instructor works with a student learning massage

You’ve chosen an exciting field, massage therapy. But how do you choose from the hundreds of schools with massage therapy programs? Which one will not only prepare you for licensure but also ensure you’re ready to be an effective hands-on healer from Day One?

5 key questions to ask when looking at massage therapy schools.

As you research massage therapy programs, go beyond the schools’ websites and speak directly to their admissions counselors. After you’ve covered the basic questions, like cost, curriculum and time to complete the coursework, dive deeper into the considerations that will set an exceptional school apart from the rest.  For instance, ask:

  1. Is this massage therapy program part of a school that’s 100% dedicated to healthcare? Some massage therapy programs are stand-alone offerings, while others may be part of general education institutions, like community colleges. That doesn’t mean that they can’t do a good job of teaching the basics of massage therapy. It does, however, put them at a disadvantage when it comes to teaching you how massage therapists function in the contemporary healthcare environment, which increasingly favors a multi-disciplinary, integrative care model. Ask what other healthcare degrees a school offers, and how well-integrated the massage therapy program is with the other disciplines.
  2. Is the faculty comprised of leading practitioners with a wide range of current practical experience? Massage therapy, like all healthcare disciplines, is in a constant state of change and advancement. Is the school you’re considering teaching up-to-date techniques? Are faculty members also current practitioners? And are the teaching tools cutting edge, combining the best of traditional learning with the latest in technology?
  3. How well integrated is the learning of science and technique? Some schools separate the science courses from the instruction of technique and treatment, often starting with the former. More advanced programs integrate the learning of essential scientific knowledge, like research, anatomy and physiology or kinesiology, throughout the coursework. This helps students better understand and apply the scientific foundations of therapeutic massage.
  4. What opportunities will you have for clinical experience? What you learn in class, or even in a lab setting, is only the beginning. Understanding how to apply your knowledge in the real world, for real patients, requires clinical experience. Be sure to ask any school you’re considering for a list of clinical opportunities that will be available to you — and look for variety. 
  5. Can the program prepare you to pass even the toughest licensure exams? Requirements for licensure as a massage therapist vary widely from state to state, with some, like New York, requiring a minimum of 1000 hours of instruction. Be sure that the school you are considering can qualify you in the state in which you plan to practice – and that the school had those all-important licensure qualifications in mind when designing the program. Moreover, you should also make sure a program prepares you to take the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Body Work examination.

A word from the leading experts in massage therapy education.

Just as it pays to talk to admissions counselors, so, too, it’s helpful to hear directly from the professionals leading massage therapy programs. We sat down recently for a series of conversations with Nicole Miller, an assistant professor and the director of the new Massage Therapy certificate program at Northeast College of Health Sciences. In the first, she described the career opportunities for massage therapists. In the second (edited below, and presented fully in audio), Professor Miller describes what it takes to prepare yourself for licensure.

Before we get to preparing for licensure, can you tell us what kind of people, in your experience, make good massage therapists?

Nicole Miller: That’s a great question because, in some respects, ours is not a typical student. In the many years that I have worked with students, I have found some that would refer to themselves as introverts who become amazing hands-on providers. So, although they may not be comfortable speaking in front of a crowd, when standing next to the massage table they provide superior services and palpation skills. 

One of the things that we do at Northeast College is ask, “Where does this person want to practice and how can we cultivate that?” Introverts probably don't want to work in a high-volume clinic setting. So, we would use our professional foundations and career foundations courses to help them prepare for private practice. But then some students, the extroverts, might appreciate the high-volume clinical environments, and we’ll help them develop skills in those areas. 

In terms of preparing for licensure, we try to let people know that there is a significant amount of science education upfront. You must really understand anatomy and physiology, biology, pathology. A lot of students are a bit concerned about the sciences and how they'll do. But the Northeast College campus has many great resources to support students outside the classroom — more than I've seen at other college campuses where I have visited or taught. 

And I'd like to let people know that massage therapy education is not just a professional education, it's a personal education as well. I've grown in my own health and wellness because of what I learned originally in massage school. Now, as a daughter of elder parents, as a mother of teen twins, I apply a lot of what I've learned to help me navigate their needs. And my husband, who lives with chronic trigger points in his shoulders and back, will tell you that he is thrilled that I went through massage therapy school. 

Northeast College campus has many great resources to support students outside the classroom — more than I've seen at other college campuses where I have visited or taught.

Many massage therapy students are making a career pivot, and not necessarily from a healthcare background. How is the curriculum at Northeast College set up to help them succeed? 

Nicole Miller: We have specific classes that are designed to support them in that transition, and we also have a layering approach to the content. In a lot of schools, you'll have your sciences right up front, in the first year, Anatomy and Physiology I, Anatomy and Physiology II. Then it’s left behind.

We include the science throughout your coursework. It’s fractioned out over five trimesters for anatomy and physiology, and four trimesters for kinesiology. So, instead of giving you the sciences upfront, we break them out so you can apply and more easily understand the science alongside the methods and the techniques.  

What else do you see as the advantages of the Northeast College Massage Therapy certificate program?
a class works using Anatomage tables

Nicole Miller: Northeast College is, of course, completely dedicated to healthcare education. We have leading programs in chiropractic, applied clinical nutrition, anatomy and physiology instruction. These — alongside our massage therapy program — share exceptional facilities, including the Computerized Anatomy Resource Lab, the Anatomage tables and our extensive library.

We have faculty here who have been teaching sciences for many years, for other healthcare professions. Our faculty are also practitioners; they have been living that team-based care, integrative health model for many years, and bring that experience to their teaching. They help students work cohesively with our other programs for true interprofessional, collaborative learning. Massage is now being included in team-based care models, so we have to prepare our students to operate that way when they graduate. 

We also have a big advantage in clinical experiences. Some schools limit their experiential opportunities to those with faculty within their immediate area, but that may not give you enough experience with a diverse healthcare population. It’s important that you get into clinical settings off campus. 

So, for instance, our program will place students in places like Clear Path for Veterans, to give them complete immersion experience into veteran culture, and work with veterans who have significant service-related injuries. We're also in the process of developing similar programs with Crouse Health for their perinatal program, as well as those for people who live with addictions and chemical dependency.

Are there specific ways Northeast College will help students prepare for their massage therapist licensure exam?

Nicole Miller: Superior coursework and clinical experience, of course, provide the best preparation. That said, we’re in the process of developing special supports for students between graduation and taking their exam (there is a four- or five-month gap between when students graduate and when they sit for their exams). 

They'll be able to have access to all their prior class materials online and at home, available at their fingertips. We'll also give them a preparation guide for the New York State exam. It will cover key topics, along with ways that they can help themselves with test prep and test taking. We're planning to have online tutoring, as well as some online access to faculty, to give recent grads additional support. They are also welcome to come back to campus, to use the Anatomage tables, for instance. 

I’d like to emphasize one last thing. Not only do we prep for the test here, but we also prepare students for that first time that they place their hands on a person, on their own, without having a faculty present. The New York State exam is the essential test, obviously, to determine proficiency, but the real test comes into play when you are working on a patient without a faculty member over your shoulder helping you. We’ll make sure that that is what you're prepared for — that you can help people to the best of your ability and achieve the best possible outcome. 

For more information on the Massage Therapy certificate program at Northeast College of Health Sciences, reach out to us at or 315.568.3040.