Characteristics of the Best Massage Therapy Schools. How to Select One

There are top-tier massage therapy educational institutions that stand out like bastions above the rest. Most of these are either universities with corresponding massage therapy degrees or private vocational massage therapy schools that have developed a reputation over decades of excellence.

These top-tier schools have a number of assets that let them stand above the rest. However, the choice for each individual depends on their own criteria. Listed below are the major areas that set schools apart and should be considered in your decision when selecting the best massage therapy school for you.

Intangibles

Intangibles are all the things that are not easy to put your hands on, but are the ones that make a school standout from the rest. These are hard to measure quantitatively. This mainly deals with a school’s reputation for quality education and an employer’s perception when hiring.

A school’s reputation is built over time by producing quality standards of teaching excellence, increasing the level of quality equipment and facilities within, providing superior service to students both within the program and after graduating from the program in finding employment.

It is also a perception of employers in the industry that students from certain schools or program are far more superior in their understanding, knowledge and practice of massage therapy compared to students from other institutions.

When deciding on the best institution for yourself you first need to decide which subset of the massage therapy industry you want to practice in. Whether it is medical massage, sports therapy massage, health and wellness massage or getting in business for yourself.

Researching Schools

If you plan to work as an employee like most graduates do, your first step before applying to any school should be to research what local employers are looking for in a massage therapist and what school they would recommend for an aspiring massage therapist.

This survey will be beneficial for your own career as it will relate specifically to your needs and the employers’ you plan to approach for employment after finishing your education. If the majority of employers mention one or two massage therapy schools it would be best to look into those programs first.

The recent professionalization of the massage therapy industry and the requirements that most states have put in place for licensing have resulted in better quality schools. Most schools now meet accreditation standards in state requirements for licensing in regards to classroom hours and hands-on training.

Therefore, an intangible like reputation may make a long-term impression on your career more than other specifics like coursework, especially in high-end positions such as top-notch spas or in highly demanding massage departments in large clinics and hospitals.

Coursework

Classroom hours and coursework are generally the most varied throughout the entire massage therapy educational industry. Although coursework hours are beginning to become standardized there is still a long way to go to reach true standardization.

Note: Be careful of schools that offer diplomas or certifications with less than 500 classroom hours. Around 40 states have mandated licensing requirements including board certification. Board certification requirements include 750 classroom hours with 250 hands-on training hours. Some programs offer 500-1000 hands-on training hours yet the larger of the two requirements is the 750 classroom hours needed for board certification and subsequently state licensing.

Beyond the requirement for classroom hours there is no standardization as to what can be taught within those hours of education. The best programs offer a combination of teaching in both Eastern and Western techniques of massage therapy. This combined education will offer groundwork for later specializations in modalities that best interest you or suit the subset of massage therapy that you plan to gain employment in.

You should also look for an inclusive program that offers standard courses within the program relating to introduction to physiology, anatomy, clinical diagnosis, business operation classes, and a variety of standard modalities with the option to specialize in other modalities while in the program.

The program should offer things like modality proficiency in Swedish, aromatherapy, hot stone, deep tissue, shiatsu, myofascial, reflexology, pregnancy, sports, medical, Reiki, and possibly acupressure. The general program will not include all of those but should include all of these as options within the program either as standard offerings or as electives.

Certification Preparation

A great massage program will also offer preparation for state licensing and board certification. This should include an actual preparation course that provides sample examinations of the national board certification exam and gives individual help to students based on their test scores from these sample tests.

The best schools offer a student membership to national professional associations that enable students to receive industry updates and news regarding certification through their member association. These top-tier schools can also schedule certification exams to coincide with your graduation. At the top tier of massage therapy schooling the true difference is the amount of services offered and the level of classroom and hands-on training available.

Hands-on Training

The best programs in massage therapy include hands-on training hours of 500 to 1000 on top of 500 – 750 classroom hours. Any program that specifies graduation in less than six months would generally be a substandard program.

Even if the program is condensed; in order to complete 1750 hours between classroom and hands-on training would take 44 weeks, full-time. Most programs offer completion within one year which include 500 – 1000 hours of hands-on specific training in a number of widely accepted modalities such as Swedish and deep tissue massage.

However, within these hours, electives also offer hands-on training in 2 to 3 specialized modalities. Hands-on training is very important to employers looking to hire experienced massage therapists.

Although only 250 hours are required for board certification, top-notch medical massage therapy departments and the best spas require their employees to have a minimum of 1000 hours before hiring.

Employment Preparation

The final piece of the puzzle includes proper employment preparation. This should include resume and cover letter writing courses, an active job board, externships which offer real-world experience and allows graduates plenty of networking opportunities.

One of the first things you should ask a prospective school is their success rate for employment within one year of graduation. After all, the most important thing after graduation is being gainfully employed in your chosen profession.

If a school does not keep statistics or is unwilling to reveal them they may be having trouble connecting with the community and getting their graduates employment opportunities. This may be a sign to consider a different school.

The most important part of the process is to attend the best educational institution for you, the one that gives you the foundation you will need to succeed in your career, as well as one that will help you secure a job in your profession.


Want to Multitask? Watch this article in video format or simply play it in the background and listen to it while you work away

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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