy that will support your career in physical therapy; not an impressive alma mater or the mountain of debt it gave you.