Harper College

Massage Therapy FAQs

Interested in starting your career in massage therapy? Learn more about the Massage Therapy Program offered at Harper College. Or request more information here.

Massage therapy is one of the oldest known health care practices. References to massage are found in ancient medical texts written more than 4,000 years ago.

Massage therapy is the manipulation of the soft tissues of the body for the purpose of enhancing health and well-being. Massage therapy consists of a group of manual techniques that include applying fixed or moving pressure, holding, and/or causing movement to parts of the body. While massage therapy is applied primarily with the hands, sometimes the forearms or elbows are used. These techniques can cause targeted effects for the muscular, skeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, nervous, and other systems of the body. Learning what those effects can be and how to use them safely and intentionally is the goal of massage therapy education.

While there are many types of massage, called modalities, the techniques taught in the training at Harper College fall into two main categories:

  • Relaxation Massage: also known as classic or Swedish-style massage; practiced in settings like spas, wellness centers, resorts, cruise ships and private practices

  • Rehabilitative Massage: sometimes called deep tissue, medical, therapeutic or clinical massage; practiced in many settings such as clinics, hospitals and chiropractic offices for patients after an injury or illness, and private practices; Techniques include trigger point therapy, myofascial release, cross-fiber friction, deep tissue (more accurately called 'specific tissue') massage, hydrotherapy and more. Students also are introduced to massage for special populations, such as the elderly, patients with cancer, and specific orthopedic conditions and injuries. The program also includes sports massage, commonly used with athletes. 

Many massage therapists work in a combination of settings, sometimes including private practice and need to be able to offer a variety of technique choices for the clients in those different settings. Harper's Massage Therapy Program prepares you to use a wide variety of massage therapy skills based on what will help the patient reach their goal of that particular session.

Harper College offers a comprehensive Massage Therapy program that meets state requirements for licensure and sets our graduates on a pathway toward success. Harper College is one of two schools in Illinois to be accredited by both the Higher Learning Commission and the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation (COMTA). We offer a top-tier program with experienced faculty dedicated to seeing you succeed. Being part of a community college, we are able to offer an outstanding menu of services and student benefits to aid both our current students and our graduates, all for a virtually unbeatable in-district tuition cost.   

Combining a variety of massage therapy modalities with a focus in both relaxation and rehabilitative massage, our program provides a diverse education that increases a graduate's potential for working in a variety of environments.

Excellent, experienced instructors along with the combination of classroom and clinical experiences allow the student move into the profession prepared for real-world situations.

Classes are small to allow time for individualized attention. In lab classes we maintain a maximum student:teacher ratio of 14:1 to ensure students can receive individual support and instruction throughout their educational journey. Throughout the entire training, our faculty members prioritize the students' learning and help prepare them for a successful career as a Licensed Massage Therapist.

We offer a full-time day program which meets four days per week and a part-time program that meets 2-3 weekday evenings and a full day on Saturday. The full-time program can typically be completed in less than one year, while the part-time program can be completed in roughly 17-months. Graduates are prepared to sit for the licensure exam used by Illinois and most other states, the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx), as well as the highest credential in the field, Board Certification for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB).

The Massage Therapy Program is offered at Harper College's main campus, located in the northwest Chicago suburb of Palatine. The program is housed in Harper's Avante Center, Building X (near Parking Lot 4). View maps and directions.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook for Massage Therapists (published 4/17/2024), employment of massage therapists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations (3% growth for all occupations nationally over the same period). Continued growth in the demand for massage therapy services will likely lead to new openings for massage therapists.

The Massage Therapy program at Harper College prepares graduates to become a state Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT) and to become Board Certified for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB). 

A massage therapist can be self-employed, an hourly or salaried employee, or work as an independent contractor running their business. In addtion to running a private practice, common job opportunities include rehabilitation centers, salons and spas, sports clinics and sports teams, Children's Hospitals, fitness centers, medical and chiropractic clinics, geriatric/nursing homes, and many more.

Job Growth Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Massage Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm (visited April 17, 2024). 

Yes. The state of Illinois requires that massage therapists successfully complete a minimum of 600 hours of in-person education including hands-on training from a program which meets the state's standards. Graduates are then required to pass the national licensing exam. Harper College's Massage Therapy Program prepares students for this national licensing exam called the Massage Board Licensing Exam (MBLEx).

In addition, in Illinois a license applicant must be at least 18-years of age, have a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and must be able to pass a fingerprint-based national criminal history background check.

Important note: If a student does not have a US Social Security number, there are additional steps necessary to qualify for a license. Notify the program cooridnator so these steps can be started as early as possible. 

As of April 2024, 46 states plus the District of Columbia require a license to practice and one state (CA) has a voluntary state certification. In states without a state license requirement (KS, MN, WY), local jurisdictions (cities or counties) may require a local massage "license" in order to practice.

Students are strongly encouraged to research the laws and rules in place for the jurisdiction in which they plan to work. More information about the requirements of different states can be found at the website for the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA), the most respected professional association for massage therapists. Students starting the Harper Massage Therapy Program in Aug 2024 or after will be on track to graduate with 600 clock hours of training, which currently is enough to apply for licensure in 34 of the 46 licensed states. (Note: Completion of any massage therapy program does not guarantee licensure. It is also important to understand states can and do change their licensure requirements. Students can use the AMTA website link above to check the requirements in other states they are thinking of moving to.)

Students in Harper College's Massage Therapy Program get a free student membership in the AMTA for their entire time as a Harper Massage Therapy student.

While there is no way to guarantee a graduate will be licensed or hired, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage reported in 2023 for massage therapists nationwide was $55,310, while the median wage in the Chicago-Elgin-Naperville region is reported as $61,420. The highest-paid 10 percent in the profession in our region made more than $95,860, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $34,380. Many massage therapists are self-employed or work part-time, so earnings widely vary. 

Looking at just the cost of tuition, students who qualify to pay in-district tuition rates are charged $135.50/credit, meaning our 24-credit program tuition will cost $3,252.00 (using tuition costs in place as of Apr 2024.) Students can qualify for the in-district tuition rate by living or working in the Harper College geographic district, or if they live in the district of another IL community college that does not offer a massage therapy program. (This last option can work, but does take time to set up so applying early is important.) If a student lives outside the Harper district and would like to explore options for how they might qualify for in-district rates, such as our District Assist program (where we connect you with local massage therapy employer partners where you can apply for an front desk or administrative role to work part or full time while you are in school to qualify for the in-district tuition rate and have your foot in the door with an employer for when you complete the program and get your license), contact the Program Coordinator.

In addition to tuition, there are also college registration and course fees, as well textbooks and supplies. Overall between tuition, fees, supplies and books, the estimated grand total comes to just under $5,000. 

Because Harper's Massage Therapy Program is accredited, students may qualify for financial aid, as well as grants, scholarships, and other forms of tuition relief, such as work study as a student aide for a college administrative office. For more information, contact the massage therapy Program Coordinator.  


There are no prerequisite courses to complete prior to starting the Massage Therapy program. There is a Program Admissions process, but if a student is motivated, these admissions steps can be completed fairly quickly.

And once a student has attained Conditional Program Acceptance, there is a Program Orientation session that must be completed. Attendance is free, but registration is required. 

The full-time program starts every Fall semester and typically takes 3 semesters to complete, (Fall-Spring-Summer), or roughly 11 calendar months. In this program structure, students attend class Monday-Thursday with classes starting no earlier than 8:00 A.M. and typically ending no later than 3:30 P.M.

The part-time program starts every January and typically takes 4 semesters to complete (Spring-Summer-Fall-Spring) or roughly 17 calendar months. In this program structure, students attend class 2-3 evenings per week and a full day Saturday with classes starting during the week no earlier than 5:30 P.M. and ending no later than 10:00 P.M. and class on Saturday typically no earlier than 8:00 A.M. and ending no later than 3:00 P.M.

(Times provided here are rough estimates and are subject to change.)

The clinic is operated as a "teaching clinic" where each student receives individualized instruction while providing massage therapy treatments to real-world clients. The Harper Massage Therapy Clinic is on campus and simulates a real-world massage therapy working environment for our students. Students are provide massage therapy care to patients from the public under the supervision of Licensed Massage Therapists who are Massage Therapy Program faculty members. 

Once a student graduates from the massage therapy program, in order to get a job they must apply for a state license. Part of the licensing application process involves a national fingerprint-based Criminal History Background Check. The IL licensing law identifies a limited number of specific crimes that would automatically cause a license application to be rejected. If an applicant does have a criminal history, their application status is decided by the licensing board on a case-by-case basis, but it is important to note, having a criminal record is NOT an absolute bar to getting a massage therapy license. 

The massage therapy licensing board has provided this informational handout about how a criminal history would factor into their decision to grant a massage therapy license. Graduation from any massage therapy program, including Harper's, is not a guarantee of being able to get a license. 


Adult learners often make the best massage therapy students! Many massage therapists enter the profession as a second career or come to massage school many years after their last educational experience. Many students find massage therapy becomes a calling for them. Having more life experience often enables a practitioner be a more compassionate provider. 

Regardless of your age or how long it may have been since you have been called a student, a full community of educational professionals stand ready to help you succeed! 

We're happy to try to help!

You can attend a Health Careers Information Session to learn more about the Massage Therapy program at Harper College - find the next Info Session date and RSVP to save your spot at THIS LINK. Attendees are provided a voucher which waives the college application fee.

You can also connect with the Massage Therapy Program Coordinator - Jeremy Miller by phone (847-925-6076) or by email jmiller4@harpercollege.edu

For more information about professional massage therapy training courses offered at Harper College, fill out our Request Information form now or visit the Massage Therapy Program page.

Last Updated: 4/29/24