Study Rehabilitation Science: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Class Info

About this article
What will you learn in a rehabilitation science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and PhD and potential careers.
View available schools

Study Rehabilitation Science: Degrees at a Glance

Rehabilitation science graduate degree programs are geared towards professionals in fields related to physical therapy. The programs build on existing knowledge and fundamentals while preparing you for careers in management or research. As a student, you will typically cover many different areas of rehabilitation science, and you will be able to choose electives, internships and thesis paper topics that best suit your interests and professional goals. Typically, these degree programs prepare you for a leadership role in a rehabilitation facility or a career in research or academia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers for rehabilitation counselors are expected to increase 28% from 2010 to 2020.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Therapists and other specialists who seek leadership rolesThose who wish to work in the fields of research or academia
Common career paths (with approx. median salary)* - Rehabilitation counselor ($37,000)*
- Recreational therapist ($43,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($74,000)*
- Researcher (unavailable)
Time to completion2 years4 years
Common graduation requirements - Internship
- Thesis
- Core coursework
- Research project
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in a comparable discipline
- Acceptable GPA
- Post-baccalaureate clinical degree in a comparable discipline
Online availability YesNo

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Science

A master's degree program in rehabilitation science will help students gain research experience in fields involving exercise and movement disorders. On-campus programs may provide you with laboratories so that you can use EKG and motion analysis machines to get a better understanding of the problems facing patients in rehabilitation programs. You may choose a thesis or non-thesis track, depending on your professional goals. The thesis track requires you to complete a research paper under the supervision of an advisor. Generally, careers in rehabilitation require only a bachelor's degree to start entry-level work. Work experience may be enough to advance in some of these careers.

Pros and Cons


  • On-campus labs grant you a hands-on education
  • Internships can help you focus your research project and prepare for a career upon graduation
  • Growing elderly population may increase employment in the field*


  • A master's degree may not be required to advance in some rehabilitation careers
  • You may be required to complete a written comprehensive exam, in which you must prove your knowledge of a broad range of rehabilitation topics
  • Many degree programs are geared towards those who wish to enter the research field

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Core courses for master's degree programs in rehabilitation science may include:

  • Methods for health research
  • Evidence-based rehabilitation
  • Motor learning and motor control
  • Rehabilitation and the rehabilitation counseling process
  • Ethical issues in healthcare

Additionally, you may be required to concentrate on areas such as hand and upper quarter rehabilitation, pediatrics or orthopedics. You will then take courses related to your concentration before moving on to complete your internship and research project.

Online Degree Options

There are non-clinical degree programs available entirely online. These programs are ideal for working professionals or stay-at-home parents who cannot make it to the campus. The courses and time to completion are generally the same, but you do not get to experience that first-hand lab work that you would in an on-campus program.

Stand out with this Degree

With new technologies coming out daily, it is imperative that rehabilitation professionals keep up with these developments. Physical rehabilitation is a growing industry, and emerging technologies can help make things easier for you, as well as help the patient to the best of your abilities.

PhD in Rehabilitation Science

The PhD program in rehabilitation science prepares students for careers in research or teaching at the post-secondary level. These programs are meant for individuals with clinical experience and a graduate degree who wish to conduct original research in a specific concentration of their choosing, such as pediatrics or clinical biomechanics and orthopedics. Students will have access to research laboratories and also train in partnering clinical facilities to get hands-on experience with equipment and patients.

Pros and Cons


  • You will gain valuable experience working in clinical facilities with patients
  • You are able to choose a specialization and concentration that best suits your interests
  • Flexible scheduling allows you to work towards your degree in your own time


  • A PhD may over-qualify you for careers in clinical rehabilitation science
  • Employment of post-secondary teachers is dependent on government funding
  • You may also be required to teach undergraduate classes as you are working on your degree

Courses and Requirements

The courses in a PhD program are flexible, depending on your concentration and scheduling. Core courses are supplemented with hands-on training in laboratories or neighboring rehabilitation facilities. Elective courses vary by concentration. Generally, core courses may include:

  • Biomechanics in human movement
  • Sensors and transducers in rehabilitation
  • Introduction to movement science
  • Foundations of hand therapy
  • Nerve injuries on upper quarter
  • Work injury management
  • Upper quarter joint pathology

Online Degree Options

There are no PhD programs in rehabilitation science available entirely online, because this clinical major requires you to work in rehabilitation facilities. However, some colleges and universities may offer select courses online. These courses can be completed on your own time from the comfort of your own home and are ideal for those who are working as well.

Stand out with this Degree

As with the master's degree, it is vital that you stay abreast of emerging technologies in the field of rehabilitation science and your specific concentration. Focusing your research project, thesis or dissertation on developing technologies is an excellent way to stand out above the competition when applying for jobs. You can add the abstract and topic of your paper to your resume upon completion of the degree program.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Saybrook University

  • Ph.D. Mind-Body Medicine

What is your highest level of education completed?