Massage Therapy Courses at Community College: Advantages and Disadvantages

Community colleges have begun offering massage therapy courses which provide certifications and/or Associate’s degrees in massage therapy. This creates more options for prospective students to consider when exploring training in the field of Massage Therapy.

It also provides an option for potential massage therapists who want to complete massage therapy courses and pursue an Associate’s degree at the same time. 

So, why should you choose training in a community college?

Let’s start with an understanding how colleges work.

Colleges around the United States often offer two options for training in massage therapy: Certificates in Massage Therapy and Associate’s Degrees in Massage Therapy.

The Certificate from a community college may provide you with college credits or non-credit certifications.

You will want to know which one the college is offering because it could make a difference in the portability of your massage training to another school or state. 

Certificates can offer the minimum of 500 contact hours of massage therapy required for National Certification as a Massage Therapist or may offer as many as 1000 contact hours or more of training. 

However, colleges will not talk about contact hours of training alone. They will refer to credit hours when talking about how many hours of training you need. Time will be measured in semesters needed to complete the program, rather than weeks or months. 

So, a Certificate in Therapeutic Massage might require 30 credits of massage therapy courses over two or three semesters while an Associate’s degree might require 60 credits which may take four semesters of full-time enrollment. 

You will want to ask how that translates into contact hours to be sure it will meet requirements of your state to practice massage.

These two-year college degrees provide you with specific massage therapy courses and also require such general education courses as arts, humanities, English composition, social and behavioral sciences, mathematics, biological sciences, physical sciences, and interdisciplinary or emerging issues. 

These courses are taught by faculty who teach students from all disciplines in the community colleges. Many of these Associate’s degrees provide you with transferable credits which can help you attain a four-year college degree. 

Since many massage therapy students are second-career students, they may already have college degrees. An additional Associate’s degree may seem unnecessary.

On the other hand, if they already have a degree, then the appreciation for an academic setting might make a community college setting more familiar and attractive to the returning student.

Community colleges often have many resources associated with any institution of higher education including comprehensive libraries with online databases, computer labs, financial aid, academic advising, and comprehensive student services, such as tutoring and assistance with housing accommodations.   

Because community colleges are not training only massage therapy students, but also students in many different disciplines, their services are academically oriented and catered to overall student success, not just success in massage therapy courses.  

Community colleges maintain regional accreditation which ensures that education provided by institutions of higher education meet accepted levels of quality. 

They may also have program-specific accreditation in therapeutic massage with the Commission of Massage Therapy Education or other accreditation agency.

Specialty schools may also provide training in specific techniques like equine massage therapy, Chinese medical massage, Ayurvedic therapies, or just training courses in sports massage.

Often the programs offered at a community college have lower tuition costs than programs offered at traditional massage training schools, and usually much lower than online massage school programs.  

However, you may need to pay for more courses to be awarded your degree than you might if you did not attend a community college for your massage therapy courses. 

You will also want to be sure that the massage training will increase your success as a practitioner of massage. Ask about pass rates on exams and the reputation of the school in your community. 

Be sure to interview students and faculty to see if the choice is a good fit for you and your career plans. Review the standards for massage therapy education in your state or region to be sure the training program in which you enroll will provide you with the outcomes you will need to be successful in your career.

Ask lots of questions when you visit each massage school you are interested in attending.

At this time (2012) most states and licensure boards do not require a college education to practice massage. The state in which I practice and teach, Maryland, does require 60 college credits from an accredited institution to become a Licensed Massage Therapist who can practice in a health care setting. 

There are employment advantages in Maryland if you have 60 college credits as that opens the door to practice in such health care settings as a chiropractic office, hospital, or nursing home.

To my knowledge, however, there is little added benefit in salary, or compensation between a certificate and an AAS in most regions of the country.  Massage therapy as a profession is not requiring college degrees or credits to demonstrate advanced proficiency.

There is no national profession-driven reason to receive an AAS degree. It is a personal and professionally driven decision based on the career and vocational goals of you, the future massage therapy professional.

Articulation Agreements for Massage Therapy Classes

As the massage profession matures, Associate’s Degrees in Therapeutic Massage are becoming more popular. Unlike certificates, these two-year college degrees provide you with specific massage therapy courses and also require college-level general education courses.

Many of these Associate’s degrees provide you with transferable credits which can help you attain a four-year college degree.

These colleges have articulation agreements with four-year institutions so that your Associate’s degree will seamlessly transfer to a four-year degree in such disciplines as business or health management.

This book, Massage Therapy Career Guide for Hands-On Success teaches how to find the school that's right for you, how to start a successful career, build your clientele, and make the salary you want in the massage profession.

This article was written by Tara McManaway, LMT (MD 01632; WV 0076), who is a Professor in the Health Sciences Division at the College of Southern Maryland.

She has over thirty years experience as a mind-body
 practitioner, holding licenses in both Therapeutic Massage and Counseling (WV 0715, ALPS).

She teaches massage therapy courses for both college credit and continuing education credit, including Biomedical, Business, and Massage Therapy Ethics.

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