Massage Therapist Degrees: What You’ll Study
Explore the ins- and-outs of earning a massage therapy degree.
What certification will I need?
For massage therapy, only one level of certification is needed. This certification is completed after you pass the licensing exam required for massage therapists in your state; the only prerequisites you need to take the exam are a high school degree and a minimum number of massage therapist training hours.
In order to practice massage therapy, you will need to pass one of two tests. Depending on what state you live in, you'll take either the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCEMTB) or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage (NCETM).
Besides these two exams, you will also need to complete re-certification training every four years in order to keep practicing. In order to be re-certified, you can either retake the exam, or complete 48 hours of continuing education units and log 200 hours of massage sessions within that four-year period.
What will I learn in my courses?
In a massage therapy course, you'll receive the training you need to be a great licensed massage therapist to fulfill a range of client needs. If you plan to specialize in a particular type of massage (for instance, infant massage, stone therapy, sports massage, etc.) you will take some specialized courses to achieve your certification. Generally speaking, however, a massage therapy course includes classes like:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Business and license procedure
- Contraindications and limitations
- Health values of massage
- Professional ethics
- Theory of massage
How long will it take?
Your certification as a massage therapist is all about how many hours you put into your training, and these hours might vary quite a bit. Each state has different requirements for obtaining massage therapy licensure; some states regulate massage licensing rules more closely than others. Legal minimum hours for obtaining a massage therapy license vary by state, and these minimums range from 330 to 1,000 hours. Depending on how your program is structured, you can obtain your license in a matter of weeks, or it might take you up to two years.
Because every state has different requirements for massage licensure, you'll want to investigate your state's individual rules and regulations before committing to a program.
Are online programs available?
As a profession, massage therapy is about as hands-on as it gets—literally. If you're interested in pursuing a massage therapy certificate through an online program, know that you will still need to log hours of practice and massage experience.
There are, however, web-based massage programs available that will give you some of the technical instruction and general information you need to get started in your hands on practice. Concepts like massage basics, massage benefits, and general guidelines can all be learned online and at your own pace.
How much will my education cost?
Massage therapy training typically costs anywhere from $6 to $17 an hour, with the average being $9 or $10. Because of this cost variation, as well as the wide range of state requirements, your program costs depend largely on where you are. A common requirement for states with massage licensing criteria is the need for 500 to 600 hours of training. This comes out to a tuition range of $5,000 to $9,000 for your certificate.
*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees.
Be warned, too, that some programs include the cost of a massage table in their tuition prices, but for those that don't you'll need to pay around $500 for a massage table, as well.
Are there prerequisites?
The only prerequisite for a massage certificate is a high school diploma; however you should know that there are also some characteristics of massage therapists that are beneficial to success. A good massage therapist is interested in holistic treatments and wants to provide the best in client care. Though a massage therapist is not necessarily a health care professional, your attitude should still be one of healing and promoting health for your clients, just like a nurse or doctor.
What accreditation is there for my program?
If you're serious about your massage therapy career, the best thing you can do for yourself is to attend an accredited school. Earning your certificate from an accredited massage school is essentially like putting a stamp of approval on your training. Currently, there are five organizations that are federally-sanctioned to accredit massage schools. These accrediting boards are:
- Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA)
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET)
- Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
Attending a program that's been accredited by one of these organizations could be your ticket to federal loan and grant eligibility, which for some students is a huge must.
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether attending an accredited school is a priority for you—the fact is that there are some great schools that are not accredited. The best way for you to decide on a massage school is to visit campuses or read up on programs to determine the best fit for yourself.
What should I expect my student-teacher ratio to be?
Due to the popularity of massage school, when you initially begin your training, you will find a higher student-to-teacher ratio. As you advance, however, your class sizes will generally shrink. Since so much of massage training is hands-on practice time, however, you will have less class time and more practice time than many other types of professional training.