How to Start a Massage Therapy School; Rules, Regulations, Costs, Curriculum, Facilities & More

As of 2013, there were over 1,300 massage schools in the United States.  Over half were proprietary schools where there was a single owner and a single campus.  The rest were divided into college programs, corporate massage schools, public schools and career training institutes.

The trend at that time was that the number of schools was declining from year to year.  Small massage schools with small student bodies were the most likely to close due to economic factors such as consolidation. (Ref:  ABMP)  The prediction at that time was that the decline would continue.

That said, the demand for massage therapy is increasing rapidly and so are the number of massage therapists. The profession is in high demand and the outlook is great. For these reasons, you may want to start your own massage school to capitalize on the growing trend and future outlook.

To ensure you don’t have to close the door due to circumstances outside your control, starting a massage school requires a great deal of pre-planning and initiative to ensure its success.

If you want to start a massage school, you first should determine your mission.  Are you starting a massage school to meet a need in the community or are you going to be competing with other schools for students?  In which modalities other than basic Swedish massage will you provide instruction?

Do you want to compete with the large schools that graduate classes of 80 or more therapists, or do you want to keep your student body small and have more personalized interactions?  These decisions will form the basis for your choices of facilities, curriculum and faculty.

Learn the State Laws, Rules and Regulations Impacting the Massage Therapy Profession

You will have to have your school licensed by the state you are setting it up in.  That generally requires an application to the State Massage Therapy Board or governing body.  For states without massage therapy licensing, you may have to apply for a school license through the state board of education.

Get to know the state rules and regulations for massage therapy schools in depth.  State boards will likely require you to provide a curriculum that is broken down by the number of hours each topic is taught.  Some states also have standards for student/teacher ratio, space requirements, and other requirements regarding the facility and program.

Choose an Appropriate Facility for Your School

Decide how many students you are going to target.  Start looking for a facility that has adequate space for that number of students.  Remember that you will need both classroom space and hands-on massage space, dressing areas and restrooms.

When choosing a rental property or buying a building, ensure that the space will meet both state massage rule requirements and any city or county safety requirements.  If you want to start small and grow, finding a space where you could add on room, or rent additional room in the same building would be critical to minimize future disruptions to your massage business.

Design the Massage School Curriculum

Design your school’s curriculum.  Keep in mind the state requirements, but also the knowledge and skills the students will need to pass their exam to obtain a state license.  A few states have their own exam, but most rely on the students passing the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEX).

If your state uses the MBLEX, familiarize yourself with the breakdown of the exam, and ensure your curriculum teaches what will be needed to pass the licensing exam.   The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards also publishes an MBLEX study guide, which would help in understanding the type of material students will need to learn.

Set Tuition and Ways to Help Students with Financing

Federal financial aid (loans and grants) is only available for a school that is accredited by one of the US Department of Education-recognized accrediting agencies:

  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Schools and Colleges (ACICS)
  • Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
  • National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)

Each accrediting agency has different requirements.  In most cases, you have to open the school first before beginning the accreditation process.  Some allow you to begin the process once you have students enrolled.  Others require that you have been in business for more than two years and/or have graduated students before beginning the accreditation process.

Nearly all the college-based, corporate, public and career training institutes have some kind of accreditation.  Less than half of the proprietary schools have gone through the accreditation process. One of the major reasons is that the cost of accreditation is steep, with the total fees from application to accreditation ranging from around $8,000 to more than $28,000.

In addition, significant time and effort is needed to complete the process.  The time from application to accreditation may range from 18 months to 2 years or more.  During that time you can expect to attend mandatory workshops, have your books audited, have your school inspected, and possibly make revisions to comply with accreditation standards.  This is much simpler when you are associated with a larger school or corporation that has more employees and cash reserves than a single owner, proprietary school.

Other sources of financial assistance may be available to students not enrolled in an accredited school.  This could include state training programs and private scholarships.  You may help make your school more affordable by offering a tuition installment payment program or a discount for prepayment of the tuition in full.

When you set your tuition rate, look at the other schools in the area and at average rates nationwide.  Talk to massage therapists in the area to see what they paid.  Generally, the corporate massage schools and colleges charge higher rates than the proprietary schools because they can accept federal financial aid.  Providing payment plans to your students may allow you to charge slightly higher tuition because they don’t have to come up with a large sum all at once.

Hire Knowledgeable Massage Therapy Instructors

Many states require that you list your faculty on your application for a massage therapy school license, so hiring instructors should be high on your list of things to do.   Hiring massage instructors that have experience in the local massage market will give your students an advantage when it comes time to apply for jobs, since they will have been given insight into the local massage clinics.

You may want to hire instructors with a variety of specialties in order to provide students with a mixture of modalities in their toolkit when they graduate.  Most important of all, hire instructors who are not just good at massage, but also good at communication and teaching.

Many states require a massage instructor’s license to teach in a school, so you must determine if any of your instructors will need to upgrade their license, and whether they have the sufficient qualifications to do so.  A local search for massage therapy instructors can be done through advertisements in newspapers, online, and through networking with local massage therapists.

If you want to expand your search, general employment websites (such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and Jobing) often list massage therapy related jobs.  AMTA and ABMP also have job pages on their websites.  Expect to pay $20-$30 per hour for a massage instructor, depending on your location and their experience.

Advertise and Market Your School

Once you have determined your target market for students, whether it is students just out of high school, people starting a second career, or people interested in a different approach to massage, you will need to find those people and get your message out.

In the internet age, a lot of marketing can be done online.  Having a high-quality website that clearly states your mission and details of your program will help with drawing students to your door.  In addition, you will find that brochures and other handouts will be helpful if you attend events to attract students.

Besides getting involved with high school career and college fairs, you can get a booth at other local events like fairs, charity events, and farmers markets to get your message out to the community.  Get involved in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and use it for spreading your name and mission to potential students.

You can also find websites that list massage schools and get your name on their list.  One caution:  some states do not allow any advertising before they approve your application.  Make sure you are aware of the rules and regulations in your state.

It’s also advisable to start early in getting your name out to the local massage therapy community.  Meet the owners of the larger massage employers in the area, discuss your plans and talk to them about what they look for in a therapist.  Invite them to get a massage from your students when they begin doing clinicals.

Take note of any feedback local employers give the students.  This will help you design your curriculum to help your students gain employment after graduation.  Since a good number of massage therapists end up self-employed, it’s also helpful to the students to get a good education in business practices, self-employment taxes and other issues involved with being your own boss.

Find Massage School Insurance

Find insurance for your school.  ABMP and AMTA both offer massage school insurance, both for liability and premises protection.  You might also find other insurers that will provide coverage to protect you from financial liability for any accidents or injuries that might occur.

Diversify Your Income

In addition to running a massage school, it’s likely that you could diversify your income by providing other services on your school property.  Continuing Education courses can bring in relatively large sums of money.

If you teach continuing education courses yourself, it’s all yours.  Or you can bring in outside teachers and get a percentage of the tuition just for providing the space and helping to advertise the class.

As an example, if you have a 6-hour class that costs $125 per person, 10 students can bring in $1,250 in one day.  If you are hosting another instructor and get 30% of that, you get a one-day payday of $375.

You could also dedicate part of the school space as a massage therapy clinic. If you are a massage therapist, you can use part of that space to run a massage practice.  You could also rent the space out to other therapists either monthly, weekly or daily.

If there are days and times that your massage school is not being used by students, consider whether you could rent the space out to members of the community for lectures, exercise classes or other events.  Not only would that bring in extra money, but would build awareness in the community of your business.

In some states, schools are permitted to charge for student massages.  If your state allows this, you can include this in your potential stream of income.

Do the Math

Now that you have a plan, take a look at the economics and ensure you are going to be able to do this.

Take a look at startup costs (application to the state, license fees, equipment, lease deposit, etc.).  If you don’t have the cash reserves and need startup money, you will need to contact a bank to obtain financing.  The bank most likely will require a business plan with anticipated income, expenditures, and profits.

Look at the potential income (tuition, application fees, continuing education, clinic income) and the expected expenses (rent, supplies, instructor salaries etc.).  Add in a safety factor for maintenance of the building and equipment.

For example (income and expenses may vary in your area):

Income:

10 students at $6000 each per class, 4 classes per year = $240,000 per year income, if classes are full

Application fees:  40 students per year x $100 = $4,000

Continuing Education:  10 classes per year at $125 per student x 10 students per class = $12,500

Massage clinic:  2 rooms x $200/month = $4,800

Total potential income:  $261,300 a year

 

Expenses:

Rent:  $1500 per month = $18,000 per year

Instructors at $20/hour x 600 hours per class x 4 classes per year = $48,000

Clerical help at $9/hour x 20 hours per week x 50 weeks per year = $9,000

Taxes, insurance, etc. for employees (estimated at 30% of annual salary):  $17,000

Supplies, etc.  $500 per month:  $6000

Insurance:  $1500 per year

Maintenance and other expenses:  $10,000

Total expenses:  $109,500

 

Using this example, your potential profit is $151,800 per year, before taxes.  This assumes, of course, that you fill all your classes.  You may need to re-figure costs for 50% full classes and determine at what point the cost of starting a class is greater than the income you receive.  Add one or two students to allow you to make a minimal income, and you’ve just calculated your minimum class size.

Massage school ownership is not for the faint of heart.  It requires research, planning and collaboration with others to make a school a success.  However, the potential rewards exist if you are able to successfully negotiate the startup process.

References:

Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (administers the MBLEX): https://www.fsmtb.org/

ABMP:  www.abmp.com

AMTA:  www.amtamassage.org

ABHES:  www.abhes.org

ACCSC:  www.accsc.org

ACICS:  www.acics.org

COMTA:  www.comta.org

NACCAS:  www.naccas.org

Neal Lyons is a founding member and volunteer contributor at the MTSI Institute, an information based portal dedicated to guiding and assisting aspiring massage therapists establish a successful career in massage. Neal is a published author and has collaborated on several mobile applications that serve the massage profession. You can view his published work on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and on Google+

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