man looking overwhelmed by massage school choices

You’re interested in attending massage school, but how do you know which program is right for you?

There are a wide variety of factors to consider in your choice, but before you start comparing schools, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself a few key questions.

Start by Looking Within

First, take some time to understand what’s attracting you to massage school.

“Some people see all these billboards promoting massage schools with beautiful pictures of spas, and the reality is not always like that,” says Emmanuel Bistas, the Founder and Director of the New School for Massage, Bodywork & Healing in Chicago, Illinois. “You need to have firsthand appreciation for massage, to experience the benefits of massage yourself, and to love massage to really succeed in the field.”

Bistas suggests you begin by asking yourself, “Have I received a professional massage? Have I put my hand in my pocket and paid real money for it? What was the experience like? Do I see myself giving massages for five or six hours a day?”

The next question to ask yourself is: “Where am I in my life right now, and why am I making a change?”

“Maybe you want to pursue massage to help others heal their pain,” Bistas says. “Maybe you want to enhance your career, but you need to know why — what’s driving you.”

10 Signs a School May Be Right for You

Once you are clear on your own motivation for attending massage school, it’s time to start researching schools to determine whether they will be a good fit.

Watch for these signs that a massage school could be a great match for you.

1. Testimonials from Real Graduates

Personal recommendations can hold their weight in gold.

A good way to find out about reputable schools in your area is to go to local massage establishments and speak to massage therapists and ask for their advice. “In a personal one-on-one conversation, ask them, ‘If you were to do it all over again, where would you go to school?’” Bistas says.

The information you get can help point you in the right direction, or steer you away from less-than-ideal situations.

2. Student Outcomes

Massage schools are required by law to disclose data online that could help you assess how successful their programs are at preparing students for the workforce. Be sure to read their websites and look for information about how many students pass the massage licensing exam. In addition, find out how many graduates get jobs as massage therapists and their average starting pay.

3. Accreditation

Another way to gauge a school’s reputation is to check whether it is accredited.

“Accreditation provides third-party objective information that the school meets certain standards,” explains David Osborne, Director of Education for Altura College in Pullman, Washington. “It takes a lot of dedication and work to maintain that standard, so accreditation status can reflect positively on a school.”

If a school is not accredited, check to see if it is approved by a board of education in your area. At minimum, you should find out if the school enables students to fulfill the criteria needed in order to become licensed as a massage therapist in your state.

4. Positive Atmosphere on Campus

It’s also a good idea to take a tour of campus and get a feel for it.

“Peek into a classroom, even for a moment,” Bistas advises. “This can take some of the mystery away.”

Think about whether or not you’d enjoy being on campus. When you picture yourself as a student at the school, do you see yourself flourishing in that environment?

5. A Class Schedule That Works for You

Massage therapy education programs can offer very different class schedules, so seek out a program that doesn’t conflict with your ability to work or take care of your family.

“Some programs meet many times a week for a few hours at a time, and others meet a couple times a week for longer periods,” Osborne explains. “The variance is pretty big, so find an option that works best for your life.”

6. Small Class Sizes

Class size is another metric to consider. Some schools keep classes under 10 students, while others offer classes with 25 students or more.

“When I was a massage student, I went to a school that had relatively large classes, and that gave me limited one-on-one time with the instructor,” Osborne explains. “A lot of the best ‘aha! moments’ occur when you are speaking one-on-one. Then the student really gets it and can share what they learned with other students.”

Smaller classes are particularly important for a skills-based profession like massage therapy. If a school offers large classes, try to find out whether they have competent teaching assistants to help offset the high student-to-teacher ratio.

7. Solid Curriculum

The coursework also has a big impact on the quality of your education.

“Every massage program should have a solid human sciences component — anatomy, physiology, pathology and kinesiology — and the program should explain research methodology and teach critical thinking and ethics,” Bistas says.

The coursework should also address career readiness, so students understand the job marketplace and how people can succeed in it, whether they want to become an employee or start their own business.

“Ultimately, you need to pick up enough tactile skills that you are able to perform successfully,” Bistas says. “You need to understand what you are doing as a massage therapist and be able to explain it intelligently to clients.”

While many schools have overlapping aspects of the overall curriculum, look out for components that may be unique to a school. “Some schools allow you to shadow other health care professionals, visit a physical therapy clinic, view a surgery, or see a cadaver lab,” Osborne notes. “These experiences can leave lasting memories and improve your education.”

8. Tuition Rates

Another big factor? Tuition.

While it’s important to attend a massage program you can afford that won’t leave you with an overwhelming amount of debt, it’s also a good idea to avoid choosing a school simply because it has the lowest cost.

“We tell our students the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten,” Osborne says.

9. Individualized Approach to Education

Last of all, try to find out if the school is willing and able to adapt to meet the individual needs of students.

“Schools have to utilize different methods to optimize for a student’s success, and it’s important to adapt and accommodate to the needs of individual students,” Osborne explains.

10. Financial Stability

You don’t want to sign up and begin massage school, only to have the school go bankrupt and have to close its doors in the middle of your program.

During your face-to-face visit with the staff, ask some questions about the school’s financial health, such as “Is this school on stable financial footing?, “Do you fully expect the school to remain open in the coming year, or is there a risk of going out of business?”, or “Do you have any concerns at all about the school’s level of funding and whether it can continue serving students in the future?”

If you can’t get a straight answer to your questions about the massage school’s funding and finances, keep that in mind as you’re comparing different schools. (Note: This article is not a substitute for professional legal or financial advice.)

5 Red Flags

While there are plenty of positive attributes to look for in any given school, be sure to keep an eye out for these red flags.

1. Limited Information Available

Not all massage schools are forthcoming about information like actual tuition costs or student outcomes. If admissions staff behave like car salesmen — trying to bring you in and get you to sign up for student loans based on limited information — take a step back and ask more questions to make an informed decision.  

2. Exaggerated Claims

Be wary of inflated numbers that sound too good to be true; for example, if a massage school claims that massage therapists can expect to make $80,000 a year.

3. Students Not Engaged

If you visit a school and see that students are just sitting around, not engaged in doing work or participating in active learning, that’s another red flag.               

4. Lack of Screening for Applicants

The application process can also influence the type of education you will ultimately receive.

“If the school accepts anyone who applies, that could reduce quality of the class,” Osborne says. “As the student, if it feels difficult to enroll in the program, just remember that every student that is accepted had to go through that process, and they will have a higher level of dedication to their education.”

5. Something Feels Off

When you evaluate schools, pay attention to your intuition. “Sometimes you can’t define why something feels off or out of place, but when that happens, I encourage students to follow that and see where it leads,” Osborne says. “I can’t overemphasize the power of gut feeling.”

About the Author

Sarah Schmidt lives in Colorado and has worked as a writer and editor for over a decade. She has produced articles, blogs and website content for magazines, marketing agencies, market research firms and education tech companies.