12 Characteristics of a Top Massage Therapy School

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Today, aspiring massage therapists and bodywork professionals can choose from more than 300 accredited massage therapy schools in the United States. You could complete your study faster with an accelerated program or get a traditional four-year degree from a college or university. You could travel overseas to expand your massage therapy knowledge or stay right in your own backyard. You could study with professors, doctors, chiropractors, cosmetologists, or Chinese medicine practitioners.

With so many options and opportunities in this vibrant and growing field, how do you choose the right school for you?

Factors to Look For in a Massage Therapy School

When searching for a massage therapy school, it is important to consider the environment in which you would like to provide massage therapy services. Where do you want to work? Do you see yourself in a spa or a chiropractor’s office? At a resort or on a cruise ship? In your own private practice?

The type of school you choose will likely have an impact on the setting in which you practice. Here are 12 characteristics to think about when choosing the right massage therapy school for you:

1. Style – Spa Training Schools

Some massage therapists get their training and certifications from organizations that teach a variety of spa treatments. For example, the AVEDA Institute offers courses in massage therapy, cosmetology, and esthiology (skin care). You might select a spa training school if you see yourself providing massage therapy in a spa environment. Some schools even give you the option to simultaneously work toward licenses in both massage therapy and another spa treatment.

2. Focus – Massage-Only Schools

You may choose to gain your massage knowledge and experience at a school that focuses primarily on massage therapy. These programs may offer specific opportunities for students. For example, through the Cortiva Institute, Steiner Leisure Limited can provide assistance for placement at spa resorts and on cruise ships.

3. Perspective – Specialty Schools

Certain schools, such as the National University of Health Sciences, offer programs in alternative medicine, traditional medicine, and modern biomedical science. At these schools, you can share ideas with future doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, and Chinese medicine practitioners while studying massage therapy. If you want a broader understanding of health and wellness, you might consider a school that includes allopathic and holistic approaches to healing.

4. Outreach – Health Care Schools

The New York College of Health Professions, the first college in the U.S. to offer a massage therapy degree in therapeutic bodywork, provides an innovative massage therapy program that focuses on a foundation of European massage but also includes curriculum on principles of Chinese medicine. Its students have the unique opportunity to spend a few weeks at the college’s medical facility in Luo Yang, China.

5. Tradition – College/University Medical Schools

Massage therapy students at traditional college and university medical programs, such as the Miami Dade College Medical Campus, benefit from the rigorous standards and sterling reputation of a world-class medical school. In addition to massage therapy instruction, these types of institutions may offer accelerated tracks for physical therapists and other health care professionals who want to add massage therapy certification to their existing credentials.

6. Dedication – Four-Year Degree Programs

Massage therapy schools typically provide technical certificate and associate degree programs, which can qualify students for further instruction. At Michigan’s Siena Heights University, students with associate degrees in massage therapy can pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science in Massage Therapy.

7. Credibility ­– State Certification Boards

Regardless of the school you choose, you will need to meet your state’s massage therapy licensing requirements. Ask school administrators how their programs of study meet (or exceed) state requirements. For example, the California Massage Therapy Council (the state’s regulatory body for massage therapy) requires 500 hours of study. Licensing requirements vary by state.

You will probably also need to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx) test, offered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

8. Perseverance – Ongoing Education

To remain certified in your state, you may need to take continuing education classes. Florida, for example, requires massage therapists to study for 500 hours before gaining a license and earn an additional 24 hours every two years. Ask your massage therapy school what classes are offered to meet your state’s ongoing education requirements.

9. Achievement – National Certifications

The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) offers massage therapy board certification and specialty certification. They require 750 hours of study and 250 hours of professional experience for board certification applicants. These standards exceed the requirements for most state entry-level licensing. the NCBTMB also requires a criminal background check, a current CPR certification, and a passing grade on the board certification exam.

If you want to gain recognition as more than just an entry-level massage therapist, ask your school if they are affiliated with a national certification board. Make sure they offer an expanded course of study that meets the higher standards of organizations such as the NCBTMB.

10. Accountability – Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA) as the specialized accrediting agency for massage, bodywork, and esthetics. It’s this agency’s role to review curriculum and ensure massage therapy schools provide adequate and safe training to their students.

Some massage therapy schools gain voluntary accreditation through other accrediting agencies such as the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). These agencies offer assurance that a massage therapy program meets high standards, but they are more generalized accrediting bodies when it comes to massage therapy schools.

11. Community – School Visits

Though factors such as location, price, and duration will affect your choice of schools, you might want to also consider the types of students and professors with whom you want to engage. For example, if you love spas and have a passion for skin care, a traditional college/university setting might not be the best fit for you. Visit various campuses, meet massage school faculty and students, and sit in on classes before making your final decision.

12. Enjoyment – Explore Your Options

When you choose a massage school, find a place and a program you are likely to enjoy. Learn everything you can from your program while remaining flexible. Consider online classes and seminars to connect with and learn from experts outside your local area. Investigate travel opportunities, internships, and overseas programs to gain a perspective on the many styles of massage and the huge variety of people that make this healing practice their life’s work.


  1. American Massage Therapy Association. (2017). Starting a career in massage therapy: What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.amtamassage.org/professional_development/starting.html
  2. Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards. (2015). Massage & bodywork licensing examination. Retrieved from https://www.fsmtb.org/mblex/
  3. National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. (n.d.). Board certification. Retrieved from http://www.ncbtmb.org/board-certification
  4. National University of Health Sciences. (2017). Bachelor of science in biomedical science. Retrieved from http://www.nuhs.edu/admissions/biomedical-science/
  5. Top schools for massage therapy. (2017). Retrieved from http://study.com/articles/Top_Schools_for_Massage_Therapy.html
  6. U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Accreditation in the United States. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg7.html
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