How to Select the Best Massage Therapy School For You

The top massage therapy schools are defined in different ways by different organizations with different parameters.

We can narrow down on the top schools recognized in the nation only after reading adequately about the industry. First, however, you would need to determine factors that relate to your own preferences and choices.

Personal Career Factors

While you may be looking for a top school to attend, some attributes should be considered specific to your own career goals to ensure that you are looking for the right resource.

  • Cost – one of the largest determining factors for individuals will be the cost of private or public institutions. Private schools usually focus more on massage therapy with a dedicated facility, teachers and vision; whereas public community colleges allow longer times to complete coursework, lower tuition and usually associate degree designations.
  • Regulations – another factor which will affect your choice may be the state licensing requirements where you intend to practice as opposed to where the best schools or programs may be located.

Beyond these personal choices there are many other factors that make a school the best massage therapy school for you.

Career Must-haves

Top massage therapy schools need to have some basic tenets that the industry at large will require if you want a successful career as a professional board certified massage therapist.

School Must-Haves

Schools will have many variations of the coursework and programs offered and you must be certain that the ‘must-have’ requirements are met before considering their programs in more detail.

Most of these requirements deal with national certification, state licensing and accreditation standards that any aspiring top professional will want to have.

  • State Licensing – this part of the process will require individual research as the hours of practical hands on experience, class education, and certification and continuing education requirements differ between each state. However, any top school should be able to answer the question, “Will your program enable me to apply for a state license?” If not, then it might enable you take certification exams that then enable state licensing. There are only 5 states that do not regulate the massage therapy industry and 1 of these is in the process of instituting regulations.
  • Certification Examination Preparation – if a school does not have any preparation for certification by one of the 8 certification testing organizations then it is not a top school. Furthermore, most top schools will have at least preparatory classes for the NCETMB and MBLEx certification exams as these two are the most prevalent.
  • Hands-on Training component – with the advent of online learning, multiple schools in massage therapy have started offering 100% online training and education. However, within this profession, hands-on applied training with a certified trainer is favored very highly. Most high-end spas will not even consider employment of massage therapists until they have achieved at least 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. There are multiple schools that offer such hands-on experience within their programs, although many more only offer 500-600 hours.

These four components are must-haves in order to be considered a true top training program for aspiring professional massage therapists.

Specialization Options

Within massage therapy there are over 80 modalities of massage and bodywork that are encompassed in the industry as recognized therapies. As a certified professional you will want to specialize in 2-3 modalities over the course of your career, besides the core Swedish massage that is included within most programs.

Although those choices are beyond the scope of your initial training  it bears mentioning that a school with a good choice of specializations will be able to support your continuing education goals long after you are certified and licensed.

Other Considerations

Now comes the true weeding out process to determine the best of the best and which schools not only fit your personal choices, standard professional credentials, but some of the other factors that make schools great.

  • Years in Business – how long has the school been in operation? If it is a new start up you probably want to let others test the waters first.
  • Program Length – different states require certain minimum hours to be licensed so make sure that your program, especially if your school is not in the state you will practice in, covers the minimum requirement set by the state to be licensed.  Programs can be as short as 3 months to as long as a 4 year undergrad degree from a recognized University, although most private programs run between 6 months to a year. Also consider the length for specializations in spa or sports massage therapy for their required licensing and certification.
  • Student-Teacher Ratio – the best schools have low ratios of at least 10:1 or lower, specifically in the practical hands-on portion of the program.
  • Teacher Experience – ensure that the teachers have sufficient experience to be able to teach the basics and any modalities that you may be taking. This is essential to establish a solid base for your career.
  • Tuition Fees – this unfortunately follows the age old axiom usually that you ‘get what you pay for’. Tuition ranges from $6-$17 per hour of education with the average falling in the $9-$10 range. With the top schools they will generally fall above the average, but even here you should look at what is specifically included in the tuition. Small things like including a massage table in the price of the program are included in some schools and not others, but in the long run can add up.

This list is what really distinguishes massage therapy schools as either average or best. There is also the intangible that comes with graduating from the best recognized schools in the country with a longer program like 1,000 hours in hands-on experience.

These certificates will be worth their paper weight as well as cost as you start searching for lucrative employment options.


Top rated massage therapy schools have all the options mentioned here: a great reputation, excellent recognized teachers, specialized coursework that encompasses the counseling and the business side of the industry.

Plus, variable program lengths for longer hands-on options and specialization options as well. These schools provide a step up from average schools because they are recognized as the best, much like Harvard, MIT or Princeton are each recognized and accepted as top schools.

Aiming to be hired by the top 5% of companies in massage therapy require being trained by the top 5% of educators. Whenever possible, start your search by searching for the top 10 massage therapy schools in your locality. You can’t go wrong with them.  In addition, utilize the best practical tools and resources in vetting out the best massage school for your specific needs.

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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