How to Choose a Massage School
It’s the most important decision you will make.
Without a doubt, the most important decision you’ll make in your massage therapy career is where you get your entry-level massage training. There are some who believe this choice doesn’t matter much; the notion is that “massage schools are more or less alike”. Others may claim that “you learn what you really need after graduation from continuing education workshops.” From our experience, nothing could be further from the truth.
Building a solid foundation. Your time in massage school is the essential first stage when you establish the foundation of knowledge, skills and attributes that are necessary for the successful practice of massage therapy. You wouldn’t build a house on shaky ground, so it makes sense to choose a school that will help you develop the strongest and most secure foundation. In addition to finding a school that offers the highest quality educational program, you also want to make sure that the school is a good “match” for your particular needs and preferences. Massage school represents a significant investment of your time, energy and money, and you want to invest wisely.
Finding the right school for you. When BTI first opened its doors in 1983, there were fewer than 100 massage schools in the entire country. Today, there are more than 1400 institutions offering massage training. With so many choices out there, it’s challenging to tell one from another. There are very significant differences that you’ll discover across the massage school spectrum, including the quality of the training delivered, the campus environment, the makeup of the student body, the focus of the school’s curriculum and educational mission, and the success rate of graduates working in the field.
Asking the right questions. As you are considering the Body Therapy Institute – as well as other institutions – we offer you the following questions that will help you evaluate the merits of any massage school. Along with each question, we have provided a perspective on what is important about that particular aspect, and how BTI meets it. You can also get more information by visiting our web page on The BTI Difference.
- How long has the school been offering massage therapy training?
Experience matters. There has been a rapid expansion in the number of institutions offering massage training in the past decade. BTI has been in the business of training massage therapists and providing continuing education for more than 30 years.
- What is the stated educational mission of the school? The mission statement gives you an overall idea about how the school views the purpose of its training program, and what it prepares its students and graduates to accomplish. BTI’s mission is to provide Learning that Changes Lives. We are dedicated to the process of assisting our students in achieving excellence in the therapeutic knowledge, sensitivity and personal awareness necessary for the effective and successful practice of massage therapy.
- What is the school’s philosophy and approach to massage therapy? In the massage therapy field, there are a number of different treatment paradigms or approaches that are taught and practiced. These include: wellness/relaxation/stress reduction; corrective and rehabilitative treatment; performance optimization; body/mind integration and somatic awareness; energy balancing. The Massage Therapy Diploma Program at BTI provides a foundation in each of these approaches, with a special emphasis on somatic education.
- Is the institution devoted solely to massage therapy training, or does it offer other kinds of vocational training programs? Independently-owned schools that are organized exclusively around massage therapy tend to maintain a high commitment to the lineage and integrity of this venerable healing art. Career colleges and community colleges that offer massage programs are in the business of providing vocational training and workforce development, where massage may be just one of many different career programs that are offered. At BTI, massage therapy is our only business, and we give it our all.
- Is the school accredited by a national accrediting agency? Accreditation is a rigorous process of quality assurance that is conducted by a private third-party agency, under guidelines set by the United States Department of Education. Only half of all massage schools are accredited, which is voluntary in most states. BTI is accredited by COMTA – The Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation. Of the seven different agencies that accredit massage schools, only COMTA has established specific standards for massage therapy education.
- Who directs the massage therapy program, what are their qualifications, and how long have they been in that job? The person who oversees the program should have both credentials and professional experience that is relevant to the field of massage therapy. BTI’s Co-directors, Rick Rosen and Carey Smith, each have 30+ years of experience in their respective professional domains and are recognized leaders in the massage therapy field.
- How is the curriculum designed and delivered? Some schools have what is called a “modular” curriculum, where the subject matter is organized in units that can be taken in any order. This approach allows for flexibility in starting a program at various times, but it may be difficult for students to integrate material presented in random order. Other schools feature a curriculum that is organized as a sequence of courses that are delivered in a consistent manner. BTI works with this model, as we have found that sequential and progressive learning creates the best outcomes.
The other aspect to examine is how many courses, modalities and areas of specialized application are presented in the school’s curriculum. It is common in massage education to find what could be called the “buffet approach”. These are programs that present a large number of different modalities and applications, but do not spend enough time in most areas to develop competency. In our approach to entry-level training at BTI, we focus on fewer courses and modalities, and spend more time assisting our students in developing a high level of confidence and competence. It’s a choice of Quality over Quantity.
- Is any portion of the school’s curriculum delivered through online technology – also known as distance education? While distance education may be commonplace in the academic realm of colleges and universities, it is an untested approach for the more body-based learning process that is the hallmark of massage therapy education. 100% of the curriculum at BTI is delivered through traditional methods in the classroom. We believe that all courses in a massage program are better learned when teacher and student can have direct (face-to-face) interaction.
- Does a group of students remain together throughout the curriculum, or do they mix and match in different courses? At BTI, each class tracks through the entire Diploma Program together. We have found that this produces a mutually supportive learning community, where students are invested in each other’s success.
- What are the qualifications of the school’s instructional staff? This is one of the most important factors that determine the quality of a massage training program. Ask about the school’s standards for their instructors: are they required to have training in the core skills of teaching, practical experience in the field, and classroom apprenticeship? How long (on average) does it take a newly-hired teaching assistant to progress to the level of a lead instructor? What kind of ongoing development is offered/required for faculty members?
BTI has one of the most highly-trained and experienced teaching faculties of any massage school in the country. Our instructors are required to complete The Spirit of Learning® Teacher Certification Program (taught by BTI Co-director Carey Smith), and then must progress through a 2-4 year teaching assistantship process before being eligible to be a lead instructor in our classroom.
- What kind of ongoing development is offered or required for faculty members? We provide ongoing staff training that allows our faculty to expand and deepen their skills. In addition, these dedicated instructors go on to take advanced training in specialized areas of massage therapy and bodywork.
- What is the minimum student-teacher ratio for hands-on classes? For hands-on classes, typical minimum student-teacher ratios range from 16:1 to 20:1, as defined by most state and national standards. We don’t believe that offers enough personal attention and supervision to support our students’ learning, so we provide one faculty member for every 8-10 students – double the minimum standards.
- Does the school screen its applicants? What do you look for in a student? While most everyone can benefit from a massage, not everyone is well-suited to become a massage therapist. BTI has a rigorous admissions process. We admit only those students who have what it takes to graduate from our program, and to succeed in the massage therapy profession. We look for the necessary physical, mental and emotional resources, as well as personal motivation and a solid work ethic. There are many schools operating massage programs these days that have no screening processes whatsoever. At these institutions, anyone who can afford the tuition (or qualify for student loans) is admitted.
- What is the average age and educational background of the student body? This will vary, but the largest group currently found in most massage schools is 18-25 years of age with a high school diploma. BTI has consistently had a student body that represents a wide range of ages, as well as educational and career experience. Our students are from 18-65 (average age = 34), and their education level ranges from a G.E.D. to Masters and Doctoral degrees (average is a Bachelor’s degree).
- On average, how many students drop out of each class? What is the pass rate on national board exams for licensure? What percentage of the school’s graduates are successful in achieving their career goals? These numbers provide an important gauge of the overall effectiveness and quality of a massage school. Over the past 20 years, 90% of BTI graduates have completed the Diploma Program. By contrast, it is not uncommon for vocational schools to lose 20-50% of the students that start a massage program. Over the past seven years, BTI graduates achieved an incredible 96% first-time pass rate on the national Massage & Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx). This compares with a national average pass rate of just 70%. On the career front, our job placement surveys show that more than 75% of our graduates are providing massage therapy on a professional basis (either full-time or part-time) following completion of the Diploma Program.
- How does the school support its students and graduates? In addition to the student-teacher ratio, how many staff members are there on the administrative side? Does the school provide access to a student advisor? Are there academic counseling services available? Who monitors the student’s performance? After graduation, what placement and career guidance support does the school provide? BTI places a strong emphasis on supporting the academic journey of each student during their time in school. Each instructor works with students around their particular course. We have a Student Advisor on staff to track a student’s overall progress through the curriculum, and to provide academic counseling as needed. We support our graduates through the BTI Resource Bank on this website. This features a searchable database of job opportunities, treatment spaces for rent, equipment for sale, and more. Career coaching before or after graduation is also available.
- Does the school offer continuing education classes? For three decades, BTI has sponsored an annual schedule of continuing education workshops and advanced training programs. These are open to our graduates, as well as all other professionals in the field. BTI is committed to the process of Lifelong Learning.
- What do employers of massage therapists in your area have to say about graduates of the school? This is a useful way to evaluate the effectiveness of a school, as employers see the practical application of a graduate’s knowledge and skill in their work environment. Surveys of employers who have hired BTI graduates indicate 100% are either “Very Satisfied” or “Extremely Satisfied” with their performance.
- What do the school’s students and graduates say about their experience of the school? This is the best way to get a “first-person” perspective on what a school is like. BTI encourages prospective students to observe a Diploma Program class in session. We also invite you to visit the Testimonials page on this site to read what our graduates have to say about “The BTI Experience”.
- Does the school actively promote massage therapy to the community? Since its inception, BTI has maintained a commitment to spreading the “message about massage”. Each student in the Diploma Program is required to perform a Community Service Externship Project, and BTI offers massage to the public through its Student Massage Clinic, held regularly at the school.
- Finally, how does the school “feel” to you when you’re there? No matter what the school catalog looks like, or what’s promised on the website, you really have to get a first-person experience of the school to know if it’s right for you. This where you’ll get a sense of what it will be like to be a student there. Our Free Campus Tour and Exploratory Session is designed specifically for this purpose. Just indicate your interest by filling out the form at the right side of this page.
If you have additional questions about BTI or massage therapy training, contact our Admissions Department at 919-663-3111, or fill out the catalog request form on the right side of this page.