Overview of a Bachelor’s in Rehabilitation Therapy
Rehabilitation therapists are tasked with helping patients recover some physical ability that they have lost. There are many specific areas within the field to pursue. Usually, those pursuing a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation sciences will not be able to narrow their focus within their field, since a bachelor's degree only allows a rehabilitation therapy candidate to work as a rehabilitation therapist assistant or to carry out similar entry-level work in the field such as assistant jobs in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or similar. Those who complete a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science or therapy program are limited to a narrow range of tasks because of their lack of adequate education in creating full programs of rehabilitation services for clients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), rehabilitation therapists typically require at least a master's degree in addition to an internship and, depending upon their specialization, and possibly state licensure.
Coursework in a bachelor's program in rehabilitation science or rehabilitation services might include a variety of core courses depending on where you obtain and graduate with your education. Graduates can work in a variety of career paths such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, or as a rehabilitation therapist once they complete an advanced education. However, at this level, courses usually include the following subjects.
- Psychology and Mental Health
- Physiology and Anatomy
- Rehabilitation Sciences
- Human Services
- Public Health
- Assistive Technology
- And More
This is a field that requires responsive, caring, and sensitive professionals. Often, clients need rehabilitation due to illness or injury.
Earning a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science will allow a candidate to begin work as a rehabilitation therapy assistant and help rehabilitation counselors in their work, which will allow a graduate to begin earning experience and an income in the field of rehabilitation sciences. Also, a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation therapy is the gateway to a master's degree in the field, which affords students of advanced rehabilitation sciences degrees the ability to work as a rehabilitation therapist or physical therapist depending on their focus. Many master's degree programs are tailored for working professionals so that one can work in their career and attend school.
Someone with only a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation sciences or rehabilitation counseling will only be able to work in entry-level rehabilitative therapy work, such as in a rehabilitation therapy assistant position. This will limit the candidate's abilities to obtain work in the field. Also, rehabilitation therapy assistants are only able to perform in a limited range within their field. Further, those with a bachelor's degree will not be able to pursue state licensure as a rehabilitation therapist if it is required in their specialization and/or state. They will need to have received their graduate degree in the field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that candidates who wish for employment as rehabilitation therapists or physical therapists pursue a dual-track program which will allow them to work on their bachelor's and master's simultaneously, completing both in the span of five years as opposed to six so that individuals can finish their educational career and get started in their rehabilitative therapist or counselor career.
Certificate vs. Bachelor's
What Rehabilitation Therapy Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
- Bachelor of Arts in Health Sciences
This degree will prepare a student with the undergraduate biology, physiology, anatomy, chemistry, calculus, and health coursework in order to succeed in their master's program, but will also have a liberal arts emphasis that will help the student focus upon the larger picture of healthcare and rehabilitation that includes economics, the legal issues of healthcare, sociology, and psychology.
- Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Therapy or Health Studies
This type of program will have more of the scientific focus of biology, physiology, anatomy, chemistry, calculus, and health coursework but will also have courses that help students understand the intersection of sociology and psychology with rehabilitation therapy.
- Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology
This is another program that focuses on the scientific side of healthcare. In this instance, the coursework is on the movements and biomechanics of the human body. Some of these programs are broad enough to provide the proper coursework to prepare a student for their master's degree in rehabilitation therapy. It is important, though, to ensure this with an academic advisor at your desired university for your master's program.
The requirements for admission depend upon the competitiveness of the program. It is important for students to focus on several issues if they are intending to attend a competitive school. GPA is, of course, critical, but their high school coursework is even more critical. Competitive programs in the healthcare field are expecting students to have taken at least three years of mathematics and have a readiness for calculus upon graduation, four years of English, and three or four years of laboratory science coursework. Advanced placement courses help students with admission and also save money in their freshman year. Honors coursework is highly recommended.
SAT or ACT scores need to be at least in the top 30% for competitive programs. You may also need letters of recommendation from your teachers and/or employers and you’ll need to take the time to complete compelling essays that explain your goals and how the university's program will be a big part of that goal.
In light of recent scandals, most competitive schools are going to be looking even more closely at the extracurricular activities and leadership that students show beyond academics. These need to be well documented and show that you are a doer, an achiever, and can meet and exceed your personal goals.
How long does it take to earn a Rehabilitation Therapy Bachelor's?
If you can attend school full time, you can earn your bachelor's degree in four years. The problem with programs like this is that some of the upper-division requirements are quite dense. You may find that, even attending full-time, you need to take a bit less than a full load in order to maintain your GPA. Other students may need to work and attend school or have family commitments. It’s realistic to plan for it to take five or six years to complete a bachelor's under those types of circumstances.
It is a good idea to try to obtain scholarships and grants that will take care of tuition, books, living expenses, and other costs so that you don’t have to work and attend school, if at all possible. That will greatly aid in reducing your completion time. Also, more and more programs are providing accelerated options that may help reduce the time to complete your bachelor's degree.
Potential Careers in Rehabilitation Therapy with a Bachelor’s
- Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant:
A rehabilitation therapy assistant will work under the guidance of a rehabilitation therapist in order to work with patients on their treatment plan. The assistant must carry out the items in the treatment plan and document results.
The average annual salary for a rehabilitation therapy assistant is: $50,600
- Patient's Rights Advocate:
Patient rights advocates work at a hospital or clinic and mediate issues of contention between the organization and/or its staff and the patient. The goal is to create a safe and harmonious environment of care in the medical facility. They are tasked with solving patient complaints, preparing legal reports, and helping to explain policies and procedures of the facility to the patient.
The average annual salary for a patient's rights advocate is: $43,400
- Vocational Evaluator:
Vocational evaluators interview, test, and create employment opportunity scenarios for their clients. They work with employers and government agencies to find suitable employment opportunities for clients.
The average annual salary for vocational evaluators is: $40,400
- Rehabilitation Specialist:
A rehabilitation specialist is tasked with helping those who either have mental illnesses or mental disabilities to be able to meet their daily needs in terms of grooming, providing meals for themselves, communication skills, and occupational skills. They may teach clients coping skills.
The average annual salary for a rehabilitation specialist is: $39,700
Options to Advance
The most logical means of advancement for someone with a bachelor's in rehabilitation therapy that is working in the field as an assistant or in another entry-level position is to complete their master's degree, internship, and any required state licensing in order to be licensed as a rehabilitation therapist.
Also, candidates who choose to work as physical therapists will need to complete their doctoral degree in physical therapy and fulfill their state's licensure requirements.
Best Online Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Therapy Programs
There are few online bachelor's programs from the top colleges that are directly in rehabilitation therapy. Most top-flight colleges provide a bachelor's degree in health sciences or a related field that allows the student to tailor electives toward their desired specialization. Students specialize in rehabilitation therapy as well as in a certain type of rehabilitation therapy in their master's degree program. Many of these programs are combined bachelor's and master's degree programs in rehabilitation therapy that allow students to complete the programs in an accelerated time frame.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
USC has been and remains a leader in rehabilitation therapy, physical therapy, and kinesiology programs in the nation. The unique thing about USC is that they do not have majors such as pre-law, pre-med, or rehabilitation therapy. Instead, students are encouraged to speak to an academic advisor who is in the pre-health program. This advisor will help tailor a student's program to their planned academic and professional trajectory.
The Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Sciences is the starting point from which the pre-health advisor would work to tailor a student's specific coursework. Basically, a student would be getting a broad experience in science, such as biology, chemistry, calculus, health, and disease. Also, students take psychology, scientific inquiry and reasoning, sociology of health, and health and aging. The idea is that the student will end their program with a very well-rounded education as well as having taken all of the lower and upper division coursework to prepare them for their specialization in their master's program. Students also participate in a medical internship and a semester or summer abroad in order to see how health issues are different in other countries.
If you can afford it or are able to get scholarships or grants to do so, USC will provide you a well-rounded introduction to your health coursework. You can count on the majority of your class sizes to be reasonably small, and the university has been known to hold a class that has only three students!
- Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Sciences
Another one of the top-ranked programs for rehabilitation and physical therapy in the nation, Boston University offers a combined Bachelor's in Health Studies and Doctor of Physical Therapy that is accelerated into a six- rather than seven-year program. This program offers quite a bit of breadth, since work in the field does as well. Students are provided a diversity of patients and work settings in which to learn about the field and become a competent professional who can respond to the variety of expectations of work within the field. The clinical experiences begin in the fourth year of the program. These clinical experiences comprise 44 weeks of the program, as students complete three or four full-time clinical internships that can be chosen from 700 U.S. clinical sites and from some international locations. This is truly a world-class program with world-class experiences and high expectations.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Studies/Doctor of Physical Therapy, accelerated program
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca provides an accelerated program for occupational therapist candidates. It is five years in duration and is a combined bachelor's and master's degree program in occupational therapy. This is a rigorous program that provides a liberal arts, scientific, and humanities foundation along with the clinical experiences needed by competent professionals in the field. The clinical fieldwork lasts for 32 weeks and is full-time. Students are encouraged and allowed to pursue their academic, research, and clinical interests.
At the end of the program's fourth year, students are conferred their bachelor of science in occupational science. Once the student has graduated successfully from all five years of the program, they are eligible to take their national certification examination and apply for licensure and certification as an occupational therapist.
- Bachelor of Science in Occupational Science/Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, accelerated program
Penn State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Penn State has one of the few top-ranked bachelor's programs that is specifically focused on rehabilitation therapy. Students will learn to work with people who have physical and mental disabilities, addictions, and chronic illnesses. Students learn hands-on skills in advocacy, client needs assessments, conducting group meetings, professional consultations, finding community resources, and developing treatment plans. Upon graduation, students can expect to find work in community mental health programs, drug and alcohol programs, hospitals, group homes, corrections facilities, and rehabilitation centers in entry-level capacities.
Penn State has a brand-new overseas study program in Ireland working with people who have disabilities.
- Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation and Human Services
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
MSU is another top-ranked university that has a bachelor's program that leads to both entry-level employment in the rehabilitation therapy field as well as enrollment in a master's program in rehabilitation therapy. The program awards a bachelor's of science in kinesiology. Coursework includes kinesiology, promotion of community health and wellness, athletic training and sports medicine, sports and exercise physiology, and motor control and development. Students complete their coursework using state-of-the-art laboratories. They have research opportunities and participate in a senior internship. There are also opportunities to continue one's study abroad, including a summer in Australia program.
This program has articulation agreements with both the Central Michigan University and University of Michigan-Flint to fast-track students into their Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.
- Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Rehabilitation Therapy
It is important to understand that, due to the hands-on nature of the curriculum and training in this field, there is no online accredited bachelor's program in, for example, occupational therapy, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association. Online bachelor's programs related to the field tend to be bachelor's completion programs for candidates who already have their occupational therapist assistant certification and who already have experience in the field.
The other option that allows one to prepare for a master's program in rehabilitation therapy is an online bachelor's program in health studies that is broadly focused and allows for an elective concentration towards rehabilitation therapy. This type of bachelor's program needs to be done in concert with one's desired master's program advisors.
New England Institute of Technology
East Greenwich, Rhode Island
One of the top online colleges in the nation, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, NEIT offers an online Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation Sciences. This program highlights the use of assistive technology. Students will learn to perform a patient needs assessment and provide clinical treatments and interventions for their clients. Students will be able to engage in hands-on learning opportunities within their own communities to fulfill the requirements of the program. Coursework includes physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and assistive technology. Upon graduation, students will be prepared for work as patient advocates, entry-level healthcare workers, or ready to complete further graduate studies in occupational or physical therapy and sports medicine.
- Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences
University of Cincinnati
The Bachelor's in Health Science at UoC is an online bachelor's completion program for students who are currently occupational therapy assistants and wish to complete the bachelor's program and move on to a master's degree program in occupational therapy. Students will study pharmacology, nutrition, anatomy, and biomechanics. A unique part of the curriculum is that the coursework earns the student a minor in psychology as well.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences: Behavior and Occupation Studies
University of Louisiana-Monroe
Like the University of Cincinnati, UoL also has an online bachelor's completion program that allows experienced, licensed occupational therapy assistants to earn their bachelor's degree in health studies. Students who pursue such online programs need to ensure that their coursework will meet the admission requirement to any master's program that they may wish to enter.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Studies
Purdue University Global
West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University bought out Kaplan's online system and has placed their name behind online coursework designed for working adults. The regionally-accredited, Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences is entirely online and has a capstone project for hands-on learning.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences
Ohio State University
OSU is regionally accredited and always ranks at the top of all online universities throughout the nation. Students can choose to get their lower division units at a community college and save money or complete the entire program at OSU. The program is broad enough to allow students to pursue many specialties within the healthcare field, including rehabilitation therapy. Coursework includes healthcare ethics, wellness and disease prevention, sociology factors in patient populations, and biology and anatomy. The faculty is among the best in the nation and the world.
- Bachelor of Science in Health Science
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I be working with people after accidents?
Generally, in this role, you will not be working with patients who have suffered from accidents. Instead, rehabilitation counselors aid those who need help to live independently and overcome chronic conditions that make it harder to live their lives. This may include those with developmental, emotional, mental, or physical disabilities. The goal is not to recover lost function, as it is for physical therapy, but to ensure that they can live full lives with ongoing conditions. Otherwise, they may lose out on certain personal, psychological, or social experiences they would otherwise be able to enjoy.
What are the main principles of rehabilitation?
- Emphasize Abilities
- Person-Centered Care
- Promoting Adaptation
- Treating the Whole Person
It is important when you are working with a patient that you focus on solutions that will work for them. They need to be able to adapt their lives to incorporate all solutions, so emphasizing their innate abilities while pushing for adaptation to solutions that are 100% centered on their needs is the best, most wholistic way to perform rehabilitative therapy. This may require more time than they want it to, but it is a proven model.